This might be my favorite summertime song. Of all time. Of all time…
Welcome to summer! It’s finally here, and now I have a better excuse to run around in tank tops and sandals.
Summer is my favorite season of the year. Especially since I live in the south. Tennessee is living up to it’s hot and sticky reputation, and I couldn’t be happier.
Cold beer. A hammock in the cool shade. Barefoot. Shirtless, sweaty and sticky.
That’s how we do it down here.
It’s time we got our nutrition in order. Actually, we shoulda done that awhile back. But hey, summertime is a looooong season here in the south, so you’re in luck! You’ve got plenty of time to burn off the fat and feel confident stripping off your shirt at the lake and pool.
Fat Loss in 5 Steps
What follows is a post on nutrition, because as you may have heard, “abs are made in the kitchen.” <–While that’s not much help, the truth is that it’s far easier to shed body fat through diet than exercise. In fact, research has proven this time and again (1). Think of it this way: if skipping rope burns 10 calories/minute, you’d have to skip rope for 30 minutes to burn off the calorie equivalent of a plain bagel. OR, you could just not eat that bagel. Seems a bit easier, eh?
Fat loss is a fairly simple concept. But gaht-damnit it’s really hard to do. Trust me: I’m in this mess right now.
Let’s get down to it:
1.) Calculate your Maintenance Calories
There are a number of ways to do this. First, let’s check out the Harris-Benedict Equation, which helps us determine our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR represents the calories our bodies need, each day, just to support normal bodily function. Here’s the formula:
- Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
- Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )
I’m a Male, weigh 178 lbs, 70 inches tall, and 28 years old. Plugging these numbers in, I get a BMR of 1873 calories/day. Again, this is the number of calories I need to maintain normal function. This does not include my physical activity level, which we calculate next:
Maintenance Calories are determined by multiplying your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
- Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
- Extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training): BMR x 1.9
Since I lift 4x each week, and have an active job, I’ll use the 1.55 activity factor:
- Maintenance Calories = BMR x 1.55 = 1873 x 1.55 = 2904 calories/day to maintain my bodyweight
Lots of math, isn’t it? There’s a simpler way, however, but I should note: these calculations are just educated guesses. They’re fairly accurate, but we’ll discuss more later…
Here’s the faster way:
Bodyweight x Activity Multiplier:
- BW x 12-13 for Fat Loss
- BW x 14-15 for Maintenance
- BW x 16-17 for Mass Gain
For maintenance, I’ll choose 15:
178 lbs x 15 = 2670 calories/day for maintenance
Note: you’ll see the discrepancy between the two numbers I calculated. That’s because these, again, are only estimates, and only give us a general idea of where we should be.
2.) Calculate you Caloric Deficit
A general “rule of thumb” is to subtract approximately 500 calories per day in order to lose 1 lb of body fat per week (3500 calories roughly equals one pound of fat)
You may want to take a more aggressive approach, or maybe a more conservative approach. Either way, the #1 thing you have to do: make sure the diet is sustainable
It’s all fine and good if you want to slash 1000 calories/day in order to drop fat fast. But I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that that approach will probably suck. Be careful how you go about your deficit.
For this example, I’ll take my second calculation of 2670 calories/day for maintenance, and go ahead and subtract 500 calories per day, leading to roughly 1 lb of fat loss per week (maybe; we’ll see if that happens)
Caloric Deficit = 2670 – 500 = 2170 calories/day to lose 1 lb fat per week
If I had used the “faster way” method from above, and multiplied my bodyweight by 12 for my Fat Loss goal:
178 x 12 = 2136 calories/day
Pretty damn close, isn’t it?
3.) Set Protein Intake
Next, we’ll want to set our protein intake relatively high. Those who are sedentary don’t require as much protein as they are not challenging their muscles to the same extent those who lift weights. That being said, the dietary recommendation for protein is .4 g/lb of bodyweight (.8 g/kg).
Recreational athletes and those who weight train need more protein, because, you know, proteins are the building blocks of muscle.
So let’s aim higher than the RDA. The recommendation for those who are active and trying to lose fat is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
For me, that’s 178 grams per day: roughly 712 calories (4 calories/gram of protein)
Why do we want so much protein? For three reasons:
- Protein is the most satiating macronutrient (makes you feel full and therefore less likely to overeat)
- It has the greatest Thermic Effect of Food (TEF: requires more energy to break down protein than any other macro)
- Maintains the muscle mass we already have, since that seems like a pretty good idea (we want our weight loss to come from fat, not muscle)
4.) Set Fat and Carb Intake
Now that we’ve set our Caloric Deficit and protein needs, it’s time to calculate the other two macronutrients: fats and carbs.
Let’s take a flexible dieting approach, which has only two rules:
- Don’t surpass your calorie deficit (don’t go over 2170)
- Make sure you eat your protein (get 178+ grams of protein in each day)
After that, as long as you don’t go over your calorie goal, you can eat whatever proportion of fats and carbs you like.
If you tend to eat more carbs, awesome! Adjust your fat intake down a bit. Conversely, if you enjoy fats more, adjust your carbs down a bit. Here’s how I do mine:
Protein: 178 g/day, or 712 calories. This is 33% of my daily intake (712/2170 = .33)
Fats: I like to eat about 25% of my calories from fats like bacon and steak, so I’ll set my fat goal to 60 g/day, or roughly 543 calories per day (1 g fat = 9 calories).
Carbs will comprise the rest: roughly 42% or 911 calories or 228g/day
Do the math and that should equal 2170 calories/day
5.) Track; Re-assess; and Get your Ass to Work!
If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing. Download a tracking app like My Fitness Pal to track your daily intake to make sure you’re on the right path to ab-city.
Measure your body weight and waist circumference to make sure you’re hitting your 1 lb of fat loss (or more) each week, and to ensure that fat is being stripped off your waist and hips.
Consistency and adherence here are key. If you can’t consistently hit your dietary goals or stick to the diet, the chances of you stripping off that fat are slim.
What happens if nothing changes or you gain a pound, despite your best efforts?
Remember how I said these are just best estimates? If you don’t see the results you’re looking for, adjust your calories down by about 200-300 calories/day, and then continue to do this until you’ve reached your goal.
Track. Re-assess. Adjust when necessary.
Fair warning, though: while the arithmetic makes sense and the process is simple, it’s really fucking hard. Especially if you’re used to eating out with friends and enjoying 2 or 3 or 8 beers with buddies on the weekend.
You’re gonna have to make sacrifices. Period. Are you up for the challenge?
1.) Every diet vs. exercise study, ever