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How I Use Calorie Cycling to Build Muscle and Stay Lean

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How I Use Calorie Cycling to Build Muscle and Stay Lean

Calorie cycling is a great way to continue making progress in the gym while also staying really lean. Here’s how it works.

 

If you want to avoid a world of dietary pain, take this to heart:

When it comes to diet advice, the fancier it sounds, the more likely it’s complete bullshit.

That is, the more a dietary strategy deviates from, ignores, or claims to circumvent or “hack” the fundamentals of energy and macronutrient balance, the less likely it is to actually work.

The rather boring truth is dieting is more a numbers game than anything else.

  1. The relationship between how much energy you burn and eat regulates body weight.
  2. The macronutrient balance heavily influences body composition. 
  3. The food choices influence overall health and well-being.

Once you fully understand those principles and how to apply them, you can take your dietary destiny into your own hands. You’ve got it made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does calorie cycling fit into this? What legitimate benefits does it offer and what’s just hype used to sell more junk PDFs?

Let’s find out.

What is Calorie Cycling?

Calorie cycling is a systematic method of raising and lowering daily calorie intake. The specifics of how often you change and by how much are dictated by your goals and preferences.

For example, someone wanting to lose fat might maintain a calorie deficit for 5 days per week and raise intake to maintenance on the remaining 2 days to give their bodies a break.

Someone wanting to build muscle and strength while staying lean might flip this and maintain a slight calorie surplus for 5 days and use a moderate deficit on the remaining 2 days to lose the fat gained during the week.

The theory is simple enough, but does it offer any real benefits?

Yes and no.

The Problem With Calorie Cycling

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with calorie cycling. It’s a viable dietary strategy and one I recommend in my book for advanced weightlifters, Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger.

The problem, however, is how most “gurus” present it. Like intermittent fasting, calorie cycling is often sold as a panacea for all your fat loss and muscle building woes–the “secret” to body recomposition.

This simply isn’t true. In fact, it may make you more likely to fail in your quest to get fit.

You see, calorie cycling just isn’t as universally practical as many people claim. Here’s what I mean:

  • If you’re a guy over 15% body fat, or a girl over 20% body fat, and you’re looking to maximize fat loss, you don’t need to dabble in calorie cycling. It’s not going to do anything special for you.

Instead, you should keep it simple: maintain a moderate calorie deficit, eat plenty of protein, use plenty of resistance training and scanty amounts of cardio to maintain muscle and drive fat loss, and use the right supplements to speed up the fat loss process.

  • If you’re relatively new to weightlifting and need to focus on adding size, calorie cycling doesn’t have much to offer you.

When you restrict your calories and place your body in a calorie deficit, you also impair protein synthesis. Lower protein synthesis rates means less potential muscle growth, so cycling between days of surplus and deficit as a newbie is more or less counterproductive.

Instead, you’ll do better maintaining a slight calorie surplus 7 days per week, otherwise known as “clean bulking.”

Some people will point out that you burn more energy on your training days than your rest days. If you’re going to maintain a true, steady calorie surplus of let’s say 10%, wouldn’t you need to eat quite a bit more on training days than rest days?

For example, my basal metabolic rate is about 2,100 calories. On my training days, when you take into account all physical activity, I probably burn about 2,800 calories. On my rest days, however, I probably burn somewhere around 2,500 calories.

If I were to maintain a daily calorie surplus of 10%, wouldn’t I want to eat about 3,100 calories on my training days and ~2,800 calories on my rest days?

Sure, it sounds theoretically optimal but in actual practice, I’ve found it offers no noticeable benefits over simpler, linear dieting (fixed calories/macros every day).

I’ve found it easier and just as effective to keep it simple: start your daily intake at 110% of your average total daily energy expenditure, adjust up or down until you’re gaining 0.5 to 1 pound per week (men, about half of that for women), and continue eating that amount every day. Even if you’re in a slightly larger surplus on your rest days, it doesn’t cause any noticeable difference in terms of fat storage.

By doing this you find your body’s “sweet spot” for maximizing muscle growth while minimizing fat storage–something you have to do regardless of how fancy you get in your diet planning (formulas and numbers are great but they rarely work exactly as planned because metabolisms and genetics vary).

Occasionally I do get people asking if they can reduce intake on rest days while clean bulking, usually to get a break from all the food. This is fine so long as it doesn’t slow down or stop the weight gain.

The Best Use for Calorie Cycling

I mentioned earlier that I recommend calorie cycling in a book of mine, Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger, and now we’ll talk about why.

Based on my research and experience with my own body and working with thousands of people, I’ve concluded the following:

Calorie cycling is best suited to advanced weightlifters looking to progress in their lifts while maintaining a low body fat percentage.

And by “low,” I mean sub-10% for men and sub-20% for women.

