Updated: Jun 17, 2020
The Secret to Calorie deficit: To burn fat and tone up you must be on a healthy diet and structured exercise regime. I wish I could write that statement and post this blog however the science to fat loss is more complicated than that and therefore needs a comprehensive explanation. The first thing you must understand is performing exercise and burning calories does not necessarily mean you will burn fat and get the lean body you desire. Some of you have been experimenting this for years and will agree that there's alot more to it than focusing on just calories. Going on a calorie deficit also does not automatically result in fat loss either. Everyone's target is to lose fat however you can't achieve this goal from just burning or reducing calories alone. I will provide you with lots of examples throughout this article which will finally help everyone with the debate over calories.
A calorie is a unit that is used to measure energy, 1000 calories is a kilocalorie. In nutrition, calories refer to the energy people get from the food and drink they consume and the energy they use in physical exercises. Calories are listed in the nutritional information on all food packaging. Many Fat loss programs centre around reducing the intake of calories. However I would like to disprove the theory that reducing calories is the 'answer' to your fat loss problems.
When it comes to changing the state of the human physique this is something I have had plenty of practice for over 20 years either on myself or clients. The 3 best examples I can provide you is:
1. 2005: I have weighed 105 kg's as a strong powerful forward in Rugby union and I was very lean and athletic looking.
2. 2015-2018: I have also been a natural body building competitor at 92.5kg and possessed 3.7% bodyfat, at this point my heels were hurting because the skin was so tight, and got through to the British Finals.
3. 2002: I have weighed 87.5 kg and again very lean, competed in the 100m and 200 metres for County finals in athletics.
The reason why I have presented these different examples is that at each time I was very lean, muscular and athletic looking thus my bodyweight did not dictate how defined I was. The bodyfat was determined not so much by the calories I was consuming each day, it was more to do with the type of calories I was choosing to eat. Unfortunately I can't explain why some coaches seem to think it's okay to tell people that as long as they are on a calorie deficit they'll lose fat? You lose weight yes, but if you have an unhealthy calorie make up in your diet you'll likely lose muscle, strength and conditioning too. One of the best lessons I leant was from 2015 - 2018 in my first chapter of bodybuilding competitions and all the top successful competitors and judges would tell me to increase my calories. At first I thought 'no thanks' but as soon as a increased my protein, vegetable and water intake I went from burning fat to boiling fat!! At this point I was already on greens supplements, fish oils, CLA and multi vitamins & minerals which should be part of your supplement protocol anyway.
What you need to understand is that when we exercise, our bodies will start to burn calories, but the calories burnt are the calories from the carbohydrates in our system. In order to burn calories from our fat stores, your body requires the presence of oxygen. This means that weight training and physical exercise needs to be performed for a sustained period of time each day and you have to keep up with your target heart rate. You also need to be in an anabolic state of muscle growth and have good gut health to metabolise food properly, turning it into readily available energy for your muscles. Do you want to lose a couple of pounds of fat or several kilograms? This will dictate how healthy the calories need to be and how often per week you train. Warning: If you burn too many calories and don't replace them with the correct type and amount of protein, carbs and fats you will risk losing muscle and indirectly slow down your metabolism. It's not a case of going into starvation mode and dropping calories because all that will do is cause your body to go into self protection mode, change hormone levels and store fat. Getting that six pack is solely dependant on you choosing a healthy diet & training regime for a sustained period of time, the longer you keep up the clean diet the better the results.
There are lots of short term strategies and tactics in training and diet protocols that help speed up fat loss such as doing cardio or sprints immediately after weight training and carb cycles. However nothing will beat throwing away all the junk food which is processed, refined and filled with trans fats, toxins and preservatives. You should look at calories as more of a 'how big do I want to grow my muscles' guide as opposed to Fat loss. You could be burning more fat eating a healthy 3000 calorie a day nutrition plan than consuming unhealthy 2000 calories from foods such as below.
Example 1: Three men walk into a gym....
They all weigh 100 kilograms (220 pounds) however Garry wants to gain weight, Barry wants to maintain weight and Larry needs to lose weight. Garry needs to consume roughly 3,630 calories a day. Barry needs to consume 3,300 calories a day. Larry needs to consume 2,970 calories a day. The formula is your bodyweight in pounds x 15. e.g. Barry's which is 220 lbs x 15. Add 10% for Garry or decrease by 10% for Larry.
