Part 1 – Energy Balance (A.K.A. Calories)
Preparing Yourself (Mindset and Materials)
Before we get into the details and specifics of what energy balance really means and why it’s so important, lets first touch on what you’ll need in order to even head down this path of tracking calories, planning your macros, and determining exactly what your nutrition plan should look like.
The first thing you’ll need is the mental preparation to make this work for you. When considering calories, macros, micronutrients, and everything else within the pyramid of importance (made famous by Eric Helms of 3DMJ) – you’ll need to consider and realize the fact that things are becoming a bit more “real”.
But you’ll also need to understand that though these metrics allow us to dial things in to a much more specific level, they also allow us to create more flexibility within this structure.
See, if you become so rigid that you worry about being off by 1 single gram or that you end up prepping 6 meals a day of broccoli and ground turkey… you will go insane. I’ve seen it, in fact – I’ve lived it!
With that being said, you need to be disciplined enough to track everything you eat inside of a food tracking software like MyFitnessPal and as neurotic as that may seem, it works really well for not only transforming your body composition – but also for allowing more flexibility within your diet plan.
See this can actually allow you to fit in that beer or burger on the weekend, so you don’t become so rigid that you never attend social events or enjoy yourself. It also allows you to fit the amount allowed within your caloric intake, making it easier to lose weight in the long run.
The percentage of people I’ve worked with that see better results because we have this system of numbers for them to eat health WHILE fitting in the foods they enjoy, is beyond the majority. Which is why I’m a huge proponent of it, also exactly why I’m writing this for you now.
So again, it’s a balanced approach of extreme discipline and more flexibility all wrapped in one system – as impossible as that may sound.
The main reason it was created or discovered was to allow bodybuilders to still get stage lean without having to only eat a list of 6 foods and drive themselves crazy mentally while creating nutritional deficiencies during prep.
And whether you’re getting ready for stage or just the general folk looking to strip that unwanted belly fat, this way of eating simply works and allows us to steal the exact system the leanest guys in the world use to become the leanest guys in the world…
The next thing you’ll need to fully appreciate is the power of consistency.
In order to truly transform your body and witness drastic results through fat loss or muscle gain is to be patient and trust the process. Unless you have 50-100lbs to lose, you likely will not see drastic results right out the gate.
Your body needs time to adapt to the new lifestyle and eating system you’re throwing at it. Another reason for this is because things need to be adjusted along the way. I doubt I’ve ever created a starting baseline of calories and macros for someone and seen them get to their goals on those numbers. It takes tweaks, adjusting, and much more along the way to make sure these things keep working week after week.
And last but not least, we need the tools necessary.
In our case, there a few measuring tools you’ll need for this to work:
- A Scale – If you don’t weigh in and track your progress, you won’t know if things are working (using a mirror for this helps a lot too).
- A Gym – If you’re looking to change your body, you need to train. But especially in the case of building muscle, the weights you’re lifting are a key indicator of the progress you’re making.
- Food Measuring Tools – Things like cups, tablespoons, etc…. But the most important, is a digital food scale. Nothing is more accurate and in the case of dialing in your specific nutrition plan, accuracy is key.
- Tracking Software – My suggestion is MyFitnessPal, but any app or software that allows you to track your calories and macros will work just fine.
Ok, now that you’ve been able to prepare yourself mentally and with the necessary tools for this system – now we can get onto the actual pyramid.
Part 1 – ENERGY BALANCE (A.K.A. Calories)
So first let’s define what calories and energy balance is and really means…
Calorie – “The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, equal to one thousand small calories and often used to measure the energy value of foods.”
Now that you know what a calorie means according to your high school science teacher, lets move on to the meat and potatoes – the things that really matter.
A calorie is a way to measure your food and totally daily intake. It’s also a metric we can used to see how many calories we’re expending through daily activities, whether that’s exercise or non-exercise oriented activities (things like breathing, eating, walking, talking, etc…).
So what does this really mean for you?
It means you now have a way of tracking, determining, and controlling the outcomes you see with your body composition according to this specific number. It’s a powerful tool that can help you dial in your nutrition enough to visibly see differences in your body almost immediately.
See what we’ve learned over the years studying calories and energy balance, is that if we can manipulate our intake and expenditure, we can change the outcome we see – whether that’s losing body fat or building muscle mass.
In other words, Calories in vs. Calories out will determine 75-90% the results you see.
This is the exact reason that this is the foundation of the pyramid. It’s the base and the first thing we even touch on because it’s the biggest influence on what we see with our body composition. If we ignore this, it’s going to be very tough to see results.