Personally I’ve used calorie cycling and workout periodization for months at a time and hit new PRs across the board while staying around 9% body fat.

In a sense, a good calorie cycling protocol creates a “maintenance with benefits” situation where you use calorie surplus days to get a bit more out of your training and calorie deficit days to balance your weekly energy intake and prevent fat gain. On a weekly basis, you’re in a surplus much longer than a deficit, and the net effect is slow but steady “lean gains.”

This is particularly useful for people that have achieved the lion’s share of their genetic potential in terms of muscle growth and are now looking to stay lean for long periods of time while still continuing to progress in the gym.

For those people still looking to maximize strength and muscle gains, however, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. The unfortunate truth is as a natural weightlifter, you can be really lean or really strong but not both. Being “shredded” doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all your strength, but you’re never going to be at your strongest and most anabolic when you’re really lean.

Let’s now talk about how I use calorie cycling. To take a page from my own book, here’s how it’s done:

1. Start by calculating your weekly intake target. This is simply your TDEE as calculated earlier, multiplied by 7.

2. Your caloric target on your deficit (rest) days is simply your BMR, which will put you in a mild—10 to 15% caloric deficit.

3. Break this rest day’s calories into the following macro ratios: 45% calories from protein, 25% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fats. (One gram of protein and carbohydrate both contain about 4 calories, and one gram of fat contains about 9.)

You reduce your carb intake on rest days because you simply don’t need the extra carbs, and the increased fat intake is good for increasing insulin sensitivity and boosting anabolic hormone production

4. Multiply your rest day calories by the number of weekly rest days, and subtract this from your weekly target. This is the total number of calories you will split among your training days.

5. Divide the sum by the number of weekly training days for your caloric target on your training days.

6. Break this daily caloric intake into the following macro ratios: 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, 20% of calories from fats, and the rest from carbohydrate.

7. Work your meal plan over so you hit these daily targets. To make this easier, I like to stick to the same types of foods but increase or decrease portions to fit my intake needs.

This might sound complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Here’s an example (I round numbers up/down to keep things simple, making sure I’m not rounding all up):

Weekly Calorie Expenditure (Intake Target)

2,800 x 7 = 19,600

Training Days

5

Rest Days

2

Rest Day Calories (BMR)

2,100 calories

Rest Day Macros

(2,100 x 0.45) / 4 = 240 g protein

(2,100 x 0.25) / 4 = 130 g carbs

(2,100 x 0.30) / 9 = 70 g fat

My Weekly Rest Day Calories

4200

Weekly Training Day Calories

19,600 – 4,200 = 15,400

Training Day Calories

15,400 / 5 = 3,100

Training Day Macros

190 g protein

(3,100 x 0.20) / 9 = 70 g fat

(3,100 – (190 x 4) + (70 x 9)) / 4 = 430 g carbs

(In case you’re wondering how I calculated the carbs, I simply subtracted my protein and fat calories from the daily total, and divided that by 4.)

So, all I have to do is eat 190 grams protein, 390 grams carbs, and 85 grams fat on my training days, and 240 grams protein, 130 grams carbs, and 80 grams fat on my rest days, and I will be able to not only stay lean but also continue to build muscle and strength.

A training day, by the way, is a day on which you lift. If you only do cardio or a low/moderate amount of other physical activity, treat this as a rest day (a little larger deficit won’t hurt).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you start cycling your calories, keep an eye on your weight and body fat percentage because you’ll likely need to tweak calories up and down some based on how your body actually responds. You’re looking to gain anywhere from 0.5 to 1 pound per month (men, half that for women) with no significant change in body fat.

The Bottom Line

Calorie cycling is a worthy addition to your dietary toolbox, even if for nothing more than the enjoyment of eating less food a couple days per week.

It’s not going to “change the game” or supercharge your gains, but it makes good sense when applied intelligently to the right goals and circumstances.

 

What are your thoughts on calorie cycling? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Pingback: How I Use Calorie Cycling to Build Muscle and Stay Lean | georgeherman205()

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • SA

    Hi Mike,

    How does calorie cycling work if you are working out only twice a week (2-3hours total)?

    Linear approach doesn’t seem work very well. You don’t get enough energy on your workout days and eat slight surplus on rest days (5 days in a week). Also i might not be smart to go down to BMR on so many rest days and bump up the calories twice a week and expect results.

    For a guy with BMR of 2000 cal this would be:
    Rest day calories: 2000 (for 5 days)
    Workout day calories: 3400 (for 2 days)

    Is the true TDEE more suitable approarch in this case?

