Calculating your calorie intake for your fat loss diet has a lot of beginners confused. There are so many formulas and strategies out there that you can easily get lost. But here is the good news. It’s actually a really simple process and you can do it in less than 5 minutes. Let me show you exactly how.
The main driver of weight loss is a calorie deficit. It is achieved by consuming less energy than your body expands on a daily basis. Creating a calorie deficit is fairly simple and can be summarized like this:
1. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
2. Subtract a certain percentage from your TDEE
3. Adjust your deficit along the way
3. Adjust your deficit along the way
1. Calculating Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure
Your TDEE describes the number of calories that your body burns in one day. It is calculated by estimating how many calories you burn while resting (= Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR) and adding a certain number of calories on top, depending on how often you exercise.
If you consume roughly the same amount of calories as your TDEE you will maintain your current. If you consume more calories than your TDEE you will gain weight and if you consume fewer calories than your TDEE you will lose weight.
The simplest method of calculating your TDEE is by using an online calculator such as the one I linked here. It will ask you for your age, weight, height and weekly exercise. While the result will not be 100% accurate – since we all have different metabolisms and BMRs – it will give you a good starting point.
Finding Your TDEE Through Trial & Error
If the online calculator is not exact enough for you or you feel the value you got from it is a little off you want to do the following:
Use the estimated TDEE value and consume this number of calories every day for a week or two. Next weight yourself every day (naked & on an empty stomach) and monitor changes in weight.
If you are losing weight, the estimated TDEE was too low and you should increase it by 100 calories. If you are gaining weight, the estimated TDEE was too high and you should decrease it by 100 calories. Continue this strategy until your weight stagnates which is the point where you have found your true TDEE.
To make things easier for you let’s take the example of a man who weighs 180lb, is 6 foot (or 180cm) tall and 25 years old. If we assume he trains 3 to 4 times a week at high intensity, his TDEE will lie anywhere between 2500 and 2700 calories per day.
You would then start with one of the two values and diet accordingly for about 10 days to two weeks. If, after this period, he sees that he is gaining weight he would have to decrease the initial calorie value and if he is losing weight increase it.
2. Creating A Calorie Deficit
The second step involves subtracting a certain percentage from your TDEE to create a calorie deficit. Online you will hear a lot of different opinions about what the ideal calorie deficit looks like. In general, there are three classifications of calorie deficits:
Small: 10-15% below TDEE
Moderate: 20-25% below TDEE
Large: more than 25% below TDEE
Now some people will recommend a small deficit and some will recommend a moderate one. Very few coaches recommend a large deficit because it just creates a lot of problems with hunger and crash dieting.
So the argument for a small deficit is usually that it will lead to less muscle loss. But the thing is if you keep your protein intake high moderate calorie deficits don’t necessarily mean more muscle loss. Also, a moderate calorie deficit will get you results a lot quicker than a small one, which is especially important for people who need to see progress to motivate themselves. That’s why I generally recommend a moderate deficit of 20%-25% below TDEE.
So if your TDEE is 2500 calorie you would subtract 20% of that and get 2000 calories as your ideal calorie intake for weight loss. It’s really that easy.
3. Adjust Your Diet
The last step is adjusting your diet over time. As you lose weight your calorie needs will actually decrease. That means the lighter you get the less food your body needs to maintain it’s weight. Therefore you want to redo these calculations every few weeks. Working with the wrong calorie intake is one of the main reasons people hit weight loss plateaus.
And that’s it. Use this 3-step method to calculate your calories to lose weight and you have one of the most important steps in your diet done in under 5 minutes. Next, you want to calculate your macronutrients and find the right foods for your diet. I explain how to do all that in my other posts.