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How much should I be eating to cut body fat?

September 05, 2017

As a follow on from our recent article ‘How many calories do I need when bulking?’ we thought we would visit the opposite end of the spectrum and look at how much you should be eating in order to shred that unwanted body fat and get the lean physique you’ve always dreamed of.
how to cut bodyfat
 
What is cutting?
You’ve probably heard the term ‘Cutting’ being used by fitness enthusiasts. This is the phrase used to describe a phase of training they are currently in, and it means to be training and eating in such a way to lose body fat. The purpose of this article is to detail how much you should be eating in order to reduce the amount of fat the body holds.
 
The Basics
When you try and lose body fat you need to remember one simple factor and that is, if you want to lose body fat, you need to be eating fewer calories than the body burns on a daily basis. Calories expended during the day needs to be higher than calories consumed or you will never lose body fat. Some people go on diets where they stop eating carbohydrates completely in an attempt to lose fat, and instead replace them with fatty foods, such as avocado, eggs, salmon etc (because that’s what they have been told to do) and get frustrated when the don’t lose any weight. But fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates, and 9 times out of 10 the individual who has gone on the diet is still not in a calorie deficit so it’s impossible for them to lose weight/body fat. To lose body fat you need to be in a daily deficit of 500 calories – and if you believe that you are, yet you’re not losing body fat, then you clearly not in a calorie deficit – so you either need to burn more, or eat less!
The next section will detail how you should go about calculating how much you should be eating.
 
Let’s begin
To begin with you need to work out your maintenance calories. This is the amount of calories you need to be eating every day to maintain the same weight and body composition. This process can be trial and error, I would suggest downloading an app on your phone called MyFitnessPal so that you can track how many calories you are eating. Investing in a decent pair of scales is also a good idea to enable you to accurately track your weight.
 
To begin with, calculate how many calories you currently consume on a normal day of eating. From there, try to eat the same amount of calories for 2 weeks and monitor your weight often (note – try to get 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, 40% from protein and 20% from fats). Alternatively you can use this simple equation to get to your starting point – Bodyweight (in lbs) x 16. For example the starting point for a 165lb person would be 165x16=2640 calories. Again you will need to eat this amount of calories over a 2 week period and monitor your weight. Please note – there is no magic starting point, everyone is different and everyone burns calories at a different rate, this is down to factors such as height, body composition, age, gender occupation etc, what’s important is that you have starting point.
 
 If your weight seems to be increasing over the 2 week monitoring period then it’s obvious you’re eating over your maintenance calories, if this is the case, drop your calories by 200 each week until your weight doesn’t change. Similarly if you lost weight over the 2 week period it’s obvious you’re eating less than your maintenance calories, you’ll then need to up the calories by 200 each week until your weight remains the same.
 
Once you’ve got to a stage where your weight no longer changes, make note of how many calories you are consuming, this is our maintenance calories!
 
The calculations
how to lose body fat
So let’s use the example from above, we have a 165lb person eating 2640 calories a day which allows them to remain at the same weight. As mentioned earlier on in the article, to lose body fat, you will need to be in a calorie deficit of 500 calories. So for the person in question to successfully lose body fat they will need to be eating 2140 calories daily.
 
2640-500=2140 daily calories.
 
But how should these 2140 calories be broken up? Don’t worry, we have the answer!
 
Protein
Studies have shown that during a phase of fat loss you will need to be eating between 1.1 – 1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for this example we’ll go down the middle with 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
 
So…
 
165 x 1.2 = 198 grams of protein
As there are 4 kcal (calories) per gram of protein it will work out as 198 x 4 = 792kcal
So this individual would get 792kcal from protein sources.
 
Fats
It is recommended that during a cutting phase you should get between 20-25% of your total calories from fat. For this example we will go with 25%
 
2140 x 0.25 = 535kcal
In 1 gram of fat there are 9 calories, so we need to divide 535 by 9 to see how many grams of fat we should be eating.
 
535 / 9 = 59.4
Let’s round this down, so the individual in question will need 59 grams of fat daily.
 
Carbohydrates
To get the amount of carbohydrates we should be eating on a daily basis we need to fill in the gaps.
We know that we need to be eating 2140 calories a day, and we also know that 792 of these calories are coming from protein and 535 calories are coming from fat.
 
