Muscle for life

How to Use Energy Balance to Lose Fat & Gain Muscle

How to Use Energy Balance to Lose Fat & Gain Muscle

If you want to know what energy balance is, how it works, and how to use it to lose fat and build muscle, then you want to read this article.

Have you ever stopped losing weight despite “doing everything right” with your diet?

Have you ever struggled to gain weight no matter what you ate?

Have you ever wondered why some people can stay lean eating sugar and junk food regularly?

Well, the principles of energy balance answer these mysteries and more.

They’re the fundamental laws that dictate how your body weight changes over time, and they can be used to intentionally gain and lose weight as desired.

That means that you’re going to be able use what you learn in this article to…

The bottom line is out of everything you could learn about dieting, energy balance should be at the top of your list because it’s the biggest linchpin.

In other words, if you don’t understand energy balance and know how to use it to your advantage, you’ll never be able to put the rest of the puzzle together.

You’ll always struggle with your weight, and you’ll never quite understand why some approaches to dieting work and others don’t.

So, if you’re ready to learn how energy balance can help you lose fat, gain muscle, and stay lean, then keep reading.

What Is Energy Balance?

food energy content

Energy balance is the relationship between the amount of energy that you feed your body and the energy it burns.

This energy is expressed in kilocalories, also referred to as just “calories,” and one calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.

As you probably know, various foods contain varying amounts of calories (energy). For example, nuts are very energy dense, containing about 6.5 calories per gram, on average. Celery, on the other hand, contains very little stored energy, with just 0.15 calories per gram.

Now, if you add up the calories of all the foods that you eat every day, you’ll have your total caloric intake.

If you then compare this to how much energy you’re burning every day through basic physiological processes and all physical activity, you’ll notice one of three things:

  1.   You’re consuming more energy than you’re burning.

This puts your body is in a state of “positive energy balance,” and the result is weight gain over time. (You’ll learn more about why soon.)

  2.   You’re burning more energy than you’re consuming.

This puts your body is in a state of “negative energy balance,” and the result is weight loss over time.

  3.   You’re burning more or less the same amount of energy as you’re consuming.

This puts your body is in a state of “neutral energy balance, and the result is weight maintenance.

These aren’t hypotheses or debunked theories. This is the first law of thermodynamics at work.

That’s why every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last 100 years, including countless meta-analyses and systematic reviews, has concluded that meaningful weight loss requires energy expenditure to exceed energy intake.

That’s also why bodybuilders dating back just as far, from Sandow to Reeves and all the way up the line, have been using this knowledge to systematically and routinely reduce and increase body fat levels.

And that’s why new brands of “calorie denying” come and go every year, failing to gain acceptance in the weight loss literature.

The reality is a century of metabolic research has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that energy balance is the basic mechanism that regulates weight gain and loss.

All that doesn’t mean you have to count calories to lose weight, but it does mean you have to understand how caloric intake and expenditure influences your body weight and eat accordingly.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

The 4 Most Common Misconceptions About Energy Balance

girl confused with food

You’ve probably heard people argue against the primacy of energy balance and caloric intake.

Some say that everything I’ve discussed so far is contradicted or even debunked by the latest scientific research on the human metabolism.

Others offer up stories about their own weight gain/loss or the experiences of others that seem to defy the principles of “energy in vs. energy out.”

Well, in this section of the article, I want to address four myths about energy balance that I encounter all the time…

“I lost weight on [insert diet here] and never counted calories.”

It’s easy to find people who’ve lost significant amounts of weight without ever paying attention to how many calories they were eating.

Maybe they went low-carb. Maybe they stopped eating meat, sugar, or animal products. Or maybe they just started eating “cleaner.”

And they sure lost weight.

What they don’t realize, though, is that the root cause of their weight loss wasn’t the food choices per se, but the relationship between how much energy they ate and burned (energy balance).

In other words, they lost weight because their new diet kept them in a state of negative energy balance long enough for meaningful weight loss to occur, not because they ate the “right” foods and avoided the “wrong” ones.

You see, most “weight loss diets” out there revolve around food restriction.

You have to limit or avoid foods or entire food groups (carbs or sugars of any kind, for example), and this inevitably forces you to cut various higher-calorie foods  out of your diet, which also happen to be the ones that are highly palatable, making them easiest to overeat.

