When you are overweight or maybe have taken your bulk too far, you probably want to lose fat and slim down a bit. So you start looking for the maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle.
The problem is that you are going to find a massive amount of conflicting information and even downright wrong information online.
In this article, we are going to discuss the realities of calorie deficits and learn how to figure out your specific maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle.
My experience with calorie surpluses and deficits is extensive. I spent years in a calorie surplus to build muscle. And then I had to spend months in a calorie deficit in order to get rid of the fat I had built up in my years in a surplus.
Everything I talk about in this article has been proven by science, and it works. The only thing that you need to do is commit and do it consistently over an extended period of time.
Before we get started, I encourage you to download our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). Our FREE workout plans will ensure that you build muscle or keep your muscle if you are on a fat loss track.
What happens when you lose weight
Losing weight can be one of the most rewarding and confidence building things you can do for your body. But it’s not just your body that benefits. Your mind is also renewed as your confidence improves. It is truly a life changing experience.
But losing weight is a tricky subject. Mostly because if you are severely overweight, you can easily lose 3-5 pounds per week just by exercising and going on a calorie deficit. Inevitably, that weight loss is going to slow down, and this is where people panic.
When you decide to go on a calorie deficit, your body burns more calories than you can eat. Which means that your body needs to make up for those remaining calories by using what your body has stored up.
If you are overweight, in most cases, this is fat. Now, you may be wondering, when you lose body fat where does it go? In most cases excess fat is removed through your urine and feces, sweat, and by simply breathing.
You may know this already. But what you might not know is that if you go too far with a calorie deficit, your body is going to start using your muscles for fuel.
Have you ever seen anyone go on one of those crash diets where they lose 30 pounds in a month? Of course that is possible, because those diets require a massive calorie deficit. More often than not, those people end up getting right back to where they were before the crash diet.
Why is that? Mostly because people do not understand their position in the calorie deficit/surplus game.
The key is to find a calorie deficit that works for your body, which we will discover in the next section.
You absolutely have to count calories
Many people tell me that they want to lose weight. But when I tell them that they will need to count calories to get results, they will straight up tell me that they are not willing to do that.
Why aren’t they willing to do it? Look at the way that calorie counting is portrayed in our media and culture. They act as if it is some sort of jail time idea that when you start counting calories, you lose your soul.
Let me tell you that ever since I started counting calories, I have been happier and my body has never been better. That is because I know exactly what I am eating.
So, what is your maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle? We must start by calculating your maintenance calories. For those that don’t know, your maintenance calories are the calories that your body burns per day at its resting state.
From here, we can learn about what deficit works for you. Your maintenance calories are so important, that I am going to reiterate it right now. Do everything you can to make sure that your maintenance calorie number is accurate.
And once you have that number, I would start by eating 500 calories per day below maintenance. If you aren’t losing at least 1 pound per week, then drop down another 250 calories per day.
Your maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle depends on your body, and how it reacts to deficits. For me, I can go on a very minimal deficit and the weight starts flying off. For others, they have to go lower.
Of course, you don’t want to immediately go to a 1,500 calorie deficit. Start small, and then work your way down. The target should be a loss of 1-2 pounds per week. If you are losing quicker than that, then you are probably losing muscle mass along with it.
Don’t let up
As your body changes and you are losing weight, your maintenance calorie number might change. This is why I recommend re-evaluating once every 2-3 months. Your weight loss might slow down, and I can totally understand why this might be frustrating for some.
The key to retaining muscle while in a calorie deficit is to not go too far into a deficit and also doing weight training regularly.
If you don’t have a weight training plan currently, I definitely recommend our app. The exact workout plan that I used during my first bulk and cut is in the app, and it is called 3 Day Overload. While it is challenging, it will ensure that your muscles get the workout they need.
The key here is to make sure that you are building habits rather than expectations. If you get in the habit of eating at a calorie deficit and working out regularly, your fat loss is going to be unstoppable while your muscle retention will be solid.
You have all heard the term, consistency is key, right? Well, it is completely true, and you need to embrace it if you want to see the results you want.
You are going to go through times of frustration and laziness no matter what section of your journey that you are on. There are many times that I will have to drag myself to the gym and my workouts will be sluggish.
But I went. Similarly, there have been times where I didn’t want to watch what I ate. I just wanted to go nuts and eat everything in sight. Ultimately, I was able to push through those cravings since I built good habits.
Believe me, if I can do it, you certainly can too.
Main Point: Maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle
There are a lot of factors in your quest for finding your maximum calorie deficit without losing muscle. And here is the truth. It is completely different for everyone.
Even if I knew your exact size, weight, age, etc., it would still take me weeks to find out the proper calorie deficit for you. This is why finding out your maintenance calorie number is so important.
You are going to encounter all sorts of crash diets, and “perfect” diet plans that claim that the fat will shed off of you.
Just keep one thing in mind that those diet plans are probably built around extreme deficits that would technically work for everyone to lose weight. But in reality, your muscles would go with it.
After you have calculated your maintenance number, simply start with a deficit of 500 calories per day under maintenance. If you aren’t losing at least a pound per week, you can drop a little lower. Just repeat this process until you find the sweet spot of losing 1-2 pounds per week.
Anything over 2 pounds per week is unhealthy unless of course you are morbidly obese.
Another thing to remember is that working out while in your calorie deficit is extremely important. Weight training specifically will ensure that your muscle keep as much strength and size as possible while shedding fat.
At the end of the day, what matters most is consistency. Not just consistency in diet, but consistency in working out. If you can find the discipline to go at it for many months, you are going to see results that you never thought possible.
Take small steps everyday. Losing 1 pound per week is 52 pounds per year. 2 pounds per week is 104 pounds per year. So next time you think that one pound per week is not enough, just think about that for perspective.