Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance - #1 Calories

Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance – #1 Calories

Whether your goal is muscle gain, fat loss, performance enhancement or weight maintenance for your sport, the single most important piece of the nutritional puzzle is getting your energy intake right.

Not macros, not timing, not avoidance of alcohol, gluten, dairy or any other specific food, calorie intake.

Today we’ll cover the calorie part of the nutrition puzzle. This is the exact set-up system that I have used and refined from work with clients over the last 4 years. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • How to choose appropriate fat loss targets based on your current body-fat percentage.
  • How to set muscle gain targets based on your current training experience.
  • How to calculate your energy intake for those targets defined above
  • Why energy calculations are only a ‘best guess’ and need to be adjusted.
  • How to adjust your calorie intake to get back on target if things don’t go as planned.

Fat Loss & Muscle Gain Fundamentals

People generally have one of two goals – fat loss or muscle gain – though everybody wishes for both. Our ability to gain muscle while being in a calorie deficit decreases with body fat percentage, training advancement and the size of that calorie deficit.

Essentially, the fatter you are and the less training experience you have, the more likely you are able to achieve both, provided you don’t cut calories too far and hamper your ability to do this. Deficits can (and arguably should) be greater than surpluses.

  • Fat can be lost quicker than muscle is gained, so those cutting will experience quicker and more obvious visual changes than those looking to gain muscle.
  • Gaining muscle requires the building of new tissue and connections in the body. It takes time and requires patience. Think of building a house versus burning one down. The former takes time, the latter is much quicker.
  • An excessive energy surplus when bulking (stuffing yourself with food every day) will lead to muscle growth, but also excessive and unnecessary fat gain. As we are looking at nutrition from a physique (and secondly performance) perspective, we want/need to curb this. We will therefore refer to a muscle gain phase as a “slow-bulk” rather than bulk.
  • Therefore, the energy deficit to burn fat can, and should, be greater than any energy surplus to build muscle.

Diet changes should be used to create an energy deficit or surplus, not manipulations in training.

  • It’s easier and more effective to control the energy balance through diet, i.e. eating more or less, rather than moving more or less.
  • Training should be determined by goalnot used to address the energy balance equation.
  • Adding in extra weight training (this includes metabolic conditioning circuits) will interfere with the recovery balance from your workouts. When bulking this threatens to steal from your gains. When cutting, the increased energy and recovery demands will add to systemic stress, and those knock on hormonal effects will negatively affect fat loss and cause muscle losses if overtraining occurs.
  • Cardio, while it can be used to help create calorie deficit required for fat loss, should never be the primary means of doing so in my opinion, as it sets people up for failure.

Calculating Your Calorie Needs

The likely range for your maintenance caloric needs, needs to be calculated first.

Step 1. Calculate your BMR

I like to call BMR your ‘coma calories’ – the energy intake you need, should you fall into a coma, to maintain your body weight. There are a variety of formulas, all of which produce a guess at best; however we need a figure to work with. Please choose a different formula if you wish.

Harris-Benedict BMR FormulaMetric
Women: BMR = 655+ ( 9.6 x weight in kilos )+( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66+ ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )Imperial
Women: BMR = 655+ ( 4.4 x weight in lbs )+( 4.6 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66+ ( 6.2 x weight in lbs ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

If you’re obese then the above formula will overestimate your BMR, and if you are very lean then the above formula will underestimate your BMR. If you have an idea of your body-fat percentage then you’re best using the Katch-McArdle BMR Formula.

Katch-McArdle BMR Formula

BMR (men and women) = 370 + (21.6 x lean mass in kg)

BMR (men and women) = 370 + (9.8 x lean mass in lbs)

Note: I use this latter formula, gauging body-fat percentage by eye when clients send me photos. If you have no idea on what your body-fat percentage is, get an estimate either through body-fat calliper measurement (only if you are fairly lean), or the BIA machine your gym will likely have. (DEXA, Bodpod and underwater weighing are other options, if available.) There are flaws in all of these methods so don’t use them to gauge progress, just use them for the initial guesstimate for the calorie calculation.

Step 2. Adjust for Activity

You need to add an ‘activity multiplier’ (x1.2~x1.9) to your BMR depending on your lifestyle/training.

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (easy exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 4-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job): BMR x 1.9

It’s essential to realise that any calculation will just be a best guess, which is why I used the words “likely range” to describe the calculations above. This is because spontaneous physical activity (a.k.a. NEAT, written about here) – fidgeting, moving around, propensity to take stairs vs elevator etc. – will vary greatly between people.

This means that two 6ft, 200lb males, with the same 15% body fat and training regimes may find their maintenance calorie needs vastly different. One guy may need 2500kCal a day to maintain his weight, the other 3250kCal.

No calculation can take into account these individual NEAT differences. However, we need a starting point, so we make a calculation regardless.

From these two calculations we now have our approximate daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

Examples - Bob and Tom

Step 3. Set weight-loss targets

Set weight loss targets based on current body fat percentage, or weight gain targets based on training status (beginner, intermediate, advanced).

