This is the second and last part of my blog series on energy expenditure. In part 1, we looked into how the human body expends energy. The topics discussed in part 1 are critical for having a proper understanding of human energy balance. So if you haven’t yet, I highly suggest you read part 1 of the blog series first. (Click here to read part 1)
In this article, we will look into how you can determine your average daily energy expenditure and fat loss calories.
Your Daily Energy Expenditure
Now that you know how your body burns calories, it’s easy to see why online calorie calculators are not 100% accurate. A formula that takes a few general factors into account (e.g. weight, age, height etc.) cannot predict something as variable as your daily energy expenditure with 100% accuracy.
But even though calorie calculators are not 100% accurate, they do provide a good starting point. Instead of just maintaining a random number of calories, you at least get close to your “maintenance calories” (number of calories you burn per day) when using calorie calculators.
I would see using a calorie calculator as only step 1 in figuring out your maintenance calories. Based on how you progress with your calculated maintenance calories, you have to adjust your calorie intake.
I’ll take you through all the necessary steps of figuring out your maintenance calories one-by-one with myself as the test subject.
Step 1: Estimate Your Energy Expenditure
The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is one of the most recent energy expenditure formulas. Because of this, it’s also considered one of the most accurate formulas. I’ve tried embedding a calorie calculator in this post, but it became a mess. So instead, please visit the link below to get an estimate of your maintenance calories based on the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.
Visit this link to get a TDEE estimate
(Only look at the number of calories required to maintain weight, not the weight loss calories. I’ll cover those in a second.)
Let’s take me as an example. Once I’ve filled in the form, it says I need to consume around 2900 calories to maintain my weight. See the picture below.
Note: With 5 strength training sessions, several in-person PT sessions, and 1 recreational football game per week, my activity is high. For most people, the activity will be lower.
Step 2: Track BW Development For 2 Weeks
Now that we have an estimate of your maintenance calories, we could go straight into eating below this calorie level and probably expect some fat loss. But if you are specifically interested in figuring out your average daily energy expenditure, it usually can’t hurt to “test” your calculated maintenance calories for about 2 weeks and see whether you’ll truly maintain your body weight.
For me, this would mean maintaining ~2900 calories per day for about 2 weeks and tracking my body weight (BW) development. I suggest weighing yourself every morning right after you wake up and visited the bathroom. You take all your weigh-ins of the week and calculate a weekly average. Then compare your weekly average body weight of week 1 and week 2.
I did this once before at the start of 2018 and I gained about 0.4 lbs. in my weekly average. Check the screenshot from my body weight log below.
My calorie intake was within 2800-3000 calories on all the days. During your 2-week “test” period, I also suggest you do not deviate from your daily calorie target with more than 100 kcals up or down to get a good gauge of how your estimated maintenance calories affects your body weight.
Step 3: Adjust Calories Based on BW Change
If your average weekly BW has remained mostly the same (<0.3 lb. BW change), your calculated maintenance calories are close enough to your daily energy expenditure. If there is a significant change in BW between your two averages (>0.3 lb. BW change), you generally need to make calorie adjustments.
As a simple rule of thumb: Per 0.5 lb. change in BW, adjust your calories by 10%. This could be up or down. In my example, I gained about 0.4 lbs. in my weekly average BW measurement. For simplicity’s sake, we can round this up to a 0.5 lb. change. So I will need to lower my calories by 10% per day to maintain my body weight.
2900-2900*10% = 2610 = adjusted new maintenance calories
This is pretty accurate. From experience, once I eat around 2600-2700 calories, I maintain my body weight.
If you follow the exact same 3 steps described above, you will be able to get a good idea of how many calories you expend per day on average.
Setting Calories For Fat Loss
Once you know how many calories you expend on an average day. You need to eat below this calorie level to lose fat (a.k.a. be in a calorie deficit). But how large should your calorie deficit be?
One research review done to provide evidence-based nutrition recommendations for natural bodybuilders suggests that losing about 0.5-1% of total body weight per week is most effective for preserving muscle while losing fat at a good pace. An exception here is overweight or obese individuals. Weight loss rates up to 1.5-2% per week can be effective for these populations since they have more total fat to lose.
