Coaching Lessons #4 – Tracking Trumps Calculations

If you are anything like me, the first time after doing your initial calculations to get your calorie/macro requirements you ran a bit of math to try to predict rates of fat-loss and started getting a little excited.

Unfortunately the math doesn’t ever work out as neatly as planned, which can be disappointing, frustrating, and lead you to second guess yourself. If you’ve ever dieted then you know this. But as human nature is to seek neat answers to complex things we don’t want to hear it – the result is that calculations get prioritised, while proper tracking with relative adjustments is left largely ignored, people either start program hopping, quit, or go into an activity increase/ supplement buying spiral… yes I’ve been there too.

All too often if the right assessment framework used, then there would have been a lot of heartache avoided. In nearly all cases it’s just a small change that’s required to re-ignite progress.

Guiding on how and when to make changes isn’t simple (discussed at the end of the post) but I can illustrate concepts/principles by showing client examples to help you make your own decisions on when they may be appropriate.

In this quick post I’ll take you through my analysis and decision-making progress when client, Omar, had a concern about possible muscle-mass losses after making some calculations, and explain why I was confident we could make a downward adjustment to energy intake in order to keep progressing with his fat loss goal. This case-study illustrates the tracking > calculations concept brilliantly.

Sender:Omar
Recipient:Andy Morgan
Re: Week 6 Check-in

Looking at the data so far and doing the math, I had a question about the proportionality of the weight loss, specifically fat vs. lean tissue mass. Is it fair to estimate the weight loss as being 90% fat, 10% lean body mass? Here’s what I came up with using that assumption:

-The target rate of weight loss of ~1.0 lb/week is equivalent to a 3900kcal/week deficit (if 90% of the mass is from fat)

-Adding my target macros to this deficit puts my assumed TDEE at approx. 2400kcals.

-At the measured rate of weight loss so far, approx. 0.7lb/week, this would put my TDEE closer to 2270kcals to hit the target rate (again, assuming 90% of weight loss is from fat).

I find the data almost as interesting as the end goal here, so forgive me if it seems I’m calling any of your methods into question. To the contrary, I am happy to defer to your knowledge and experience. Looks like we are pretty close already though.

Thanks,

Omar

Sender:Andy
Recipient:Omar
Re: Week 6 Check-in

Omar, thanks for the question. To answer fully I need you first to have read the article, ‘Why you need to make adjustments as you diet‘.

You’ll see that metabolism is adaptive as well as there being a large degree of individual variance in how much people’s spontaneous activity (aka. NEAT) changes when in a calorie deficit [or surplus]. Thus, even assuming that we could accurately calculate average energy expenditure throughout the day, any calculations are basically just a ‘best guess’.

The reality of the situation is what we track, and we adjust based on tracking. To compound this we also have stalls and whooshes caused by a number of factors that can’t really be avoided (good diet compliance assumed), so a decision based on data trends over the weeks is necessary. We cannot therefore accurately calculate how much of a deficit we are in, but what we can say is that if we stick to the fat loss guidelines here then we should preserve all muscle mass, given sufficient training intensity and protein intake (read section ‘fat loss guidelines’). – That is the goal, but there are individual variances in outcome when looking at the limited studies available. (One study for example showed the subjects made gains in muscle mass given a modest calorie deficit, but not in a more severe one. But the applicability of the study was limited due to the use of beginner trainees as subjects, I believe.)

Omar - Progress [Click to enlarge. Note: It has been cropped for privacy]

Note: You are an individual, your results will vary depending on genetics, adherence, and effort.

Looking at the data you’ll see that we’re ~3.3lbs down, which if representative of the total fat loss then is less than hoped. However, you have improved with your lifts and the stomach measurements are down more than I would have expected*. So, on the contrary, has there been muscle growth? Possibly, yes. [*More below.]

So you see unfortunately it’s not actually as simple as looking at some math. The differences are likely accounted for in either metabolic adaptation, NEAT change, or a bit of both.

On balance I think we can look to increase the deficit, especially considering you are sleeping well, stress is not an issue and hunger is not an issue.

[I then suggested a ~150-200kCal reduction in daily energy intake.]

……..

     >>>>>>>>>>>>>

Notes & FAQ

How do I determine when to make adjustments?

My first attempt at answering this question is here, When & How to Adjust your Macros, where you’ll see the basis for that 150-200kCal suggested reduction for Omar. However, as the name implies this is a macro based solution, which is to be applied when other possible variables such as training (frequency/volume/intensity), stress levels, sleep have been considered.

I do intend to get everything into a cohesive guide at some point, perhaps a monstrously large flowchart. Dick Talens has made a good attempt as you can see in the table in the post, Understanding the Scale, Bloat and Weight Loss but we still need to add a few columns for completion which I’m not sure how one would do with the unquantifiable items like sleep quality and stress.

Do you have a formula for correlating cm off the stomach with fat losses?

Unfortunately no. When I said that “the measurements have come down more than expected based on the weight loss,” this is just an observation based on experience after seeing hundreds of sets of progress data. I kind of know what to expect because of this. A formula for how much 1lb of fat loss would equate to, on average, in centimetres off the stomach would be nice, but it’d depend on height & body-fat percentage, need to be related to specific measurement sites on the abdomen (fat loss comes top down, generally), as well as be affected by any muscle gain (thickening of the abs, obliques and lower back)… actually girth/genetic variance would also come into play come to think about it, so it would be a very difficult task.


Conclusions & Related Guides

Calculations of energy intake and macro needs can only ever be an educated guess. They are a start point from which you need to track your progress, and then make adjustments based on the established baseline. These adjustments should me made to bring you in line with the pre-decided rate at which you determined you could reasonably expect to progress given your body-fat percentage and training status (whether this be a fat-loss goal or muscle-gain/strength goal).

*************

I hope that was helpful. I’ve just revamped the tracking guide to make it more detailed. If you have any questions, or need clarification don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Thank you for reading. – Andy.

If you are interested in finding out more about the online consultation work I do, check out, Personal Coaching: Nutrition and Training.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I’ve been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you’re interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let’s start the conversation.

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