Updated: Jan 29
One of the most commonly discussed topics in the fitness industry is how much you should be eating. But one of the least talked about topics is how to actually stick to your caloric goals. If you’re trying to lose weight, or preparing for a physique competition or trying to build some muscle - understanding how much to eat is just as important as sticking to it. If you are unable to hit your caloric goals on a regular basis, you’re not going to see results.
As an online fitness coach, I’m going to share some of the top tips I’ve discovered to help my clients achieve their caloric goals so that you can get the results you want. Click here to learn more about one-on-one coaching with me!
How to set achievable goals
To understand how to achieve your caloric goals, you first have to understand how to set caloric goals. This will give you an insight into how I create custom meal plans for my clients, as an online health coach. For custom nutrition advice, please click here.
If you want to gain muscle…
Your genetics are an important consideration. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology tested the role of genetics in muscle gain. The researchers found that individuals with more satellite stem cells within the muscles were able to grow the size of their quads by 50 percent during a 16 week training program, compared to some participants who were unable to grow any. Clearly genetics matter.
If you are a natural ectomorph - you’re genetically taller, thinner boned and good at endurance sports - you’re going to really struggle to build muscle, so going on an intense bulk is probably your best bet to go from skinny to muscular
If you’re an endomorph - you are naturally heavier, wider, big boned and you gain fat and muscle easily - you likely don’t need to increase your caloric intake at all, you should be able to gain muscle at maintenance. If you’re not seeing progress as an endomorph, it’s likely due to your training, so focus on that. If you started an intense bulk, you would gain a lot of body fat.
If you’re a mesomorph - naturally athletic, with a smaller waist than hips and shoulder width, with a lower body fat percentage - a slight caloric surplus is optimal.
If you want to lose fat…
It’s never a good idea to go on an intense calorie cut. Depending on your current weight, a caloric deficit of 500 is the upper limit. This is because when you dramatically cut your calories, your body does two things:
It starts to burn stored energy (glycogen, fat and muscle)
It downregulates to conserve energy (decrease in thermic effect of food, decrease in non-exercise activity thermogenesis, decreased energy levels, decreased body temperature etc.).
Drastically cutting calories doesn’t let your body slowly adapt to its new set point (the weight at which your body tries to keep you at), so it rapidly tries to adjust your metabolism to keep you at that body weight, meaning a slower metabolism and hormones out of whack, spiking hunger hormones like ghrelin and decreasing leptin, the satiety, appetite suppressing hormone.
Cutting calories has been shown in numerous studies to be easier to maintain and thus has better long term effects. A study by the University of Florida found that the group who lost weight faster (1.5 lbs a week) regained it 5 times faster than the slower group (0.5 lbs a week) after a year and a half.
So with that being said…
How can you stick to your caloric goals?
As an online health coach, I have worked with numerous men and women looking to achieve their fitness goals. In my experience, some find it very easy to stick to their caloric goals. But the majority struggle. That’s because you are going outside of your comfort zone and normal way of eating - changing your daily habits, diet choices, and consumption patterns. This is where most people fail!
If you’re trying to build lean muscle and increase your caloric intake, here are some tips to eat more:
1. Eat small meals regularly
When you eat small meals regularly, you are causing regular spikes in your blood sugar, prompting an insulin response. Insulin is a hormone associated with hunger and weight gain, and is helpful in transporting energy to your cells. This helps to increase muscle protein synthesis and amino acid availability and delivery, as shown in a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism.
2. Calorie hack
Each food item has a different density in terms of the calories they provide, how filling they are and their nutrient density. The aim is to consume foods that are calorie and nutrient dense, and minimally satiating.
Soda is calorically dense and not satiating, however it’s nutrient poor. Extra virgin olive oil is calorie and nutrient rich and not satiating, which is perfect. Adding a tablespoon of olive oil on your food provides around 120 calories.
3. Eat breakfast as soon as you wake up
The thought of eating so early in the day might be unappetizing, but studies show it helps to spike your appetite throughout the rest of the day. A study compared the total amount of calories consumed in two groups: one who ate breakfast and one who didn’t.
Those who ate breakfast consumed 362 more calories throughout the day. Researchers concluded this was due to the increase in ghrelin, making you feel hungrier and less full.
If your goal is weight loss, here are some tips to stick to eating less without being hungry:
1. Try intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting involves fasting overnight and into the morning for around 16 hours total, you then eat normally for 8 hours, finishing your final meal in the evening before restarting your fast. Studies show that it helps to suppress the appetite and increase fat oxidation, which will accelerate weight loss.
2. Eat protein rich meals
According to a 2007 study on macronutrients and satiety, protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Protein also has the highest thermic effect, with 20 percent of the total calories in protein being burnt through digestion which is a win-win. Highly satiating and increases fat burning.
3. Cut out sugar (including refined carbs!)
Refined carbs are sugar with a different name, but are metabolized the exact same way. When you eat sugar you spike your blood sugar and captivate the brain’s reward circuit. Each time you eat it, your brain releases dopamine, making you feel happy. This makes sugar addictive, causing constant pangs of hunger and cravings, manifesting as ghrelin spikes.
4. Drink coffee
If you’re intermittent fasting, coffee will become your best friend. It will give you an energy boost and it’s great for suppressing the appetite. A 2012 randomized controlled trial found that coffee was able to suppress the appetite by releasing leptin and peptide YY, both appetite-diminishing hormones.
By following these simple diet hacks, you can ensure that you set the right type of calorie targets for your fitness goals, and are able to achieve them! Remember - err on the side of caution if you’re new to this. Eat a whole foods diet and listen to the cues of your body, taking it slow. Good luck!
For one-on-one coaching or an 8 week customized meal and workout plan, click here.
Here's a free Portion Guide to help you start your journey. click here