Now you may be thinking, “I know plenty of people who do not track their calories and they’re lean as hell! What gives there?”
Well, it could be multiple things. Here are some examples:
- They tracked once upon a time and can be successful with intuitive eating now. I’m a great example; I tracked for 2-3 years almost every single day. It taught me everything about what I was eating and what my body needs, allowing me to maintain my weight without using a tracking system. But if I want to see changes, this system is the first thing I’ll go to.
- They’re genetic freaks. Have to get this out there because the industry, and social media in general, are full of genetic freaks who are born with abs yet preach about their systems and programs. Some have great info and others don’t, sometimes it’s hard to tell. But one thing we can do for ourselves, is realize that genetics play a huge roll and instead of complaining about ours not being super human – we can use systems like this to take control.
- They’re habitually in control of their eating. Many people can monitor eating and practice moderation very easily. My guess is that you’re not one of them, since you’re reading this. My guess is you have an extreme goal to get lean (this is for you) or you do struggle with your eating habits and want to change (this is for you).
The Next Step: Finding Your Maintenance.
The first and most important step in order to figure out where your calories should be at and successfully use this system, is finding where your maintenance level is.
See, calories are like a GPS for changing your body composition. It’s going to guide you down the exact path needed to find the result you’re looking for. But here’s the deal, if you don’t put in the place you’re starting from – there’s no way in hell you’ll find the destination waiting for you.
So that’s where finding your maintenance calories comes in and play’s such a big role in starting this process.
There are 2 main ways to go about this; the first is simply using a calculator.
This isn’t as accurate or favorable as the way I’ll explain here soon, but it’s simple and can be used immediately so I’ll knock it out first – Remember that this is more of an estimation than anything else, so if you can be patient enough I would suggest spending a week or 2 using the way I’ll explain soon enough…
1.) Baseline Multiplier (Before Activity) – Bodyweight x10 = Theoretical Caloric Intake
So for example: I weigh about 170lbs, meaning my theoretical caloric intake would be 1,700.
After this, we multiple that given amount by an activity multiplier. This means everything we do on a daily basis, not just training or your active labor job. This includes NEAT as well (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Which means everything we do outside of activity, from walking to standing to everything else causing some kind of caloric burn.
This is important because many people will burn more calories than most, from having a high NEAT. These are people you see talking a lot or fidgeting constantly (I have a high NEAT, because I can’t shut up or sit down. Gift and a curse I guess…).
But this also comes into play when we diet because as energy (calories) gets lower during a diet, we naturally have less energy to move and burn. This usually results in significant drops in NEAT along the way.
2.) Using The Activity Multiplier
|Lifestyle/Training Frequency||Activity Multiplier/Number|
|Sedentary + 3-6 Days Training/Week||1.3 – 1.6|
|Light Activity + 3-6 Days Training/Week||1.5 – 1.8|
|Active + 3-6 Days Training/Week||1.7 – 2.0|
|Very Active + 3-6 Days Training/Week||1.9 – 2.2|
Baseline Multiplier x Activity Multiplier = Estimated Maintenance Calories
So lets bring my weight back down for example again.
170lbs x 10 = 1,700 calories
I’m active + 3-6 days a week of training (I use this graciously, even though I’m a coach – majority of my day is creating content, communicating with clients, and programming on my computer).
1,700 x 1.7 – 2.0 = 2,890 – 3,400
Now that we have that covered, there are a few things to consider and look at…
One is that this is a wide range and who knows how close I actually am to that currently. In fact, in many cases clients will come to me in need of being at a much higher caloric intake than they currently are at. For example, someone should be maintaining their weight at 2,500 and they’re more consistently eating 1,600 – 1,900.
This means that if I immediately bump them up to their “maintenance” of 2,500, they’ll likely gain weight pretty rapidly. Usually that is not what they’re hiring me for.
This is exactly why I prefer the following method more when it comes to finding your personal maintenance – Tracking and Finding an Average.
With this method, you would track your daily intake of food as well as your daily weight on the scale. This will allow us to look at how much food you’re truly eating on a day to day basis, along with how your bodyweight is reflective of that.
We may see that you’re consuming 2,000 calories on average and your weight isn’t budging or that it’s slowly climbing up.
Let’s look at an example of this:
|Week 1 Average ~1,885||Week 1 Average ~ 165.8|
|Week 2 Average ~1,935||Week 2 Average ~ 165.7|
So after 2 full weeks of tracking, we know that on average you’re consuming 1,900 calories daily and that amount of food is actually maintaining your weight (there was a 0.1 increase which is not significant enough to call it weight gain).
