T Nation

How Low is Too Low?


How long should it take a person to adjust to a calorie deficit and when would they know if it's not just an "adjustment" but a metabolic "crash"?

I began logging my dietary intake again about 10 days ago to get a baseline on consumption and get used to eating every three hours. It was about 1700-1800/day with a 40P/30C/30F split with an average of 1.24gP/BWlb and I'm reasonably aware of proper food choices and timing issues. As I'd expected, it was difficult eating even small amounts so often since I've been used to doing the exact opposite for several years. However, I seemed to adjust to that rather quickly and found myself getting hungry on que....then becoming ravenous on que.

The problem is that according to pretty much every formula out there, I should be in the 1200-1400 range for fat loss. Ok. Fine. I scaled back on things to achieve this while maintaining the above ratios. First problem I ran into was that effectively cut two entire meals out of the way and one food meal was replaced with Surge. Trying to go 5-6 hours between eating 300kcal meals was driving me positively insane. GymGoddess posted her breakdown with roughly the same macro/kcals as I'm aiming for and it occured to me that instead of 100g of protein, I could be making two meals of 50g. Brilliant one, am I, eh? Enter second problem.... I'M STILL STARVING! I thought that simply eating smaller amounts more frequently would help... it hasn't.

I don't know whether this is just an adjustment phase and I just need to (borrowing from another thread) suck it up? Or if I'm priming myself for a crash with this kind of restriction.

Activity wise, I am doing CW's TBT 3xweek and intense spinning 3xweek (45 min). I also hike 5-10 miles every weekend with elevation +/- of 5-6k and a 15lb weighted backpack. My job consists of basic office crap with about 15 daily trips of carrying heavy file boxes up and down 3 flights of stairs.

Stats: 31yo, 134lbs, 20%BF
Goal: 9 weeks (Sept 24) 130lbs, 16%BF = 6lb fat loss and 2.2lb LBM gain

About to Give Up

Not an expert but if I get less than 150 grams of CHO day I get cranky=hungry. It looks like your getting @100 but thats probably ok for you. What kinds of CHO are you eating? Rapidly digesting/high GI ones will eventually make me ravenous as well. Maybe with all your activity, your kcals are too low and you need to eat more. Hoping someone more knowledgable will post. I'd like to know which it is, if any.


Are you taking any supplements like HOT-ROX? I know that one of the compounds in there helps with supressing appetite.

Just off the top of my head I would guess that 1200-1400 calories/day is a little too low for the training volume you posted. I'd see what some of the more reputable nutritionists have to say on that issue though.



There have been a couple of articles on this site that recommend testing your basal temperature first thing in the morning to assess whether your metabo is crashing or not while on hypocaloric diet. Unfortunately, I can't direct you to a specific one.

May I suggest using Dr. Berardi's "Massive Eating Caluclator" at www.johnberardi.com (I think)? If you're not familiar with it, you simply plug in your weight, bf%, answer some activity level questions, etc., and "boom", it gives your maintenance calorie level. From there, I'd recommend deducting 500 kcals/day from that number. This should be a good balance between cutting calories and keeping your metabo from crashing.

Personally, I followed Don Alessi's Cyclical Ketogenic Dieting prescriptions from his "Meltdown Training III" article during my metabolic mesocycle this summer with great results. He recommends 10 kcal/lb. during the low-carb days. For me, this meant reducing my kcals from about 4800 kcal/day down to 1850 kcal/day! Like you, I was worried about a metabolic or thyroid crash, but I supplemented with HOT-ROX, which I believe prevented that from happening (potentially).


Hey Karma, given everything you've provided in this post, I'd wager a guess that you need more calories.

I've seen your posts and I know you're reasonably adept on these issues, but I'd explore fosucing calories around activties a bit more (see Shug's summary of Jeff Stout's NSCA talk on protein timing here) and also make sure you're doing some pre-bedtime cassein (cottage cheese/Grow combos are nice for this)

I'm hoping some of the nutrition gurus will chime in here, but in a nutshell I'm sure you'll find more calories will help.


Yes UI would say WAY to low. The guidlines as a MINIMUM for a sedientary female is 1200. This is to just barelt get enough nutriebnts and such. Its niot all k/cals you are needing but the other benefits he food holds.

so 1200 if your sitting on your rump all day. You are not doing that. I would say a BARE minimum of 1500 at least.

Like Coahc Staley stated its all about the timing etc. Also though you may not notice it now, bu by upping intke you will have more energy things will be running better and higher, you will w/o harder etc. Just be more active in general which inturn will spare and / or build LBM and burn more K/cals.