    Weekly calories: BMR x 1.2 x 7
    Rest day calories BMR x 1.1 = TDEE
    Workout day calories: (Weekly calories – weekly Rest day calories) / workout days = (BMR x 1.2 x 7 – BMR x 1.1 x 5 ) / 2

    For a guy with BMR of 2000 cal this would be:
    Rest day calories: 2200
    Training day calories: 2900

    • If you’re only lifting 1 or 2 days per week, then you modify it as follows:

      1.Eat TDEE + 20% on lifting days using the same macro breakdown given above: 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, 20% of calories from fat, and the rest from carbohydrate.

      2.Split the remaining weekly calories evenly across the remaining days: 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, 30% of daily calories from fat, and the rest from carbohydrate.

      So, for example:

      My Weekly Calorie Expenditure (Intake Target)

      2,800 * 7 = 19,600

      My Training Days 2

      My Training Day Calories 3,400

      My Weekly Training Day Calories 6,800

      My Weekly Remaining Calories 12,800

      My No-Training Day Calories 2,600

      Simple enough. (I skipped the macro calculations because I don’t think you need to run through them again.)

  • Joe_roush

    How does this work out macro wise when you try the opposite? Being on a cut for 5 days and using 2 days maintain ex calories? Would it be the same just inverted? Are the percentages on the 5 days 45% protien 25% carb and 30% fat?

    • Yeah you just lose fat slower. I don’t see any reason to do it. A steady deficit plus a weekly refeed or two as you get leaner gets the job done.

  • Hi,

    I think what you are doing is pretty exciting and fun. However, you can also look out the Mi40x program by Ben Pakulski. This program is pretty good when it comes to losing weight and gaining lean muscle. I read a good review about this system. I think you guys should check it out as well, http://dietformuscle.weebly.com/.

    • GingerHead Man

      I hate spammers (you, in this case). Do this elsewhere. This is Mike Matthew’s website, not BPak’s.

  • Darren Moore

    Great information Mike and thanks for sharing! I’ve been
    calorie cycling for the last 8 weeks and have lost 6 lbs of fat and gained 6.5 lbs of muscle. My body fat was at 20% and now down to 18.6% per my last Bod Pod Test. My RMR was 1775 and after the 8 weeks 1842. I am age 43/ 6’3”/189 lbs.

    I was a bit worried because my weight wasn’t changing on the scale over the 8 weeks but I stuck with it and I was really blown away by the results. That’s why you never trust the scale 100%. Also to your point, I was measuring my waist as well and it dropped about 3/4”. I’ve never gained that much muscle and lost fat like that at the same time in 8 weeks.

    For the 8 weeks I was on this break down:

    Training Days 4 days a week:
    40% Carbs / 30% Fat / 30% Protein:

    Non Training days:
    25% Carbs / 40% Fat / 35% Protein

    Also I just increased my calorie intake since I had an increase in muscle mass and RMR. I bumped it up to 300 cals mostly with carbs with a little fat and very little protein.

    So yes this works!
    Thanks
    Darren

    • Thanks! Great job on your progress.

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Pingback: Muscle Building Books: Discover the Secrets to Gain Muscle and the Best Muscle Diet | Bodybuilding Wiz()

  • Stefan VH

    Hey!

    Nice article! I do have a question though.. I’ve been doing the leangains approach for about two years now and I like it a lot (I probably won’t have to explain how it works as I’m sure you’ll know a lot about it).
    However, I see some difference between that approach and yours. With leangains I’ve been setting a calorie surplus based on the amount of possible muscle gain every month. So let’s say I use a montly surplus of 8000 calories. That would give me a weekly surplus of 2000 calories. I would then eat 2500 calories on rest days (TDEE 2800kcal) and about 3300-3500 on training days.
    In this case there is a caloric surplus, where in your approach there is not surplus (like a recomp). What do you consider the benefits of your approach compared to the leangains approach? Wouldn’t eating at BMR on rest days hinder recovery for higher volume workout programs?

    • Thanks! Yup I’m familiar with it.

      Sure that’s better for a monthly surplus but I’m talking about monthly maintenance. Neutral energy balance to prevent fat gain.

  • Logan

    Mike – Quick typo in the macro calc’s – you have training day fat macro’s as 70, but in your carbs calculation you use 85, so your total carbs # is coming out lower than it should be (should be 430G). Hope this helps and thanks for the tip, cycling has been working well!

    • Doh! I remember fixing this in the final manuscript of the book but took this from the first version I had written. Thanks for pointing it out. 🙂

      Glad it’s working well!

      • Andrew

        Mike – FYI: You’ve also got a typo in the text at the bottom of the panel still talking about 85g Fat and 80g Fat, when the calculations above are 70g.