2140 – 792 – 535 = 813
 
So we are left with 813 calories coming from carbohydrates, and as there are 4 kcal per gram of carbohydrates, we need to divide 813 by 4.
 
813 / 4 = 203.25 (again we will round down to 203)
 
So the athlete in question will need 203 grams of carbohydrates a day.
 
So our overall macronutrient breakdown is:
Calories: 2140
Protein: 198
Fat: 59 grams
Carbohydrates: 203 grams
 
How much should I be losing?
One pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories, so a deficit of 500 calories for 7 days should yield a fat loss of one pound per week. If you haven’t lost any fat over a week period then you should reduce the calories by an extra 200, monitor yourself over the following week and if you still haven’t lost any, then again reduce the calories by a further 200. Remember that everyone is different and some people will shed body fat and a quicker rate than others. Don’t compare yourself to others, as long as you're making progress, that’s all that matters.
 
Food sources
When it comes to losing body fat it’s important to be eating nutrient dense foods to ensure we get all the necessary vitamins to remain healthy and promote fat loss. We have compiled a list of foods you should try and incorporate into your diet.
 
Protein
foods to eat when losing weight - beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish (Cod, tuna, salmon)
  • Red meat (Lean steak)
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Low fat pork
 
Carbohydrates
foods to eat when losing weight - rice
  • Brown rice
  • White rice
  • Sweet potato
  • White potato
  • Pasta
  • Brown bread
  • Oats
  • Fruits
  • Beans, chick peas, legumes
 
Fats
foods to eat when losing weight - avocado
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Nut butters
  • Avocado
  • Red meat
 
Cutting Tips
 
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
Eating less runs the risk of nutrient deficiencies, make sure that you eat nutrient dense food and get lots of fruit and veg to maintain normal immune system operation. Keep the diet varied to ensure the body gets the vitamins it needs.
 
Keep your lifts heavy
Just because you’re cutting it doesn’t mean you should lift less weight, yes as a result of eating less you may not be able to move as much weight, but you should try and keep lifts as heavy as possible to preserve the muscle you worked so hard to build. 
 
Don’t cut all your carbohydrates
You may have seen some people cut their entire carbohydrate intake in a bid to loose body fat. This is not a good idea as the body needs carbohydrates to function properly. Furthermore, carbohydrates provide you with energy, so if you don’t have enough carbohydrates then your workout is going to suffer. You are also running the risk of breaking down muscle to provide you with energy as you have nowhere else to get it from, this is not ideal especially as you’ve taken all that time to put muscle on!
 
Don’t overdo the cardio
There is no need to do cardio in the early stages of the cutting phase; the calorie deficit along with the weekly weight training should be enough to warrant that 0.5lbs fat reduction you are looking for.
Cardio should be introduced when you reach a plateau in you cut to promote further fat loss, or if you are struggling to eat the low amount of calories you can introduce cardio which will allow you to eat that little bit extra (as your now burning more calories). Cardiovascular exercise should be used as a tool to burn extra calories but should not be at the forefront of your training program, getting good quality weights sessions in and keeping nutrition on point should be your main aim. If in the later stages of your cut you hit a plateau you can check out our ‘Most effective fat burning routines’ to get you to the next level.
 
Pick a diet that is sustainable
One of the most important factors in your cutting phase but is commonly overlooked is sustainability. The diet and training needs to be sustainable or you will never stick to it. Keep both training and nutrition varied to prevent boredom and reduce the chances of falling off the wagon. Many fitness professionals promote different ways to lose weight, such as no carbs after 8 to prevent them turning into fat stores whilst you sleep or doing fasted cardio first thing in the morning. These are just examples, and although there may be some evidence to back up the theories, if they don’t suit your lifestyle; don’t adopt them.
 
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned a thing or 2. Good luck in your fat loss campaign and if you have any questions, I will be more than happy to answer them, head over to our Contact Page and drop us a line!
 
 
References
- http://www.myprotein.com/thezone/nutrition/bodybuilding-cutting-diets-perfect-shred/
- https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/plan-your-perfect-shred-5-steps-to-better-cut.html
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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