Hope that helps,


When I'm taking HOT-ROX my appetite goes out the window and it's a metabolizer. Don't know if it's an option, but since it is part of the requirements for the Velocity Diet there might be something to it. I also notice when having just a plain Grow! shake I am hungier sooner than when I have one with flaxseed meal in it, probably the fiber. That's my penny's worth.


Here's my penny (about 1.8c at the moment):

I used to diet in the 1800-2000 kcal range (I'm a 176lb male). Although the fat came off, I did get very hungry in between my 5 daily meals, especially in the afternoon (after I lowered carbs). This lead to slight (and not so slight!) cheats.

But last time I decided to cut I followed a different approach. I have one of these nutrition/diet software programs that you put your stats in and it estimates your BMR; you can also log any activity you've done during the day and it will tell you how many calories you burnt (walking, lifting, etc.). What I did was plan the day before what activities I would be doing and then plan my meals such that I came up with a 500 kcal deficit for the day. This meant that on days I just sat in the office I would consume about 1800 kcals, while on days I went to the gym I might eat 2300 kcals. This helped a lot, especially on leg day! :slightly_smiling: It meant I could survive gym days without cheating, and wouldn't get so hungry on non-gym days in between meals.

By the way, non-gym days: 5 meals. Gym days: 6 meals. That extra meal made a difference and I prefered it to simply increasing the calories of the usual 5 meals.

I think I made this post longer that it should have been! :slightly_smiling: Anyway, I hope it was clear and offers some help.

Good luck!


PS: By the way, a certain amount of suckitupness is required to keep up a strict diet :wink:


Thanks for the input, everyone.

th_underdog: I'm not sure what CHO is (other than a fat, female Asian comic) but my average daily carb intake is around 115 (49 from Surge). As far as food choices, I'll post a training day and non-training day typical diet below and you make the call.

Chrismcl: No sups right now. I tend to have an odd reaction to metabolic enhancers so I wanted to get the diet and training squared away before I experimented with adding any. Once I do, I plan on testing Fahrenheit first, then adding Methoxy-7 if I tolerate it well.

PCH: Yes, I've seen Berardi's calculators and using the "Don't Diet" plan (seems to be the only one not geared toward bulking) my maintenance needs are 2908 - 822COE (cost of exercise) for a net of 2101.

Side Note: Berardi's calculations are notorious for being "high". I'm not saying they're ineffective or wrong, just that as a FFG I figured they'd not work for me (See Shug's FFB Handbook, illustrates my sentiments). From there decreasing by 500 comes to a daily diet of 1600....still below the 1800 I had been consuming but one more meal's worth than I'm getting now.

According to the Harris-Benedict formula LL uses, maintenance is at 3061 with a 20%MOE (margin of error). Factor that and you get 2448 - 500 for dieting and I should be consuming 1948.

Would it then stand to reason I should be cycling between 1600 and 1900?

Coach Staley: First, it was great to see one of the great T-Mag contributors adding to the thread. Thanks. You'd mentioned I could/should focus my meals around activities more. Below are training (lifting) and non-training (cardio) daily breakdowns. Please, explain how I could better accomplish this.

4:30am....... 1/2 sv Surge: 12.5gP/24.5gC/.75gF/175kcals

5:30-6:15.... Lift

6:30am....... 1/2 sv Surge: 12.5gP/24.5gC/.75gF/175kcals

7:30am....... 1/2c oatmeal + Shake: 40gP/51gC/9gF/370kcals

11am......... 100g chicken breast + 1c brown rice: 35.5gP/45gC/5.1gF/383kcals

2pm.......... 50g 90%ground beef: 14gP/0gC/6gP/115kcals

5pm.......... 50g 90%ground beef: 14gP/0gC/6gP/115kcals

8pm.......... 1/2c cottage cheese + shake + 6 fish oil caps: 30gP/3.3gC/3gF/172kcals

Daily consumption: 160gP/130gC/32gF/1543kcals

I don't know what caloric components the fish oil adds...