Step 4. Calculate the theoretical deficit or surplus needed to achieve that.

Step 5. Adjust energy intake upwards or downwards

Adjust these based on how the scale weight* changes over a few weeks of consistent implementation.

*For ease and simplicity we’ll assume fat loss is linear and any scale weight change reflects pure fat loss in a cut, or weight gain (muscle and a little fat) in the slow-bulk. That probably won’t be the case, so I’d recommend you track body changes more thoroughly. You can see how I do this here: How to Track Your Progress When Dieting

Calculations – A guess and nothing more

It’s essential to realise that any calculation will just be a best guess, which is why I like to use the words “likely range” to describe the calculations above. This is for three primary reasons:

1. The calculations were developed based on averages, but some people’s basal BMRs will be 10-15% higher or lower than prediction.

2. The activity multiplier is a little arbitrary.

3. We all vary in our subconscious reaction to calorie surplus or deficit circumstances – some people get more fidgety and move around more throughout the day when in a calorie surplus, some people get very lethargic when in a calorie deficit. This is known technically as NEAT (more here) and it varies greatly between people.

This means two 6ft, 91kg males, with the same 15% body fat and training regimes may find their maintenance calorie needs vastly different. One guy may need 2500kCal a day to maintain his weight, the other 3250kCal.

No calculation can take into account these differences. Tracking after the initial calculation and then making refinements is therefore essential.

Cutting: Choosing Fat-loss Targets and Setting Calorie Intake

How much fat can I lose per week?

There is a theoretical limit to how much fat can be released from the fat stores in a single day and this is inversely proportionate to how lean we are. If we go over this limit, we will lose muscle mass, regardless of whether we keep our protein intake high (specifics covered in next article on macro setting).

Simply put, fatter folks can get away with greater rates of fat loss than leaner people.

Maximum fat-loss recommendations depend on a person’s body fat percentage rather than total body weight. If you shoot for the following, in my experience, you should be ok for preserving muscle mass:

Body fat % Loss /week
30%> ~2.5 lbs / 1.1kg
20-30% ~2 lbs / 0.9kg
15-20% 1.25-1.5 lbs / 0.45-0.7kg
12-15% 1-1.25 lbs / 0.45-0.6kg
9-12% 0.75-1 lbs / 0.35-0.45kg
7-9% 0.5-0.75 lbs / 0.2-0.35kg
<7% ~0.5lbs / 0.2kg

NB. the above figures are my guidelines, not theoretical limits.

  • Obese people significantly over 30% body fat will be able to lose more per week without muscle losses, but I don’t advise it for skin elasticity reasons (i.e. you risk being left with sagging, loose skin).
  • Short people should shoot for slightly less; taller people may be able to go slightly higher.

Even for those of the higher body-fat ranges I typically recommend 0.45-0.6kg a week of fat loss to clients, as higher than that tends to push the boundaries of what is sustainable in terms of adherence. Ideally people should feel almost like they’re not dieting for the longest time possible.

Just because you can lose more, doesn’t mean you should if it makes your life miserable.


How do I adjust my calculations to do that?

You may have heard the rule that it takes 3500kCal to burn a pound of fat (~0.45kg), ~7700kCal for a kilogram. This is not an absolute figure and it will depend on circumstance, but to avoid being unnecessarily technical, it’s a good guide so we’ll roll with it.

If based on that chart above you have determined that a ‘suitable’ rate of fat loss for you is 0.45kg a week, then you’ll need to have a calorie deficit of 3500kCal for the week to do that. This can be as simple as reducing calorie intake by 500kCal each day.

The other option is to fluctuate your intake to have more food on training days than on rest days for the theoretical recovery and nutrient partitioning benefits. Even if you choose to add this layer of complexity, you still need to maintain the same weekly deficit. For example, if you are training 3 days a week that could be: maintenance +500kCal on training days, maintenance -1250kCal on rest days.

More on this in the fourth part of this series…

Remember Tom

Step 3. Set a weight-loss/gain target

Tom could lose 0.7kg of fat per week. However, he sets calorie intake a little higher so that he only loses 0.45kg per week. This is because as a novice trainee, he has a good chance of gaining muscle while he drops the fat off, as long as he doesn’t set his deficit too high.

Step 4. Calculate Appropriate Calorie Intake For Your Goals: 

  • Suggested daily calorie intake = TDEE – fat loss target per week (kg) * 7700/7kCal
  • Suggested daily calorie intake = 2647kcal – (0.45*1100)
  • Suggested daily calorie intake = 2152kCal


It’s important to note here that the 3500kCal rule and thus the 500kCal deficit/day is just what will happen in theory. Alongside the individual energy requirement variances that make the initial maintenance calculation just a best guess, we also have the issue of NEAT swings with dieting (this is the subconscious activity that we mentioned earlier).