Losing 0.5-1% of total BW in a week can generally be achieved by maintaining a daily calorie deficit of 20-25%. For obese populations that have more fat to lose research shows that a more aggressive calorie deficit (up to even a 40% daily calorie deficit) is also effective for muscle preservation and fat loss.
Calculating Fat Loss Calories Example
Now that you know how many calories you burn per day on average and have a good idea of your desired calorie deficit, we can calculate your fat loss calories.
Let’s continue with me as the example again. I maintain my body weight at 2600 calories. To lose fat effectively, I need a 20-25% calorie deficit. This comes down to the following:
2600*0.75 = 1950 = 25% calorie deficit
2600*0.8 = 2080 = 20% calorie deficit
Effective daily calorie range: 1900-2100
Summary + Fat Loss Checklist
To sum up, if you want to figure out your average daily energy expenditure, you need to go through these 3 steps:
- Estimate your maintenance calories with the use of a calorie calculator
- Eat at your estimated maintenance calories for 2 weeks while tracking your BW
- Adjust your maintenance calories based on your BW development
Once you’ve done this, you have a good idea of how many calories you burn on an average day and you can set your calorie deficit for fat loss.
Your calorie intake is the most important variable when it comes to fat loss. So once you’ve got this right, you are well on your way to lose fat. But, of course, effective fat loss is more than just tracking calories. To provide you with a complete overview of the key points you need to consider in your fat loss phase, I’ve designed a free 4-step fat loss checklist. Fill in your email below and I’ll send to you!
When it comes to nutrition for improving your body composition, energy balance is the most important factor. Energy balance describes the relationship between calories in (a.k.a. energy intake) and calories out (a.k.a. energy expenditure).
If you consume fewer calories than you expend in a day, you are in a calorie deficit and your body will use mostly stored body fat for energy. If you consume more calories than you expend in a day, you are in a calorie surplus and your body will store fat.
Now, to figure out how many calories you need to eat in a day to lose fat, you first need to know how many calories you expend on an average day. Or in other words, we need a good estimate of your total daily energy expenditure.
Generally, online calorie calculators can provide a decent estimate of your total daily energy expenditure. But, as you can imagine, a generic formula can’t be 100% accurate. The human metabolism is too complex for this to be true.
In this article, we are going to look into how the human body expends energy so you can gain a deeper understanding of how your “metabolism” works and why just using a simple formula is not enough to accurately determine your maintenance calories. In part 2 of this series, we will delve deeper into how you can accurately figure out your average daily energy expenditure.
The Components of Energy Expenditure
Your energy expenditure essentially is the total number of calories you burn in a day. Some think that if they consume 2000 calories per day, they have to “burn off” 2000 calories through exercise in order to maintain their weight. Luckily, this is not true. The human body also expends energy while at rest and even after you eat.
In nutritional and exercise sciences, total daily energy expenditure is divided into 4 primary components:
- Basal metabolic rate
- Thermic effect of food
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
- Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
In the next few paragraphs, we’ll look into each individual component and its role in human energy expenditure.
Basal Metabolic Rate
Basal metabolic rate essentially refers to the number of calories you burn while at rest. Even when you’re just sitting around or sleeping, vital bodily processes occur that require energy. Think about processes like blood circulation, cellular activity, the process of breathing, muscle recovery etc.
For moderately-active individuals, the basal metabolic rate is by far the most impactful component of energy expenditure. For the average person, around 60-70% of total daily energy expenditure tends to come from the basal metabolic rate.
Fun fact: about 20% of your basal metabolic rate comes from vital processes dedicated to muscle maintenance. So the amount of muscle you carry has an effect on how many calories you burn at rest. For every pound of muscle you gain, research shows you burn an additional 6-10 calories per day. Basically, getting jacked can help you burn a small number of extra calories per day.
Thermic Effect of Food
The food we eat contains energy. But converting food into chemical energy that’s readily usable by the body also requires, you guessed it, energy. The thermic effect of food refers to the number of calories you expend to digest and process the foods you’ve eaten.
