(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think others will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: I’m currently looking to lose about 30-40lbs of fat and I’ve already calculated my calorie, protein, fat and carb intake based on your recommendations. However, I understand that as I gradually lose weight, those initial numbers that I’ve calculated will no longer be right for me.
So I was wondering, how often should I recalculate my calorie intake and adjust my diet to prevent plateaus and make sure I keep losing without having any stalls or setbacks? Every 1-2 weeks? Every month? After every 5-10 pounds lost? I’ll do it after every pound if you think it will help.
ANSWER: This is a good question. It’s also one that I get asked from the opposite point of view as well… meaning people who are focusing on building muscle (and are therefore very slowly gaining weight) and want to know how often they need to adjust their calorie and macronutrient intake upwards to keep things moving in the right direction at the ideal rate it should be.
So, let’s answer it all.
But First… Why Is This Even A Question?
Before I tell you exactly how often you should recalculate things, I want to clarify why things actually need to be recalculated in the first place.
And the most simple reason is that a bigger body will naturally burn more calories than a smaller body.
Let’s look at it from two different perspectives…
- For fat loss, the calorie intake that might cause an ideal rate of progress for someone at 250lbs isn’t the same calorie intake that will cause an ideal rate of progress for them at 200lbs. Meaning, at 200lbs, they’d most likely need to be eating fewer calories than they initially calculated and progressed well with back when they were at 250lbs. Why? Because there’s now 50 less pounds of mass (body fat) on their body, and a smaller body burns less calories. And this (along with a smaller adaptive metabolic component) is the super complicated cause of “weight loss plateaus” (and why adjusting your calorie intake (or output) to compensate is the super complicated solution).
- For building muscle, a skinny guy who is 140lbs and trying to get to 180lbs will find that by the time he hits 165lbs (just a random example), he’s going to be eating more calories than he initially calculated and progressed well with back when he was 140lbs. Why? Because he added 25lbs of mass (ideally mostly in the form of muscle rather than fat… which, by the way, is precisely what Superior Muscle Growth is designed to do) to his body, and a bigger body burns more calories.
And since your protein, fat and carb intake are calculated based on either your body weight (like how protein recommendations are typically something like 1g per pound of your current body weight) or your total calorie intake (like how fat recommendations are often something like 25% of your total calorie intake… and then carbs fill in the rest), you can see why it’s not JUST calories that would need to be recalculated. It’s calories, protein, fat and carbs.
So, for everyone who has ever successfully lost weight or gained weight for a significant period of time and then suddenly stalled… this is the most common reason why.
You just need to adjust your diet to compensate for the successful changes you’ve already made, which will then allow similar successful changes to continue to occur.
The only question is, how often should you make these adjustments?
How Often Should You Recalculate?
My recommendation is very simple.
Don’t recalculate or adjust any aspect of your diet until progress has consistently stopped altogether or maybe just slowed down to a significant (and unacceptable) degree. Basically, don’t do anything until there’s an actual need to do so.
So if your goal is fat loss, adjust only when weight loss stops completely (or possibly just falls meaningfully below the ideal rate you’re aiming for) for a consistent 2-4 week period.
If your goal is muscle growth, adjust only when weight gain stops completely for a consistent 2-4 week period. (For SMG readers, I cover exactly how to make this adjustment on page 116.)
Why Not Do It More Often And/Or Regularly?
Now for the all-but-guaranteed followup question…
Why not just preemptively recalculate everything every couple of weeks or every month or every 5 pounds and avoid ever reaching a point where you let progress slow down or stop?
Five reasons come to mind…
- Because the differences will be way too insignificant to legitimately warrant any adjustment.
- Because you’d just end up making these tiny, meaningless adjustments (e.g. 10 calories, 2 grams of protein, etc.) that will be nearly impossible to accurately even make in the first place.
- Because trying to make these kinds of tiny insignificant adjustments will only drive you insane. And waste your time. And did I mention drive you insane?
- Because progress is never perfectly linear AND body weight fluctuates. So while things will move in the right direction at the ideal rate it should be moving most of the time, there will be weeks when there are no changes whatsoever. There will also be weeks when things move a bit too fast or too slow. Hell, there will be weeks when things move in the opposite direction you’ve intended (for example: The Causes Of Unexplained Weight Gain). And do you know why these weeks often occur? Not because there’s something wrong and an adjustment needs to be made, but because of normal wacky fluctuations in body weight. So you’d end up in a lovely scenario where you adjust your diet based on nothing but the fact that you happened to take an above-average sized poop the day before, or consumed an above-average amount of sodium that week or the previous day, or you’re a woman and it’s a certain time of the month, or your carb intake was a little higher or lower than it typically is, or something equally meaningless that will cause various completely normal and entirely temporary changes in body weight that do not warrant making any adjustments for (and instead warrant just giving it another week or two and patiently watching things return to normal).
- Because in order for you to even know if things are actually moving in the right direction at the ideal rate, you need to keep everything consistent for a significant period of time. And if you’re constantly making minor adjustments to your diet to compensate for every tiny change or passage of time, it’s going to make it mighty hard to know if things are working like they should be in the first place.
So, here’s the point. Don’t adjust anything or even worry about having to adjust anything until things slow or stall for a consistent period of time and a need for adjusting actually exists.
Doing anything before that point is a big waste of time and effort in my opinion, and it will most likely cause more harm than good.