By Paul Nobles
Ask many fitness/nutrition professionals how many Calories you should be eating and you’ll likely get the standard response: 2000 to maintain weight and 1200 to cut weight. Maybe they make some adjustments here or there, but here’s the problem: they’re both made-up numbers.
Everyone has a very individual Calorie requirement. It’s called Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. At ETP, we refer to this as your “Wave Numbers”, and it consists of calorie/macro numbers for workout and recovery days. If you have something like a Fitbit HR Charge, you’ve seen your “Calories burned” number. You know, the one you see and think, “I could never eat that much!” News flash: that’s what you should be eating every day. Otherwise, all that activity will catch up with you and derail your progress.
This is the problem with the “less, less, less” model (a.k.a. constant Caloric restriction). That’s not how your body is supposed to work, but there’s not a lot of money in telling you the truth about that (just ask Dr. Oz). What the fitness and health industry isn’t teaching is that we all have very individual Caloric requirements. We are meant to eat enough to thrive, not just survive. You don’t become “Beast Mode Mom” or “Super Dad” without the proper fuel.
And let me just stop you right here and say that eating more does not need to mean weight gain. Also, adding in carbs and fat does not result in the chronic inflammation that you’re afraid of. The body needs a bit of inflammation for healing and recovery. Equating this normal, healthy response with disease-causing chronic inflammation is misguided and misses the point of what it takes to thrive as a human being.
Play the Eat To Perform Board Game
No matter where you’re coming from, everyone’s got to start from the beginning. We created the Eat To Peform board game as a quick reference to guide you through the steps of your ETP journey. Whether you’re a Crossfit games athlete or a total newbie to exercise and proper nutrition, every ETP member starts at the beginning, and you don’t move on until you’ve mastered the current step.
If you read a lot of our articles, you might assume everyone is under-eating. Many people are, but if you happen to be an over-eater, the ETP strategy is the same with a few minor tweaks. Whether you plan to track your food for the rest of your life or, like me, eat intuitively, a few simple rules apply.
Download a PDF of the Eat To Perform Board Game — feel free to share it!
Step 1: Determine if Energy INPUT = Energy OUTPUT
In simple terms, are you under-eating or over-eating? If you’re not where you want to be in terms of performance or body composition, your energy input isn’t lining up with your energy output. But just having some extra fat to USE doesn’t necessarily mean you are over-eating. It might mean you’re using the wrong fuels at the wrong time, and that’s not a great way to get a “hot like fire” metabolism. I don’t care how many Raspberry Ketone pills you can choke down daily.
Step 2: Understand TDEE/Wave Numbers
Whether you use the Harris-Benedict or the Katch-McArdle formula, both are predictors of your TDEE or Wave Numbers. Most health apps are using one of these formulas to determine your daily Calorie burn. Unfortunately, just eating less than the number some online calculator spits out for a while isn’t a very enlightened approach. Ultimately, it won’t get you lean because it misses the bigger picture (yes, even for over-eaters).
Step 3: Use the ETP Calculator to Find TDEE/Wave Numbers
So why can’t you just stay under a certain Calorie point and watch the fat melt off like butter? Because if you are always expending more than you are taking in, that isn’t the formula for a thriving metabolism. A thriving metabolism requires muscle, and constantly eating at a deficit won’t get you that.
This is another reason why everyone starts at the beginning. You may THINK you’re over-eating because your body composition isn’t where you want it to be, but that’s not always the case. We ask members to prove to our coaches that they’re over-eating by keeping track for a bit, then we estimate their starting Wave Numbers based on their individual stats, history and goals. Once they begin to hit those numbers, our coaches are trained to tweak those Wave Numbers until we hit the sweet spot. That might take some time as these changes don’t happen overnight, but it’s a much more targeted and individualized approach than plugging some numbers into a calculator and hoping you get it right.