Thus, when you cut them out, caloric intake naturally goes down, and once it dips below the expenditure threshold, the fat loss begins.

If, however, energy expenditure never exceeds consumption, then no fat loss will occur. Ever. Period.

“I starved myself and didn’t lose weight.”

girl pinching fat

Skim through a popular fitness forum and you’ll find plenty of people reporting no weight loss despite (reporting) eating a small number of calories every day.

This, then, is held up as proof that everything we’re discussing here isn’t true, or isn’t true for everyone. That some people simply can’t lose weight through caloric restriction alone.

Well, their frustration is understandable, but that doesn’t mean their metabolisms work in fundamentally different ways than everyone else’s.

What’s actually happening is almost always nothing more than a matter of human error. The three most common mistakes are:

  1.   Underestimating actual caloric intake.

Unfortunately, most of us are really bad at accurately estimating how many calories we eat every day.

Studies show that while someone might think they’re eating 800 calories per day, it could easily be 1,200 or 1,500 or even more.

  2.   Overeating too frequently.

Most of us also don’t realize how much “cheat meals” or, worse, cheat days can set us back.

A quick example:

You stick to your diet faithfully throughout the week, eating about 300 calories less than you burn every day, ending Friday with a total weekly deficit of 1,500 calories.

Then comes the weekend, though, when you’re less active and more lax with what you eat.

Saturday is your “cheat day,” and you put down about 1,000 more calories than you burn (very easy to do if you just “eat whatever you want”), and Sunday is a lesser version of it, ending a couple hundred calories over expenditure.

What have you done here?

Yup, you’ve basically erased your entire week’s caloric deficit in two days, putting you back to square one.

I’ve worked with thousands of people and can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve spoken to people that spun their wheels like this for months on end, never understanding why they couldn’t lose any meaningful amount of weight.

  3.   Failing to account for water retention.

When you keep your body in a caloric deficit, and especially a large one, you lose fat, but you also tend to retain more water.

The reason for this is simple: caloric restriction increases production of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which in turn increases water retention.

Depending on your physiology, this effect can minimal, or can be so strong that it completely obscures several weeks of fat loss.

In other words, you can lose fat for several weeks without losing weight, and this can give the appearance that calorie counting “doesn’t work.”

“If you eat clean, calories don’t matter.”

chopping banana

You’ve undoubtedly heard that you just have to “eat clean” if you want to lose weight.

You know, just cut out the sugar, junk food, and processed carbs, the fat will melt off.

The reality, though, is “clean” calories count just as much as “dirty ones.”

In other words, if all we’re talking about is body weight, then a calorie is very much a calorie. (If we want to improve our body composition, then things change, but we’ll talk more about that soon.)

Based on what we just discussed above, you can probably guess why eating nothing but “clean” foods has helped so many people lose weight.

Yup, you got it.

Most “dirty” foods, such as pizza, cheeseburgers, candy, and ice cream, are also high in calories and very easy to overeat. Once you get rid of them, caloric intake can drop precipitously, and weight loss can begin in earnest.

That also means that you don’t have to eliminate those foods from your diet to lose weight. Practically speaking, it helps, but so long as your caloric intake is lower than your expenditure, you’ll lose weight regardless of what you eat.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask Professor Mark Haub, who lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks eating Hostess cupcakes, Doritos, Oreos, and whey protein shakes.

Or this guy, who lost 56 pounds in six months eating nothing but McDonald’s, or this guy, who got into the best shape of his life following a rigorous workout routine and eating McDonald’s every day for a month.

Now, I don’t recommend you follow in their footsteps (the nutritional value of your diet does matter), but they prove a point:

When it comes to weight loss or gain, energy balance is king.

“The human body isn’t an inorganic machine. You can’t apply the same rules.”

Some people claim that the first law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to the human metabolism.

They say our body is far more complicated than the simple heat engine that powers our refrigerator or car.

Their arguments can be convincing, too, chock full of fancy talk like “entropy,” “chaos theory,” and “metabolic advantage,” and tangents on the more esoteric aspects of our endocrine system.

This is all smoke and mirrors.

Yes, it’s true that the human body is far more complex than a combustion engine, but as I mentioned earlier, there’s a reason why every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last 100 years has concluded that meaningful weight loss requires “calories in” to be lower than “calories out.”

It works the same in the lean and obese, and even in the healthy and diseased.

