How to Make Adjustments as You Diet to Keep Progressing

In the previous article, we covered Why You Need To Make Adjustments as You Diet. This is the guide on how to do it.

Your diet progress has slowed or come to a stop for 2-3 weeks, diet adherence has been good, you’re sleeping well and there is no additional stress at home or work. So what do you do to get things started again?

This is where manipulating your macros may come in.

The goal should always be to have the smallest calorie deficit that you can get away with while still progressing with your diet. This helps keep metabolic adaptation at a minimum, which is important for three key reasons that I’ll quickly explain:

  • Your sex drive stays healthy.
  • You don’t run out of places to make cuts.
  • You reduce the risk of rebound.

1. Your Sex Drive Stays Healthy – No explanation needed of the importance, just bear in mind that when dieting, testosterone is affected, and thus libido will be affected to an extent. We just try to keep that to a minimum.

2. You Don’t Run Out of Space To Make Cuts

The Story of Andy and Bob

Consider two friends whose maintenance calories are 2500kCal per day. They decide to go on a diet to see who can lose the most weight over the next 6 months.

Awesome Andy starts with a daily deficit of ~500kCal, Bonehead Bob ~1500kCal.

The first week…

Bob starts losing weight faster than Andy.

Bob is happier than Andy and considers the hunger worth it because of how quickly the results are coming.

Andy is a little jealous of Bob’s progress but doesn’t really feel hungry or deprived.

6 weeks later…

A is feeling good, progress has been steady but slowed a little recently, still doesn’t feel particularly deprived though, and gym sessions are going well – strength is being maintained.

B on the other hand is suffering, badly. This is both physical and mental. The initial huge water-weight dump set B up with inflated expectations of the fat losses that could be achieved per week. In the second week, losses were a lot less, but still ahead of A so he could put up with the hunger. From then on the losses have slowed considerably each week, strength is being lost in the gym, it’s getting really hard to keep saying no to drinks with friends, and he’s lost interest in sex with his girlfriend.

After 6 weeks of dieting both A and B now need to decrease their macros to continue progressing. Recall from the post, Why you need to make adjustments as you diet, that part of this reason is metabolic adaptation – a drop in their base metabolic rate (BMR). The key difference here is that B’s metabolic rate will have dropped to a much greater extent than A’s.

B has lost more weight than A, but B has really suffered for it.

A is pretty relaxed about making a decrease and progresses onward.

B is faced with eating even smaller meals, or adding cardio. Both are unappealing. It’s just a matter of time before he cracks. B has run out of places to make cuts.

3. You Reduce the Risk of Rebound

Well, Andy certainly has. Bob, however, has set himself up for a big one. Let’s continue the example:

It’s now the end of week 8…

Andy and Bob are camping away with friends for the weekend at a music festival. They’ve had this planned for months. Everyone gets drunk on Saturday night. With lowered inhibitions, they both stumble over to the kebab stand at midnight. Andy has a kebab and stumbles off to the tent to call it a night. Bob, after weeks of heavy calorie restriction just can’t help himself and goes wild – he eats four, runs out of cash, steals a hotdog and wakes up in the car park surrounded by fast food wrappers. They both decide to declare Sunday a total day off.

Monday morning Bob steps on the scales and finds he’s gained 8lbs. He’s heartbroken, and a text message from Andy saying that he gained (just) 4lbs pushes him over the edge. He quits the diet and concedes the challenge.

Part of the weight gained back in both cases is water weight – due to increased carb and salt intake – but B will have gained more fat because he’s hormonally more primed for fat gain after weeks of heavy calorie restriction. With the challenge aborted, the fat gain continues over the next two weeks, despite not eating any more than he would have prior to the challenge, and soon B finds himself back to where he was 8 weeks ago.

Does this story sound familiar? This is why you see most competitive bodybuilders balloon up after their stage day – they cut too quickly and don’t moderate their calorie intake increases afterwards – often they can’t as they’re mentally at breaking point by the time they hit the stage.

The best diet is the one you can keep.

