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The Secrets to a Lean Physique Part 1 - Understanding Your Caloric Needs

Posted Apr 26 2010 10:05pm
Have you ever been to a gym and noticed that some people seem to be doing a lot of work and yet there are really no changes occurring in the way they look?  If you answered "Yes!" then you will have probably wondered how this can be?  In this post I will look at a key element that is more than likely to be missing for these people - their macro nutrient balance, and their overall caloric intake.

"The best exercise program in the world, cannot make up for a poor diet"

This is simple fact, and unfortunately as simple as it is, most people still don't get it, or refuse to get it because it means they will need to change the way they are eating. Well, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results".  If you continue to maintain the same poor eating habits, do not get the macro nutrient balance right (or at least improve it), and do not fuel our body for performance and results then no matter how good the training program we have, we are just not going to end up with the lean, ripped, toned, sexy physique that we are all wanting.

Understanding Your Caloric Needs

Each of us are unique. We are different age, different current weight, different goal weight, different sex, different lifestyles...just different! For this reason each of us have our own unique caloric requirement to maintain the status quo. In simple terms, think of your body as a fuel tank. You have a very definite capacity, once this capacity is reached it will overflow and create a mess. That mess is in the form of body fat, and the larger mess that is created is disease. So it's important not to overfill your fuel tank! It's also very important to make sure that you are filling your fuel tank with the right fuel - we will talk more about this in Part 2 of this series "Getting Your Fuel Right". For now let's stick to the most basic part of the discussion - How Much Fuel Does My Tank Need?

Ever heard of BMR? Basal Metabolic Rate is an actual calculable number of calories that your body requires each day to maintain your current body weight and is based on a resting condition (hence the name basal metabolic rate or the base condition). As I mentioned earlier, we are all unique, and therefore we all have own on unique basal metabolic rate and there are a number of ways to calculate your basal metabolic rate. Today I am going to stick with one that will cover just about every scenario: The Harris Benedict Formula (BMR based on total body weight).

The Harris Benedict equation is a calorie formula using the factors of height, weight, age, and sex to determine basal metabolic rate (BMR). This makes it more accurate than determining calorie needs based on total bodyweight alone. The only variable it does not take into consideration is lean body mass. Therefore, this equation will be very accurate in all but the extremely muscular (will underestimate caloric needs) and the extremely over fat (will overestimate caloric needs). The formula is below and you will notice that it is different for men and women so make sure you use the correct one!

Men:      BMR = 66 + (13.7 X wt in kg) + (5 X ht in cm) - (6.8 X age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X wt in kg) + (1.8 X ht in cm) - (4.7 X age in years)
Note: 1 inch = 2.54 cm and 1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs.

Let's look at an average example:  Our candidate "Jim"

Jim is your average male, 48 yrs old, 5' 11 " tall (179 cm), 146.74 lbs. 83.7 kilos.  A typical middle aged office executive however Jim does like to incorporate some exercise into his weekly routine.

Jims BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 83.7=1146.69) + (5 x 179=895) - (6.8 x 48=326.4) = 1781.3
We can round that down to 1780 calories/day.

This means that as as an absolute minimum Jim needs to have a caloric intake of 1780 calories per day to maintain his current condition - remember this is the basal metabolic rate calculation and does not take into consideration Jims activity levels at this point.  If Jim had a sedentary lifestyle and a desk job, then this would be all he needs to maintain his status quo.  As we know from earlier though, Jim does like to incorporate some exercise, so we need to take into consideration the additional calories that are burned (expended) from his daily activities. We call this "The Activity Multiplier" and here is how it works
Activity Multiplier (AM)

Sedentary       = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly active  = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Mod. active    = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very active     = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extr. active     = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports, physical job or 2x day training)

In Jims case, he gets to the pool 3 times per week to do 1.5km at a reasonable pace.  So this is the "Mod. Active" level.  To calculate Jims "Total Daily Energy Expenditure" we need to multiply his basal metabolic rate by his activity multiplier or BMR x AM.

Jims TDEE = 1780 x 1.2 = 2,136 calories/day

For fat loss a calorie deficit of between 500 calories and no more than 1000 calories per day is the target depending on how quickly you want to lose the fat. In this case Jim would need to aim for between 1,136 and 1,636 calories per day with my recommendation being 1,336-,1536 calories per day as this is comfortably in the middle, meaning he will get an elevated rate of change, without being overly restrictive. Of course, we could always just go to 1,636 calories per day if Jim was feeling a little hungry and time was not so much of an issue.

In the next post I will be talking about "Getting Your Fuel Right". This is super important as part of understanding why food has such a pivotal role in helping you achieve your goals!
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