  • Mark Cachia

    Hi Mike- I wasn’t sure where to post this question- seems as this article is as good a place as possible. I use a Fitbit charge HR that accurately tracks calorie expenditure by measuring activity as well as pulse. I also use MyFitnessPal to track food (and it links to fitbit for calories burned). I’Ve purchased 3 (BLS, SR, and BBLS but I’m not ready for it yet) of your books and will purchase a fourth for my wife (TLS). I’ve lost 7.5kg of fat and gained 3.9kg of muscle since January and am now at 14% bf. I’m still at a calorie deficit of ca 20%, as my target is 10% bf. The question relates to adjusting calorie intake to activity level. Some days I burn 1000 calories more than others, which puts me close to a 50% deficit if I don’t adjust the calorie intake. I don’t want to go into starvation mode or lose muscle. I’m 43 yrs old, 6ft tall, 187lbs. If I read your advice correctly, you don’t recommend adjusting, but I’m not sure if you considered these new technologies on the market, like this fitbit. Many thanks in advance.

    • Thanks for picking up my books!

      Great job on the results you’ve gotten so far. 🙂

      As to your question, even with all the tech we have these days, I recommend keeping your calories the same. It’s easier to track progress that way. Stick to the cals and weigh yourself weekly. If you’re losing 1-2 pounds a week, don’t change anything!

      If that’s not happening, we can adjust your cals accordingly.

      What do you think?

      • Mark Cachia

        Thanks Mike. I will follow your lead. It’s worked really well so far just by being close on the macros and calories.

        • YW and sounds good. 🙂

          Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Jerrad

    do macros need to stay the same or am I just trying to stay at my caloric goal for the day? For example, one day I eat more fats, but less carbs.

    • Yeah you can play with macros but I wouldn’t get too wild here or your intake WILL get sloppy.

  • Joseph

    Hey Mike, great article. I bought BLS a couple months ago and have really enjoyed all your info so far.
    I think you’ve really nailed hitting the ideal physique and was just curious what your height and weight are?

    • Thanks for picking up my book! Glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂

      I’m 6’2″ and 190 lbs.

  • Name

    Hi mike,

    I just have a question about calorie cycling. Im trying to stay lean for a pretty long season of physique competitions, and i’m trying a form of calorie cycling right now.

    i calculated my BMR and TDEE based on my stats, 139lbs, around 6-6.5% bodyfat and here’s what ive come up with:

    I put myself in a small, 15% deficit on non workout days, which is 4 days of the week.. thats 1897.9 calories, with 25% coming from fat.. thats 52 grams fat, 205 grams carbs and 150 grams protein.. (i kept the protein that low since its a bit expensive here)

    but on workout days, 3 days of the week(since i can only workout 3 days out of a week), i took whats left form TDEE and divided by 3, and did something similar. 2679.4 Calories, 74 grams fat (25%), 140g protein (near 1g per lbs) and 362 carbs.
    Just a few things.. is the deficit on non workout days too small…? is the fat on workout days too much..? should i just decrease the fat and replace with carbs…? because if i do, thats ALOT of carbs.. but im not really complaining. Its also easy for me to fill the workout day with different enjoyable foods because everything is pretty high, but did i calculate wrong or something..? i did it like 4 times..

    • Hey hey!

      I like the calorie setup. That should work fine. A small deficit is okay so long as your weekly intake is right.

      IMO that’s a lot more fat than you need. More carbs will benefit your training more.

      That said, if you don’t want more carbs, stick with the higher fat intake. There’s not wrong with it health wise of course.

      You may want to try both ways actually. See what you feel/look the best on.

  • Daniel Brown

    Hey Mike!

    I’m still a relative beginner (reaping “all ‘dem newbie gains” lol) so I don’t plan to do calorie cycling until I’m more advanced/experienced as per your advice, but still have a question.

    I know you must answer a trillion messages a day so you might not remember me from the other day, but because of my hectic schedule, I ended up eating all my daily calories/macros in a single large post-workout meal in the evenings before bed. I’ve been having huge success with this style though and enjoy it immensely so I’m sticking to it for now (although trying to stretch out the length of the meal by savoring it slowly so my daily fast isn’t too long).

    My question is this though: If/when I did start calorie cycling to optimize training performance, would I consider my “training day macros” to be the night before’s meal, or the meal immediately post-workout the next day? (i.e. If I lifted on Mon/Wed/Fri, would I eat my “training meals” on Sun/Tue/Thu

    or after the workouts on Mon/Wed/Fri?)

    Thanks again for all the help!

    • Nice on the newbie gains!

      Yup I remember. 🙂

      Training day macros are the food you eat on the same day as the actual training (TDEE is higher on those days).