Energy balance is a first principle of the human metabolism, and simply can’t be circumvented or ignored.

How to Use Energy Balance to Lose Weight Effectively

girl measuring waist


You now know that you can lose weight by consistently feeding your body fewer calories than it burns.

That’s well and good, but this is where we need to go deeper, because your goal shouldn’t be to merely lose weight, but to lose fat and not muscle.

In other words, the aim should be improving your body composition, not losing some arbitrary amount of weight.

And to do that, you need good answers to three questions:

1. How large should your caloric deficit be?

2. How should you break those calories down into “macros”?

3. How do you turn macros into effective meal plans?

Let’s look at each.

How large should your caloric deficit be?

You can absolutely lose weight by eating way less energy than you burn (starve yourself), but it has consequences.

Namely, it makes you more likely to lose muscle, slow your metabolism down, and battle hunger and mood swings.

This is why I recommend an aggressive but not reckless caloric deficit of 20 to 25%.

That is, you want to eat 20 to 25% fewer calories than you burn every day

Research shows that this is a “sweet spot” where you can lose fat rapidly while also preserving your muscle and sanity.

Now, you’re probably wondering how to figure out what this number would be for you.

Well, you can dive into the details of how to figure out how many calories you’re burning every day here, or you can simply use the calculator below:


This calculator will give you a fairly accurate estimate of the average amount of energy you burn every day, otherwise known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE.

Once you have your TDEE, the next step is dropping it by 20 to 25%, and the calculator makes this easy to do.

And that’s it! You now have your target daily caloric intake to lose weight effectively.

How should you break your calories down into “macros”?

As you know, body weight is dictated primarily by calories in vs. calories out, regardless of the “quality” of those calories.

Body composition–how your weight divides into muscle, fat, and bone and other substances–is another matter altogether.

When you drill down and specify that you want to lose fat and not muscle, for example, where you get your calories from matters, and a lot.

The specific foods that you eat don’t particularly matter, but how much protein, carbohydrate, and fat you eat does.

These three substances are referred to “macronutrients” because your body needs them in large amounts to survive and function optimally.

If you want the whole rundown on macros and dieting, check out this article, but here’s the long story short for “cutting”:

  1.   Eat 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.

Studies show that eating around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day boosts fat loss and helps preserve muscle.

If you’re obese (a man with 25%+ body fat or woman with 30%+), then 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of fat-free mass is adequate.

  2.   Eat 0.2 to 0.25 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day.

Research shows this is adequate for maintaining healthy hormone levels and absorbing nutrients.

This comprises 15 to 20% of daily calories for most people.

  3.   Get the rest of your calories from carbs.

This higher-carb approach will help you maintain your training intensity in the gym, which in turn will help you burn more calories while working out and better preserve muscle and strength.

Now, you can work this math yourself (one gram of protein contains about 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrate contains the same, and one gram of fat contains 9 calories), or you can just use this even fancier calculator to do the work for you:

0 kcal
0 kcal
0 kcal

This calculator has built-in presets to quickly adjust your calories and macros based on your goal.

  • If you want to lose fat, choose the “cut” preset.

It’ll then set your caloric intake to 80% of your TDEE (20% caloric deficit) and your macros to 40% of calories from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fat.

  • If you want to maintain your current weight, select “maintain.”

This will set your caloric intake will be 100% of TDEE and your macros will adjust to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and 0.3 grams of fat per pound, and the remaining calories will be allotted to carbs.

  • And if you want to gain muscle, select “bulk.”

This will increase your calories to 110% of TDEE and set up your macros in the same way as maintenance.

You can also ignore the presets and set your calories and macros yourself.

The sliders allow you to change everything as you see fit, and once you input your protein intake, it stays locked. This makes it easy to increase or decrease fats and carbs by using the sliders or input fields without throwing off your protein.

How do you turn macros into effective meal plans?

A meal plan is a list of what foods you’re going to eat every day to hit your caloric and macronutritional targets.

I recommend this approach over a more “intuitive” method of eating because, well, it just tends to work better for most people.

Sure, you can lose weight without paying attention to your calories and macros, but that approach has a higher failure rate (it’s too easy to overeat) and will only get you so far.

Eventually, you’ll have to start planning or tracking the food you eat if you want to keep losing fat.

