Calorie cycling sounds like a fancy pants concept, but chances are, you’re either doing a version of it just now, or have done in the past.
Does this sound familiar? You focus on your diet from Monday to Thursday, maybe the first half of Friday. Your calories are low and you said no to that piece of cake you really wanted to say yes to. You pretty much cut carbs out of most of your meals. You feel crappy but at least the number on the scale has moved a bit.
Then on Friday night, you pop open a bottle of red with dinner, maybe a beer, and you hit up a second helping of those potatoes. Then there’s that bag of Doritos lurking in the cupboard that you’ve resisted all week, that doesn’t last long. You remember that you actually like carbs and diets are stupid. Saturday is spent enjoying all the things you actually like to eat, as is Sunday. Then, inevitably, you feel bad, a little guilty, and promise yourself you’ll start back on your diet tomorrow.
And you get stuck in the same cycle, over and over.
But how about we use the same general idea, but with a little more sustainability in mind, in order to get you great results while still allowing for the foods you enjoy?
Radical, I know.
But this is a strategy I use with many of my clients to great success.
Fat loss basics
Fat loss, and weight loss, progress comes down to one thing: creating a calorie deficit for long enough to get a result. This can be done quickly, or slowly, but in the vast majority of cases, slow is more sustainable as it tends to allow you to develop the habits and knowledge you need to maintain your results long term.
This slower approach is usually a lot more manageable as it’s less aggressive, allows for more food variety and volume and therefore pushes up the major factor in your success: consistency.
The approach outlined in the intro to this article is common because we tend to think that progress is only made at the extremes of our approaches. The issue is of course, that extreme methods aren’t sustainable and we rarely last long enough for any meaningful change to happen. But remember, it wasn’t one meal, one day or even one week of eating that got you to the point of wanting to lose a little body fat, it was a long term moderate overeating of calories that did it.
Why would the same approach in reverse not be a good place to start?
Calorie needs for fat loss
Your calorie requirements are pretty easy to figure out. Multiply bodyweight in pounds x12 and you get a good number to start with for fat loss. Multiply by 10 to get a more aggressive approach.
if you weigh 80kgs, multiply by 2.2 to get 176lbs.
Then by 10 to get 1760 kcals, and 12 to get 2112 kcals. Both of these will put you into a calorie deficit. The higher number will get you slower progress, but is more sustainable, the lower one is faster but less sustainable. (For reference, maintainence would be about 2460kcals per day.)
So over the course of any given week, as long as your total calorie intake is below maintenance (2460 x7 = 17220) then you’ll make progress of some kind.
So let’s use this to our advantage, and set up our week to work for us instead of against us…
Calorie cycling 101
Calorie cycling is simply adjusting our calories to suit our lifestyle, training and preferences in order to give us a better chance of success.
You might be a weekend warrior. Or have a training focus. Or work weekends and have days off mid week. Or when the pandemic is under control again, like to get out to meet friends for coffee or lunch on the weekend.
Whatever your lifestyle and preferences, you can set your calories up to accommodate them while making great progress.
Take my client, Lisa. She had struggled to lose weight, trying a multitude of approaches without much success. She worked Mon – Fri in a busy office-based job. Occasionally meeting clients for dinner, enjoying pizza night with the kids on a Friday and maybe a glass or 2 of wine at the weekend. Her weekdays were pretty standard, and she needed the flexibility at the weekends.
This is how we worked it for her:
Monday through to Thursday: lower calorie days with a focus on getting adequate protein.
Friday to Sunday: Higher calorie days to accommodate family meals etc.
If she had a client night out and needed some flexibility, she could move a higher calorie day from the weekend to mid-week, and a lower cal day to the weekend.
Both blocks were below maintenance.
The result was a drop of around 7 kgs in a few months. She did so well with it, tracking consistently, building up a good ability to understand her portion needs, and developing confidence in her own judgement, that she gradually reduced the days she tracked her cals, until she could maintain her progress eating in a more intuitive way.
Here are a few ways to set up your calories to suit
your needs and still make great progress
High calorie days will be the upper limit of your deficit (bw (lbs) x12. Low cal days will be bw(lbs) x10, and maintenance days are bw(lbs) x14.
Around your gym schedule:
Let’s assume that you have a 4 day training split (though it works with however many days you usually train), and in this case Monday, tues, thurs and sat are training days. You put your higher calories on your training days, and lower cals on your rest days where you don’t need the extra fuel.
The one caveat to this is that you should monitor recovery and adjust your calories if recovery between sessions is inadequate.
The Weekend warrior
If you, like Lisa, enjoy a bit of an indulgence at the weekend, whether that is pizza night with the family, going out for a meal, or a couple of beers (remember when that was a thing …?), the weekend warrior set up might work for you. You go a little tighter through the week, then at the weekends you let loose a little.
The mini diet break
If you’ve been cutting calories for a while, and you’re starting to feel the effects of an extended calorie deficit, then maybe it’s time for a strategic diet break. You take calories up to the higher end of your deficit, and take at least a couple of days at maintenance each week. You can vary the number of days at maintenance, even taking the whole week there, and enjoy the extra fuel, and break from dieting.
One of the added benefits here is that you can figure out your new maintenance calories, since as you’ll have dropped some weight, you’re new number will be lower than it was pre-diet, and you can get a bit of practice in at this new number.
The mid-week meal out
If you enjoy a mid week meal out (or more likely at the moment, a mid week takeaway) then you increase your calories. Whether it’s taco Tuesday or waffle Wednesday, it can all be accomodated within this structure.
The general principle of a calorie deficit is the key, but there is no “right” way to structure how you set it up for success. Having the ability to structure your calories around your lifestyle will increase your ability to stick to your plan, and we all know that consistency equals results.
If you would like to upgrade your nutrition and training to get great results, and learn the knowledge and habits to maintain them, hit the link below and find out what some of my clients have to say about working with me.