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What Is a Calorie Deficit And Can It Help With Muscle Gain?
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What Is a Calorie Deficit And Can It Help With Muscle Gain?

As we approach the summer months, many people will be revisiting their fitness goals and looking for ways to tone up. If you log on to social media, you’ll find a vast array of content available to help encourage healthy eating, fat loss and muscle gain. However, there are lots of terms being used that can be confusing if you’re just starting your fitness journey and even for those who have been into fitness for a while!

One of these terms is calorie deficit. What does it mean? How can it be used to help you lose body fat? Can it help you build muscle? Is it important?

In this blog, SCI-MX’s sports and nutrition expert, Matt Durkin explains all.

What is a calorie deficit?

The simplest way to think of a calorie deficit is that you burn more calories than you consume.

How can a calorie deficit help you lose body fat?

There are a few ways to reduce body fat, although a sustainable way to lose weight through your diet is to understand and maintain a calorie deficit.  However, the technique and diet chosen to lead to this calorie deficit often varies person to person.

Calories measure how much energy food and drink contains. The NHS recommends men should consume 2,500 calories per day, while women should have 2,000.

There isn’t a specific number of calories that equals a calorie deficit, as it’s dependent on several factors – including, but not limited to, age, gender, exercise levels and the typical number of calories which you consume each day. However, to maintain energy levels while also losing weight, it is recommended that you look to have a calorie deficit of 500kcal.

For some people, this may be quite a tricky target to hit, so it’s more important to set yourself a realistic target as this will help you stay on track, whereas if you challenge yourself too much, you’re less likely to stick to it.

Can you gain muscle when on a calorie deficit?

For those who have body fat to lose, have a generally higher BMI, or are new to resistance training, yes, it is possible to build muscle when on a calorie deficit.

However, for those who are experienced weightlifters and have less body fat to lose, it's unlikely they’ll be able to gain muscle from a calorie deficit. Instead, these people should be thinking of ways to increase calorie intake so they’re in a surplus!

A common diet structure for experienced gym goers will see them go through periods where they want to increase muscle and, therefore, focus on a calorie surplus before a period of focusing on reducing body fat with a calorie deficit.

No matter the aim of your diet – whether it’s to gain muscle, or to shed body fat, it’s important to have a high protein intake. As a general benchmark for those looking to lose body fat, a protein intake ranging from 1.6g – 2.0g per kg is ideal. Although, in some cases, the recommendation would be even higher!

Plus, whether you’re on a calorie deficit or surplus, if you’re looking to build muscle, make sure you’re incorporating resistance training into your fitness regime.

Getting started with a calorie deficit

If you want to embark on a fat loss journey which includes a calorie deficit, you need to understand the number of calories you’re currently consuming, what your end goal is and how the level of exercise vs calories consumed will need to change.

There are plenty of online calculators available to help you work out how many calories you need to reduce your diet by to lead to fat loss; however, without an idea of what you’re currently consuming, it can be hard to understand what this equates to in reality.

Here is a calorie deficit calculator which takes into account all the variables required to calculate a sustainable calorie deficit proposal. These calculators are a good starting point for those looking to explore what a calorie deficit would look like for them based on their goals.

Top tips for a successful calorie deficit:

  • Be realistic with the number of calories you’re reducing your diet by. If you set your goal too high, you’re more likely to fall off track!
  • Don’t cut out a single food group, as this leads to cravings – just remember to factor them into your calorie counting that day.
  • Increase the amount of protein in your diet – no matter the goal! Consider using protein powders after working out to help rebuild muscle, SCI-MX Diet Protein is perfect for those keeping a close eye on calories.
  • Try to incorporate more fibre into your diet as this helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

To summarise, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to a calorie deficit. Calorie deficits are great for those looking to lose body fat, but before you embark on one, make sure you’re accessing your lifestyle and eating habits to give you the best chance of success.



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