Click here to learn how to make effective meal plans that make losing fat and building muscle simple and straightforward.

How to Use Energy Balance to Gain Weight Effectively

gain weight effectively

When you want to lose fat, you eat less than your TDEE. When you want to maximize muscle growth, you eat a bit more.

I explain why in this article, which I highly recommend you read, but what it boils down to is this:

When you want to maximize muscle growth, you should eat, on average, about 15% more than your TDEE.

This slight energy surplus allows your body to grow muscle as efficiently as possible.

The macronutrient breakdown for “bulking” is different as well:

  • Eat 1 gram protein per pound of body weight.
  • Eat 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight.
  • Get the rest of your calories from carbohydrate.

The Bottom Line on Energy Balance

Think of energy balance as the “master key” to your body weight.

With it, you can unlock complete control over how much you weigh, and whether you gain or lose weight over time or stay the same.

It’s also the first element of dieting that you must master because if you get it wrong, nothing else will matter.

The bottom line is you can turn to every fad diet ever created, but if you can’t maintain a caloric deficit, you’ll never lose any weight to speak of, and if you can’t maintain a surplus, you’ll always struggle to gain muscle.

So, take your time to fully understand everything laid out in this article and then create a meal plan and put it to the test.

Once you do, you’ll quickly realize that your metabolism works in exactly the same way as mine and everyone else’s, and that losing fat and gaining muscle isn’t nearly as hard as many people would have you believe.

What’s your take on energy balance? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Greg

    Random related thought that popped into my head while reading this: I recently ate a burger with questionably fresh meat. Does meat lose calories as it goes bad?

  • Matt Beauregard

    Mike, This is a fantastic article. My question is when bulking do you stay in that same surplus of calories once you start gaining weight? In contrast, every 5-10 lbs you cut you usually adjust your calorie intake, do you do the same adjustment while eating a surplus and gaining weight?

  • Cody

    When selecting an activity multiplier, does strength training count or only cardio?

  • Roxanne

    Great article! Love your books and have been using Forge and Phoenix and I love them! I do have a question though. I am a remote housekeeper in a Alaska. I get called out, a week at a time, to go to the oil fields to take care of their facilities etc….. The problem I’m having is I try to stay to my cutting macros, but my activity probably triples while there. I literally lose about a lb a day the first few days then I start retaining a lot of water and get crazy cravings for sugar. I wear a Fitbit and at home I get about 10,000 steps a day. I’m a mother of 3 and workout 5 days a week. But Up at work, I get about 25,000 plus steps a day Moving loads of about 20lbs literally 12 hours a day 7 days a week. Then I also use the gym 5 days a week for lifting. I just don’t have a clue how to adjust my calories and macros for 1 week. Should I just go back to maintenance since that will more than likely STILL put me in a deficit? It’s hard to know! Thank you 🙂

    • Awesome you’re enjoying my content and supps. For your more active weeks, you can increase your calories, sure. I’d start with increasing it by 200 cals and adjust from there. If you lose 1-2lbs a week while you’re up there, I’d say that’s a pretty good rate.

  • Richard

    I’m 189, about 16% bodyfat. I want to stay around 190, but get to around 10-12%. Should I use “cut”, “maintain”, or “bulk”? Maintain #tdee seems to be the right answer but adjust micronutrients. What’s your thought?

    • Hey Richard, cut first, then bulk to 15%. Repeat until you’re happy with your physique. If you maintain, you’ll never lose fat. You need to be in a deficit to lose fat.

  • AnnaD

    I’m currently bulking, and if I know I have a big meal that’s coming up, I slightly under eat for a couple of days beforehand and sometimes afterwards, balancing my calories over the week. My question is, does doing that often impede muscle gains very much? On the days I’m under eating, am I losing muscle and the day that I’m way over my calorie budget, am I gaining a lot of fat along with the muscle? I guess I’m just not too sure of how fast the whole process occurs, so any light you could shed would be awesome, thanks 🙂

    • Hey Anna, what you’re doing is perfect! As long as you’re meeting your protein requirement and eating above BMR you’ll be fine.

