T Nation

Calories In, Calories Out

Much ado about nothing?

For fat loss, doesn’t it really boil down to calories in < calories out?

I’ve spent years reading about clean eating, macro ratios, meal timing, carb cycling, leptin manipulation, etc. The gurus have flocked from low fat to low carb to portion control eating plans, claiming at each stop that this time they really have found the holy grail of fat loss.

WTF? The more I learn, the more simple it all seems to me. If I am eating fewer calories than I am consuming, then I am going to lose fat.

I understand that changing up plans may keep things interesting and provide motivation to control calories, but does it really matter what plan you follow?

Does anyone here believe that you will lose fat at a significantly higher rate by doing anything beyond simply eating less than you burn? Isn’t the rest just a fireworks show?

What do you think?

Depending on how fat you are. The fatter you are, the more simple things can be. Calories in vs out will make you lose weight. If those calories don’t come from a chunk of protein, more of your weightloss will be muscle than if you ate more protein. However, when you start getting leaner, everything becomes tougher. Hormones come into play, your metabolism plays tricks on you.

For example, im currently cutting. In the first 2 months I lost about 30lbs, then stalled. Fought tooth and nail to lose another five lbs. I had to cycle and stagger my daily calories. I had to cycle my carbs and have carb ups. I stalled again. I am definitly eating less then im expending, but im not losing any more weight, because things get alot more complicated. Sorry for long rant, but yes, I believe more strategic eating is needed for more refined fatloss.

[quote]forlife wrote:
Does anyone here believe that you will lose fat at a significantly higher rate by doing anything beyond simply eating less than you burn? Isn’t the rest just a fireworks show?
[/quote]

I will lose fat a lot faster by eating 3100 calories/day of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, and veggies than 3100 calories/day of Twinkies, Pepsi, and Big Macs.

I will agree that most people over complicate the hell out of this stuff, but there is a certain about of knowledge and understanding required for optimal results.

Just for arguments sake, I sit on the “a calorie IS NOT just a calorie” side of the fence.

I think the difference is you can be not fat and not healthy. Or you can be not fat and healthy.I guess it depends on what you’re going after. I eat as clean and organically as I can to be healthy first. But all that stuff has calories too so that is where the calories in calories burned comes in. Meth addicts and models are thin but not that healthy…

[quote]analog_kid wrote:
Just for arguments sake, I sit on the “a calorie IS NOT just a calorie” side of the fence.
[/quote]

Likewise. Then again, people find a way to overcomplicate this too.

I find that eating less calories than you burn in the form of high protein and low carb works well, but eating maintenance while burning the extra calories to below works well too. Just change it up.

For my body, I have found that macros matter far more than calories. I can lose alot of fat eating a caloric SURPLUS of fat and protein but shed almost no fat eating carbs even with a huge caloric DEFICIT.

The following is an extreme example but it illustrates the point. Measure body fat and lean mass today. Then, eat 2,000 calories per day for the next week all from sugar and measure again. Then, for the following week, eat 2,000 calories per day all from chicken. Do you expect that the results from weeks 1 and 2 will be the same?

Bottom line, as so many leaders in this field have stated: body composition results are dependent on insulin sensitivity more so than any other factor.

I don’t normally post on message boards, but some of the replies in thread are ridiculous.

It’s retarded to make the argument that 2,000 cal of sugar vs. 2,000 cal worth of lean protein & healthy fat will yield better fat loss results, because while one provides the body with sufficient protein to limit lean tissue loss, and EFA’s to maintain health, while the other does not.

At given caloric intake, AND sufficient protein and EFA’s it doesn’t matter (from a body composition, not health) standpoint of where the rest of the calories come from.

I’m willing to bet that if you set your calories at 15x bodyweight, maintained your training volume, maintained a protein intake of 1g/lb and took 1 tbsp of fish oil per day, it would make no difference whether the rest of your calories came from so called “clean” foods or “junk”.

And while we’re on the topic of clean foods, nobody can come to a consensus on what exactly “clean” is. Remember oatmeal? Milk? Saturated fat? depending on which internet guru you ask, they are either the holy grail of health or poison.