  • Ted

    Hi Mike,

    Love this article. I also have BLS. I’m working on getting a custom meal plan also from your group.
    I like checking out different ideas.
    I’m doing physique competitions mid October and am looking for something to maintain my current BF (9.9%) and add muscle, I was too lean at my last show.
    So I lift heavy weights 4-5 times a week for about 45-50 minutes each time.
    I do fasted am cardio with 5 mg yohimbine for about 20 minutes 4-5 times a week.
    Would that give me a BMR of 1785 and TDEE of 2142?
    Then Rest days: 200 grams Protein, 110 Carbs and 60 Fat.
    Then Training days: Protein 160, Fat 50 and Carbs 300.
    Sound right?
    I have a lange caliper device and got my mid abdomen at 12 mm and chest at 7 mm and mid thigh at 6 mm (so 9.9% by my Bodytracker app)
    I also have been drinking a shake immediately post workout of 35 grams whey isomer protein powder, 10 grams BCAA’s and 2 G creatine and 50 grams carbs via gatorade (dextrose high GI type).
    I have an excellent trainer I’m working with now but always look to raise my game and love the advice and articles here at your site.

    • Hey Ted!

      Thanks for all the support.

      I like what you’re doing. That TDEE sounds kinda low but I assume you don’t weigh much?

      • Ted63

        I weigh 160. I recalculated and got 1800 bmr and 2340 tdee. 👍

  • BannanaBoy

    Hey Mike,

    I like your 10% calorie surplus to bulk advice.

    I was just wondering …Im currently at 180 at roughly 13% and roughly need 2900 calories to bulk…

    If i maintained a calorie surplus of around 3100~ calories instead and just kept that up for months…keeping a steady 3100 calorie diet…wouldn’t those calories eventually become my calorie deficit?

    The reason I’m asking is because that way I could use the same amount of calories to lean out at my goal body weight of 190 at roughly sub 10%

    Thanks in advance

  • Alex M

    Hey Mike, great article as usual. Your article focuses mainly on calorie cycling for bulking, though I was curious if you could elaborate a bit more on it for cutting. I understand that calorie cycling is not a panacea and would not actually help the rate of fat loss. However, you start off the article by saying some people like to eat at 5 days of deficit and 2 days at maintenance to give their body a break. Is this actually an ok strategy, especially if you find it hard to maintain a deficit for long periods of time? Or would you recommend deficit 6 days a week and then high carb 10%-over-TDEE cheat day instead?

    • Thanks Alex!

      I generally don’t recommend it for cutting because it just makes the cut take longer but if you feel you need a break from the deficit every week then yes, a 5/2 setup is reasonable.

  • tony c

    mike, I like your article but I still have some questions. I’m ectomorph type, weigh125lbs and 10%BF.
    Why would you want to decrease your carbs intake on rest day? I get that you don’t need as much carbs when you’re not training, but I thought carbs actually helps with fat loss?

  • I lost 15 pounds doing carb cycling in about 3 months I can attest this works. I went from 6 foot 185lbs with 18% body fat to 170lbs to 14% body fat (almost sexy!) I was quite aggressive in cutting carbs basically only having them through veggies and starch carbs after workout. While this method worked, I’ve been trying Mike’s method for the last two weeks and its HELL OF A LOT BETTER as I’m having way more carbs about 40 to 45% on training days and absolutely crushing my workouts. The increase in muscle is amazing! We’ll see if this approach can slowly get me to 10-12% body fat. Only thing is I hope I dont look too skinny!

    • Nice! Glad to hear you’re enjoying and getting great results following my program. 🙂

      Stick to the training and dieting, and you’ll get there!

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Becky Ramsay

    Would you still recommend reverse dieting up to maintenance calories everyday after a cut before trying calorie cycling?

  • Chandler Camden

    Hey Mike, quick question. Would training first thing in the morning effect this cycle differently? I always train fasted, I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to perform great still while fasted, and didn’t know if the higher calorie days would be better suited the day before training or on the training day even though my training would be long finished before I begin to eat the caloric surplus. Thank you in advance for any assistance.

  • Daniel

    Hey Mike!

    Would you recommend calorie cycling for an intermediate lifter to make slow lean gains? I’m at that midpoint where I’m lean and “athletically built” not skinny but not jacked if that makes sense but would like to gain more size, unfortunately if I bulk I’ll look significantly worse for several months, unlike when you’re really skinny and lean when bulking initially makes you look better. Vain I know lol but if I can still gain muscle while keeping my abs Id prefer that method even if muscle growth is slower.

    Thanks!

    • You can if you’re okay with very slow progress.

      However, if you have a lot of muscle you want to put on, I don’t recommend it. You’ll get much faster results doing proper bulks/cuts.

      When done properly, you won’t get “fat” when bulking. I recommend cutting and bulking between 10-15% BF. Take a look at this:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

      Thoughts?

      Welcome!

      • Daniel

        Proper bulking and cutting is much better, and even though 15% isn’t “fat” it’s mainly just a psychological issue I have to get over to as when I don’t have defined abs I feel pretty self conscious (I’m sounding like a chick lol) and that keeps me spinning my wheels by not eating enough to fuel gains.