For most people, the thermic effect of food makes up about 10% of daily energy expenditure. The thermic effect of food is a perfect example that shows that the number of calories you consume (calories in) directly affects your energy expenditure (calories out).
Now, the thermic effect of food is not the same with every single type of food you consume. In fact, each macronutrient has a different thermic effect.
As you can see in the picture above, protein has the highest thermic effect. This is part of the reason why high-protein diets tend to be effective for fat loss (read more about protein & fat loss here).
In contrast, there’s also research showing that highly processed foods tend to have a smaller thermic effect than whole-foods. The difference is only about 10 calories per 100 kcals consumed, but this can have a small effect on fat loss if someone consistently eats mostly processed foods.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is the most variable component of daily energy expenditure. Your NEAT refers to the calories burned during spontaneous activity. Think about walking to the store, walking up the stairs or fidgeting at your desk.
Research shows NEAT varies substantially across individuals. The same study found that variances in NEAT can be as large as 2000 calories per day between individuals of similar body size.
NEAT is reflective of someone’s lifestyle. A person who has an active day job and constantly moves throughout the day will have high NEAT. A person with a desk job that moves very little throughout the day will have a low NEAT. Because of the wide variance, NEAT can account for 15% to up to 50% of someone’s daily energy expenditure.
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
The large variances between individuals in NEAT help explain why some people seem to have a “faster” metabolism than others. Those who can eat a lot and not gain weight generally just have a higher energy expenditure through NEAT.
One study shows this quite well. The researchers overfed non-obese individuals with 1000 extra calories per day. Some compensated for the increased calorie intake by substantially increasing their spontaneous activity (NEAT), whereas others experienced only a slight increase in their NEAT and gained a ton of fat.
Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)
This one is simple. EAT refers to the number of calories you burn during training. Like NEAT, EAT can vary widely across individuals. Those who train more often expend more energy from EAT than those who train infrequently.
Unless someone practices an extreme sport or performs no form of exercise at all, EAT is generally around 15-30% of someone’s daily energy expenditure.
Calculating Energy Expenditure
Now that you know how your body burns calories, it’s easy to see why calorie calculators are not 100% accurate. A formula that takes a few general factors into account (like weight, age, height etc.) cannot predict something that’s so variable like your daily energy expenditure with 100% accuracy.
Now, even though calorie calculators are not 100% accurate, they do provide a good starting point. Instead of just maintaining a random number of calories, you at least get close to your “maintenance level” (number of calories you burn per day) when using calorie calculators.
I would see using a calorie calculator as step 1 when it comes to figuring out your maintenance calories. Based on how you progress with your calculated maintenance level, you have to adjust your calorie intake.
In part 2 of this blog series (which is live now!), we will delve deeper into all the steps you need to take in order to accurately determine your average daily energy expenditure. If in the meantime you want to play around with a calorie calculator to see where it puts you, check this website. Again, this is a starting point. For now, don’t worry if it seems a bit off.
Make sure you sign up to my mailing list below so I can notify you once part 2 of this series is online!
Most of us want to achieve a lean and muscular physique. To do this, you obviously need to build muscle and lose fat. We’ve been told that it’s impossible to do both at the same time.
”You need to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle!”
Less is true. Building muscle in a calorie deficit is not impossible for most people. There’s also a good evidence base to support this.
But whether you can build muscle optimally while in a calorie deficit, well, that’s a different story.
What Happens In A Calorie Deficit?
When you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re consuming fewer calories than your body requires to fuel your daily activities. This puts you in a catabolic state, which means your body is breaking down internal reserves for energy. The primary energy reserve your body taps into when it’s in a calorie deficit is body fat.
After all, the body gains fat when you overeat so it can use the fat in times of food scarcity. But body fat is not the only thing your body breaks down when you’re in a calorie deficit. Research shows that muscle protein breakdown also significantly increases.
As you’ve probably read in my post about protein intake, the human body builds muscle by synthesizing new muscle proteins. This is referred to as ‘‘Muscle Protein Synthesis”. The body also breaks down muscle proteins: ‘‘Muscle Protein Breakdown”. If the number of muscle proteins your body synthesizes exceeds the number of muscle proteins your body breaks down, you’ve gained muscle.