  • Paul Bedingfield

    oops, hou were right

  • Tyrone White

    I really enjoy reading articles like these but I still struggle with long-term implementation of this as a “lifestyle” not something I’ll just do as a phase. When you’re a busy young professional whose life resolves around socializing with clients, team oriented work, dinner parties, and a good bit of drinking; sticking to a meal plan can seem tedious at best and downright impossible in the worst. Especially hitting the target protein goals without gorging myself on meat and whey protein (I’m a heavier guy at 240 lbs down from a high of 270). I supplement with whey and creatine but I’m fairly resistant to adding anything that I don’t envision using for life (i.e. fat burners or pre-workout supplements). Further when I decrease fat and increase carbs (within my calorie deficit as you suggest) I feel ravenous. Any thoughts on any of this lol. . .

    • Great! What I suggest is simply to practice restraint, moderation, and select the healthiest options possible when you’re out. Make up the protein with shakes, Greek yogurt, etc between meals.

      No problem if you don’t want to take supps, and if you want to increase fats and reduce carbs, that’s fine too as long as you’re meeting your protein and calorie targets.

  • Gin

    Hi, Can you count your calorie intake on a weekly basis to allow for cheat days? As in go lower on some days to compensate? Would this method still facilitate fat loss if this was the goal? Thanks for the great articles…

    • You can do that, sure! You can also reduce your intake for the day up to your cheat meal so that you still end up with a deficit or at least mitigate the damage.

  • MDells

    I’ve read this over and over again, along with other similar blogs such as ‘top 10 reasons you’re not losing weight’….It’s pretty frustrating as I think there are maybe 1-5% of people where simply creating a calorie deficit doesn’t always work after the 1st two weeks. I track every last spinach leaf, tomato, even my chicken to the exact grams i.e. 227g not 225g. NOTHING enters my mouth without it being weighed and then recorded in myFitnessPal. There are clearly other factors at play that override the basic physiology of creating a deficit in some people. I eat an average of 1257Kcal last week, 1301kcal this week and my weight hasn’t moved for over 2 weeks now. Everything is meticulously recorded, I weigh myself at the same time of day under the exact same conditions. I’ve created a 7000kcal deficit, but haven’t lost the theoretical 2Ibs. I think the body adapts in certain people and refuses to let that weight go…

    • Have you increased your exercise activity and intensity? For example, adding just 5 more minutes to a 20min HIIT session 4x/week can make a pretty big difference. Also, if you’ve been eating a low calorie diet for a long time, your metabolism actually slows down and makes weight loss harder. Check this out:


      • MDells

        Thank you – I will try increasing my exercise intensity and play around with Reverse dieting too.

  • JR

    Wow, this is a well thought-out article with plenty of substance to take away! As Mike so-eloquently stated, energy balance is definitely the simple answer to reaching your fitness and nutrition goals. You may find this interesting, that almost every other country in the world replaces the somewhat vague term “calorie” with “energy value” or “kilojoule”. Hmmm, doesn’t that give you some insight into why this article is so important for Americans?
    Nevertheless, some of us are so stubborn that even if nutrition labels state, “This is very bad for you”, people would still eat it! In fact, they may even eat more of it due to the label saying they shouldn’t…
    As I read many of the comments on this post, it is quite evident that many folks try really hard to eat right and exercise, though find themselves either back to where they started, or worse than before. I can definitely see how this is frustrating, and make the following recommendation.
    First, stop giving yourself excuses. Excuses only take you to the path of nowhere. Stop and think about that again. Think hard about all your excuses (e.g., no time, tired, have kids, wife is demanding, work keeps me late, etc.). These are all excuses. If you want something bad enough, you need to be relentless in your pursuit of your dream!
    Second, make a few sacrifices in your life for the greater good of the “future you”. So many folks see physiques that they wish they had, yet they quickly give up before even making reasonable progress. Put down the crap food, start exercising while doing something you love, and start seeing results – slowly but surely! Give it some time, remember it took some considerable work to put on all that fat!
    Third and last, eat with intention. I’m not necessarily talking about mindfulness eating, though I strongly recommend you read books written by Zen Master, Thich Nhat Han. What I mean, is look at your food, observe it, and ask yourself, is this good for me? If it is, enjoy it, taste all the ingredients, eat slowly, chew many, many times, and put your fork down after each bite. This may sound all woo-woo, but truly appreciate the food and think about how it made it to the table. Think about the hard work the farmers put in, the animals that gave up their life, and the hard work you put forth in paying for this delicious and nutritious food. If you do this, you will slowly understand how to zero-in on energy balance, and live to eat, not the other way around.
    In closing, here’s a wonderful quote from Thich, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are. Something as simple and ordinary as drinking a cup of tea can bring us great joy and help us feel our connection to the Earth.”
    All the best to all!