Basically some people will experience greater swings in their NEAT than others when their calorie intake changes upwards or downwards. Which partially explains why some people tend to struggle and claim of being very lethargic when dieting, but others don’t.

Also, there’s the issue of metabolic adaptation, your calorie needs will decrease as you progress with your diet. Meaning that things aren’t always going to work out as the math said. You need to track your progress and adjust your calorie intake upwards or downwards according to the scale weight changes to get yourself back on target. You’re best to take the average of 3 or 4 weeks weight change.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for some people to find that the scale weight suddenly stops moving and stays there for several weeks. This is due to water retention – the fat loss is still happening, but as the fat cells empty they fill back up with water.

This is caused by rises in cortisol, which happen when we are stressed. A calorie deficit is a stressor, training is a stressor. All you can do to avoid this is sleep well and work to reduce other stress in your life then just hope for the best.

gradual decrease in the rate of fat loss over the weeks is to be expected and does not indicate water retention (in this case you’ll make an adjustment to your calorie intake downwards to bring up the rate of fat loss), but a sudden stall indicates that it is water retention marking the fat loss, as there is no physiological mechanism whereby your body will suddenly cease to burn fat if you are in a calorie deficit.

This has potential to drive everyone crazy, but there is little you can do but wait it out. One morning you’ll wake up to find yourself a couple of kilograms lighter. This is known as a whoosh. It happens with both sexes but is especially common with women.

Bulking: Muscle Growth Expectations and Setting Calorie Intake

Muscle Growth Expectations

We know that our level of training advancement determines our rate of muscle growth potential, which decreases with experience – contrast this to when we have a fat-loss goal: body-fat percentage determines how quickly we can lose fat and has nothing to do with training experience.

By categorising our training advancement, we can get a reasonable estimate of the amount of muscle we can hope/ expect to gain per month, which becomes very useful when setting calorie intake and bodyweight gain targets.

Classifying your training experience/ status is a sticky area, but fortunately some smart guys have done this hard work for us. Lyle McDonald does it by ‘Years of Proper Training‘, Alan Aragon, Martin Berkhan and Eric Helms go by ‘BeginnerIntermediate and Advanced‘ categorisations.

  • If you’re a lifter that has been focused on gaining strength in the barbell movements, or has put those movements at the core of your workouts, then you can determine your training status fairly objectively using Martin’s guidelines, section Progress and Goals.

Here is a rough breakdown of the rate of growth you can expect based on these classifications if you do everything right:

Muscle Growth Potential

Training Status  |  Gains/month

Beginner  |  0.9-1.2kg / 2-3lbs

Intermediate  | 0.45-0.9kg / 1-2lbs

Advanced  | 0.22kg / 0.5lbs

  • Taller people will want to go with the higher end of the range.
  • Novice trainees that are very well muscled already (through a life of sport perhaps or manual labour job) will probably be best to consider their growth potentials as that of the intermediate trainee.

The Three ways to Bulk

I feel that there are three legitimate ways to successfully bulk:

  • Relaxed bulk – This is bulking without counting calories or macros. This is sometimes known as a “dirty bulk”.
  • Controlled bulk (slow bulk) – maximise the rate of muscle gain, without gaining an unnecessary amount of fat,
  • Aim For Lean Gains – maintain maximal levels of leanness while adding muscle.

These methods all have their pros and cons, something which took me 8000 words to fully cover and guide on in this article, but the long and short of it is that I recommend that you do the controlled bulk / slow bulk.

Technically, it’s possible to gain muscle without any significant fat gain. However, muscle growth rates cannot be maximised without a significant calorie surplus. Therefore, fat gain is going to come along with the muscle if you wish to grow at your fastest.

The key here is keeping this fat gain under control so that it’s easy to cut off later.

With the relaxed bulk you’ll get too fat and have to spend longer periods cutting. With the lean gains style the progress will be so slow and hard to measure that it will likely drive you up the wall.

An approximate 1:1 ratio of muscle to fat gain is realistic for most people.

I’ll save you the math but this means that to gain 1kg of muscle per month, you’ll need to gain 2kg of body weight, and will require a 440kCal daily calorie surplus.

Remember Bob

Step 3. Set a weight-gain target

Bob is an intermediate trainee of average height. He can gain approximately 0.7kg of muscle per month which means he will target 1.4kg of weight gain per month.

Step 4. Calculate Appropriate Calorie Intake For Your Goals

  • Suggested calorie intake = TDEE + muscle gain target per month (kg) * 440kCal
  • Suggested calorie intake = 2833kcal + (0.7*440)
  • Suggested calorie intake = 3141kCal

Adjusting Calorie Intake When Weight Doesn’t Change As Planned

Step 5. Adjust energy intake

For a Cut

  • If weight is lost too quickly, there is a risk of muscle loss. Increase calorie intake.
  • If weight is not lost quickly enough, decrease calorie intake.
  • Suggested incremental change value: 200-300kCal/day, or ~5-10% of total calorie intake.

