1. To address your first likely concern right off the bat…
Yes, the calculations ‘work’ — I’ve been coaching online as a full-time job since 2011. If I didn’t get results (view over 100 client results photos here), I’d get fired.
And yes, they are very well thought out — they’re based on the recommendations in my book, The Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid, which is a 290-page, fully-referenced guide for powerlifters and physique athletes.
But wondering whether they are ‘correct’ is the wrong way of thinking about things, because…
2. You will need to adjust these numbers sooner or later to achieve the desired rate of weight change.
Why sooner? Because the calculations are based on equations derived from group averages. You might be either side of this average, so consider them a start point from which to adjust.
Why later? Because energy needs change over time as we diet and bulk. Your metabolism will gradually adapt to fight a caloric deficit, and energy needs increase when we gain weight. These things happen for some people more than others and this is not something a calculator can predict for.
However, knowing how impatient people are to see results, I’ve factored this into the calculations…
But Before we get into that…
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So as I was saying, I’ve factored the energy need adaptions into the calculations in the following couple of ways…
3. For those cutting, I’ve calculated energy intake at a level where bodyweight losses would be 0.75% per week, were the metabolism not to adapt.
But it will, and many people will find their resulting weight loss to be around 0.5%, which from experience, seems to be the sweet spot for busy individuals with real lives who can’t afford the brain fog that comes with higher caloric deficits.
Additionally, the total nerds among you (love you guys!) who have been getting your calculators out to check my math, may have noticed that…
4. For those bulking, I’ve upped the caloric surplus by 50% to anticipate some of the increased energy needs when bulking.
This is not an extreme change. For a 30-year-old 200lb novice male, their daily intake will change from 3200 kcal to 3340 kcal because of this.
Unfortunately, there’s a tricky little bitch called NEAT who can impact energy needs way more from person to person, especially when bulking.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing and texting friends, shaking up a protein shake, performing yard work, and fidgeting.
Some people ramp up NEAT much more than others which explains those who claim not to be able to gain weight (a.k.a. ‘hard gainers’) when, in fact, they need to eat more.
This cannot be factored into an initial calculation either, which is why tracking average weight change and then adjusting caloric intake based on the outcome is so critical.
5. So now you’re probably wondering, “What is a desirable rate of weight loss or gain?”
I’d recommend 0.5-1% of body weight loss per week when cutting. — The leaner you get, the slower you should take it.)
I’d recommend 1-3% of body weight gain per month when bulking. — The more experienced a trainee you are, the closer you are likely to your genetic potential so the slower you should take things.
Readers of The Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid may notice that these figures are double the 1.5, 1% and 0.5% rates we recommend in there for the novice, intermediate, and advanced trainees respectively. I often recommend these higher rates because the changes are easier to track, and the training progressions are more obvious, which makes it easier to stay motivated.
Those extra sensitive to fat gain may wish to be more conservative, but those struggling to see changes might do better with my higher figures.
6. Most people will have a jump in scale weight in the first week.
This will be due to the change in gut content, water, and muscle glycogen in your body. It happens whenever you change the number of carbs you eat or the total food intake in general.
So, before deciding you need to adjust, track for several weeks first, taking the average scale weight each day, and ignore the first week of data.
7. To make an adjustment to get your body weight change on track, we can use the following easy math:
If you are cutting, multiply the amount you are off your weekly weight change target by 500 kcal (or 1100 kcal for those using kg). Add or subtract that from your caloric intake each day accordingly. Here are some examples:
- If you’re losing weight 0.5 lbs slower than your target each week, reduce daily caloric intake by 250 kcal (500*0.5).
- If you’re losing weight 0.3 lbs faster than your target each week, increase your daily caloric intake by 150 kcal daily (0.3*500).
If you are bulking, multiply the amount you are off your monthly weight change target by 200 kcal (or 440 kcal for those using kg). Here are some examples:
- If you’re gaining weight 0.9 lbs slower than your target each month, increase daily caloric intake by 180 kcal (200*0.9).
- If you’re gaining weight 0.5 kg faster than your target each month, reduce daily caloric intake by ~220 kcal (440*0.5).
Make this caloric change via fat and carb changes per your preferences. This is as simple as follows:
Leave protein intake as is, unless you have a lot of body fat to lose. (More on this in a moment.)
8. Before making any adjustments, make sure your adherence is on point.
If it’s not, fix that. Solid adherence in the week only to throw it away on the weekends is the most common screw-up pattern people follow.
9. Double-check that you are tracking things accurately.
Here’s my guide to counting macros and making meals out of them. (It’s the simplified counting rules in this guide which gave the food value estimations at the end of the calculator.)
But despite guides like that trying to simplify, studies consistently show that people are terrible at tracking things. So, if you’re not losing weight at the rate desired and you’re concerned that your macros look low, swallow your ego and consider the possibility that you’ve screwed something up.
Log everything that passes your lips into a nutritional calculator for 2 weeks. This will tell you if you have an issue.
10. Protein intake is calculated based on body weight rather than lean body mass.
This is much easier than requiring people to estimate their body-fat percentage first, and the results are roughly the same anyway. Plus, all the methods we have available for estimating body-fat percentage are prone to chuckle-worthy levels of error. I recommend you do not attempt it.
(Calculating protein intake based on body weight is a departure from how I’ve suggested people do it on the site up until now, which is why I feel it’s worth mentioning. I will edit every other guide on the site in the coming weeks for congruency.)
11. Importantly, those with a lot of body fat to lose will, therefore, find their protein intake skewed too high. You’ll need to adjust for that.
This is an easy fix — change your daily protein intake to be your height in centimeters:
- 6’2 = ~188 cm
- 6’ = ~183 cm
- 5’10 = ~178 cm
- 5’8 = ~173 cm
- 5’6 = ~168 cm
So, if you’re 260 lbs and 5’11, instead of consuming ~260 g of protein as I have in the calculator, consume 180 g and swap the 80 g remaining for carbs to maintain the calorie balance. This will be better for satiety, diet variety, and training quality.
Some people may argue that this protein figure is a little too low to be protective of muscle mass when dieting.
Having a lot of fat mass is protective of muscle mass. This makes sense when you think about it from a survival perspective. When the body comes to choose between releasing fatty acids or breaking down muscle into amino acids for fuel, the smarter decision for survival is to burn off fat when there is an abundance of it. Therefore, protein needs are likely a bit lower for the 260 lb guy with 160 lbs of muscle mass vs. the 200 lb guy with the same muscle mass.
12. Too many people make calorie and macro calculations, wait two weeks, then decide that they “don’t work” if they don’t see the calculated for scale weight change.
They then move to another calculator (or diet method entirely).
This is sadly common. Don’t be this person.
A simple adjustment of your caloric intake up or downwards is all that will be needed. (Reasons 2-4, at rates described in 5, in the manner described in 6.) Don’t make this mistake.
13. If you have already calculated your macros elsewhere and they aren’t radically different, I don’t suggest you change them.
The key, as I’ve covered, is that you track your progress and adjust based on the outcome.
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Hi, I’m Andy. Coaching online has been my full-time profession for the past 8 years. I have written a few well-known books since then, but my passion is helping clients.
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