  • Roper

    I’m a big fan, Mike, books and supplements. I probably just missed this, but when bulking and cutting, how long should each phase be? Would this change for someone over 60?Thanks, great article, and the calculators are a blessing.

    • Thanks! There’s no set time. You’re done when you’ve met your cutting or bulking goal regardless of age.

  • Great article, thanks.

    I’m 41 and three weeks into my first cut, working to go from about 15% BF to 10%. I was about 205 and have dropped nearly 10 lbs, using this calculator as my guide (dropping to 2200 cals on a 40/40/20 split, but some days went 1900 or 2000). But man — my workouts are getting difficult. I’ve missed reps on all my heavy lifts, and it’s kind of depressing. I feel gym-weak — definitely not making any PRs and losing strength.

    I’m doing fasted (taking Forge, Phoenix, Pulse), but I may skip that and get some pre-workout carbs. I’m also considering upping the cals, or at the very least ensuring i never go below the 20% level (2200).

    Is this normal? Should I lower my work weights, or raise my cals, or just struggle through failed sets for another 4-5 weeks?

    One thing I’ll try for sure is changing my sets/reps. I’m on Wendler 531 and its the 3-rep or 1-rep weights that are crushing me (even at weights I’ve done before). I’ll try lightening the load to 3×5 sets.

    • Nice work! Performance does take a dip during a cut, and especially if you’re training fasted. You can lower the weight if you have to in order to keep good form.

  • Ravi Persad

    Thanks for the info. It was a great read and very informative. Just curious, if you are trying to lose fat and you set the deficit at say 20%, do you just continually follow those calories till you reach your goal? Do you ever refeed or up the calories or do you just continue dropping calories. At 20% I am at 1600 calories and I am a 5’9 male that is 44 and 1600 calories seems really low to continually follow for 4-5 months and to even drop further if I need to

  • P Mort

    I’ve been on a cut for a while and 20% fat feels too low tbh.

    • You’ll be fine. What you feel and what your body needs are two different things. If you’d like, you can bump up your fat intake a bit and dial back on your carbs.

      • P Mort

        idk, I have shit for sex drive right now so I’m thinking what I feel and need might not be so far off.

  • Mikel

    Hi mike/team. Im reading your articles/books for a while my goal is to optimize body composition.
    Im 180cm tall 75 kg weight and about 13 to 16%bf (didnt check) i wouldnt say i have big muscles but i have visible abs i just dont know if i sould reduce bf% and then bulking or should i bulk and then cut.
    Many thanks!

    • Awesome! Cut down to 10% first before bulking. For reference:


      • Mikel

        Sorry for the double question but…
        It is necessary to lift heavyweights when in caloric deficit in order to preserve strength and muscle
        Or i can count on hiits only without losing muscle and strengh but still drop bf%.
        In other words if i wont lift
        Heavyweights i will ALWAYS lose muscle and strengh?
        Thanks alot

  • Josh Pedersen

    Hi Mike-
    I’m 47 years old. 155 pounds. Around 20% bf. weightlifting for half a year. Not gaining Bodyweight.
    You recommend cutting to 10% bf before bulking. I’ve Seen some charts showing 17 to 23 bf the right range for above 45 years old. So does your recommendation to first cut to 10% relevant for my age?
    Thanks, Josh

  • Jake Seibert

    Hey Mike/MFL Admins,
    So I’ve started my diet based on the TDEE readouts and macros calculator. I’m about 16 days into my new diet. My TDEE is 1921, so since I’m in a cut, I’m down to 1537 calories per day which is fine. I’m coming off of a several month long ketogenic diet, so I can handle a low calorie diet no problem.

    Here’s a quick breakdown of what I eat in the first two hours of my workday.

    (On my way to work) One scoop of Whey+ in 8oz of almond milk – 140 calories, 2.5g fat, 5g carb, 26g protein
    2 large eggs – 140 calories, ~10g fat, 12g protein
    4 slices of thick bacon – 160 calories, ~28g fat, 16g protein

    Altogether – 440 calories, ~40.5g fat, 5g carbs, 53g protein

    Here’s my problem. I notice with breakfast alone I’m already over my daily fat allotment, which is 36g. How detrimental is going over your dietary fat per day? Even if I reduced the amount of bacon I eat in the morning, I’d still be close to my daily fat amount (breakfast sausage packs even more fat). I’d like to eat enough protein early on to help stifle my appetite a bit in the mornings. Is there another low fat, high protein meat you’d suggest I eat?