So, if you increase the number of muscle proteins you build and decrease the number of muscle proteins you break down, you gain more muscle. Unfortunately, maintaining a calorie deficit does the exact the opposite. Research shows protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase when you’re consuming fewer calories than your body needs. So muscle growth essentially slows down when you are in a calorie deficit.
Calorie Deficit Slows Down Muscle Growth
But just because muscle growth slows down while in a deficit, doesn’t mean muscle growth is completely inhibited. With effective training and moderate calorie restriction, most novice to intermediate trainees can still gain some muscle. This is supported by several studies.
When it comes to overweight populations, they can even see good results if the diet is aggressive. In a 2016 study, overweight volunteers gained 2 lbs. of muscle and lost 10 lbs. of fat on average. They did this while maintaining a daily calorie deficit of 40% in a 4-week period. So if you’re not a seasoned lifter and have some body fat to lose, you likely will build muscle in a calorie deficit.
But let’s discuss the exceptions for a second. Because trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time is not for everyone. Two factors seem to mostly influence how well (or not) you can gain muscle in a calorie deficit.
- Strength training experience
- Your body fat percentage
The leaner you are and/or the more experienced you are in strength training, the harder it becomes to gain muscle in a deficit.
Advanced and/or Lean Athletes
The closer you are to your “genetic limit” for muscle growth, the harder it is to gain muscle. So muscle growth naturally slows down as you advance in your training. As you can imagine, being in a calorie deficit will then only further slow down muscular adaptations. This is why a lean bulking phase is generally the way to go for experienced lifters that want to gain muscle.
With that said, this again doesn’t mean experienced lifters cannot build any muscle in a calorie deficit. It just means that if there is any gain in muscle size while dieting, it’s probably very slight. So slight that it may not be noticeable.
When it comes to lean athletes, by definition they have little body fat to lose. Because of the limited amount of stored energy available from fat tissue, you are likely going to break down more muscle proteins for energy. This makes you more susceptible to muscle loss and makes it unlikely that you can gain significant muscle while becoming even leaner.
Based on my experience coaching a wide spectrum of people, the trend I’ve noticed is that those who have 2+ years of effective strength training under their belt and/or are below 12% body fat (20% for females), have a hard time gaining significant muscle while losing fat.
But let’s not forget that most people out there are not very lean or advanced strength trainees. So the general population probably can lose fat and build muscle through effective training and nutrition.
How Most Can Build Muscle and Lose Fat
We now know that even though a calorie deficit is not optimal for muscle growth, most people still can gain muscle while in a deficit.
But in order to build muscle in a calorie deficit, you need to have a few key points in place. We’ll discuss these points below.
Muscle growth is an adaptive response. By constantly training your muscle beyond their present capacity, they’ll have to adapt. Your muscles adapt to overloading strength training by increasing muscle size and strength.
This helps explain why there’s research showing progressive muscle tension is an important mechanism for muscle growth. There are several ways you can progress in your training. The simplest way is increasing the amount of weight you lift or the number of repetitions you do with a certain weight over time.
When trying to build muscle, you’ll often hear that you need to maintain a small calorie deficit, so your body has more energy to work with. From a short-term, ”muscle-building” point of view, this is true. But to lose a significant amount of fat you would need to stay in a deficit for a fairly long time. This is not favorable for multiple reasons.
Research shows that the longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down and the more susceptible you are to muscle loss.
But then again you have to be careful because an approach that’s too aggressive can decrease the amount of muscle gain or preserve. Based on these three studies, losing 0.5-1% of total body weight per week is a good range for most people looking to improve body composition. This generally can be achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit of roughly 20-25%.
Protein plays an important role in muscle preservation when you’re in a calorie deficit. There are plenty of studies supporting this. Next to decreasing muscle breakdown, research shows that a high protein intake also increases the amount of fat you lose (in the same calorie deficit). So a high-protein intake helps with both sides of the equation.
A 2017 systematic review indicates that a daily protein intake of at least 0.7g/lb. (1.6g/kg) of body weight is sufficient for maximizing muscle growth. If you want to err on the safe side of things and want more of the satiety benefits of a high-protein diet, feel free to consume more protein in a day.
