Using caloric periodization to cut bodyfat

(10 min read-1394 words)

1 lb of bodyfatOne of the most overlooked tools in shedding bodyfat is understanding and utilizing caloric periodization- cycling your calorie intake between training days and rest days. While the mantra of “do more intense exercise” is again rearing it’s head throughout the bowels of WOD/Crossfit sites left and right- and to be fair they are correct to a point- the other side of the coin when it comes to fat loss is tracking your calories.

I know, plenty of sites out there say not to count calories. Counting calories is not what this is about. It is really about knowing what your body needs in order for you to safely and effectively get your own body to use the fat stores it has as a source for fuel. Simply put, we want the body to burn through fat stores, not just relying on exercise to burn calories off. If burning roughly 3,500 calories in a week through exercise to lose a pound of fat is the yardstick you approach your fitness regimen with, wouldn’t it make sense to know how many calories you are taking in so that you can precisely find the tipping point where your metabolism works for you instead of ignoring this important tool?

First off, if your bodyfat is above 15% your total weight, you should be focusing on losing that fat, not getting bigger, larger or more “pumped up”. Get larger and you will still be a lumpy dude. Being lean is the focus here. I know there are some 155 lb. guys who want to gain 20 lbs. of muscle. Understanding how to do that the right way does entail some of the info here but I will go into that in another post for another day. This is about cutting fat.

Secondly, we will assume that you are not a professional athlete, i.e. competing MMA fighter, football player or an operator working private sector or enlisted. We will assume that you want to look good, feel good and get your body running efficiently so that you can actually enjoy life instead of training a majority of the time. With this said, it is reasonable to conclude that a week of  3 to 4 training sessions is more than enough for you to achieve your goals. A typical M/W/F total body workout (resistance work) followed with a minimum 5k run (staggered intervals) will be enough. An additional fourth workout can be a longer endurance based activity such as a 10k run/walk (a 2/3 min split-*2 min walk, 3 min run),  swimming 500-1000 meters or hill sprints.

The days off of training allow you to stretch your muscles and give your joints (specifically tendons and ligaments) a break.

Here is a few things to keep in the back of your mind-

1. Bodyfat analysis is essential for the structure of one’s diet. Get a DXA scan if it is available in your city.

2. Bodyweight should be measured weekly, bodyfat measured at the end of the the month and the mirror can also serve to tell you how well you are doing.

3. Hydration is key for your body to eliminate toxins and waste. Aim for a range of 2 liters on rest days to 4 liters on training days.

Now, here is where determining BMR (basal metabolic rate) comes into play. Caloric requirements should be based on lean body mass relative weight instead of total bodyweight.

If John weighs 200 lbs with a bodyfat(BF) of 20%, we need to find out what his caloric needs will be. So according to this data, he is carrying approximately 40 lbs of bodyfat. While considering that essential  fat is needed for an active person, we can say that John’s lean body mass is 160 lbs.

Recommended goals would vary between 1.3 (for losing BF) to 1.5 (for gaining muscle) times the BMR. which is the estimate of the energy requirements of the many different cellular and tissue processes that are needed to continue physiological activities during a resting, post-absorptive state throughout most of the day.

We get BMR by this equation- Weight in lbs X .45 (to find kilos) X 24 =BMR

Take your weight, multiply by .45 to get the weight in kilos and then multiply by 24 (which represents hours). This gives you your base. Now for the purpose of shedding BF, we will multiply that BMR number by 1.3 and we get 2,246.4 calories. Let’s call it 2250.

Now John has the number that will allow him to track how he makes his progress. If John were to divide the total calories needed by 3 meals, we see that his limit would be around 750 calories per meal. Also, keeping the ratio of carbs/protein/fat at 50/30/20 on active work out days, he can find how many grams of each macronutrient  he needs to ingest. Simply, 1 gram of carbs or protein is 4 calories, 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. So each meal would roughly be made up of 93  g carbs/ 56 g of protein/ 16 g of fat. Also, here is a note of importance- carbs should come from veggies like lentils, broccoli, spinach, kale NOT from bread, pasta or rice. You can eat pasta post workout but in small portions, like 1 to 1.5 cups. More than that and you are defeating the purpose of this plan.

Here is where periodization comes in. If John weight trains intensely for 20 min, does his running intervals and burns 1300 calories during the workout, we can see that he is going to be putting his body in a caloric deficit by the week’s end that will have allowed him to use his fat stores for energy thus eating away at that fat.( A lb of fat is roughly around 3,500 calories, certain other estimates are from 3200-3700) This is IF he is doing this in the A.M. with no food in his stomach AND he has taken BCAA’s before training. If John simply doesn’t have time to do a full workout but wants to run, IF he does this on an empty stomach, he will dip into his fat stores for the fuel to finish the workout. On top of that, when he waits 60 min before his first meal, he will have allowed his revved up metabolism to continue to burn fuel from his fat before introducing glycogen into his bloodstream via a meal.

On John’s OFF/REST days, he can actually slide that ratio of 60/30/20 t0 40/30/30 because now his body is resting, rebuilding and repairing without the need for additional fuel. AND he can get away with eating each meal at 100-200 calories less than his limit, again because his energy needs are significantly lower than when he was training the day previous. If John has a day where he’s sitting in his office most of the day, not walking around to much or not having to run errands around town, his energy needs are lower then a day where he’s training, running errands, shopping for the kids, grabbing groceries and walking the mall.

At the end of the week, John can see if his weight has gone down. If he hasn’t, he then can knock of another 200 calories a day until he weighs himself the next week.

In summary-

1. Heavy resistance exercise is NOT be done on an empty stomach; take some BCAA’s before OR have a teaspoon of peanut butter. Eat your first meal within 30 min after training. ***** See Below

2. If only doing cardio, cardio is done on an empty stomach; wait 60 min before first meal after the session.

3. Find out your limit for calories per meal and don’t go above that. You don’t have to be exact when you prepare a meal but ballpark it within 50 calories.

4. On rest days, you can eat less calories. Don’t eat less than 500 calories from your total caloric requirements; we want fat loss to be healthy-starving yourself is unhealthy.

5. Give yourself that cheat meal AFTER you’ve done a resistance/cardio session. I say cheat meals because I believe cheat days should be done once a month and only after a good solid week of training with more than 4 sessions. If you aren’t training with that volume, a cheat meal is sufficient. Pasta is a good cheat meal, so is that triple cheeseburger.

6. Make sure you eat egg yolks, nuts, avocados and meat/fish along with taking cold pressed flaxseed oil. You need the fats to keep your cholesterol intake up for bio testosterone production.

7. Always start with lower body, then core then upper body. Like a tree, your legs are your roots, your core the trunk and your upper body the rest. Circuit training or supersets will really be the most effective use of time.


**** There are some schools of thought that say you should have a small something before weight training and some that say weight training on an empty stomach is fine. I believe that if you are doing a circuit training regimen, then doing it on an empty stomach should be fine IF it’s 1) short duration like 20 minutes AND 2) your last meal was around 8-9 hours previous.

If you are power lifting or following a 10-14 set hypertrophy regimen, I believe, based on what I’ve read further on the subject that some intake of food is necessary; i.e. handful of nuts or a tablespoon of peanut butter OR a couple boiled eggs. BCAA before and after can help you achieve higher intensity during the workout BUT you have to see what works best for you. Try both methods. I know Bill Phillips in his Body For Life book proposed weight training on an empty stomach and A LOT of people got great results.


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