Step 4: Calculate Macros
Without this step, you are basically doing a version of Weight Watchers. Getting the macros (protein, fat and carbohydrates) right gives your body the fuel it needs to build muscle, maintain hormonal balance, and provide the energy you need to crush your workouts and be generally awesome.
Step 5: Eat Right for your Goals
For some, determining what your goals are is more complicated than it seems. You may think you need to lose fat when you would be better served by increasing lean mass. People with more fat to lose often have a “goal weight” in mind that is way too aggressive and doesn’t account for maintaining (or building) lean mass. Or maybe you just want to get stronger, but you’re constantly eating at a deficit that doesn’t allow you to build muscle or improve performance.
Step 6: Increase Work Capacity
Work capacity is a broad way to define what you can do, and if you are constantly denying yourself food, that’s not a great formula for improving your work capacity. Whether it’s athletics or aesthetics (or both), you should be getting better most of the time. And eating enough food is a big part of that.
Step 7: Increase Wave Numbers with More Work Capacity
This is the step that annoys people, but I haven’t found a reason to waver on it yet. If you are over-eating and our coaches adjust your Wave Numbers, you should lose fat. You would be eating less and would be more purposeful about your food choices. (How you eat is up to you — it’s one of the great features of Eat To Perform.) If, on the other hand, you have been under-eating for a while, it takes some time to recover from that. We typically say 12 weeks, but you might need more time. At the end of the day, fat loss is math. If you have been hammering on your metabolism since your first diet in junior high, you’ve got chill out or you’ll never see results.
To lose fat, you’ve got to be at a Caloric deficit. And periods of fat loss are most effective (and most sustainable) when you start from a higher Caloric intake. For example, if your Wave Number is 2400 Calories, you’ve been eating that much for some time, and you want to lose some fat, it’s a hell of a lot easier to come down from 2400 than trying to cut from 1200. This is why starvation diets aren’t the secret. My guess is you’ve been there, done that, and if it had worked for you, you wouldn’t be here right now. The solution is eating more and doing more with a good plan (which, by the way, also includes more recovery).
Step 8: Prepare for Performance Focused Fat Loss
This is simply a short period of performance-focused fat loss (PFFL). I know this concept is very attractive to chronic dieters. However, this method won’t work if you haven’t done what we asked you to do and completed the previous steps. To begin PFFL, we need to see three months of food logs showing that you’ve been eating at your full Wave Numbers most of the time.
Not everyone wants or needs to do PFFL, and we have many members who have phenomenal results simply following Steps 1-7. You can get pretty damn lean by just eating the right amount of food and increasing your work capacity. Once you solve that piece of the puzzle, you may just want to hang out there — that’s totally fine. Not everyone wants to get this aggressive. And by aggressive, we’re not talking 30 pounds in 30 days, we’re talking 8-10 pounds in 8-10 weeks. The key is that you can preserve your hard-earned muscle mass and performance at the same time.
Step 9: Spend 8-10 weeks on Performance-Focused Fat Loss
It’s been proven time and time again that short periods of focused fat loss are VASTLY superior to eating at a deficit for long periods of time (not to mention much more sustainable). The problem is nobody wants to do it that way. They have a goal weight in mind and want to pull off the band-aid all at once — to just suck it up and get it done. And by the time they are done, their hormones are a wreck and they’ve painted themselves into a corner.
Step 10: Work Back up to Full Wave Numbers
For those who use the optional PFFL strategy, after 8-10 weeks you’ll work back up to your full Wave Numbers and hang out there for a while. What if you have more than 10 pounds of fat to lose? The time period between cycles simply shortens. The cycle for someone who is 100 pounds overweight would be much shorter than for someone who is already fairly lean.
Rinse and Repeat
Keep in mind that you’re addressing your fat layer at every step of this process. It’s important to continually go back to Step 1 to enhance the plan. If it takes a couple of “rinse and repeat” cycles, we can walk you through it each time. Remember that this is all highly individual.
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