The story of Bob happens every day. But of course, no one is interested in moderation, and companies pushing diets on us don’t give a shit about the rebound.

So what is moderation then? What is reasonable progress?

Fat Loss Guidelines

The body has a pesky tendency when in a calorie deficit to burn the fuels in the ratio they are available: free fatty acids from your stored fat or amino acids from your muscles. By keeping protein high and doing resistance training we try to avoid muscle mass being broken down, however, there is a theoretical limit to how much fat can be released from the fat stores in a single day, and this is inversely proportionate to how lean you are.

  • The leaner you get, the less body fat you can burn a day.
  • If your energy deficit for the day is beyond your body’s capability to fuel itself from fat stores alone, you will lose muscle mass.

Put another way, an obese person can get away with a greater deficit than a leaner person; they can lose fat at a greater rate.

If you shoot for the following you should be ok for preserving muscle mass:

Body fat %Loss /week
30%>~2.5 lbs / 1.1kg
20-30%~2 lbs / 0.9kg
15-20%1.25-1.5 lbs / 0.45-0.7kg
12-15%1-1.25 lbs / 0.45-0.6kg
9-12%0.75-1 lbs / 0.35-0.45kg
7-9%0.5-0.75 lbs / 0.2-0.35kg
<7%~0.5lbs / 0.2kg

The above figures are my guidelines, they are based on observation, not theoretical limits. For the latter, it will generally be slightly more, but to calculate it is complicated and unnecessary.


  • Patience, clearly, is increasingly important as you get leaner.
  • Obese people significantly over 30% body fat will be able to lose more per week without muscle losses, but I don’t advise it for skin elasticity reasons.
  • They are just average guidelines. Short people should shoot for slightly less; taller people may shoot for slightly more.
  • With my coaching clients, I usually advise a maximum targeted rate of 1.5lbs per week, even with those over 20% body fat. This is because it’s more sustainable and produces better results even in the shorter-term:
    1. Hunger pangs, lethargy, and cravings are minimised.
    2. Strength/muscle gain potential is not hampered in those that have the potential for it, as they are with higher deficits. This is important so you don’t diet yourself down from the ‘fat & weak’ category into the ‘skinny-fat’ category. (more on this here)
  • Strength/muscle gains in beginners (and some lucky intermediate trainees) will make targeting the above rates of fat loss more tricky, as you have muscle gain to factor in. Body measurements and lifting stats become a lot more important for tracking your progress so make sure you know how.

If you are at a point where your fat loss falls short of the target for 2-3 weeks, firstly, wait another week. – Water retention masking fat loss is common for shorter periods, but it gets exponentially more uncommon as time goes on. Waiting 3-4 weeks is what I’d suggest – the fine balance point between the likelihood that it is just water retention vs realistic limits of people’s patience. (Note: if you’re under an unusual amount of stress, then that can cause this to go on for longer.)

If you have waited 4 weeks and the fat loss isn’t happening then you need to either take a diet break or make macro adjustments.

[Update 19/12/2014]: I talked about a male client that had issues with water retention for around 8 weeks on Facebook here. You can see my reasoning on why I didn’t feel the need to make adjustments here.]

Diet Break > Calorie Reduction

Recall the lessons learned with Andy and Bob – we want to make the minimum changes required when dieting to keep fat losses going to avoid unnecessarily high levels of metabolic slow down.

Before looking to cut your energy intake, consider taking a diet break. This won’t counter all the hormonal effects of dieting, but it can help keep your BMR higher, for longer, by minimising the metabolic adaptation. – This means you’ll be able to eat more food while still losing weight.

Lyle McDonald recommends taking a two-week diet break:

Body fat % (men)Diet Break Frequency
<15%every 4-6 weeks
15-25%every 6-12 weeks
25%>every 12-16 weeks

Women add ~7%.

Post diet break people often find that they progress for a while with their previous macro intake. Diet breaks generally are underused though, as they require more patience than people can stomach, and clearly aren’t sexy to talk about.