For a Slow Bulk

  • If weight is not gained quickly enough, increase calorie intake.
  • If weight is gained too quickly, you’ll have put too much fat on, so decrease calories.
  • Suggested incremental change value: 100-200kCal/day, or ~3-6% of total calorie intake.

Remember to take into account water weight fluctuations, and always consider 3-4 weeks’worth of tracking data before making any changes.

To minimise any muscle loss when cutting and minimise any fat gain when slow-bulking you’ll need to get those macros right. We’ll cover this next.

Questions? Clarifications? Hit me up in the comments. – Andy.

← Previous: Overview

Next step: #2 Macros, Fibre & Alcohol →

About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional coach and trainer. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, riding a motorbike, or staring at watches I can't afford.

212 Comments on “How To Set Up Your Diet: #1 Calories”

  1. Tim

    Hey Andy. Do you calculate your activity multiplier outside of the 3 day workout? So I do the strength training MWF, but I have a sedentary lifestyle outside of that so would I still be 1.2 or do you consider the 3 days I workout as part of the activity so I would be a 1.375? I’ve never been clear on this.

  2. Daniel


    After years of “constant variation” I’m going to focus on getting as strong as possible and cleaning up my diet and seeing how my body responds. When finding out your TDEE, I’m wondering if it’s better to under or over estimate. I get around 1790 for my BMR but I’m wondering what’s the most accurate factor to determine my TDEE. I’m not sure of my body fat but I have a general ballpark of 25%. I am working out 3 days a week on with a strength program very similar to starting strength. Maybe I throw in another day of low intensity cardio like a long walk with my dog or leisure bike ride. I do have a lot of body fat though so I want to lose body fat but don’t want to sabotage gains. What do you recommend I do? Start off with a higher TDEE and create a bigger deficit (2 pounds per week) or go conservative with both calorie intake and deficit? (1.5 pounds per week).

  3. Robert Polanski

    Hallo Andy,

    I am for a long time on leangains and I feel super. Your webside has me helped very much!
    However I have notice that it is easier for me to keep diet when I eat every day the same amount of calories. Is it OK? I mean: can it have any defects?
    For instance when I cut I eat every day -10%, when not cut 0% balance and when bulk +10% on workout and non-workout days.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Robert, thanks for the question, glad you’ve been finding the site so useful. The pyramid you see above is intended to represent the hierarchy of importance of these things. So as you can see, the macro cycling is far less important than the macros being right themselves as an average. So feel free to ignore that if you find it more sustainable, as the guy that can sustain things is the guy that will be successful in the long term. Only add in complication when absolutely necessary.
      Hope that helps.

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  5. Jasa

    Training female 163cm, 71kg, approximately 32%bf – mostly sedentary(student) so estimatated maintenance 1800kcal – training 3 times at 1500kcal (2g/kg protein, 55kg in all movements big increases and PR’s).What is the problem and how to fix it ?
    Do you have experience with female clients ?As I don’t see much female succes stories.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jasa.
      “What is the problem and how to fix it?”
      – You tell me the former and I may be able to advise on the latter.
      “Do you have experience with female clients?”
      – Yes, but I stopped working with women around 18 months back. I removed the female success stories so that I appeal to that demographic more. The information here applies equally to women.

      1. Jasa

        Questions got lost, due to weird. formatting.

        So the question was, not loosing a single gram over 2 months.(Before that -30/0 for a month,also nothing happend)So basically a -40/-20 cut for 2 months – it’s high but should be ok due to 32% bf and very sedentary lifestyle.

        Although weekly deficit should be arround 4400kcal, so clearly at least -0,5kg/week, nothing is happening.
        But the strength goes up realy nicely and steadily (20kg squat => 55kg, 0 pushups to 6)

        Do you happen know know why this is and how to fix it, the target is 60kg (at arround 20%bf) ?

        1. Andy Morgan

          I gotcha. Simple, you either calculated incorrectly, are counting your intake incorrectly, or a combination of both. Doesn’t matter which, you simply need to reduce calorie intake. To not do so would be to ignore the reality of the situation.
          Guide to adjustments here:
          When & How To Adjust Your Macros

  6. Kyle P.


    Just want to say thank you again. Since my last question I have cut down to around 11% BF depending on the day. Abs are showing and I’m feeling good. My wife is down to around 15% BF and we’ve based her numbers off everything that I’ve read here with a little minor tweaking here and there to optimize the way her body handles certain Macros. I’m about to start a bulk (preferably slow) and I’ve got a question about the activity multiplier in regards to my training because the numbers that I’m getting scare the S#!T out of me because they look really high. A quick idea of what I’m doing:

    After following the cut for 10 weeks lifting the big 3 M/W/F with some occasional other movements like Chin Ups, Barbell Curls, Rows and Presses, I saw someone doing some olympic lifts and thought, “I’ve got to get into that!” That lead to some Crossfit workouts and has now lead to full blown Crossfit Programming as well as a RPT Strength Routine. (Minus those damn kipping pull ups) I’m not necessarily doing Crossfit because I want to cut weight and slow bulk in the traditional since but I’ve been an athlete my whole life and this has given me away to really push myself like I have before. A typical day looks like
    Bench RPT (Standard Grip / Decline Pushups 30″ with 35lb plate / Close Grip Bench)

    Every Minute on the Minute Snatch x2 10-20 min.

