How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle by Calorie Cycling
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Calorie cycling represents a new, yet intuitive way, of thinking about eating. Not exactly a diet, calorie cycling involves purposefully consuming more calories on some days than you do on others.
This may not sound revolutionary, but when you consider the fact that most diets call for uniform consistency—allocating the exact same number of calories every day, regardless of your activity level—you’ll realize that a diet which embraces eating different amounts different days is indeed, well, different.
Weekly Caloric Intake
One of the tenants of calorie cycling is that people trying to lose weight should focus on the number of calories they consume on a weekly basis, not a daily one.
If, for example, you are a large male and calculate that you need to consume 2,100 calories or less per-day to maintain your weight loss goals, that means you have a total of 14,700 calories you can “spend” on different days throughout the week. That means you can eat 1,600 calories on Monday, and then 2,500 calories on Tuesday, and then go back down to 2,100 calories on Wednesday, and you’d still be on track. But the thing to remember is that calorie cycling only works if you are most active on the days you consume the most calories, otherwise those extra calories will convert to fat.
If you have ever tried a traditional diet where you have to eat the same number of calories per-day, every day, then you know it can be difficult to stay within the allotted calories on your most active days. If you run a 5k and go to the gym one day why should you eat the same number of calories then as you do when you spend almost the entire day sitting on an office chair? It simply doesn’t make sense.
The Flexibility of Calorie Cycling
Another great thing about calorie cycling is that it grants you a greater degree of flexibility than other diets. Anyone who takes their personal fitness seriously knows that sticking to a strict diet in a pool of people who aren’t can be difficult. Birthdays, office parties, late nights out with friends, if you are on a normal diet, these kinds of situations can go from being fun to an annoyance as you are forced to look like a stick in mud when you turn down yet another slice of cake.
Enter calorie cycling.
Calorie cycling enables you to enjoy special occasion events like birthday parties and celebrations guilt free. Why? Because you can toss occasional events up and factor them into your weekly calorie allotment. If you had an office party with pizza, that’s fine just make sure you mark today down as one of your “high calorie” days. You can make up for it by eating less tomorrow. Also, if you have a high calorie day, you should always try to capitalize on it by doing more at the gym. While eating a lot may not be great before long-distance cardio, you can easily turn your high-calorie days into heavy weight, low-rep days at the gym where you focus on building muscle and gaining strength.
Calorie cycling is all about mindset, and if you think of calories as fuel for your body then you are on the right path. The message is simple: The more you consume, the more you should burn.
Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle
Most people want to do two things to get in shape: Lose fat and gain muscle. The problem is that those two goals are often at odds with each other as losing fat requires a caloric deficit while gaining muscle requires a surplus. Calorie cycling solves this problem by enabling your body to switch off between fat-burn and muscle-gain days to give you the best of both worlds.
There are three basic “levels” of eating to keep in mind when you are trying calorie cycling:
- High Calorie Days: These are the days where you are going to be most active and go hardest in the gym. Focus on building muscle and strength. Ideally you keep your consumption to within 20% of what you eat during your maintenance days—because, although high calorie days are great, you don’t want to go too crazy and end up making it so that you need to starve yourself on your low-calorie days.
- Maintenance Days: Maintenance days are where you eat a “normal” number of calories that are within range of your weight loss goals. You can calculate how many calories you should be eating on maintenance days here. Maintenance days should include moderate exercise.
- Low Calorie Days: Your low-calorie days can include days when you are very busy at work or need to get a lot of (non-physical things done). Ideally, you should be eating about 20-30% less on your low-calorie days as you do during your maintenance days. Low calorie days should be your least physically demanding and, although not eating a lot may even improve your cardio, you will probably find it difficult to do any hardcore strength training during your low-calorie days—save that for one of your high calorie days.
Calorie Cycling Methods
There are number of different methods for calorie cycling, and it’s worth experimenting to see which one works best for you.
Higher Calorie / Hard Workout
You need a caloric surplus in order to build muscle. You need, in other words, to consume more than you burn. Why? Because your body needs that extra energy in order to build muscle.
The high calorie / hard workout approach works best when you coordinate your 1-3 high-calorie days with your 1-3 hardest days at the gym. On these “hard” days you should focus on compound exercises like squatting, deadlift, power-clean, and other exercises known to build impressive muscle mass like bench press. If you want to see a real “hard workout” then you have to check out one of my Sweat Crawls.
The thing to remember, though, is that not all calories are created equal. Even on your high calorie days, if you want to perform your best the gym you can’t simply go around eating whatever bad or empty calories that you want simply because it’s a high-calorie day. Generally, for optimal fitness you should try to get as many calories as possible from lean meat and vegetables sources. Carbs and fats are necessary as well but you should think fats in moderation, and carbs you should think of, basically, as a pre-workout as it is far better to eat oats, or pasta, or whatever carbs you choose an hour before the gym than it is an hour before bed.
Higher Calorie Weekends
High calorie weekends are a great way to balance progress with pleasure. Because for most people weekdays are more consistent and uniform, it’s easier to stick to low-calorie eating on those days than it is over the weekend.
If you find it harder to stay low-calorie over the weekend, that’s fine! And it’s certainly nothing to beat yourself up about—actually, with calorie cycling, it’s something you can embrace. Just remember that if you are going to have your high calorie days on the weekend you need to compensate for that by having a few low-calorie days during the week.
Also, if you plan on eating a lot over the weekend then you should also plan on doing some serious weight training so that you can make the most of your caloric surplus.
Macro-Nutrients: What to Eat and When
Another important aspect of calorie cycling is understanding your “macros.”
Macro-nutrients or “macros” refer to the type of food that your calories are coming from, as in: Protein, carbs, fats.
Proper calorie cycling requires not only considering how many calories you consume, but also the source of your calories—and if you are trying to build muscle, protein should also be the top source on your list.
As for how much protein you should be consuming: It depends on your goals. But, for example, if you are a male trying to get into elite shape, a good rule of thumb is that you should try to eat/drink around 1 gram of protein for every pound you weigh. So, if you weigh 200lbs you should be eating/drinking around 200 grams of protein every day.
200 grams of protein!? Yes, that’s a lot. But that’s what it takes to get into elite shape. If you, like most people, can’t manage to eat that much protein strictly through your diet then you should consider supplementation. You can get 20 grams of protein or more with a Casein protein in the morning (and or at night), and then another 20 grams or more with a scoop of Whey protein following your time at the gym.
Casein protein is great in the morning or before you go to bed at night as it is absorbed slowly over time. You can also combine Casein with fiber to make a healthy, high-protein shake that will keep you feeling full and energized for hours.
Whey, on the other hand, is a fast absorbing protein source that works perfectly directly following the gym. Whey protein helps your muscle recovery and growth.
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While you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) go full-blown keto, there is something to be said for reducing the percentage of your calories that you get from carbs. It’s often best to try and keep your calories from carbs to below 20%, and if possible even less on your low-calorie days.
People are far less afraid of fats than they used to be. And that’s a good thing. We now know we need fats for energy, proper hormone regulation, and many other bodily functions. While lean protein sources are usually best, healthy fats like those from fish, nuts, avocados, and other sources provide many major health benefits.
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