Why Calorie Calculators Don’t Work

Posted on January 5, 2017 in Appetite Manipulation, Body Recomposition, Bulking, Cutting, Diet, Physique

80% of your diet success is total energy balance. If you mess this up badly none of the rest matters, you are either on your way to getting fat or on your way to losing all your muscle, regardless of:

  • How much protein you consume
  • How many micronutrients or how “clean” or how “healthy” you eat
  • Your carb-cycling master plan
  • How much creatine you take

The key point this article will drive home is that:

Minor changes to your current calorie intake are what’s required to change your body composition in a sustainable manner. I suggest a 10% decrease for most people who want to lose weight. I also suggest a 5% increase for those who are looking to bulk.

But oh no. No, definitely not according to these demonic machines found on the internet, which will try to convince you that the best course of action will be to change your current consumption levels by 25-30%!

Is anybody actually going to stick to that for any more than 1 week?? In case you’re wondering, the answer is no.

I hope this is making sense? Drastic changes = not good. Your body loves homeostasis, and if you fight it too hard you will always lose. If you want inconsistent results, then keep screwing around with these devious online concoctions!

Calorie calculators
Listen to your body…not a machine! https://www.flickr.com/photos/psychobabble/94650869

The key to nailing your total energy balance is to decide on a goal and manipulate your appetite towards that goal. Do you want to focus on gaining muscle or losing fat?

You could opt to try to perform a body re-composition, but I strongly advise against this. It’s a highly inefficient process. Your body will struggle to do both at the same time unless you’re on a hefty dose of trenbolone and until then, you’re likely to spin your wheels. Before you ask, no calorie cycling will not make any more than a 2% difference to the wheel spinning scenario. Lean bulk or cut. Pick one or the other.

The only time you could get away with this as a natural is if you are a beginner, then you could gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, I would much prefer to see beginner’s in a calorie surplus and therefore maximising their short, but super anabolic window of about one year of training. If you are an obese beginner, then yes you should perform a body re-composition.

If you are past the beginner stage (more than one year of training), then you should definitely focus on one or the other. Set a goal to lean bulk or cut. Once you have set this goal, you need to figure out your maintenance calories. The most accurate way to do this is to track your:

  1. Daily calorie intake
  2. Daily bodyweight

Or you could ignore me, and stay frustrated your whole life whilst listening to the calorie calculators which are far too smart for such a simple, logical solution…

Once these have been recorded every day for one week, you can find the daily average. Treat this as your maintenance calories (even if it is slightly off, it’s WAAAY more accurate than online calculators).

Calorie calculators
Random nice picture that has nothing to do with calorie calculators 🙂 https://www.flickr.com/photos/wicker-furniture/

If your goal is to cut, then reduce your goal calorie intake to 90% of this figure (or a 10% reduction). If your average calorie intake for the week was 3000, then you need to consume 2700 calories. From then onwards, you only reduce your calories if your fat loss has stalled. In that case, you can reduce your calories by 5-10% as you see fit.

If your goal is to lean bulk and you are not already gaining weight consistently throughout the week, then increase your goal intake to 105% of the figure (or a 5% increase). So if you’re eating 2000 calories, then increase this to 2100 calories. If you are a beginner however, feel free to make this a 10% increase.

Muscle building is a very long and slow process once past the beginner stage, and raising your calorie intake by more than 5% above maintenance will only result in fat gain.

The problem with online calculators is that if you want to lose fat for example and are currently eating 3000 calories per day, but the calculator tells you your maintenance calories are 2500 then tells you to eat 2000 to hit the standard 20% deficit, are you really going to stick to that? You’ve slashed your calories by 30%! Even if you eat 90% of your “maintenance calories”, you’re still eating 2250 calories, which is a 25% drop!

The same goes for if you want to bulk. You may be eating a mere 1500 calories, but the calculator tells you your maintenance calories are 2000. Then in order to bulk, of course you supposedly need to be eating 2500 calories! Are you really going to do that for more than three days? No you’re not.

The most accurate and sustainable method is to track what you’re currently consuming, then either raise or reduce that number by 5-10%. As your body adapts (which it will do over time), then you continue to raise or reduce by 5%.

This means you eat based upon your body’s needs, not what some arbitrary calculator tells you to do. This also means it will be sustainable, as the jumps in calorie intake are small.

Remember: The traditional 20% calorie surplus’ and deficits DO NOT WORK IN THE REAL WORLD for 97% of people!

Good luck in your New Year’s journeys!

Let me know how they’re going in the comments below! 🙂

  • Adam Frost

    I really don’t have a clue how many calories I need to consume a day. Where would I start to figure it out?

    • The best way is to track your calorie intake for a normal week, then find your daily average. If you are different to most people and have a REALLY consistent consumption every day Mon-Sun then you could just do this for a few days. But most tend to consume more on weekends.

      Then once you have you daily average, you set your calorie goals to (+or-) 5 to 10%

      🙂

  • James Clewlow

    Great article 👍Very true for those who love bulking TOO much and get carried away with their calorie intake!

    • I love food as much as anyone, but you have to remember that unless you want to get fat, you need to eat what your body NEEDS, not what your brain WANTS! (or what some stupid calculator wants) 🙂

      • James Clewlow

        Yeah that’s a fair point, cheers brother👍

  • Harry Davidson

    Haha this is very true – I’ve tried calculators in the past and it’s impossible to actually stick to the numbers from them! They never work

    • Exactly, they just encourage the masses to yo-yo for all eternity! 🙂