    Work up to a daily max Hang Snatch (10 Rounds to Complete)

    As many reps as possible in 12 minutes 15 – 30″ Box Jumps / 15 – 36b Kettle Bell Swings / 15 Burpees

    Every day is complete different but always has RPT lifting as the beginning and I’ve been loosely basing my programming off of a respected Crossfit Programming site. Usually working out times takes about an hour and half. But we shoot the s#!t a lot between workouts to catch our breath and get ready for the next workout.

    ALL OF THAT TO ASK I’m using the activity multiplier at 1.55 (Moderate) and get numbers about 400 calories more than what I was eating for the past 7 weeks while I reset and I’ve been eating a Body Recomp macros (+/- 20%). With that type of training regimen is that something you would recommend or would you think more? I just want to get a good jump on this bulk.

    Sorry for the long winded story to ask simple question. My wife and I are truly grateful for the information that you’ve provided because it has changed our lives and while I feel I’ve done a pretty good job following everything that you’ve already explained bumping my calories up roughly 1000 from where I was during my cut seems crazy.

    How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk

    Thanks for your time, again.

      1. jkprice7

        I was just asking if training that much would require a higher activity multiplier than moderate (x 1.55) because putting that much food in scares me to gain a lot of weight. I used sedentary (x 1.2) for my cut but was following just your training guide. Now I’m following your training guide (RPT) as well as a lot of crossfit programming. Sorry for any confusion.

  7. Mike

    Thanks Andy. I’ve used myfitnesspal daily for the past 5 weeks and eat pretty much the same things prepared the same way week to week. If I’m underestimating my calorie intake, then I’m doing it consistently with the same foods from week to week. Sounds like I should just keep reducing calories until I see weight changes?

  8. Mike

    Hi Andy-

    First let me say you have a great site, with a ton of useful information! I’ve followed some of your colleagues for awhile such as McDonald and Berkhan but stumbled across your site and find it incredibly well put together and easy to digest.

    On to my question…

    I’m 6’3, 192 lbs and am probably about 19% – 20% bf. For the past month I’ve used your diet setup to try and cut a little weight. My struggle however is that both weight and bf have stayed flat over the past 5 weeks. I know you said not to use bf scales as they aren’t accurate, but I have seen very little fluctuation from week to week and over the course of 5 weeks I am essentially where I started.

    If I’ve calculated my TDEE correctly then that puts me at 2370. I started my cut tryin to drop 1.5 pounds per week and was consuming 1620 cal/day. After three weeks of no results I dropped that to 1500 and still no change.

    My question is, how low can I go with my calorie intake? I was going to drop another 300 down to 1200. What do you think?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Mike. No real need to worry about taking your calorie intake too low in this situation. Your body will fight you hard if you take things to low – you’ll know about it, and there will certainly be weight loss.
      You have counted your calorie intake wrong somewhere. My guide on counting, purposeful miscounting, and the mistakes people sometimes make here:
      How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach

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  11. Toby

    Dear Andy,

    Thanks for a great site. How do you calculate lean body mass for the purposes of estimating BMR?

    Elsewhere on the site you suggest that body fat percentage is too hard to estimate for it to serve any purpose in terms of tracking progress. But for estimating calorie requirements, it is clearly a necessary step. Looking forward to your reply!


    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Toby, a good and fair question. We just have to use some form of equipment to get a rough estimate. I’ll have a guide coming on the site soon, in pictures, so that people can look and compare.

      1. Toby

        Great, sounds good. I will be looking forward to that!

        I hope the guide will show the breadth of possible looks WITHIN a given body fat percentage bracket.

        For the purposes of the calorie requirement calculation with a view towards cutting, I suppose gauging body fat to the nearest 5 % (rounding up) would be a reasonable way to not overestimate calorie requirements but still have a reasonable starting point. Probably for bulking too, to not overdo the calories.

        I don’t suppose it is realistic to hope for greater specificity than 5 % brackets?

        As far as using equipment as a necessary evil to get started, is there a more accurate way to go about it when using tape measure than the “navy” method?

        Thanks again, and keep up the good work! I am really enjoying the “big three” 5×5 system!


        1. Andy Morgan

          “I hope the guide will show the breadth of possible looks WITHIN a given body fat percentage bracket.”
          -This is an essential part of the guide, as people with varying levels of muscle mass will look vastly different at the same body-fat percentage.

          “I don’t suppose it is realistic to hope for greater specificity than 5 % brackets?”
          – At higher percentages, no. At lower body fat percentages then yes. It really depends on which clients are willing and what photos we have.