So what does this tell us? It tells us that your maintenance level calories are truly 1,900. Nothing will give you as accurate of an equation as real life metrics, which is why this is the protocol I recommend when starting this system.
So again, here is our starting point. This gives us the starting line for our journey to results.
Creating Your Deficit or Surplus.
As we now know, this is your maintenance calorie intake and if we want to change our body composition we’re going to need to change this intake. Simply put, we’re not trying to maintain – we’re trying to either lose or gain.
Studies and science will tell you that 3,500 calories is a pound of fat, so if we wanted to lose 1lb of fat per week we would cut 3,500 calories which ends up being about 500 calories per day.
In the example above, taking the average caloric intake, that would only allow 1,400 calories per day. This could be an issue for hunger, cravings, flexibility, energy/performance, and muscle retention.
In the example of the calculations, this wouldn’t be an issue at all because we’d still have about 2,900 calories to consume daily… See how this can cause confusion or wonder as to why people are tracking calories, yet not seeing results?
Again, this is a baseline. Adjustments will need to be made. My experience has shown me that keeping the client at that maintenance caloric intake for a couple extra weeks, while implementing a smart training program, is the best route to take.
[If you’re tired of going to the gym aimlessly without a solid training program or having a plan that will actually show you results, click here now.]
So my advice to you is wait before you adjust. The accountability of tracking in general usually provides enough change to make body composition shifts and if it doesn’t, the training will.
The next thing would be looking at your macronutrients within those calories, which unfortunately for you I wont be talking about until the next blog – part 2.
The reason I say that, though, is because many people over consume fats and/or carbs while under consuming protein. So keeping calories the same, while making the shift on their macros, can cause drastic body comp changes by itself.
So lets say you do need to make a change, because your protein is on point and you know your average caloric intake is keeping you where you’re at (duh, because it’s your maintenance…).
Then drop calories, but in a less drastic approach. Shoot for 150-300 calories instead of 500 while increasing your NEAT or cardio in general, which will likely lead to the 500 daily total needed for 1lb of fat per week.
But let’s pause for a minute… Should we all be striving for 1lb per week?
Rate of Weight Loss.
The next step, is determining what a healthy rate of weight loss is for you to aim for. Most people will say 1-3lbs is a healthy weight range to aim for per week, which is true most of the times.
The problem with that number is that it isn’t relative to the individual depending on where they’re currently at in their weight loss journey.
For example, if you only have 5lbs to lose – this is an unrealistic number to shoot for, not too mention unhealthy, as you will be risking hormonal balance and muscle tissue.
When the goal is purely fat loss, we need something that works for a wide range of individuals and because of that, we’ll use percentages of total body weight as a weekly weight loss target.
For pure fat loss, my recommendation to you is to strive for 0.5 – 1.0% of bodyweight per week.
This can be pretty simple and relative for just about any individual, as it changes depending where you’re at in your fat loss journey – while never truly harming muscle gain or hormones, assuming you’re doing things properly and following a realistic timeline.
|Individual’s Bodyweight||Rate of Loss Per Week|
|250||1.25 – 2.5 lbs.|
|225||1.1 – 2.25 lbs.|
|200||1 – 2 lbs.|
|175||0.8 – 1.75 lbs.|
|150||0.75 – 1.5 lbs.|
|135||0.6 – 1.3 lbs.|
As you can see, the smaller you get the smaller the rate of loss becomes. This is because you very likely do not have nearly as much fat to lose as someone at a higher weight.
Or you have less fat and more muscle, which again is not a place where we want to be pushing our results too quick as we will sacrificed hormonal health and muscle tissue.
My suggestion is always to lose your weight or body fat via nutrition as it’s much more controllable and way less taxing on your body’s hormonal and nervous system. But because I know someone reading this will be curious about how to implement cardio for extra caloric burn, I’ll throw in a table for it.
|Cardio Type||120 lbs.||160lbs||200lbs.|
|Light||24 kcals/10 Min||32 kcals/10 Min||40 kcals/10 Min|
|Moderate||54 kcals/10 Min||74 kcals/10 Min||90 kcals/10 Min|
|Hard||84 kcals/10 Min||112 kcals/10 Min||140 kcals/10 Min|
Even though cardio is good and you will likely need to include some at some point in your fat loss journey, do not be quick to add it in.