As you’ve read in this article, building muscle and losing fat at the same time isn’t impossible. It just gets harder as you get closer to your genetic limit and decrease your body fat percentage. If you have any questions about this article or have a question about your personal fitness, don’t hesitate to comment below!
Lastly, I want to finish off by mentioning my eBook that goes into how you can maximize your muscular potential. This book translates the currently available scientific research regarding muscle growth into “Simple English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.
If you are interested in learning more about how to maximize muscle growth, check out my eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth.”
Eating at a calorie deficit takes its toll after a while. You feel hungry all the time, crave high-calorie foods and fat loss slows down. When this happens, most people turn to cheat days or cheat meals. But this can actually offset a lot of the progress you’ve made.
In this article, I’ll explain why you should turn to a diet break when you feel fatigued from dieting and how this can help prevent fat loss plateaus.
What Happens As You Get Leaner
When you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re technically underfeeding your body. You give it less energy than it requires so it will have to start using body fat as “fuel.” The human body is adaptive, so if you constantly underfeed it, it’s going to adapt by burning fewer calories and making you more hungry to increase the desire to eat. In nutritional sciences, this is known as ”metabolic adaptation”.
Your metabolism basically starts ”slowing down”, so your body can maintain its current shape while you’re consuming fewer calories. From a survival point of view, this makes sense. Your body adapts to the scarcity of food, so it’s able to survive with a lower daily caloric intake.
But when your goal is to lose as much fat as possible, this isn’t favorable. To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns. So if you are in a deficit and your body starts burning fewer calories, you’ll be losing less fat.
This is the main reason why it becomes harder to burn fat as you get deeper into your fat loss phase. A study by Columbia University found that daily energy expenditure can drop anywhere from 8% to 28% after 5-8 weeks of dieting.
So in an extreme case, an average-sized male who burns 2500 calories a day, could be burning just 1800 (2500*0.72) calories a day after a few months of calorie restriction. Now, I must note, such great drops in daily energy expenditure are not common. But it’s clear that metabolic adaptations can have a noticeable effect on how your fat loss phase develops.
How A Diet Break Can Help
If you want to keep losing fat smoothly without “starving” yourself, you need to make sure your daily energy expenditure doesn’t drastically drop over time. Because if it does, you will have to further lower your caloric intake and/or do more cardio to keep seeing good fat loss progress as you advance.
So we know that if you’re in a calorie deficit and are losing fat, your body will start burning fewer calories over time. For most people, this is inevitable since you also need less energy to maintain and move around a lighter body. But we can likely slow down the metabolic adaptations from dieting by occasionally taking a diet break.
We can distinguish a diet break into two types:
- Refeed days
- Week(s) off from a calorie deficit
Research indicates that the adaptations your body goes through in a calorie deficit are partially regulated by the hormone leptin. The longer you’re in a calorie deficit, the more your leptin levels drop. This in return causes you to feel more hungry throughout the day, burn fewer calories and basically makes you feel depleted.
Research shows that overeating on carbs (like during a refeed) significantly increases leptin levels and, thus, may help slow down some of the metabolic adaptations that typically occur in a fat loss phase.
But keep in mind, just one day of eating more carbs won’t magically ramp up your metabolism. All it likely does is slow down the adaptations your body already is going through.
The benefits of a refeed are mostly psychological.
A refeed provides a controlled break from eating at a calorie deficit. When it comes to fat loss success, dietary adherence (being able to stick to your diet) is by far the most important factor. So, to make your diet more sustainable, having strategic refeed days in which you can enjoy more food helps.
At the start of your fat loss phase, a good way to use refeeds is by autoregulating them. When you notice your workouts start suffering due to low energy levels and/or you have a social event coming up, have a refeed day.
As you’re deeper into your fat loss phase, you can implement refeed days more frequently (1-3x a week, scale upwards the leaner you are) since you tend to have increased hunger and energy levels take a hit.
During a refeed day, you eat close to your average maintenance level (number of calories you typically burn per day). There’s no need to complicate this day. Consume enough protein, hit your calorie targets, and have more foods you enjoy.
