Making the most of your Calorie Deficit!
As we all know, losing fat mass comes down to an energy balance. Your energy output must be more than your energy input. When creating or entering a calorie deficit, instead of immediately looking to alter your input, you should first look to alter your output. Can you increase your output whilst keeping your input (calories) the same? Some simple changes such as adding an extra training session or increasing your daily step count could be all you need to create an energy deficit. However, once you have done this and you feel you are training at an appropriate frequency - within your recovery capacity - then it is time to reduce your input. When entering a calorie deficit, your goal should be to eat as much food (volume, colour and variety) as possible whilst staying within your calorie goal. Reducing your caloric intake should involve portion control and smarter food choices, as opposed to restriction. Of course, the main aim of your deficit is to reduce fast mass but this goal rarely comes unaccompanied. People usually aim to maintain strength levels through their deficit, some aim to add muscle mass (very achievable if you are a beginner to weight training), whilst others aim to maintain performance levels in their given sport whilst reducing fat mass through an energy deficit - a slightly more complex process requiring a little more planning. However complex your goals may be, the following strategies will help you simplify the process and make the most of your calorie deficit.
1. Maintain a high protein intake.
Obviously, nobody wants to lose or reduce muscle mass. In order to reduce fat mass without reducing muscle mass, it is important to maintain a high protein intake daily - at least 2.3g per kg of body mass. For an 80kg person, this is a minimum of 185g of protein daily, which may require you to even increase your protein intake beyond your usual bulk or maintenance intake. A high protein intake will ensure muscle protein synthesis is stimulated regularly. Spacing out your protein servings evenly throughout the day will result in more frequent MPS stimulation but overall daily intake is the most important figure to focus on. In addition, continuing to weight train is clearly imperative to maintaining muscle mass, as muscle breakdown must occur in order for muscle growth to occur!
2. Keep colour and variety high in your food choices.
A reduction in calorie intake should not translate to a reduction in food colour. A reduction in food colour would likely lead to a reduction in micronutrients in your diets, which isn't advisable for general health purposes. Aiming for 7-8 portions of fruit and vegetables (of varying colour) every day will ensure your micronutrient intake remains high during your calorie deficit. Fruit and vegetables will also help with satiety - fibre promotes high satiety - which will in turn aid with craving should they be an issue.
3. Volume eating - bulk up your meals.
Eat as much food as possible whilst remaining within your calorie goal. This can be achieved by adding fruit and vegetables to most of your meals. Add berries to your oats. Add spinach, peppers, mushrooms and other vegetables to your chicken or meat dishes. More food (in terms of sheer volume) for the same amount of calories, will lead to more satiety and a feeling of fullness, which in turn leads to a reduction in cravings and ultimately intake.
4. Use your carbs wisely.
As your protein intake will remain high throughout your calorie deficit, a reduction in carbs and fats is inevitable. And so, with less carbs to play with, the importance of carb choice and timing increases. 'Saving' carbs for later in the day and evening is always a good idea - especially if you are someone who gets cravings late at night. A high protein, high fibre breakfast will help save carbs if that is your preferred method. Moreover, ensuring you have adequate carbs in your system before and after training sessions will become a little more important given that you are in an energy deficit. You should still eat to fuel your sessions! So for example - if you train Tuesday and Thursday and have a game every Sunday, it would be a good idea to have a high amount of carbs on these days and perhaps the day/night before a game, in order to maximise glycogen availability for your sport. Similarly, and on an even more micro level, if you are not involved in sport yet you weight-train 5-6 days per week, it would be a good idea to time your carbs around each session. This will require a daily manipulation of your carb intake, meaning if you typically train early in the morning, you should choose a higher carb breakfast and lunch in order to maximise glycogen stores pre-training and replenish glycogen stores post-training. Of course, daily intake and quality of carb sources will be the most important factors throughout a deficit but timing does become more important in a deficit as opposed to a surplus - especially if attempting to reduce fat mass whilst maintaining or improving sporting performance. The question then arises, should you use a high-carb day/low-carb day approach?
5. High-carb days vs low-carb days.
The high-carb day/low-carb day approach is something a lot of athletes (regardless of calorie intake) adhere by as a method of carb-loading for performance. Manipulating carb intake to allow for an increased intake on training days and a lower intake on non-training days has its benefits, and is a useful method to use, especially when your intake of carbs is quite low due to a desired calorie deficit. There are two main ways of applying this method.
One - you add in extra carbs (for example 65g/260kcal) and in exchange you reduce your protein intake by 20g/80kcal and your fat intake by 20g/180kcal to balance out the calories. The advantage of this form of carbohydrate manipulation is that your calorie intake remains consistent on a day-to-day basis with only slight alterations in macronutrient intake, with the added benefit of protein intake remaining pretty constant!
Two - you add in extra carbs on training days (for example 65g/260kcal) and eat 260kcal above you goal on those particular days. To compensate for this and to enable a weekly deficit, you reduce calorie intake on non-training days by 260kcal. This way, your weekly calorie intake still leaves you in a deficit whilst you benefit from higher carb availability on training days. Your reduction in calories on non-training days likely comes from carbs again, meaning this method really does result in a high-carb vs low-carb diet, as opposed to high-carb vs moderate-carb as discussed above.
With both methods of manipulating carb intake, it should be noted that to truly maximise glycogen availability before a training session, the 'carb-load' should begin not only the morning of a particular training session, but the night before and perhaps even earlier in advance. With that in mind, if a training session is Tuesday evening at 8:00pm, the majority of Monday's carbs (low-carb day) should be consumed later in the day and into Monday evening and night to begin the carb-loading process. Then Tuesday, you benefit from a higher carb day so can start your morning off with a high carb breakfast and continue the carb-loading process from there!
6. Is Intermittent Fasting a tool that could help you?
The myth of intermittent fasting as a method of reducing fat mass has long been debunked. However, the use of intermittent fasting as a method of adhering to a calorie deficit - and therefore reducing fat mass - is legitimate. Intermittent fasting typically involves an 'eating window' of roughly 8 hours each day in which you eat all of your food/calories for that day. The other 16 hours (roughly 8 of which are spent sleeping) are fasted. A typical day of intermittent fasting would be an eating window of 12 noon until 8:00pm, very reasonable and realistic. Some of you probably have adhered to such a pattern in the past without even realising. All that an intermittent fasting approach really does for you, is provide some structure to your diet. Is this a useful tool to use throughout a calorie deficit? Absolutely - if it works for you and is something which helps you adhere to your deficit. There is no magic behind it, it is simply a process which can help you maintain a calorie deficit!