T Nation

Why calorie formulas dont work.


Most dieting articles I've read claimed that if you want to lose 1 pound of fat, reduce (or expend) your cal intake by 500 a day and you will lose a pound of fat by the end of the week (7x500=3500, ~1 pound fat). The same is also said about gaining weight, but the reverse.

Unfortunately, in both situations, it doesnt work. Maintenace calorie intake for me isnt a set point as some authors make it seem to be, but rather a zone. At least that's what I've come up with to try to explain how I could be eating 1500cal/day surplus and not have the scale budge in either direction. In times when I would be on a cutting phase I would also notice that simply cutting by 500 wouldnt make a difference either.

Has anybody else noticed this about themselves? Or am I the only one this thing doesnt work for?


I do agree it doesnt seem to be an exact point, especially since daily exercise varies.

Another thing to consider is meal timing/quality. That will greatly change the look of how calories place themselves on you. Having very clean foods all perfectly spaced will allow a much higher calorie intake without any fat gain than having some junk foods in a wide separation binge format. I think unless you eat exactly the same stuff daily you really wouldn't be able to quantify that difference either.
And in reality who cares? Unless you are being paid for that..

Just keep eating more, sooner or later you have to reach the amount needed.


When authors recommend things like that, they intend for them to be guidelines, not Gospel.

Caloric formulas are not an exact science, sadly, but are simply a generalized jumping off point which--truth be told--work for the majority of people. The key is to give it a shot, figure out how close it is to working, and go from there.

Everybody is different, and so therefore every body is different.


I'm with John on this. They do give you a reasonable starting point. If you don't start losing with the formula, you just start upping or downing the calories depending on what your goal is.


I think that if you're not experiencing the results you're expecting, then it's because something else is changing at the same time that you're changing your cal intake. It can be difficult to keep everything else exactly the same. Even if your exercise program doesn't change, something like greater stress or less sleep would have the effect of causing you to burn more calories.

But my experience has been that if you can hold everything else equal, your body will respond in a predictable fashion. Physics is physics.

Personal anecdote: The first time I sat down and tried to gain weight with a systematic plan, I was 19 and had a runaway metabolic rate. I'd been training for four years or so by that time, so the newbie gains were done. I decided to up my calories by 350 every day, to achieve a ten-pound gain over 100 days. At day 71 I got sick, and couldn't eat right for a while after that, so I stopped the experiment. But at day 70 I had gained seven pounds.

Absolutely textbook.


Remember it's what you eat, not just how much. You can keep you calories the same, but see differnet results by altering your macro ratios.

Earlier in the year, I was not losing fat with almost a 1000 calorie deficit. I resumed fat losss by reducing the deficit to 500 calories and changing the macro ratios.

There's much more to it than total calories!


Amen. Calorie intake vs outtake formulas only work if the internal physiological regulators stay constant. Hormones are more important and what signals your body is sending telling it what to do with those calories are more important and they can vary and fluctuate. I have years of daily food and activity logs that back this up.


This is the formula I have been using with good results.

Macro Breakdown and Caloric Target Calculations using LBM.

(Example) 245 lbs. X .78 (22% Body Fat) = 191 lbs. Lean Body Mass

Protein: 1.5 x 191 = 287 grams X 4 = 1148 CALORIES 47%
Carbs: .42 x 191 = 80 grams X 4 = 320 CALORIES 13%
Fat: .57 x 191 = 108 grams X 9 = 972 CALORIES 40% (Good Fats)
= 2,440 TOTAL TARGET CALORIC INTAKE (500 Calories below Maintanance for 1lb fat loss per week)


A small minority of people possess highly elastic metabolism. Feed them 2500 calories above their daily purported maintenance, and they'll gain the equivalent a single pound of fat week. Or less. Drop 500 calories below maintenance, and they won't budge at all.

Food for thought. No pun intended.

I merely try to eat as much as possible from a variety of clean.. and not so clean sources. Provided the meals happen with regular frequency and contain about 40g of protein, I grow.



Yes but once you find that number that is your maintenance for that weight you are at...adding cals will certaintly increase your weight. Like char said its physics. For instance I know from tracking everything that at 3000 cals, 50P 20C 30F macro breakdown, I will hold 160 at about 9% maybe a little less with no cardio, with cardio in morning ive dipped to 158 at 7.5%. From there I can add cals and see where it takes me. Currently Im in a lean gain phase and added 500 cals in form of carbs and fat and Im up to 164 in about 4 weeks. Once the gains stop I know that 3500 is that set point and the only way to gain will be to add more.

It takes time to find that setpoint and it takes eating the same thing basically day in day out so that the cals are constant. Once you find it though it is really helpful. As I stated in another post I use www.fitday.com to track my daily caloric intake and my macro nutrient ratios. Its been a big help and really allowed me to put to use the articles i read. I used to read these things and think how the hell do I know my caloric maintenance level? Well you have to eat structured and track it first. Anyways, these arent meant to be set in stone, but they do work. And, as with anything there are many out there who have attained great results without worrying about any of it. Some of us are just more meticulous in our training. Not right or wrong.