        • Robert

          I agree, the fact that you have to gain body fat to gain muscle and look bad for months and then go through a period of dieting to then have to turn right back around and repeat the process over and over again almost makes me want to quit focusing on adding anymore muscle to my frame altogether and just focus on staying lean and maintaining my current mass and increasing my performance in the gym. Gaining more mass just doesn’t seem worth it if bulking and cutting is the only way.

        • I hear you, Daniel. It’s just a part of the process! Once you’re happy with the muscle you have, you can do a final cut and then maintain the lean look you want from there on. 🙂

  • Vesna

    Hey Mike!

    Lovely article. A question: I need to cut, some 5 cm in volume (waist & hips mostly, but other parts will have to suffer). I am a 30 y.o. female, 170cm /62 kg, working out 5 days a week, ok strong. I’ve been on 1200 kkal/day max steady deficit for the past month – and yes, I diligently wright down everything I eat and drink; but I haven’t seen much result, so I was thinking of trying to cycle carbs (especially given that my body better digests fat than carbs – I believe you also talked about it in one of your articles: dizziness, hunger, bloating…)… Might cycling do the trick whereas I would stay in the deficit or is there a better way? I’m uncertain whether cutting calories even further would be a smart move…
    I have purchased your book and went though it, but didn’t find any pointers…

  • joseph

    Hi mike,

    Great article! just a clarification though. I’m on a cut now.. just hit 7.8%bf… im going to cut a bit more, but when I’m happy with the cut I’ve achieved, and want to switch to calorie cycling, do i reverse diet first, or just jump right into calorie cycling.,.?

    and, I remember you talking about very low carbs used to flush water and get the “shrink wrap” effect before going on stage in your carb article.. can I get a bit more detail on that..?

    Thanks a bunch

    • joseph

      oh, sorry, noticed in one of the comment’s replies that you still advise reverse dieting before jumping into cycling.

      I am curious though, about the low carb and water thing.. for starters, how low does my bodyfat need to be before I start doing it? and since I’m going very low carb, about 100g or less if i remember correctly, do I replace the carbs with fat and protein, or do I just keep the same number of protein and fat, and just drop my carbs,,,? not sure about the last part, because It would really take me below 25% deficit, which, if i remember, isnt ideal

      • My “low-carb” is about 100 grams per day, yes, and I replace those calories with fats.

        • joseph

          thanks alot for the response!! i’ll probably go low carb once i hit a BF % that I’m happy with.. while im on calorie cycling for maintenance during the competition season, and say I need to water cut again, is it alright for me to jump straight into a water cut from calorie cyclinn, or do i do a week of being back on 75% before water cutting, or can i just go back to being flat TDEE 100% but replacing most of my carbs with fat..? just curious

    • Nice!

      Reverse diet first.

      And that depends on your body because water and carb manipulation affects some people differently than others.

      For me, if I go low-carb for 4 to 5 days and then start carbing up 2 days before a shoot, I seem to look the best.

  • Matt

    Hey Mike,
    Would you recommend this approach over the Maintenance Phase you wrote about in BLS? Or are the results roughly the same?

    • If you don’t mind the extra work, I would say this approach is slightly better.

      • Matt

        Plus you get built in higher kcal days which is nice. Instead of eating 2400 kcal everyday you get a few days of 2900 kcals or so followed by eating in a mild deficit which probably doesn’t feel psychologically much different than eating maintenance . It seems easier to adhere too:)

        • True! It is nice having the higher cal days. 🙂 LMK how it goes!

  • Tom Atwell

    Hey Mike – long time follower of BLS and i’m currently about 180lbs 9% Bf reverse dieting back to maintenance before implementing Calorie cycling.

    I noticed it says rest day calories @ BMR which puts me at a much greater deficit than mentioned (more like 25-30%)

    TDEE 2670
    BMR 1978
    Is being at BMR on that level of a deficit 2 days a week going to be okay for me and my recovery?

    thanks Mike!

    • Hey man!

      Great job on what you’ve done so far.

      Yeah it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just two days per week. Give it a go and see how your body responds.

  • Italo

    Hello Mike, I just finished reading your book and some of your interesting articles.
    I recently restarted training after one year of pause, so I’m getting back quickly my muscles thanks to muscle memory. I’m 170lb and 184cm tall at about 14-15% body fat and I would like to get to 10% while gaining mass.

    I read from you that it is not always possible and easy, but maybe in my case it is possible. I was wondering if this cycling of calories among training and rest days could actually help me in achieving this result (keeping a caloric deficit on a weekly basis).

    I mean, increasing calories could help me bulking and training harder, while cutting them could eat up my body fat during rest days.