4:30am....... 1/2 sv Surge: 12.5gP/24.5gC/.75gF/175kcals

5:30-6:15.... Spin

6:30am....... 1/2 sv Surge: 12.5gP/24.5gC/.75gF/175kcals

7:30am....... 1/2c oatmeal + Shake: 22.5gP/25gC/6gF/260kcals

10am......... 100g chicken breast + 100g yam: 32.5gP/23.5gC/3.5gF/281kcals

12pm......... Shake: 17.5gP/2gC/3gF/110kcals

2pm.......... 50g orange roughy + 3/4c veggies: 14.5gP/5gC/1F/109kcals

4pm.......... 50g orange roughy + 3/4c veggies: 14.5gP/5gC/1F/109kcals

6pm.......... Shake: 17.5gP/2gC/3gF/110kcals

9pm.......... 1/2c cottage cheese + shake + 6 fish oil caps: 30gP/3.3gC/3gF/172kcals

Daily consumption: 168gP/111.8gC/23.4gF/1431kcals

The above, plus about 5 liters of water and 4-5 cups green tea with guar gum are from the last two days. As you can see, I've broken meals down into tiny little snacks just so I can get something in while staying as close to that 1200-1400 range as I can get. Any ideas on how to better structure the meals/times/macros? From previous experience, my system runs better with high protein, low carb and moderate fat levels but my exact percents in each could be off.

Other foods regularly consumed that are not listed in this representation: Almonds, Simply Egg Whites, tuna, olive oil, plain yogurt, dry curd, chicken thigh, lean steak, leafy greens.


Phil: I know upping the kcals will make me feel better, lift better, etc. I was just under the impression I needed to lower them - AND THAT SUCKS. :wink:

911: I added flax meal briefly but, again, my body didn't respond well. I do plan on trying again to see if that's a fact of a fluke.

Misere: I am currently attempting to cycle my kcals dependent on training, just trying to get the correct target number and ratio first.

And believe me, I use the "Suck It Up" line to whiners all the time and have no problem having it turned on me. I just don't have enough knowledge to know if what I'm doing is correct and I DO just need to suck it up (that being the case, there won't be another word, whimper or whine from me) - or if I'm sabotaging my efforts. Either way, I appreciate the feedback.


I've gone through something very similar in the past...

well I absolutely hate feeling hungry all the time so what I have been doing instead of reducing calories is...

I keep my daily caloric intake the same as a when I'm maintaining, but I add in ~300 calorie burning walk everyday (easy for me to do since I have a treadmill at home)...

every since doing this I loose at a gradual healty pace and never seem to get ravenously hungry...

not very scientific I know but it works well for me...

good luck!


If you're ravenously hungry, the calories are FAR too low. Mild hunger is probably going to happen when trying to reduce bodyfat (though idealy it wouldn't), but if you feel like you could take a huge bite out of a live animal, there's something wrong.

Based on the system I've used for a while (which I've seen work for hundreds of people in the past), you should be looking at approximately 1200kcal as BMR (maybe a touch lower, but they're all just estimates anyway). Based on the approximations you have listed for weight and bodyfat, it puts you at about 107lbs of lean mass. So, the 160 grams of protein would be about right for someone as active as you. That's 640 calories from protein, so we'll work from that base you should eat every day.

For most people, you'd then want 900 or so cals from carbohydrates (CHO is the chemist's way of abbreviating it, by the way - carbon/hydrogen/oxygen) and 250-300 from fat. So that'd be 225g CHO and 33 or so grams of fat. You've said that you operate better on higher protein and lower carb, though... so I'd do 700 calories each from protein and carbs to start, with 200-300 from fat.

This would be for the days you do spinning - on lifting days, I'd up the carbs and protein a little bit (100-150cal each) with the extra calories coming around the workout (a la Surge if you want).

From that point, I'd lower carbs and protein a little bit (50cal each or so, or 10 grams if that's easier) each week until you started feeling just a little bit hungry but were still alternating between higher calorie lifting days and lower on non-lifting days.

I'd also make more of your carbs fibrous, as was suggested earlier, from vegetables/fruit.

I'll send you a PM with a link to the basis of this style of dieting.




Check that out. It supposed to help with hunger pangs.

Definitely stick with the low - gl carbs. I personally LOVE oatmeal with some natural peanutbutter mixed in. That definitely gives me a full feeling when Im on the low calorie thing.


Have you tried carbs cycling? I used to be a low carbs dieter myself and soon entered a state of zombieness which bordered death!

Then I moved on to carbs cycling with better results, more energy and more sanity!!!

The technique is relatively simple ... you have 3 types of "days"

Normal carb days: carbs intake set at the baseline you establish depending on your caloric intake (let's assume that this baseline amount of 150g)

Low carb days: For you I suggest 50g less than your baseline (so 100g)

High carb days: For you I suggest 50g more than your baseline (so 200g)

Now... the first thing to do is establishing your baseline. If you decide to shoot for 40% carbs we only have to select your caloric levels and go from there.