          “Is there a more accurate way to go about it when using tape measure than the “navy” method?”
          I haven’t heard of the navy method. I wouldn’t worry about trying to be accurate. You’ll dial things in based on how you progress.

  12. charlie


    I wonder if you could help me, I am roughly 5ft7 age 22 always weighed in at around 60-61kg lean, muscular with not a lot of fat on me.
    I am a Amateur Boxer, I train 5-7 days a week some days twice a day training(professional training with professionals).

    But since joining the military and being force fed UNNECESSARY POTATOES AND OTHER HIGH CARBS at EVERY meal eating 3 times a day!

    Plus stress eating (Chocolate and sweets), after 12 weeks of that (initital training) MAINLY not being able to train like my body has been used to, not training the same frequency and/or intensity how my body has been used to for the past 3-4 years.

    Plus it being the same – now in phase 2 training i have managed to be now weighing 64-65kg.

    I have never weighed this much in my life its ludicrous.

    I know you may say 60kg is low for my age and height but in the Amateur boxing world it is normal,

    Please can you tell me the best way to get back to my weight after it has been forced upon me, I need to get my set point back lower. I feel very slow and sluggish at this weight it doesn’t feel at all normal;what would you recommend

    Thanks in advance

    I hope to hear from you soon



    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Charlie. It’s clear from your writing that you have been eating a low carb diet before. Trust me, with your activity level, it’s necessary – regardless of whatever anti-carb nonsense you may have heard.

      You probably just experienced a fluctuation in weight due to a the increase in carb intake and this your overall higher water balance and glycogen levels.

      When you come to a weigh-in before a fight, you’ll cut your carb and water intake and that will bring you down to your class level. – All professional boxers do this.

      As a more important point: You’re going in the army. You need to focus on your training and performing well, and making friends that you’ll need to count on to save your life. Worrying about the finer points of your diet is going to undermine all of this. The only thing you really need to concern yourself with is not getting overly fat, and for that you can just eat less, if it happens. Which I will say is not likely at all given your situation.

  13. Ari

    Andy, is the BMR calculation for men correct? You list the second factor in the equation as times weight in kilos, but in the BMR equation for women is says times weight in pounds? (Also, adjusting from kilos to pounds is a lot closer to the number I’m getting from other BMR calculators…)

  14. John

    so on training days i eat more calories my TDE and on rest day i eat my coma calories is this right? also i am having a hard time eating all the calories i need to get unless i eat out like a hamburger or somthing i have noticed if you eat right its hard to get all your calories

  15. Szymon

    Hey Andy, couldn’t find it in the article:
    1) Do I vary the calorie intake on rest/workout days or does it stay the same throughout the week?
    2) I understand that I take BMR*ACTIVITY MULTIPLIER + 100-200 kCal based on my advancement, is that right?
    3) Similarly, do I add that 100-200 kCal surplus daily or just on workout days?

    Meanwhile, thanks for all the job you’re doing here.

  16. Sergio

    For someone who is already ripped the bulking strategy could give enough energy for recovery for a standard Starting Strength program or Texas’ Method without the bestial bodyfat gains that Rippetoe claims as necessary?

  17. Cole

    Hi Andy! Just getting off of a bulk and was maintaining ~180 lbs. at 3300kcal/day. I’ve dropped to 2800kcal/day cycling carbs and calories between training and rest/days. My question is how often should I be intentionally reducing calories? Only after I see my weight not going down anymore? And that increment should be between 200-300kcal/day, correct? Thanks!!!!

  18. richard1014

    Thanks for the reply; I guess I was just asking the same thing again but shorter :-)

    Can you answer these questions then –
    1/. I understand that for cutting, just subtracting 500 kcals from TDEE will give the required deficit, but is it better/more accurate to do a -20%/+20% differential on non-training/training days or am I adding extra complexity too early??
    2/. Best way to calculate LBM, given your dislike for those type of scales, etc??

    Thanks again.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Sure no worries Richard.
      1. The former will be a cut, the latter will be a recomp, not a cut. Which is better for you depends on your current physical condition. This series will help you decide:
      Physique Goal Setting – The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right

      2. Multiple different measuring methods and then just take the average. I just do it by eye. I’ll have a guide in pictures coming on the site in the next few months.

  19. Brandon Rasmussen

    Hey Andy,

    I’m almost through my fourth month of a cut and have seen a lot of progress including lifting numbers going up and more definition. My original plan was to cut to about 10% or so and then to do a short body recomp and then slow bulk. My question is, how do I know when to move away from the cut? I’m worried I’ll cut for too long and start to lose muscle. I know there’s really no accurate way to measure body fat percentage so I”m unsure how to tell if I’m ready.

      1. Brandon Rasmussen

        Thanks for your reply. Yeah, I’ve checked out the goal section and I guess my problem is that I am somewhere between skinny and shredded. I definitely have muscle mass and have leaned down quite a bit, but I wouldn’t consider myself belonging to either one completely. I guess a more appropriate question is: is there a danger in cutting too much? I still have a little bit of body fat to be sure. I’m somewhere around the 10-12% range right now. I guess I’ll lose the last bit of body fat by cutting but I’ll decrease the calorie deficit slightly in an effort to preserve mass.