Week(s) Off From a Calorie Deficit
I like to keep my fat loss phases short and effective. The longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more your metabolism slows down and the more susceptible you are to losing muscle. But if you have a good amount of body fat to lose, it’s nearly impossible to get lean within a few months.
After months of restricting calories, the metabolic adaptations you’ve gone through add up and you may need to diet more aggressively (decrease calorie intake further and perhaps add cardio) to achieve fat loss.
When this happens (usually after 8-12 weeks), it’s best to take a 1-2 week diet break before intensifying your diet. A diet break of 1-2 weeks gives your body the opportunity to reverse the metabolic adaptations its gone through.
Again, the human body cares about survival. A constant stream of calories for 1-2 weeks is more indicative of food availability than just 1-2 refeed days. So it makes sense that an extended diet break is more effective for reversing metabolic adaptations than a refeed day.
A diet break should be kept simple, it is nothing more than an extended refeed day:
The goal with this diet break is to help you increase your daily energy expenditure near its former levels and provide an extended psychological break from eating at a caloric deficit.
Because of the possible reversal of metabolic adaptations during a diet break, you’ll generally notice that you can return back to your regular caloric deficit after a diet break and lose fat effectively again. This way, you can prevent the endless drops in caloric intake over time while trying to lose fat.
Weight Gain & Diet Breaks
After spending a considerable amount of time in a calorie deficit, some people are hesitant about eating more. Oftentimes this has to do with the fear of regaining some of the lost weight. But I want to remind you that to look and feel better, we should care about fat loss, not weight loss.
Once you start eating more food in general during a diet break, it’s possible you gain some weight. However, if you eat around maintenance calories, the gained weight is not fat and temporary. One contributor to slight weight gain during a diet break is your muscle glycogen levels being refilled.
Muscle glycogen is the primary fuel source during high-intensity exercise. Having periods in which you eat more carbs will help refill muscle glycogen stores. This, in turn, may help you train harder. So it’s a good thing.
Another possible contributor to slight weight gain during a diet break is that you’re gaining back some lost muscle. So unless you are gaining excessive weight (more than 1% of your total BW in a week), I wouldn’t worry about the temporary fluctuations in weight during a diet break. Slight weight gain is to be expected.
That’s it regarding diet breaks! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Also, if you’re planning on doing a fat loss phase soon, I recommend you check out my “Fat Loss Checklist”. It covers the key points you need to consider before starting your fat loss phase. You will receive the checklist when you join my mailing list by filling in the form below!
As many of you know, I’ve been running a successful online coaching program for a while now. Today I want to share the progress of one of my clients, Scott from New York.
Scott is 35 years old and has a full-time job. Around mid-April, Scott decided that he wanted to lean down for the summer. So we ended the lean bulk phase he was pursuing at that time and decided to get into a fat loss phase.
The progress pictures you see here in this post (including the thumbnail) are the result of a 15-week fat loss phase in which Scott lost 14 lbs while at least maintaining his strength on all of his lifts. The before pictures are from April 15th, 2018. The after pictures are from the 21st of July in 2018.
Below I’ll briefly go over the training and nutrition approach I’ve designed for Scott to achieve these results. After this, Scott will chime in on his fat loss journey by answering a few questions I’ve asked him to answer for you guys.
Scott performed a 4x per week Upper/Lower split with only two 30-min walks per week (so minimal cardio). Scott’s main goal is physique development. Essentially, being lean and muscular. In order to lean down and at least maintain muscle, resistance training needed to be prioritized.
Now, there’s not much wrong with doing more cardiovascular exercise, but it’s generally not that important for fat loss or muscle growth if you have your resistance training and nutrition dialed in.
The Upper/Lower split Scott uses contains primarily heavy compound lifts to promote progressive overload.
To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit. An easy way to ensure you are in a caloric deficit is by controlling your calories through calorie counting. Scott already was familiar with how to count calories and actually likes having more control over his nutrition. So calorie counting suits him quite well.