Since 1200-1400 do seem to be too low for you, I'd suggest starting at around 1800kcals par day. I'd rather see you starting higher than lower ... once you are super low and fat loss stalls... what can you cut? You cannot remove calories forever. It's better to start higher and gradually decrease caloric intake (or increase activity levels) as fat loss rate decreases.

So assuming a 1800kals intake per day that would mean 180g of carbs at a carb intake of 40%.

That would leave you with around 180g of protein and 40g of fat per day. This is your baseline.

So your days would be:

Normal: 160-180g of carbs
Low: 110-130g of carbs
High: 200-230g of carbs

Protein and fat stay the same.

I recommend stating with the following ratio:

Normal = 2/week
Low = 3/week
High = 2/week

Ideally the high days would be when you have your toughest workout schedule, the normal days are other workout days and the low days are either non-workout days or cardio/abs days.

As you go on, remove around 20g of carbs on each of the days every 3 weeks. This whould allow your body to adapt and thrive on the diet.

As progress stalls you can also decrease the amount of "high" days.


Just a quick note...

Let's say that you start at 1200kcals per day.. you are loosing fat... everybody is happy YAY!

But after week 3-4 fat loss slows down or even stops. Where do you go from there? Down to 1000kcals? After that? 800? where does it stops? When you catabolized all your lean mass that's when! Not to mention that very soon you'll have no energy to train and will further facilitate muscle loss!

It's better to start a tad bit higher and accept a slower rate of initial progress, but be able to sustain the loss for 12-16 weeks without loosing muscle.


CHO is just an abbreviation for carbohydrate (C=carbon H=Hydrogen O=Oxygen) I'm going to bow out of this thread now, since experts like Charles Staley and Christian Thibaudeau, as well as others much more informed than myself are posting. Listen to these people, they know their stuff.


Sounds as though my numbers are way off base. Goodie!

Lots of good info, Buffalokilla and CT (thanks for showing up, BTW). I'll do some math tonight and get your opinions tomorrow.


Buffalokilla - You were dead on with the 'taking a large bite out of a live animal' thing. Hell, I was ready to eat my own arm whilst attached.

Alrighty then, let's see if this makes sense...

The last diet I was on did use macro cycling - not so much with protein (static), but with fats and carbs. I hadn't broken it down to that prior - just took it as it was written and said a hearty "Thank you". grin

Essentially, training day ratios were +carb/-fat, and non-training day ratios were -carb/+fat with the excess carbs coming from Surge. The kcals varied between 1350-1650. I did indeed have success with this and progressed rapidly with altering my body comp....until of course, I fell off the wagon.

Luckily, my setpoint must have remained here as this is where I currently am - 2 years later - instead of rebounding to my prior state. And, as I said before, at the time it was all I could do to eat all the stuff I was supposed to (which I often couldn't). Even taking Surge PWO would make me crash into a 2 hour nap.... I was assured that my metabolism would speed up/heal and in Phase II of the plan I would be starving all the time and be happy to get to up my kcals (I assume keeping the same concept of carb/fat cycling).

Does it make sense that this (sped up/healed metabolism) is where I am now and that I essentially keep this diet plan but make it in the 1600-2000 range? CT, according to your strategem, I would indeed be cycling between 1600-2000 with my carb ratios varying between 32%-46% with a baseline of 180gC at 40%.

I must say, I'm hesitant to have so high a baseline carb intake - but it may just be a psychological hangover from having been jacked up before. Anyway, I suppose if I don't blow up like a pufferfish within a week, then it's reasonable to assume my body can handle that kind of load.... And from there do the 20gC decrease every 3 weeks.

As for your afterthought, I don't have a ton to lose as I'm not massively overfat or competition minded. That said, you're absolutely right. Where can you go from 1200kcals? That's why I was worried about sustaining that low of an intake and crashing my metabolism (then being forced to drastically increase expenditure or reduce kcals). Once I get to where I'm reasonably comfortable (~14), I'll simply be looking to maintain BF% and possibly gradually increase LBM.

So, the question now becomes according to the sample diet I listed above, am I doing it properly with the exception of the low kcals? Structure, food choices and combining, timing, etc.




Where did you come up with the structure you are currently using? It looks like you're following the 3 meals, P+C, 3 meals P+F plan. Is that correct?


RIT Jared: A friend wrote the plan for me (long time, well respected forum member with a very prominent job in the industry who preferred to keep his identity under the radar) and I never really analyzed it. He knows way more about these things than I so I just took it and followed it. Anywho, I've lost touch with him or I'd be asking him the Q's instead. But yes, it does appear to be 3 P+C in the am and 2-3 P+F in the PM. Suggestions?