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  23. Kelly

    Hey Andy,

    I just read almost your whole website over two days. This is the first time I have found this amount information about attaining fitness & diet goals for free. Thank you so much, you are doing a great job!

    I had a question about Macro calculating specific to me and figured my question could be an example for future readers. I’m 75kg and 173cm, I’m on my feet 11 hours a day at work and this does not include my gym visits. According to the macro calculator I should be eating about 1,900kcal on rest days and 3,320 on training days does this sound right? I was using a 1.55 activity multiplier.

    Thanks again!!

  24. Daniel

    Hi I’m skinnyfat/chunky and just started lifting. You say that beginners can lose fat and build muscle at the same time but only for a short time, to do this should a beginner be in a calorie deficit or calorie surplus when just starting to lift?

    1. Daniel

      Also, is intermittent fasting ok for a beginner to build muscle and lose weight as in calorie surplus on lift days and a calorie deficit on rest days? thanks for reply

  25. catiranori

    Hi Andy,

    Firstly, I wanted to thank you all the information you’ve shared on your site (which I read back and forth in less than 3 days and found really amazing). I’ve been left with one question hanging in the air, although I’m not 100% sure whether I just didn’t read carefully enough or I’m the only one with this doubt. I calculated my BMR and TDEE (1635 and 2250) based on the formula with the bodyfat% (which I measured to be 33% but guessed around 27% based on the picture you linked in some of your posts – I’m a woman). According to your table I tried to set my deficit to -7000 calories/week (-2lbs or -0.9kg = the recommendation for people having that BF%) but as you see this results in 1250 calories intake per day which is waaay less than my BMR.

    I’ve been eating 1800 calories since then (doing it for too little time to talk about results but I don’t feel hungry nor have any behavior problems:) and I think I’m gonna be fine with this if it works until I have to adjust it later but still… I’m curious about what I might have done wrong regarding the calculations or is it normal not able to lose 2lbs having so high BF%? Or is your table less suitable for women?

    Thank you!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Catiranori.
      1. If you don’t have a deficit on the one day, you need to make up for it with double the deficit on the other. Thus, it’s normal for the calorie setting on the rest day to be lower than it would if you were on a diet where the calorie amounts for each day are equal.
      Please note, this is not a comment on your calculations, that is not something I do.
      2. If you’re small, which it sounds like you are, then yes.

  26. Fritz48

    Hi Andy. Many thanks for the information you offer. You are obviously a master at figuring a system out and then making that knowledge available to others in a way that is easy to understand.

    My question – I am trying to follow your guidelines fairly closely and making progress. The one thing I struggle with though is that on my training days I struggle to eat all the carbs (about 350g for me) – I am just not THAT hungry after training. But on my rest days I am really hungry all the time! I find it easier to eat about the same (about 200 kCal deficit) on both training and rest days. Will this torpedo my progress? I guess in a way I am asking is: If you can manage to maintain a small deficit on most days, how important is it to vary intake on rest and training days? Any advice much appreciated.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Fritz.
      You can eat the same calories and macros each day, sure. Carb/fat cycling is the fourth tier in the nutritional hierarchy of importance, with each layer delivering diminishing returns. How relevant each part becomes depends on the level of advancement of the trainee.

  27. Chiranjeev Sharma

    Hey Andy! how are you doing budd? got a quick question. I’m going to start cut from next month -30/+10 ,how is it possible to train 4-5 days and create enough deficit to keep loosing fat. So there will be 2 rest days/week and you said in 90% cases one should still eat in surplus on training days.I’m here sitting around with 17-18%bf. Whats the best way to cut for a physique focus trainee without loosing too much strength while maintaining muscle mass. Thank Andy. Always appreciate your advice. Keep up with good work.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hey good to hear from you. Looking good recently. (I saw the Facebook pics.)
      Well, you won’t be in a deficit if you do -30/10 as that’s not designed for 5 days a week of training. I don’t recommend generally that people do any more than three, but in anticipation to this question I’ve got a way to calculate the percentage splits covered in the fourth part, #4 Meal Timing & Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling.

      1. Chiranjeev Sharma

        Thanks more question. Do i need to count protein from other carb/fat sources like oatmeal, peanut butter etc. if i eat 100gm oats that gives me around 12.5gm protein. Should i count it against my protein for the day or just count protein from only meat, dairy and protein powders? i never got any relevant answer for this. Some say to count it because calories are calories and some say don’t because they aren’t complete protein.

        1. Andy Morgan

          Sure, I have a whole article on this, “How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach“.

          Forget about complete vs incomplete proteins, it’s irrelevant in the context of a mixed diet.