How to Make Changes To Your Macro Intake

I’m going to assume here that you have set your macro intake according to the rules laid out in the article, How to Calculate Your Macros. (If you haven’t then don’t worry, this should still make sense because you’ll be able to refer to that after.)

Though there will clearly be individual differences, by following those guidelines everyone’s protein intake is going to be set conservatively (high for muscle preservation purposes), and fat intake will be set at or above what I’d consider minimum (for hormonal purposes).

  • To continue with fat losses you’ll want to decrease your overall energy intake for the week by around 5-8%.
  • Protein can be kept the same – it’s the macronutrient that gives the most satiety, and is also muscle sparing, so this is a no-brainer.
  • Reduce energy intake primarily via your fat and carb macros – a 50/50 calorie split respectively will work fine, though there is scope for personal preference here as long as you…
  • Don’t go below 0.4g* of fat per pound of lean body mass – from that point just adjust your carb intake. When you calculate your fat requirement beware of the tendency to underestimate lean body mass, as this will leave your minimal fat intake threshold higher than necessary. *This number is an average to be taken over your training and rest days.

For Leangains Users

(…or anyone having high-carb, low-fat training days and low-carb, higher-fat rest days.)

  • Make reductions from both your training and rest days initially. – Depending on how you set your initial macros you may have little choice as to where your reductions come from: typically for training days it’ll be carbs and rest days it will be fats.
  • When you can’t reduce any more from your rest days just make the reduction via the training days.

Following the above guidelines the first adjustment a person may make to their macro intake might look like this:

  • Training day: Carbs -40-70g, Fats -5g
  • Rest day: Carbs -25g, Fats -10g

Fat Loss Trouble Shoot  Priority List

Reducing calories is a stress to your body. It’s important that before you do so you have all the other pieces of the puzzle in place, or you could drive yourself into a metabolic hole. The only reason you’re reading this article is because you want to know what to do when the fat loss stops. Here is the specific order in which to look at things (note how ‘macro adjustment’ isn’t first):

  1. Sleep – Not getting enough? Do something about it, the deep, uninterrupted kind. Sleep affects everything, fat loss is a biggie.
  2. Stress – Period of high stress at work or home? Consider a diet break. Stress affects your fat loss efforts.
  3. Diet break
  4. Macro adjustment

Concluding Comments

After a long period of dieting it is perfectly normal to have a stall of several weeks. When this happens it can be best to leave things as they are and just challenge yourself to maintain your current weight. If you have 50lbs to lose then it’d be normal to stall 2-3 times during that period. Prepare yourself mentally for it and don’t get frustrated. Maintenance in and of itself is an achievement.

I know everyone wants to get shredded now, but this isn’t a race. The winners are the people who can maintain their physique and that comes down to those that can keep to their diet in the long run.

How often do you typically need to make adjustments to a diet? 

I can tell you what I experience working with clients, but obviously, that’s biased towards less adjustments because I have more practice at setting things up.

In around 25% of cases where the focus is fat loss I won’t need to make any adjustments during the full 12 week period that I typically work with people.  In the rest it’s normal to need to make a change at some point. As I’m fairly good at guessing initial calorie intakes and suitable macro settings, I’d say that the majority of the adjustments that do take place come in the 8th week or onwards.

The best situation is where everything proceeds as planned and you don’t have to make any diet changes for as long as possible. Don’t wish for complication and never adjust things unnecessarily.


Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always.

– Andy


Please keep questions on topic, write clearly, concisely, and don't post diet calculations.


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Hi Andy,
I have been tracking macros for approx 14 weeks & have lost 13 lbs. it has been about 1 month & weight loss has stalled. I am happy with results, but I would like to shred further. I work out daily, but was interested in adjusting my macro % vs calorie. Would reducing carb % do the trick? I am currently doing 30/30/40.

