Every time I mention “maintenance calories” to people they think I’m insane, The response I get is “but I want to lose weight” or “I want to build muscle”, so how would maintenance calories affect me? Don’t you need to be eating in a calorie deficit to lose weight and in a slight surplus to build muscle?
YES, but also how do you determine what your deficit or surplus should be, if you don’t know the middle ground? Let me map it out for you, day 1 you walk into the gym, you start training and you google some stuff on losing weight, A calorie calculator pops up on your search and you bang in the information it needs to dial up your “calorie deficit”. All without ever asking the important questions of:
How is your sleep?
How is your stress?
How is your digestion?
How is your relationship with food?
Have you ever tracked calories before?
Do you even know what a calorie is?
All of which when reading now can sound daunting, but that's why I'm writing this post so that it's not daunting and you understand what's going on.
I'll be brutally honest, if you are making change for yourself and there is no time limit you want to do things properly and learn as much as you can, GREAT you're going to absolutely smash it.
BUT if you hardly know anything, you have never tracked calories before, you have terrible sleep, your stress levels are through the roof and your passing hasn't happened in the last 3 days and it only happens a few times a week. Then you my friend have shot yourself in the foot with a shotgun and it won't be easy to fix.
Don't worry though because if you're reading this I'm about to give it to you straight, Your starting point should be to fix your sleep, stress and digestion, way before any deficit. This is why maintenance intake is so important because it fuels the body with what it needs for you to be able to focus on learning good nutrition habits, improving your sleep, stress and digestion. This also doesn't take long, If you're willing to put the work in, you're only looking at about 4-6weeks of this then you can put the foot on the gas and push a deficit so you can start losing weight.
If you just so happen to have good sleep, you don't get stressed, and you digestion is twice a day, then you probably only have to do a maintenance phase for about 2weeks before going into a deficit and this will be purely just to get an understanding for your intake, so that you can get set up into the best deficit possible and ensure that its not set up to low.
It doesn't stop there, most of the time when I work with someone we go through maintenance phases and when they come to me after working with another trainer or trying things themselves they say “a maintenance phase?” Yes a phase where you maintain what you have lost. People don't focus on this part enough or at all, If you have planned maintenance phases you now have a new goal of maintaining the weight you have lost up until now.
What were you planning to do, stay in the deficit phase until you lose the weight you want to lose and stay in the deficit forever? Or go back to your old habits of what you were doing beforehand? It unfortunately doesn't work like that. If you cycle deficit and maintenance phases you have not only continued to give you body fuel but your deficit won’t need to be so low. You will also have psychologically trained your brain, not to be afraid of more calories, because that’s what happens with some people - they are afraid to eat more food in case they put the weight back on. Which in turn gives them a bad relationship with food and that certainly isn't the goal.