          Imagine you multiple bags of M&M’s, but in each one there is a single colour missing. Your job is to serve a princess who loves M&M’s because she can make pictures with them she can eat. Give her any single bag and she will throw them in your face and have a tantrum because of the one missing colour. Empty all the bags into a big mixing bowl and she will be fine cause all the colours are there.

          Kind of the same thing with protein. Some sources may not have as full of an amino acid profile as others, but unless your diet is limited to that one source for your protein you’re not going to have issues.

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  31. Pamelagrace

    I’ve calculated my coma calories and multiplied it by moderate activity (2700). I’m assuming that is my maintenance. If so, you suggested eating 500 more on training days and 1250 less on rest days. I’ve never knowingly eaten 3200 calories in one day before so I’m a bit frightened! I’m going to check out your macro article but any advice in choking that much down would be greatly appreciated!

  32. Brandon Rasmussen

    Hey Andy,

    I’ve been cutting for a few weeks now with some nice results. While I plan to continue cutting down to a lower body fat percentage I plan to do a slow bulk at some point. My question is about calorie cycling on slow bulk. It says to do +200 calorie surplus a day on a slow bulk. Is this 7 days a week even on rest days? Or should I cycle my calories while bulking so that my overall weekly caloric intake is 1400 surplus calories (200 a day), while maintaining calorie deficits on rest days? In this case my workout days would be very high in calories and my rest days still low but I would still be getting a weekly surplus of about 1400 (200+ per day.) Thanks in advance.


  33. C

    How do you deal with “incidental” cardio? For example, going for a long hike or bike ride with friends? For that single day, should you estimate the additional calorie burn and then work your % deficit/surplus off of that number?


    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Craig. You can do that if you wish but I’m inclined to encourage people to ignore things like this. Otherwise it can be difficult to know where to draw the line in terms of counting (or rather, trying to) and then adding things in, and that never ends well.

  34. Jon W.

    Andy I’m currently on a cut and I’m just doing a 500 calorie deficit everyday keeping my macros and calories the same everyday. Following IF and lifting 3 times a week. I like the simplicity of this but wondering if you think it’s better to fluctuate on training days and rest day’s? Will I get the same results?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jon. You want to do the minimum that you can to keep progressing before adding in more complication, like the next layers of the pyramid upwards. So the answer, is no, but in the right context. Keep reading and you’ll see the whys and hows.

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  36. Drew

    Hey Andy,

    I’ve been lifting for about 9 months now and have made some pretty significant strength gains. I’m now looking to get rid of a bunch of excess fat. I’m 168lbs, and over the last 6 weeks I’ve found that my weekly maintenance calories is about 17500.

    I workout 4 days per week (M, W, F, S) and I’m looking to lose about 1lb/week. That translates to a weekly calorie intake of about 14000. With 4 days per week on +10/-30, I’m still bringing in about 15500.

    My question is, to get a little bit lower on the weekly calorie intake, should i lower to something like +10/-40, or 0/-30, or even +5/-35?

  37. Chiranjeev Sharma

    Hey andy! I’m going for a comp in November. I Have pretty much 9 weeks to cut but i am confused about my activity multiplier if i should put myself into moderately active,active or lightly active. i work as manager in food industry and work 5-6 days/week, pretty much on my feet all day long. my daily footsteps are around 15000-17000(use fit-bit flex all the time). other than that i workout 5 days. what activity level do you reckon i should put myself into in to calculate the calories for a cut? i don’t think i have enough time to experiment with this. Thanks in advance Andy.

        1. Andy Morgan

          Conditioning has two definitions:
          1. In the physique world it means to have low levels of body fat bringing out all the striations in the muscles.
          2. In the sports world it is a reference to cardiovascular and respiratory endurance.

          If you’re talking about the former, then more than three days training a week isn’t necessary. Whether you need cardio for the conditioning (low levels of body fat) depends on what level you’re looking at. That’s covered here: When is Cardio a Valid Tool for Fat Loss with Intermittent Fasting?.
          If you’re talking about CR&E for a sport then that really isn’t my area of expertise, but there are a few points in the article, On Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee.

  38. Joe Bernard

    I’ve been off from the gym for 3 months due to a hip stress fracture and golfer’s elbow. For finding my maintenance cals using the Katch-McArdle equation, would I use an activity multiplier greater than the sedentary 1.2 if I have a standing desk at work and only sit down mainly for lunch (~1hr) and for a couple minutes here and there throughout the workday?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Joe.
      Important to understand that these are just guidelines and that calculations cannot ever be perfect. So I wouldn’t worry about it, pick a number, try it and see. Then adjust accordingly afterwards.

  39. Isa

    Dear Andy, i am eating 1800 kcal now (and i have discovered just now i need to get higher). I am using the macroratios you provide on your website. I just want to comment that i REALLY struggle to finish my meals! I get so FULL from the food – yes on 1800 kcal – that i have to force myself to eat that last piece of chicken. I only eat whole food and i intermittent fasting with 8 hours feeding window.

    Any recommendations on how to eat more as i have to take in 2200 kcal ?


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