Ashley Benson
Ashley Benson

I’ve read the articles (How to Calculate & How to Make changes..) and I’m still wondering where do I go from my current state. I don’t need to lose anymore weight, I’m on target at 5’0, 110lbs. However, I still have the mom-bod midsection that isn’t budging. I’m strong, I lift heavy, eat/track macros, limit cardio, and generally feel amazing. Do I increase my current macros to gain? Keep them the same to maintain? Accept that I thought having kids wouldn’t wreck my body? Ha!


Hi there! I just started counting my macros over the last week. I feel strong and my workouts are going well (mix of cardio and strength every day). However, I feel like I’m actually gaining weight around my midsection & not feeling as flat as before. Is this water weight? It’s making me nervous! Not sure if I should adjust my macros somehow?

Alexandra Iacovelli
Alexandra Iacovelli

Thank you! If after that time, I assess it’s fat storage, I’ll plan to cut down my calories. Should I decrease my fat macros at that point too?

Thanks again! You’re so helpful!


Hi Andy!

I am going on a beach holiday in the next 6 weeks time. How would you recommend tweaking macros and nutrition for these remaining six weeks of training? I would love to feel as lean as possible. Does one lower carbs when looking to lean out? Would be so grateful for your advice!


Hi Andy

Your response has been SO helpful, thank you so much! I will continue to be consistent with my training and diet as it is. Really appreciate your help!


Hi Andy,
I just started counting macros last week but think that I may have made a mistake already as I cut my caloric intake by 1,000. I lost 7 lbs during the week, is there something that I can do to make sure that I don’t lose weight too quickly and avoid gaining it all back quickly?
Thank you!

drew fairman
drew fairman

My goal is to improve my CrossFit performance. I have my starting macros set at around the zone diet ratio (40% carbs, 30% fat, 30% protein.) How do I know which macro to adjust based on what I see in my performance? Is there a chart somewhere? Is it as simple as:
If i need more strength, increase protein?
if i need more endurance, increase carbs?
if i need more skill, increase fat?

WeiXian Teh
WeiXian Teh

I think I hit a plateau on my shredded plan. I have been doing 15 min Medium intensity Tabata every morning, upper lower workout split (4 days a week) with strength low reps training, 4 session of 20min Low-intensity steady state cardio after workout. Been including refeed day once a week by eating maintenance calories with increasing carbs intake only. Now I’m starting to feel very weak is like when I walk then I felt very tired. So what do you think I should do? Lastly is it possible I remain my weight but I manage to get to 8 percent body fats due to refeed? Or the right way to track is I still have to lose that amount of weight?



I’ve been trying to get out of purgatory for a while. I’m 5’8, small frame, naturally slow metabolism, 140 lbs, bf between 15% and 20%. Trying to get close to 10% so I can start a clean bulk. I’ve been tracking my calories, lifting heavy several times a week, little to no cardio, and gradually adjusting my calories downward. I’ve lost about 30 lbs over the past year. I’ve stopped losing weight at 1500 calories and I don’t want to dip much lower than that. Diet breaks haven’t helped me too much in this regard. I’ve found recently that doing long periods of very light cardio (active recovery heart zone on bike or elliptical) helps me to drop some weight without interfering with lifting sessions. My thought was to use this to break through plateau. Any thoughts or other advice? Thanks!


Hi Andy, semi off topic. I’ve noticed if I just eat when I’m hungry (not tracking macros) I can stay in a relatively low calorie deficit with minimal effort. However, once I try to stick to a macro goal, my adherence goes out the window, I just can’t do it, I start getting cravings I wouldn’t have otherwise. Any advice or even some literature you can point me to which will help me get some strategy in this area? Thank you sir!


Is there a chance that the sudden weight drop the first week of dieting won’t happen at all? Almost all my lifts are increasing, and my measurements are going down. But my weight loss has been linear and steady from the first week already (though slightly decreasing as weeks progress) and I’m curious about why this has happened. Should I include this week at my 4-week fat loss assessment? Thanks in advance.


Thank you Andy, for your answer and the great content you provide!


Hey Andy,
When you say decrease your fat/carbs by 50/50 while keeping protein the same… do you mean 50/50 by calories or by grams? Since fat and carbs have different caloric values, that would affect how you’re reducing both.


