Whatever approach or method you use to lose weight, your priority should always be to maintain muscle mass and burn fat.
This should not only be a priority for those people who want to achieve a great-looking muscular body (I assume that includes you), but for anyone who wants to lose weight.
I have mentioned this before on my site, but losing muscle does not only make you weaker, it also reduces the calories you burn on a daily basis (basal metabolic rate).
Put simply, you will gain weight easier with less muscle.
So, one major concern that goes into answering the question “how many calories should I eat to lose weight” is, therefore, maintaining muscle mass.
In order to achieve that, you need to be smart about how you train and how many calories you consume.
The Cause of Weight Loss
Gaining or losing weight is essentially a question of energy balance. So losing weight requires a deficit in the energy balance of your body – a calorie deficit.
Thus how many calories you should eat to lose weight depends on how many calories you burn.
The Dangers Of An Extreme Calorie Deficit
Many weight loss diets instruct a combination of eating very few calories and doing a lot of intense cardio.
This creates an extreme calorie deficit that if you are able to stick with it results in a huge weight loss but consisting of both losses of fat and muscle.
Besides losing muscle and making your life feel miserable, there are a number of reasons why this is a bad approach.
I cover this in-depth in my article on how to lose fat fast and not regain it.
The “Moderate” Calorie Deficit
If you want to ensure that your muscle is retained and that your weight loss is actually a fat loss, then you need to be smart about how you structure your diet.
You also need to be smart about how you structure your training. More on this below.
How you should structure your diet is what I like to call a moderate calorie deficit.
I would recommend this deficit to be in the range of 20 – 25 % calories below your maintenance.
Estimating The Number of Calories
A simple yet powerful calorie estimation formula, that applies to most people who are neither very sedentary or very active, is the following:
Your Bodyweight in lbs x 15 or your body weight in kg x 33 = maintenance calories
This formula assumes about 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Based on that you can then calculate how many calories you should eat for a moderate calorie deficit.
Maintenance calories x (range: 0.8 – 0.75).
Ben’s maintenance has been estimated to 2475 calories and he wants to go with a 25 % deficit.
2475 x 0.75 = 1856.25
Adjusting As You Lose Weight
An important thing to note is as you are getting leaner you need to adjust the deficit if you want to keep the same fat loss rate.
As your weight is getting lower your maintenance calories are decreasing.
You will either have to accept a slower weight loss or lowering your calories/increasing your physical activity.
When you make any changes it is important to “listen to your body” and reflect upon how the changes make you feel in several areas.
A good thing is to pay attention to your mood, energy levels, strength levels /gym performance, hunger levels and stress levels.
You can rate them from 1 to 5 before making the changes and then again after some time you.
Just being aware of these things and if the changes to your diet are having a big negative effect can be helpful.
But it can also give a valuable insight if the changes you have made are too severe.
Are the changes too severe then you have to eat more calories.
From what I can understand from professional fitness coaches, the sweet spot for most people seem to be around eating 1600 – 1800 calories for men and 1200 – 1400 for women.
If you are a big guy, your sweet spot could be higher.
I am not so tall myself, but I have never been eating less than 1700 calories on a daily basis, for me, this seems to be my sweet spot.
So, I want you to seriously consider whether you are eating too few calories if you are going below what I just mentioned above.
If you want to know more about how much and how fast you can expect to lose weight, then you should check out this article.
Lifting Weights To Maintain Strength And Muscle
Doing weight training while in a calorie deficit is very important to ensure strength and muscle maintenance. Basically, you need to provide sufficient muscle stimulus so muscle is not burned off for energy.
Doing the right workout routine will help you maintain your muscle mass, and depending on your muscular development it might also build a bit of muscle and strength.
However, the main objective is maintaining strength and muscle mass
The second but also very important objective of the workout routine is to be what you can describe as conform to a calorie deficit.
For more information on this, I recommend you check out my two my other articles:
“How to use weight training for weight loss” for practical information on how to implement regular weight training.
“Why weight training to lose weight is your best option” where I elaborate on why you should do weight training.
Macros For Fat Loss And Muscle Retention
After calories, the next most important thing is getting the right macronutrients (macros).
Hitting the right macros is important not only to maintain your muscle mass but also to both function and feel well in your daily life.
When you are eating fewer calories every day it becomes increasingly important to get your macros right, because there is less room for error.
I know some people hate the idea of having to count and track calories and macros, but it is just harder to be successful with your weight loss when you aren’t tracking.
I have made this awesome graphic to illustrate the macro guidelines I recommend:
The ranges are not set in stone and you can deviate some, but I would strongly recommend not going too low on anything.
Getting sufficient protein and fats are very important for maintaining muscle mass and to ensure optimal hormonal function.
Both protein and fat are important to feel satiated and full. Additionally, research indicates that an increased protein intake while in a calorie deficit aids muscle retention.
The carb intake might seem low for some, but this doesn’t mean that carbs are not important.
It is a tough balancing act, where getting protein and fats is probably a bit more important for most people.
Some people tolerate a lower carb-intake better than others, and if you are having trouble don’t let these guidelines stop you from getting more carbs.
If you are confused whether you have problems with a lower carb intake, pay attention to the following things:
- Did your mood change. Are you easily irritated?
- What about your training performance, has it dropped significantly?
- Do you have problems falling asleep?
An exception to the guidelines would be if you have a body fat percentage higher 20 %.
Then you will end up with way too high and unnecessary protein intake. You can probably also go lower on fats.
As an alternative you can use the following to estimate protein intake:
2.3 – 3.1 g per kg of lean body mass or 1.1 – 1.4 g per lbs of lean body mass.
Don’t know your body fat percentage or what lean body mass is about? Get my top free resource “Lean Muscular Physique Diet Blueprint”. (see more below)
Special Concerns For Women
A study has shown that women generally burn more fat, less carbohydrate and less protein compared to men.
There is also a study that indicates that high-fat diets are more beneficial to women than men.
Finally, there is some evidence that women do better overall in their training when consuming more fat.
Because of this, I would recommend that women go high on their fat intake and lower on protein.
Another reason why women don’t need as much protein as men is that women genetically have higher body fat percentage and thus lower lean body mass.
The Awesome Nutrition Guide
If you want to learn more about getting the right nutrition for not only burning fat, but also building muscle, and want to discover the toughest sticking-point for most people which makes them fail in the fitness goals, then you should get my top free resource.
It is a 50+ pages pdf that I have titled the Awesome Nutrition Guide because it is awesome. You also get an accompanying email course.
I have written it for both men and women, and I hope it can serve as your diet and nutrition blueprint to get the body that you want and deserve!
Get it as a welcome bonus when you sign up for my email list.
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