Their diets all need to be healthy, organic food that is nutrient dense with lots of proteins (30 -50%), carbs (30-40%), good fats only (10-20%) with the balanced meals including fibre, phytonutrients, probiotics and drinking water to help with digestion and metabolising the food. Fat has twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. Fat has 9 calories per gram whilst carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram. The same advice could be given to Garry, Barry and Larry with the calorie numbers but be told to continue eating a poor diet & food choices that includes refined/processed sugars, trans fats and toxins with little to no water and alcohol or fizzy drinks instead. What do you think the results would look like in 3 months time? Which advice would you take?
Example 2: another man walks into a gym...
Harry also weighs 100kg and wants to burn fat but not lose any weight. He is given advice by 3 different PT's:
1) Consume 3,300 calories a day. Have a strict diet which includes taking supplements for detoxing the blood and organs and also heal any issues with Gut health. The meals are a combination of plant based foods and organic meat from specifically recommended farms. All carbs and vegetables are organic too. This PT has even gone to the effort to explain which meals to consume at specific times of the day. Sleeping well at night an has decided to quit alcohol, coffee and any snacks during this 12 week transformation. Staying fully hydrated with purified water.
2) Consume the same 3,300 calories a day. However diet is reasonably clean but nothing is organic. It's a basic shopping list that has been provided and Harry is also been told he can have a snack of his liking once a day. He has quit alcohol during Monday to Friday but cant help having a boozy night with friends every Saturday night. His calories are monitored and told he can be flexible as long as he is hitting the correct macros. Water is drank from the tap and most days drinks his target however forgets to stay hydrated and ends up sticking with pizzas and burgers on Sunday for his hangover.
3) Consume 3,100 calories a day and makes no changes to his diet because his expert PT told him that all he needed to do was have a calorie deficit.... and that was it. Cracking on with coffee, chocolate and biscuits on a daily basis. Sleep is always off, stressed and tired most of the time but hey he is eating less calories right?
As you can see Harry would be much better off taking the advice from the 1st PT who has his health, body fat goals and fitness in mind. The calories can be the same, or there about's, but the choices of the food intake and the exercise regime will ultimately provide real tangible results. The 2nd PT will provide okay results, especially at the start however these results will slow down eventually and realise that discipline will have to be improved at some point. The 3rd PT should be suspended or sacked or at the very least redo their basic level pt course in nutrition! Calories input and output are important for energy, training and results but you have to look closer at what the diet consists of that's the determining factor of significant and sustained fat loss. Manipulating your macros % which are your protein, carbs and fats is fine as long as you're eating healthy options, this is usually done to find out how your body responds to find the right recipes for you.
Simply 'reducing your calories' is redundant, potentially slows down your results and even harmful if you go too far. If reducing calories was the answer to reducing bodyfat % and having a healthy body then there would be no need for nutritionist's, food experts or functional medicine specialist's. If you have heard somebody who has got results from significantly reducing calories its usually a short term fix but you didn't get to hear about their long term effects/problem afterwards. When people say 'each time I tried to lose weight or fat it gets harder and harder' what I'm really hearing is 'I haven't taken my food choices seriously over the years and as a result my gut health and metabolism are damaged'. Your digestive enzyme and gut flora (probiotic) count will be low! The best one is 'I've had a bottle of wine today so I don't need any carbs right? When I hear that, I politely smile and get said member booked in for a consultation online or in the gym!
Strictly reducing calories and ignoring a healthy balanced diet can lead to:
Wrong macro nutrients chosen (proteins, carbs, fats) which leads to loss of muscle and possible increase in fat.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies which lead to low energy, performance and health issues due.
Trans fats, refine sugars and processed food: This poisons your body, gut and brain.
Damaged gut health and metabolism with far too many acidic food & drink choices
Increased stress & hormonal imbalances which can lead to insulin resistance, increased cortisol (stress), aromatase and decreased testosterone.
No toned abs or 6 pack. Just flat, tired looking muscles...this is known as skinny fat!
Hope you enjoyed this article and if you need further assistance please contact me.