Awesome, thanks Andy!!

The Lean Muscle Diet - The Best Diet Book You'll Find In Stores

[…] When and How To Adjust Your Macros […]


Hey Andy,

I have scoured the site (all very interesting) but can’t find the answer to my question. With regard to training days/rest days – if I’m training 6 days a week (mostly CrossFit/Olympic Lifting) obviously that is a lot of high carb days – will this still be effective for cutting or should I alternate high and low carb days? I’m already a fairly lean female with approx 20% body fat.




Ok great, thank you!

Kevin McWhirk
Kevin McWhirk

Andy- I am a larger athlete who does a lot of body building, metabolic conditioning and strongman type of workouts. I am on a great exercise plan. My problem is my nutrition. I am 6’3″ and 345#. I want to really lean out and preserve as much muscle as possible. What is the best approach for me? High Protein and Fat/ Low Carb off days and High Protein/ Carbs Low fat training days? What should my macros be for each type of day? I am a male and 42 years old. Please help!



Hey Andy,

So I recently stalled on my weight loss for two weeks and decided to do a diet break as I hadn’t done one in 12 weeks and was starting to become hungry and tired all of the time. The diet break worked in that I’ve gone back to my macros prior to the diet break and I feel great and not mentally or physically drained anymore BUT my weight loss is still completely halted. All in all I’ve stalled out for about a month now and I’m wondering if its time to make a cut or if I should just stick it out for two more weeks or so? My old myotape broke (shit quality) so Ive not had one for over two weeks as the new one is on backorder and ships out tomorrow but when I was taking measurements there wasn’t any noticeable difference for two weeks.

Thanks for your response Andy,



Hi Andy

What’s your thoughts on water fasting for 7 / 14 & 28 days?


Would you consider Kidney beans or any type of beans a good carb sorce for Macros ?


Hi Andy,
I’m a female with experience in lifting and many other forms of exercise. I do it because I enjoy it; no specific goals in particular other than to lose some body fat. I’m 23, 5’7″, 137 lbs. and about 25% BF. I’ve lost 30lbs over the last 2 years and have hit a sort of plateu, so I want to incorporate macros more intentionally as well as IF. Definitely not interested in mad gains, just leaning out.
I’d like to start IF but I don’t intend to follow a lifting program: 3 days a week I do body weight strength based exercises and 3 days a week I do Bikram Yoga.
My question is this: do you think it necessary for me to take 10g of BCAAs every 2 hrs after my AM workouts, or would I be okay with less, as my goal is not to build large amount of muscle?


Hi Andy,

My question is, why do stress and lack of sleep have a detrimental effect on fat loss exactly?

I would assume that there are a few factors such as, 1) lack of recovery from lack of sleep/stress leads to bad workouts which lead to more muscle loss; 2) lack of sleep/high stress tend to contribute to over eating, so resisting hunger might be harder; 3) I know stress can affect water weight retention, so that might mess with some people psychologically.

Am I missing anything, or is those the main issues? I apologize if this is beyond the scope of this article.




Here in the site you suggest as a fat loss guide:
9-12% 0.75-1 lbs / 0.35-0.45kg
7-9% 0.5-0.75 lbs / 0.2-0.35kg
<7% ~0.5lbs / 0.2kg

But in your book, you recommend:
9-12% 0,5-1lbs / 0,2-0,45kg
7-9% ~0,5lbs / 0,2kg
<7% <0,5lbs / 0,2kg

What 'd be the best choice?


Cool! Thanks for the answer, Andy!


Hi Andy,

Thanks for your awesome work on this website – I’ve relied on the information you’ve provided here often, and have found your writing to be clear, concise, and on point. Thanks again!

I have a quick question for you. When I try to create a caloric deficit while doing IF, I sometimes have difficulty sleeping (both falling asleep and waking up early in the night). Have you seen this happen with your clients, and if so, do you have any tips for mitigating this?

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