Could it be that all this commotion over macronutrient ratio’s and “eatin’ clean” is largely a bunch of BS, and - assuming basic protein and EFA requirements are met - it really DOES come down to simply calories in vs. calories out? I believe so.

Look at the whole equation:

Calories in < Calories out

For example, it’s true that 50 calories of protein may slightly promote fat loss more than 50 calories of sugar. However, that isn’t because the calories in is any different. It’s because the calories out is different.

In theory, protein has a greater thermic effect than carbs. It raises your metabolism slightly, causing you to burn more calories in the process of being consumed.

So the basic equation stands. As long as calories consumed is less than calories burned, you should lose fat.

What I’m not sure about is how significant that thermic effect is in the real world. Overall, I’m not convinced that the slight metabolism boost makes nearly as much of a difference to fat loss as simply controlling the amount of calories consumed and burning more calories through exercise.

My current thinking is that the positive results I’ve seen on various nutrition plans over the years is 95% due to simply eating less than I consume, and maybe 5% due to all the other voodoo that we tend to obsess about.

I think there’s some danger in overestimating the value of meal timing, macro ratios, leptin manipulation, etc. For example, eating too much during a cheat meal can undo the progress you’ve made despite all the fancy theories that justify having a cheat meal at that time.

I’m currently following Joel Marion’s Cheat to Lose diet. I believe the basic theory that gradually increasing carbs during the week and having one cheat day can help maximize leptin levels and facilitate fat loss.

But does all that really make much of a difference compared to simply eating less than you burn? I think the real benefit of Joel’s diet is that it has helped me consistently control my caloric intake 6 days/week. I suspect that if I controlled my calories on that 7th day instead of cheating, I would see even better results.

We can talk about the motivating value of a cheat meal, but as long as you have the discipline to consume less than you burn aren’t you better off foregoing the complexity and restrictions of the various plans out there and keeping it simple?

I would say when your dieting down its even more important to make sure you look carefully at what nutrients you are getting because when your creating a calorie deficit its even more likely you are not getting everything your body needs to function properly. Your body needs fat and protein to function because it cant manufacture them, when your only eating less than say 2500 cals a day you have even less room for worthless junk food if you want to cover the basic nutrients.

The hard part about cutting fat is trying to maintain good health while doing it. Your right though in that a calorie reduction will, at the end of the day, almost always result in a loss of mass from somewhere until your body reaches equalibrium with your average intake and expendature. Its a challange to make sure it comes mostly from fat.

Im not sure we’re debating the same thing here (kind of). I do believe that if you eat less than you need, you will lose fat, plain and simple. If your eating less, with a high protein diet, you will lose less muscle. You claim this is because of the TEF of protein, which will technically put your body in a larger negative energy balance. This doesn’t explained how muscle tissue is sparred in the process. Simply put, carbs and efas don’t have amino acids to repair the body’s muscle. This is what I want to clear up.

Maybe we’re not even arguing this point. We’re arguing calories in vs. calories out works no matter what… Is that right? Im claiming, when you reach leaner BF levels, simple cal in vs. cal out won’t help you as much. A person going from 25%-18% can just eat less food. A person going from 12%-4% will have to do more complicated dieting approaches.

For individuals that are fatter, simply eating “clean” and looking at macronutrients is the way to go.

For others closer to the low teens in BF, calorie counting is gonna be needed.

My only problems with calorie counting are that it just doesn’t make sense to me. Sure if you burn more than you consume, then your gonna lose weight. But who is assuming that you burn the same amount ever day. Theres gotta be a plus or minus 300-500 calorie error as far as calorie expenditure goes on any given day. And the same probably holds true for food consumed. You dont know the exact amount of everything your eating. Its all based on averages but seems to work for most people.

Another thing that makes it even more confusing, is the fact that over the long term, eating more calories (assuming your eating clean) will lead to a greater metabolism.

This is definately why individuals that are fatter shouldn’t count calories and instead should work on eating clean. They’ll speed up their metabolism, add muscle, and drop fat. Much more effective than losing muscle, losing fat, and slowing their metabolism.

