How many calories do you still need when cutting?
If you're working out with the goal of losing weight but you’re not adjusting what you eat and how much you eat, all your efforts in the gym will be a lot less effective. You need to know how many calories you should consume daily in order to reach your goals. In this article we will discuss what you need to know calorie-wise to successfully start your cutting-phase!
People refer to cutting when an individual makes a commitment to lose weight. Obviously the goal isn’t to lose just any weight, the goal is to lose fat while limiting the loss of muscle. In order to do so people will eat less calories than usual in combination with a well thought-out, structured training-plan that focuses on burning fat but also still includes some heavy lifting.
Keep in mind that cutting requires time and dedication and above all, you need to be consistent. So if you want to successfully lose weight, you should be consistently eating less calories than you actually need for weeks and sometimes even months while still performing a progressive, intensive and structured training plan. Knowing by how much to decrease your calorie intake is important though, you can’t just eat a lot less and expect good results. Ofcourse you’ll lose weight if you halve your calorie-intake from 1 day to the next and then keep doing this for several weeks but this is totally the wrong way to do it. You’re basically starving yourself and you will not only lose fat but you will lose muscle aswell! To prevent this from happening, you can’t just eat less, you have to know how much less!
Ok, nice but how do I find out how many calories my body needs?
There are a number of formulas out there, but trial and error has shown that the equation below is one of the most accurate and provides good results whether an individual is CUTTING or BULKING.
1) Calculate your calories for maintenance:
Ok, here we go.
- Men: BMR* = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age in years)
- Women: BMR* = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age in years)
*Basal Metabolic Rate
Both these equations also require an activity level estimate to provide the maintenance calories needed by an individual to maintain their current weight.
Little to no exercise
BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1-3 days per week)
BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3-5 days/week)
BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6-7 days/week)
BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts)
BMR x 1.9
The above may seem daunting and you are probably thinking of just putting your details into a calorie counter app. I would urge you to rethink. The equation above is more accurate to you and will yield better results. It may be a little more work in terms of mathematics, but it’s worth it; nothing worthwhile is ever easy. The calorie counters often give too few calories which can leave you exhausted and put your body in danger.
Also, when choosing your activity level, don’t just think about going to the gym but also take into account how active your job is. If you have a desk job which means you’re sitting most of the time and you go to the gym 3 times a week, I would choose light exercise (BMR x 1.375). If you work in sales and you’re walking around most of the day and going to the gym 3 times a week then moderate exercise would be more fitting (BMR x 1.55). See where I’m going with this? Always choose the one that’s most accurate for your situation.
Let’s take an average male and female and work through the formulas.
Age 25, Weight 75 kg, Height 178 cm. He trains at the gym 3-4 days a week and goes for a longish run on the weekend.
BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x 75) + (4.799 x 178) - (5.677 x 25)
BMR = 1805.434 kcal
His activity level is x 1.55
Maintenance Calories = 1805.434 x 1.55 = 2798.423 kcal
Age 22, Weight 52 kg, Height 165 cm. She trains at the gym 3-4 days a week and does a crossfit class once a week.
BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x 52) + (3.098 x 165) - (4.330 x 22)
BMR = 1344.347 kcal
Her activity level is x 1.55
Maintenance Calories = 1344.347 x 1.55 = 2083.738 kcal
So this is how you calculate the amount of calories you need as a man or woman to neither gain nor lose weight with your current age, weight, height and lifestyle/activity level. In other words: This is what your body needs for maintenance.
Now that we know our BMR, we can easily calculate how much less we have to eat in order to reach our goal when we’re starting a ‘cutting’ phase.
2) Calculate your calories for CUTTING:
You will have to consume less calories than what you calculated for maintenance (BMR) in order to lose weight. Ofcourse we want to keep our musclemass and lose as much fat as possible when we cut so it’s important to keep training with decent weights as well as well as consuming solid amounts of protein to help maintain your muscle. Also you shouldn’t be cutting calories stupidly. If you cut the calorie-intake too low, the body will break down hard earned muscle. That is not how you should be doing it. Slow and steady yields best results.
A common mistake is to go straight to 20% less calories and then after a week become impatient and lower to 25% or even lower. Don’t do that!! It’s a marathon not a sprint. Give yourself plenty of time. Start at 10% and work hard in the gym and be consistent with food. Lower to 15% after a period of weeks or even a month. Then work hard and be consistent again. Only then when you stall again should you lower to 20%.
Another piece of advice is to train intensely, but perhaps save intervals or separate cardio- sessions for later in the cut. At the start just do resistance training. (aka lifting weights) Therefore, when the fat loss stalls, you have extra training to throw at the problem instead of just cutting more calories. If you use all your training weapons at the start, your only choice is to cut more calories or add extra hours of cardio. Both aren’t advisable (or necessarily enjoyable!) in our experience.
Let’s work through our examples again:
He wants to cut quickly over 6-8 weeks for a last minute summer holiday in two months time.
His maintenance calories are 2798.423 kcal
We will decrease this by 15% (to do so we multiply by 0.85)
2798.423 x 0.85 = 2378.660 kcal
After a few weeks or a month he may want to decrease this to a 20% deficit (to do so we multiply by 0.8)
2798.423 x 0.8 = 2238.738 kcal
She wants to cut more slowly as she doesn’t want to risk losing too much muscle which she’s worked hard for over the last 6 months, but she does want to “tone up” for her wedding in 3 months.
Her maintenance Calories are 2083.738 kcal
We will decrease this by 10% (to do so we multiply by 0.9)
2083.738 x 0.9 = 1875.364 kcal
After a month she will want to decrease this to a 15% deficit (to do so we multiply by 0.85)
2083.738 x 0.85 = 1771.177 kcal
She may wish to decrease this by another 5% to 20% a few weeks before her wedding (to do so we multiply by 0.8)
2083.738 x 0.8 = 1666.990 kcal
With this knowledge you will be able to calculate how many calories you need for cutting. For those that are absolutely new to all this, I do have to add that this is just the first part. You will need to split the total amount of calories in carbs, protein and fat but I will discuss more about this is a future article. During a cutting phase, it is not uncommon that people split their calories in for example 35% carbs, 45% protein and 20% fat. Variations are possible and every body is different so even after you've calculated everything right, you should still track your progress by weighing yourself weekly and then adjust if and where necessary.
You can check out our article about macro's here in case you want to refresh your memory or haven't read it yet. It will explain everything you need to know about carbs, proteins and fats.