So…you’ve finally cut through all the detoxes, fad diets, and MLM shake programs and arrived at the powerful truth: You need to establish healthy eating habits and get yourself in a CALORIE DEFICIT.
Congratulations. You’re already further than most.
The “diet industry” is hell bent on distracting you from that truth.
They want you to think you need to avoid THESE foods or take THIS supplement
“Ya gotta cut carbs!!”
“BUT THE SUGARRRR!!!!”
“BUY MY DIARRHEA DETOX TEA”
You guys know the drill
But not you. You’re ready to embrace the truth
Calorie. Fucking. Deficit.
But you’re wondering…
“I know I need to be in a calorie deficit…but do I need to eat the same amount every day?”
“Do I need to even be in a deficit every day??”
Instead of thinking of your deficit as a daily endeavor, it will be helpful to view it from a weekly perspective instead.
Because the truth is…
As long as you end the week in the same size deficit, how you split up your calories makes no (very little) difference for fat loss.
Imagine you get paid $700 by your job every Friday.
You know that leaves you with about $100 to spend per day for the week. You’re trying to save more money than you’re spending so you don’t go into debt
You could spend $90 per day…thus saving $10 per day
This would be a totally reasonable strategy…and you’d save $70 dollars per week (7 x $10)
But what if you spent $130 on M/W/F ($390), and $60 on Tu/Th/Sa/Su ($240)…
That would leave you with…$70 saved per week
Are both of those equally good strategies if your goal is to save money?
The same goes for your calories.
If you’ve determined (or more likely making an educated guess) that your fat loss calories are ~2000 per day.
Another way to frame that would be to use “14,000 calories per week” as your guide
Technically, no matter how you split those 14,000 up over the week, as long as you end the week at that number you’ll make the same amount of progress regardless
However, practically, are there some strategies that might work better than others when applied to real people in real life?
I’d say so.
Extreme example: Would eating 14,000 calories on one day and then fasting for 6 days be as practical as eating 2000 per day? Likely not.
So what do we do with this information?
- Understand that you don’t have to eat the exact same amount of calories
- When you have a high day because life throws you a cruveball or you’re going out to a nice restaurant and you want some more calories, it’s totally fine to adjust calories for the rest of the week and make the same progress
- Once you realize that no single meal or day of calories decides your progress for the week, you can stop saying “fuck it”, giving up, and going off the rails any time you have a higher calorie day.
So what are some potentially helpful ways to use Calorie Cycling in your diet period?
Here are 4 of my favorite ways:
1) Static Calories + Calorie Cycling Methodology
Static calories: Eating within the same calorie range every day
Wait…isn’t this entire blog about NOT doing that?
It’s about understanding that you don’t HAVE to.
You might like the continuity of having 1 target calorie range every day.
That continuity might work really well for you rather than having to wonder what day it is and how much you have to eat that day
That being said, layering the calorie cycling methodology on top of static calories provides and even better chance for success
Attempting to eat static calories is great…until someone shows up with red velvet cupcakes
In those moments, understanding how to retroactively adjust calories for the remainder of the week is a fucking superpower
If you typically eat 2000 calories every day, and one day you happen to eat 2500 calories because…you felt like it
- Take 500 calories off your next day
- Take 100 calories off the subsequent 5 days
- Any other equivalent breakdown you wish is…
Understanding the concept of calorie cycling is probably as important as having a strict strategy in place. It adds a layer of flexibility that helps you not lose your shit when you have a higher day than you planned (or lower!)
2) Weekend Warrior: 5/2 Split
The Weekend Warrior is pretty simple
You eat more on the weekends, and less during the week
Whether or not you actively like eating more on the weekends…you usually do
Why not just bake that into your plan?
Instead of 2000 calories per day…
1800 calories M-F
2500 calories on Saturday and Sunday
It would average out to the same calories at the end of the week and you might enjoy it more
The truth is, most people are eating above their average on the weekend ANYWAY…so this is a good way to stop that from being your issue.
3) Training Days vs. Rest Days
You might think that eating more on training days is going to get you more gains from your workouts but the truth is, that’s not really where the benefit lies with this one
This strategy is best if you get MORE HUNGRY on traininng days and would therefore prefer to allot more calories
Which is totally reasonable…
And does happen to a lot of people
So, if that’s you…
And you’re ravenous after a heavy leg day
You’ll enjoy this split.
What this might look like if you’re training 4x per week is something like this:
Training days : 4 x 2200
Rest days: 3 x 1725
Same average…and you might enjoy it more 🙂
4) The 11:3 Split
Basically, the 11:3 split states you’re in a deficit for 11 days, followed by 3 days at maintenance.
The 11:3 split has been getting a lot of press lately after a study showed some tiny reversal of metabolic adaptation via when subjects had a 3 day, high carb refeed after 11 days of being in a deficit
I’m going to hold off on jumping on that bandwagon just yet because there may be some confounding factors and even if there weren’t, the benefits still don’t outweigh personal preference.
Additionally, you would likely find similar results with 5/2 and training/rest calorie cycling strategies had studies been set up similarly
Can a 3-day high carb refeed MAYBE provide some benefits in terms of metabolic rate and satiety?
If it does, you probably get similar benefits from the above strategies as well
And beyond that, if you freakin’ hate it, the benefits are so damn small (if at all) I’d stick to what you like the most
What it looks like:
Instead of 2000 calories / day…
11 days @ 1800, followed by 3 consecutive days at 2750 calories.
If you like doing it this way, go nuts!
This usually comes out to “Every other weekend” having a 3 day refeed @ maintenance.
What should I eat on my high days?
If you’re going to cycle calories, there may be some added benefits of having those extra calories on high days primarily from carbohydrates
Carbs have been shown to lower cortisol more than other macronutrients, as well as increase leptin the most.
Reminder: Cortisol is your stress hormone. It will become elevated over time while you diet. Periodically lowering it, in this context, is a good thing. Plus you might drop some water weight but that’s not necessarily the point
Reminder: Leptin is the satiety hormone. As you diet, Leptin decreases in an attempt to make you eat more. Boosting it, in this context, is a great idea.
They will also provide a boost in workout performance and recovery
And…they’re fucking delicious
Those are pretty damn good reasons to bump your carbs up on your high (refeed) days if you ask me
- Your weekly calorie deficit will decide your fat loss trend over time.
- You don’t have to eat the same amount of calories every day, although you absolutely can if you want to
- Choose the cycling strategy that allows you to be the most consistent over time
- Allow for some flexibility even if you choose one of the latter strategies
- If you’re going to have high days, it’s likely there is some added benefit from having those extra calories from carbohydrates
If you wanna bounce ideas around never be afraid to reach out