It's hard to lose weight and keep it off. It's even harder to do that if you're trying to tone up and build muscle at the same time. If you've been struggling to keep the pounds off but your body in shape with your current routine, chances are, it isn't your workout that's letting you down.
The number one contributor to your waistline and your ability to build biceps is your diet and calories in calories out. Counting calories may seem easy, but when you're trying to strike a balance between losing weight and staying fit, it can be a real challenge.
First, let's define what calories are and how they work.
Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy. When we're talking about nutrition and diets, a calorie is food. No more, no less. All types of food are calories from fats to proteins, sugars and carbohydrates, they're all calories and our bodies need these units of energy to function and live.
Understanding a calorie is just the beginning though. If you want to make calories work for you, you need to know how to use them. Every calorie you put into your body, you will either need to burn or store. If you store too many calories, you gain weight. However, if you're burning more calories than your body is taking in, you'll lose weight no matter how many hours you put in at the gym.
Let's take a look at the three ways your body burns calories.
Your basal metabolic rate or BMR is the calories your body burns from food to sustain basic functions such as keep your heart beating and your lungs breathing. This is where your body burns most of its calories every day.
The thermic effect of food or TEF is the rate at which your body burns calories through the process of digestion. On average, your body will burn 10 to 15% of the calories you eat every day simply to power your digestion, though it will vary depending upon the foods you consume each day.
This is where all your leftover calories go. All the physical activity you do throughout the day from running, lifting weights, walking, swimming, or even just doing the dishes ends up burning calories from the leftovers you've consumed. If you do more physical activity, you'll burn more calories and lose more weight.
Whether you want to lose weight or gain muscle, you need to figure out what your total daily energy expenditure is to start the process. Your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE, is the number of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight. In short, the combination of these three things adds up to what you need to stay just the way you are right now before you begin any new weight loss or muscle gain.
Now we're getting into the tricky part of the equation. How many calories should you eat a day? The truth is, there is no simple answer.
Conventional wisdom says that a full-grown man needs 1,500 calories a day whereas a woman only needs 1,200, but there's more to it than that. First, you need to figure out your basal metabolic rate, which we discussed before. Figuring out what your body burns in an average day will give you a baseline of how many calories you need. If you're already leading an active lifestyle, you may need more calories just to function in your day-to-day life. So, before you cut your caloric intake down to 1,500, you should do the math and consult with your doctor.
Once you have figured out what your TDEE is, you'll know how to maintain your current maintenance weight. That's a good starting point to have.
Conventional wisdom says that if you cut 500 calories from this number, you'll be in a good position to start losing weight. 500 calories will allow you to lose weight without crash dieting. You won't be exhausted or fatigued and should still be able to maintain muscle growth. You may have to recalculate the formulas as you go to adjust to your changing lifestyle, but it's a good place to start.
Don't stress if change doesn't happen right away. You're building something big, and it's going to take time. Focus on your calories and your workout and remember these few tips for making the most of your caloric intake.
● Drink more water
● Focus your calories on protein and not fats or sugars
● Avoid carbs
● Keep lifting weights
● Eat larger meals and snack less
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