    Also, as a side note, I’ve been suddenly ravenous in the mornings. I’ve never really had much of an appetite in the mornings, even during my keto diet, but now I’m starving within an hour of waking up. It’s hard as hell to manage not gorging on stuff before lunch. Sweets aren’t a problem, I just bring a cup of grapes and a granny smith apple to get my carbs in but they do nothing to dent my hunger, and before I know it I’ve blown half my daily calories before noon.


    1) Is going over your daily fat allotment really bad, specifically if you’re in a cut? I find it insanely difficult to stay within my fat macros before I even get to noon. How far can it be pushed?

    2) I’m ravenous in the mornings, and I’ve never been like that before. I want to avoid gorging and blowing through too many calories early on in the day, but damn is it tough. Is that typical of someone starting this diet, and are there any fat/calorie light breakfast foods you could suggest that are filling?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hey Jake!

      What is your weight, body fat percentage, and activity level? That’s a really low TDEE, and I’d suggest increasing your activity to raise it so you can eat more while still being in a deficit. You don’t want to be eating below your BMR. Check this out:


      It’s fine to alter the carbs/fat ratio to fit your needs/preferences. That said, eggs and bacon are really high-fat. You have plenty of lower-fat options, like turkey bacon, egg whites, non-fat yogurt, etc.

      It’s normal to be a bit hungrier during the first week or two of being in a calorie deficit as you get used to it. Your calories are really low though, so that is probably a significant factor to being so hungry.

      You want to focus primarily on low-calorie, high-volume foods, like fruit, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, low-fat dairy, etc.

      I hope this helps!

  • Gillian BenAry

    Hi Mike,
    I just read your book and I’m trying to figure out my TDEE and daily cals and macros and finding some conflicting information. In the book you give the example of a 140lb woman (which I am) who wants to cut consuming 170g protein, 140g carbs, 30g fat, ~1,510 calories. But when I use the calculator on this page I get a TDEE of 1615 and at 20% cut that gets me to 1,292 calories per day which feels really low (and pretty different from 1,510).
    What am I missing? Thanks!

    • Hey Gillian! Are you inputting the correct activity multiplier?

      The calculation in the book is based on doing the TLS routine. The calculator on my site is actually a bit more accurate because it can take body fat percentage into account, but you’ll have to use the 1.35x activity multiplier to account for the TLS routine.

      I hope this helps!

      • Gillian BenAry

        I didn’t realize I still had to multiply for activity from the calculator on this page. Hmmm ok. I’m not done with the book yet, but as I (slowly) read I’ve been starting to change my diet so I’m not doing the TLS routine yet. Working out 1-3 hours/week is probably more appropriate to where I’m currently at. So does this mean I take the 1292 and multiply by 1.2? That gets me back to 1,550?

        • Just select the 1-3 hours/week option from the dropdown, and your BMR will automatically be multiplied by 1.2 to get your TDEE. From there, you can take a deficit. It might be easier to just use this calculator and select the Cut preset:


          That’ll give you a good calorie target, which you can adjust based on your results.

  • yobo yoboey

    Hi Mike, I was on a 500 calorie cut for a few months and reached apprx 8% body fat and began coming out of deficit. I learned from my previous bulk that adding 150 calories a week is too much too fast for me. So I add 25 calories a week, and it works great.

    I’m wondering if the time in which I am slowly increasing my daily caloric in-take counts as a bulk for my muscles or if it wont have a bulk effect until I have totally come out of my deficit (apprx 300 calories to go to be at my usual maintenance level).

    Obviously I’m working out consistently, three times a week at apprx 80% max, with compound weightlifting regimen.

    • Hey there! Technically, what you’re doing is a reverse diet and you’re not really in a “bulk” until you’re in a calorie surplus (eating more than your TDEE). I hope this helps!

  • Abdul Qadir

    Hi mike, I am on 20 percent calorie deficit diet and I need to know that do we have to eat according to our BMR on rest days Or Tdee?

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