Scott had a lot of flexibility with his nutrition. I did not give him a strict meal plan, but a set of simple nutrition guidelines he needed to adhere to. The guidelines regarded his:
- Caloric intake (~25% calorie deficit)
- Macronutrient distribution (a minimum protein target + balanced carb/fat intake)
- Micronutrient density of the diet (minimum servings of fruits/veggies per 1000 kcals consumed + food variety)
As long as Scott stayed within his nutrition guidelines, he would tick all the nutrition boxes necessary to lose fat and perform well. This allowed Scott to be flexible with his nutrition and integrate it with his lifestyle. But he’ll tell you more about this. Below, you can read about Scott’s thoughts on how the fat loss phase went and his experience with my coaching service.
Q: What did you like most about the way we have set up your fat loss phase?
Answer from Scott: It was never static. If there was ever anything that posed a challenge or simply wasn’t enjoyable, we covered it during our consults and a minor adjustment here or there was all that was needed to correct the situation.
Q: What are the next steps in your fitness journey?
Answer from Scott: The beauty of this program is that it doesn’t feel like a “fitness journey” even though it is. My training and diet feel like a part of my daily routine that I’ve grown so used to that I don’t think of my lifestyle as inconvenient. I’m continuing to make progress and improve subconsciously.
Q: How does this online coaching service compare to others you have tried?
Answer from Scott: I’ve had two other online coaches and comparing those experiences to what Mounir offers is night and day. I’ve never seen any online trainers (or in-person trainers for that matter) offer the kind of 1-on-1 attention that Mounir offers 24/7. On top of that, the evidence-based and scientific approach that Mounir uses is truly a game changer to what’s historically been a confusing and unclear endeavor- fitness.
Q: Who would you recommend this online coaching service to?
Answer from Scott: I won’t give the cliché answer and say something like “anyone who is willing to put in the work!”..I think this service is best for someone who is willing to understand the science behind proper training and nutrition, and isn’t looking to be handed a workout or diet plan to blindly follow. You need to be willing to learn how to count calories, estimate food portions, and keep a daily tally of what you’re putting in your body. While it seems like a lot of work at first, it gets easier and becomes second nature.
Q: Can you give some final words of advice for those starting a fat loss phase now?
Answer from Scott: Patience. While these were my results over a 3.5 month period, I’ve been working out for much longer than that. It took some time, but once I stopped expecting results to magically show up one day, things started to fall into place. Patience is key, and before you know it the results will be here. Ok, now that sounded cliché 🙂
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Some people have clear fat loss goals whereas others want to focus on gaining mass. But there are also people that are stuck in the middle. If you feel like you currently carry too much body fat but at the same time still look skinny, let me introduce you to a concept known as being “skinny fat.”
Being skinny-fat refers to a physique that doesn’t look overweight, but lacks muscle mass and has fat stored in all the wrong places. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that you look “soft” while having a healthy body weight.
If you currently have this type of physique and would like to do something about it, this article is for you. In this article, I will give you a simple 3-step “skinny fat solution” that you can put into practice. But first, let’s look into what causes this skinny fat look.
Why You Are Skinny Fat
In essence, the skinny fat look is the result of a lack of muscular development and having a body fat percentage that’s slightly higher than desired. Having too much fat and not enough muscle is generally caused by the following two factors:
- You are (or were) eating too many calories
- You are not prioritizing resistance training
By eating too many calories, you are slowly accumulating fat, which makes you look “softer.” And because you are not resistance training, minimal muscle growth occurs so you remain to look skinny.
Also Possible: Dieting Too Aggressively
Another possibility is that in a fat loss phase someone is dieting down too quickly, prioritizing cardiovascular exercise as their form of training, and not eating enough protein.
We know that severe calorie restriction with a low protein intake results in muscle loss. There’s also research showing that cardiovascular training is not an effective form of training for muscle preservation.
So what potentially can happen is that you lose muscle in your efforts to lose fat. Combine this with the fact that you almost always leave some fat stored in the stubborn areas like your lower belly, hips etc, this can leave you looking skinny fat.
Your Simple Skinny Fat Solution
Now that we know what causes the skinny fat look, let’s look into the 3-step skinny fat solution. The 3 steps are actually quite simple:
- Maintain a caloric deficit and consume enough protein
- Prioritize resistance training
- Be patient and track your progress
Below I’ll discuss how to approach each step in more detail.