Always remember that at some point, you will need to stop doing it because it’s unrealistic to continue doing cardio forever. Because the body is a very adaptive species, our metabolic rate will grow accustomed to the amount of cardio and that is where issues arise.
So once again, add it in sparingly and only when you’ve come far enough that you have no other choice – i.e. you don’t want to or cannot take any more calories out.
Rate of Weight Gain.
When it comes to gaining weight, good weight, things are so easy.
Unfortunately for the natural lifter, it is much more difficult and takes much longer to put on quality muscle mass than it does to burn off body fat.
That being said, I’m going to be very black and white about this section.
- You need to be in a surplus, period. Body “recomps” are practically impossible for anyone who is not the beginner in the gym.
- You need to train hard, eat right, recover enough, and be patient. You will not grow overnight. So commit to a 6-8 month period and solely focus on gaining size, nothing else. Lose fat later.
- Don’t get fat. This isn’t an excuse to “bulk bro”. So the goal should be to maintain your body fat level, maybe add a little bit of fluff. But in no way should you get fat because that will negatively effect your health and your ability to actually put on more muscle tissue. As you put on fat, you’re more prone to adding even more as you eat.
So unlike a pound of fat, which has 3,500 calories, muscle has far less; only about 800 calories.
“So should we be in a 800 calorie surplus per week in order to gain 1lb per week?”
Maybe, it depends (I know, you hate that answer).
It really just depends on where you’re at in your lifting career. See an advanced individual won’t put on a pound per week and to be honest, most beginners wont either.
Most people will burn much of those extra calories, but they will put on quite a bit. So the process of this is pretty simple…
The more advanced and/or longer into your training career you are, the less calories you add into your surplus because the less muscle you can actually build.
See we have a genetic potential, without drugs, and the closer we get the more our bodies resist adding muscle. So the further along you get, the slower you build muscle. I know, pretty messed up… We get smarter and better at this stuff, but we don’t get rewarded for it.
This is exactly why I encourage so many newbies to the gym to get a coach right form the get go, because it will save them so much time and frustration down the road.
So let’s make this easy, with another table:
|Training Career & Experience Level||Calories Above Maintenance at 180lbs||Calories Above Maintenance at 130lbs|
(First 1-2 Years)
About 200-300 kcals/Day
About 150-225 kcals/Day
(3-4 Years In)
About 100-200 kcals/Day
About 75-150 kcals/Day
(5+ Years In)
Up to 100 kcals/day
Up to 75 kcals/day
So as you can see, unless you’re just getting into the gym – and if you are, kudos to you for reading this and researching REAL info on how to improve right from the start – you need to be patient when it comes to building serious muscle.
Lose Fat First or Build Muscle First?
This is a question I see pretty often and again, it depends.
It depends on where you want to be in 1-2 years and where you’re at now.
So for example, if you’re 250lbs at 6 foot and want to be lean, muscular and athletic looking. I would focus on losing as much body fat, while lifting heavy weights, over the course of the next year. That would allow a lot of fat loss, but at a slow enough pace to maintain all your muscle mass.
Then on year 2, focus purely on building muscle and maintaining your body fat levels. Throw in a couple mini-cuts to make sure you’re staying lean and you’re there.
[*Side Note* – The clients who get the best results with me, commit to a year or more of the work. It’s a process, but their end result is unbelievable and never goes away. Click here now to learn more about transforming your body]
Now on the other end if you’re about 165-175lbs, 6 foot, and 12% body fat, as a male, but cannot see your abs… I would highly recommend you do not try to get shredded, because if you built some serious muscle and ate properly – you’d look leaner.
So as you can see, it really depends on where you’re at.
My advice is to Check Out My Ebook – Because this is only part 1 of the Nutrition Hierarchy! We still need to go over macronutrients, micronutrients, meal timing/frequency/ and supplements.
Having all the aspects of the hierarchy on track will make your diet not only 10x more successful, but it will allow you to learn the process – making it so much easier to do and sustain for the long-term.
If you want to get access to the entire hierarchy so you can learn more than just how to calculate your calories; Learn how to prescribe your own macro ratios, figure out the exact vitamins/minerals you need, time your meals appropriately, the best supplements to support your goals, and more…
Click Here Now and get The Nutrition Hierarchy Ebook (The All Inclusive Guide To Mastering Your Diet) for a price that’s less than you spend on lunch, to see years of results.
- The Muscle and Strength Pyramids (Eric Helms, Andrea Valdez, Andy Morgan)
- Nutrition Pyramids (youtube.com/3dmj)