[quote]forlife wrote:
Look at the whole equation:

Calories in < Calories out

For example, it’s true that 50 calories of protein may slightly promote fat loss more than 50 calories of sugar. However, that isn’t because the calories in is any different. It’s because the calories out is different.

In theory, protein has a greater thermic effect than carbs. It raises your metabolism slightly, causing you to burn more calories in the process of being consumed.
…[/quote]

It is more than that. The type of food you eat also influences your hormones. You are more likely to store some the excess protein as muscle and all of the excess sugar as fat.

[quote]elusive wrote:
Im claiming, when you reach leaner BF levels, simple cal in vs. cal out won’t help you as much. A person going from 25%-18% can just eat less food. A person going from 12%-4% will have to do more complicated dieting approaches.[/quote]

How do you define “help you as much”? I’m only talking about fat loss. As long as you get the basic protein and EFA requirements to maintain health, why do you need to use a complicated nutrition strategy? Doesn’t it still come down to calories consumed needing to be less than calories burned?

[quote]Zap Branigan wrote:
It is more than that. The type of food you eat also influences your hormones. You are more likely to store some the excess protein as muscle and all of the excess sugar as fat. [/quote]

You’re right. My question is not whether hormones affect fat storage, but how large that effect is compared to calories consumed vs. calories burned.

If you are in a caloric deficit, does it really matter how insulin resistant or leptin primed your body is? Fat storage won’t generally happen because your body is using everything as fuel.

I’m really asking about effect size. What percentage of fat loss would you say is due to a combination of consuming fewer calories and burning more calories? And what percentage is due to all those other factors that we discuss ad infinitum (hormone levels, nutrient timing, macro composition, etc.)?

I see the former as being far more important than the latter. My successes seem to have been due to caloric restriction and increased energy expenditure, regardless of any other tricks I’ve tried. And that continues to be the case even at single digit body fat levels.

[quote]forlife wrote:

I see the former as being far more important than the latter. My successes seem to have been due to caloric restriction and increased energy expenditure, regardless of any other tricks I’ve tried. And that continues to be the case even at single digit body fat levels.[/quote]

I don’t play around in the single digit bf levels but I tend to agree. Once you have good protein and fat intake it pretty much comes down to total calories.

Low carb often means low calories and people confuse reasons for their success.

I remember a co-worker lost a ton of weight on Atkins (which he gained back), his calories were at most 1500 a day and usually quite a bit less!

From my personal experience, I needed to cycle my carbs/calories to see more progress. I’ve dieted for 10 weeks and got stuck. I added more cardio, ate less with no results. I expended more energy than I ate, yet fat loss stalled. So IME, tricks needed to be played (still need to be played) for me to lose some fat.

Elusive, are you sure that you were consuming fewer calories than you were burning? For example, if your metabolism is slower then you are going to burn fewer calories. How closely did you monitor your calorie intake and exercise levels?

I’m wondering how it would physically be possible to eat less calories than you burn, and not lose either fat or muscle. The body has to get its energy from somewhere.

Im very sure I was eating 2100 cals a day at most, with just over an hour of weight lifting and 30 mins of moderate intensity cardio. This is including an active lifestyle of Basketball and other sporty things.
EDIT: You’ve never heard of fat loss stalling?

[quote]elusive wrote:
From my personal experience, I needed to cycle my carbs/calories to see more progress. I’ve dieted for 10 weeks and got stuck. I added more cardio, ate less with no results. I expended more energy than I ate, yet fat loss stalled. So IME, tricks needed to be played (still need to be played) for me to lose some fat.[/quote]

What kind of levels of leanness?

Macro scrutiny is over rated in most situations. Sensitivity, in my opinion, and an athlete�??s ability to figure that out will get you on the road to leanness more quickly. Once at the desired level, in order to stay at close to peak performance levels, you need more analysis on the types of nutrients and where they are coming from. If you do not have that then performance degrades, the body finds hemostats and the calories you continue to consume begin to take you on the slow club to chubby.

I do believe that for most people seeking to get to at or around 10% it is a calories in, calories out equation. Below that and it gets a little more tricky.