Step 1: Be In A Slight Deficit With Enough Protein
In most cases, having your focus on leaning down first when you are skinny fat is a good idea. What we are trying to accomplish is body recomposition (less fat, more muscle). If you are in a slight caloric deficit for fat loss, you can still gain muscle. But if you are in a caloric surplus (a.k.a. “bulking”) to prioritize muscle gain, by definition you cannot lose fat.
So the quickest way to break the cycle of being skinny fat is by focusing on losing the excess fat you have while consistently training with weights to stimulate muscle growth. You can always have lean bulk phases later on in your fitness journey to focus solely on optimizing muscle growth.
To lose fat, it should be clear by now that you need a caloric deficit. When you consume fewer calories than your body requires, your body mobilizes excess fat tissue for energy. But if you are a novice trainee who wants to also gain muscle while trying to lose fat, it’s important you don’t excessively restrict your caloric intake. Muscle growth is a high energy-demanding process. So moderate calorie restriction is desired.
Having a caloric deficit of 10-15% is what I’d recommend for most people. At this deficit, you can still lose fat at a good pace without overly restricting yourself. If you want to calculate your individual caloric targets, multiply your average maintenance level by 0.9-0.85. Use this calculator (click here) if you want an estimate of your average maintenance level.
To support muscle growth while in a caloric deficit, you obviously also need sufficient protein. Current evidence indicates that a good protein target for most people is around 1.6-2.2g/kg of total body weight.
Step 2: Prioritize Resistance Training
As we discussed earlier, a lack of muscular development is the main cause of the skinny fat look. So an essential part of the skinny fat solution is to start properly lifting weights.
There is good research showing that when novice-to-moderate lifters in a slight calorie deficit train with weights, they can gain muscle effectively. But this obviously requires some effort.
The way muscle grows is by continuously presenting more overload. If you impose greater demands on your muscles over time, they have to adapt (by gaining in size and strength) so that it can more efficiently handle the training stressors in the future. This refers to the principle of “Progressive Overload.”
So to gain muscle in a caloric deficit, you need to train in a way that promotes progressive overload. This requires at least three resistance training sessions with mostly major compound movements. For more detailed information on how to train for progressive overload, I’m referring you to my free “Novice Example Routine” (click here to download). This covers everything you need to know on how to start progressing as a novice trainee.
Now, as you saw earlier, doing tons of cardio is not desired when trying to get rid of the skinny fat look. You can still perform multiple cardio sessions in a week and gain good amounts of muscle, but it’s important to emphasize that your main form of training should be resistance exercise.
Step 3: Be Patient & Track Progress
This is arguably the most important factor. As natural trainees, we need to face the reality that muscle growth does not come quickly. So to prevent yourself from getting discouraged while working on your physique, consider that making noticeable progress takes time.
As a novice trainee, gaining 10-15 lbs. of muscle on your frame will help tremendously with getting rid of the skinny fat look. But depending on how consistently you train, this may take 5-10 months to achieve. So don’t expect change overnight. Like most things in life, you are going to have to put in the work first.
Now, to gauge whether you are on the right track throughout your fitness journey, I recommend you track your progress. After all, if you track your fitness progression, you can manage it.
I personally recommend three progress-tracking tools:
- Daily body weight measurements (so you can establish weekly averages, day-to-day fluctuations mean little)
- A training log
- Weekly progress pictures
These tools should be used in conjunction. Here are some examples of how tracking progress can help:
Scenario 1: If your weekly average body weight is not dropping and after a couple of months you don’t see any fat loss progress in your progress pictures, your caloric deficit is probably too small. Therefore, you may need to further lower caloric intake and/or increase energy expenditure for fat loss.
Scenario 2: If your strength is decreasing (you can analyze this in your training log) and your weekly average weight is dropping rapidly, you likely need to slow down the rate of weight loss by increasing caloric intake. This will likely help your training.
The point here is that tracking progress basically gives you control over your fitness journey. You can step in and change the approach whenever needed.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on my skinny fat solution. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
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