    The question is: do you think that calorie cycling could help me in achieving this? or what really matters is the balance at the end of the week?
    Basically, would a standard calorie deficit diet give me the same results? or this approach is better?
    Thank you for your time,
    Italo

    • Hey Italo! That’s great you picked up a copy of BLS and are restarting your workouts

      Calorie Cycling on a weekly deficit will help with cutting, and if you’re new to this style of training, you’ll build some muscle too. Energy balance definitely matters. Standard deficit will give you same results if both are done with the same weekly deficit.

      Cal Cycling isn’t better, but is used primarily for advanced lifters to stay lean and make slow, steady gains. I’d go with a standard cut.

      • Italo

        Thanks for the reply Roger.
        I would like to ask you a question: I know most of bodybuilders promote calorie surplus for muscle gains, however, I’ve also read about some others arguing that in order to gain muscle you just have to be in “positive nitrogen balance”.
        What do you think about that? Do you know any studies that have been done to understand this better?

  • Danny

    I’m a beginner and I am on a 6 days on 1 day off split.
    Chest/back
    Shoulders/bi/tri
    Legs
    Chest/back
    Shoulders/bi/tri
    Legs
    OFF

    My maintenance is about 2300 cals. I’m eating a slight surplus and eating about 2600 cals. Would you recommend eating maintenance on off days or just stick with 2600 cals 7 days a week?

  • NB1986

    Hey Mike,

    Just wanting to clear a couple of things up. I’ve just ended a 8 week cut down to a point where I want to be making lean gains. In the past when I’ve bulked, I’ve eaten in a surplus, not a huge surplus, and I feel I have always put too much fat on. Part of me wonders whether it was down to the time of day I’d eat certain things. So during my cut I made sure I’d only really eat stuff like bananas and fast carbs after a workout. Now I’m gradually building on calories (I’m only on 2000 a day at the moment), I obviously need to eat more throughout the day, so I worry about eating certain things at the wrong times. I’m sure in the past you’ve said it shouldn’t make much difference but I wonder whether I’m perhaps more carb sensitive, and so should I stick to high GI carbs after workouts only? If so, what about rest days? There’s only so many low GI carbs I have in my kitchen!!

    Nick

    • Hey Nick, it has nothing to do with time of day. Make sure you’re tracking exactly what you’re eating, and follow this guide:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/bulking-up/

      The reason why your weight ballooned in the past could be because you did not reverse diet following the cut:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/reverse-diet/

      High GI best after workout, yes. Lower GI ideally other times. If you need to go grocery shopping on the weekends, do it buddy!

      • NB1986

        Hi Roger

        Thanks for that. I have always gone back up on the calories gradually so that’s not the issue. I will give the low GI stuff a real focus and see how we go. Just another thing – how long after a workout would you say is safe to go high GI before going back down to low GI, say, later in the evening if I need to use up some calories?

        Thanks

        • 1-2 hours after workout is the prime window. Missing it isn’t a big deal, and you’ll still benefit from the post-workout carbs.

  • Tora

    I read about this on bbls and I was looking for a page where to ask a few things, glad i found this:
    1) would you reccomend to do my weekly 2/3Hiit on surplus days or on the rest (non-lifting) ones?
    2) I shouldn’t train my week points on the days after the slight deficit, right?

    Thanks a lot

    • 1. Either way is fine.

      2. Nah, I recommend training them on a higher intake day.

      Welcome!

  • Mr_Heckles

    You said that on rest days we should follow the BME calories and that it would only be a deficit of 10-15℅ from our TDEE. But my BME is 1497 while my TDEE is 2022 which makes it a deficit of -26℅ not 10-15℅, at a deficit of -15℅ it would be 1719 calories.
    Same issue with the example provided here, the deficit between TDEE and resting days seems to be at -25℅ not 10-15℅ .. Pretty sure you did it correctly, I just can’t figure out what am I missing here.

    I do know that BME is the absolute minimum the body needs and even when cutting at 20℅ using your calculator we are actually eating more calories than the BME (to gain a bit of muscle and/or preserve it) so perhaps that’s why the percentages seem off to me because as i understood here, we are supposed to follow the BME exactly as it is, if that’s still the case, why aren’t the numbers adding up for me? Was I supposed to factor in the activity multiplier as well in my calculations? If so, how?

    • Sorry but I’m not sure what you’re asking exactly.

      If your TDEE is about 2,000 calories, then you should eat about 75% of that amount to lose weight.

      • Mr_Heckles

        I know that but that’s not what I was talking about, what is confusing is the percentages in the example, “Your caloric target on your deficit (rest) days is simply your BMR, which will put you in a mild—10 to 15% caloric deficit.” but in the actual calculations the deficit was 25% from your TDEE (Your example TDEE is 2800, your deficit was 2100, that’s 25% deficit not 10-15%) so which is it, a 10-15% calorie deficit on rest days or a 25% deficit?

        • It’s a slightly smaller deficit on your rest days.

  • CP

    I have been reading your posts and thought I would reach out for help. I am so confused as to what I should be doing about my nutrition to accompany my exercise regimen (High weights low reps 3 days a week-approx 35 min/day, cardio and weight intervals/abs one day a week-approx 45 min, cardio/yoga one day a week-approx 45 min), 2 rest days. A couple of months ago I completed a diet program which was eating high protein (3 protein packets a day) along with 4 cups of vegetables a day and 8 ounces of lean protein once a day (no carbs, fruit, or dairy other than what may be in packaged food). My daily caloric intake was probably around 1000 calories but no loss in muscle mass since protein was so high. It took 5 months but I lost 38 lb. getting down to 132 (I am 5’4″) which was 2 lb. from my original goal. I went on vacation about a month ago and in one week I gained 10 lb. Upon arriving home I started eating clean with minimal carbs along with working out and am still unable to lose the weight. I eat anywhere between 1200 and 1600 calories a day trying to focus mainly on protein. I have had a cheat day on a weekend and then followed with a no carb day afterwards. The program guide with my workout DVDs says to do around 1300 calories a day. I was diagnosed 12 years ago with hypothyroidism (take thyroid meds), had a partial hysterectomy about a year ago and taking supplements for low progesterone and high blood pressure. Honestly I’ve struggled with my weight since I was 12 yrs. old but the last couple of years have been so much worse with all the changes in my body. They say it is downhill after your turn 40 LOL. My doctor has even said that I must be “carb sensitive” I see so many different posts for women that lift weights….reduce calories, carb cycle, calorie cycle, reverse dieting, eat clean, stay in macros. I am just overwhelmed. I push myself to increase the weight I am lifting each day as long as I don’t compromise my form but I feel I must be doing something wrong which leads me to nutrition. Please point me in the right direction. Thank you so much and I hope your day is blessed beyond measure.

  • Bart Ellebaut

    Hi Mike,
    Would you say that muscle loss would be less when using calorie cycling while cutting, then when using a fixed deficit. Taking into account that you high days are on you heavy workout days ( legs, back and chest)?

    • Not really. You shouldn’t be losing much muscle on a cut anyway if you’re following proper cutting protocol by lifting heavy, eating enough calories, and enough protein.

  • Taylor Kuzik

    I am experimenting with calorie cycling myself to help bring my BF % down to 8-10% since it’s more sustainable than much lower body fat percentages. Anything below 6% is dangerous to your health. 1-4% BF is the essential amount the male body needs to survive. For example, workout days are high calorie days and rest days aren’t. This is supposed to keep your metabolism guessing and prevent it from adapting to a new set point. I looked up my maintenance calories and they’re just below 3,000 given my new weight, my physical job and using Athlean X workouts. To gain one pound a week requires for me to consume slightly over 3,000 calories. To lose 1 pound a week requires around 2,295 calories, I think. The online calculator I used only used the basic height, weight, age, BF % and activity level factors. It doesn’t have the LBM factor in it but math has never been one of my strong points.

    I know heavy compound movements such as deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press and squats cost a lot of energy but you can’t do the same routine over and over because the body gets used to it so you need to change it up. I also know proper nutrition, recovery and effective workouts are important to losing fat or building muscle.

    • Cool on everything you’re doing Taylor! You can make sure the numbers you calculated make sense here:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/macronutrient-calculator/

      As to not following the same routine over and over, I agree to a point. I like adding in some variations every couple months to keep things interesting, but I like to always keep the focus on the heavy, compound lifts. It’s tough to measure progress if you’re constantly changing your workouts.

  • Lee

    Hi Mike, as I understand it protein synthesis lasts up to 48 hours following lifting (is this correct?). If so, would being in a calorie deficit 48 hours after lifting (on a rest day) harm muscle gain in any way, especially where non-resistance exercise during this time is limited to (for instance) walking? I ask because, if we aren’t actively building muscle, not training on that day, and not being aggressive enough in the deficit to tap into muscle protein for energy, would we really be harming the bulking process?
    Cheers!

    • It depends on how intense the workout is, how much protein you eat, genetics, etc.

      To keep things simple, I generally recommend consistently being in a small surplus when bulking. That’s what’s ideal for building muscle. However, if you’re okay with making slow gains and want to keep the focus on being lean, you could calorie cycle

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

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  • Alex Hodgkiss

    Hi there, I wondered if it’s still OK to have a cheat meal once per week following the suggestions you give elsewhere on the site, without gaining additional fat? Thanks

    • Hi Alex, you can have a cheat meal as long as you end the week with a sufficient calorie deficit.

      • Alex Hodgkiss

        Hi Mike, thanks. Do you mean that if I ate, say, 500 extra calories on one of the higher calorie days, I would need to make up for that by eating fewer calories on the lower calorie days/the other higher calorie days?

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