When it comes to programming macros for cutting, it’s generally harder because you’ve got fewer calories to work with.
When it comes to losing weight, some are doing it to get in better shape while others are doing it to lean out after a bulking cycle. The two are similar in terms of actual macro programming except for one obvious difference: the beginner isn’t used to counting calories or tracking macros, and may not understand the difficulty of sticking to their numbers.
Case in point: the typical recommendation for protein is 0.8g/lb of bodyweight per day, but this has to be modified depending on your experience level.
When you’re in a cut, protein synthesis (the process by which your body builds muscle) is decreased and as a result, protein catabolism increases.
Think of it like this: your body is constantly both building and breaking down muscle. When you’re at maintenance calories, the two are roughly even, so there’s no net change. When you’re overshooting your calories and working out a lot, you’re in the positive and building more muscle than you’re losing, though you’re also gaining fat. When you’re in a cut, you’re in the negative and are losing more muscle than you’re building, even if your protein intake is high and you’re training a lot. The aim during a cut is not to build more muscle (a losing battle), but to preserve the muscle you’ve already built.
Since protein breakdown is elevated, the addition of extra dietary protein may help increase the amount of muscle saved, above and beyond the 0.8g/lb of bodyweight per day seen in most other situations. Thus, a number as high as 1g/lb of bodyweight per day, or even 1.2g/lb of bodyweight per day, may be useful.
At the same time, these numbers are very high for beginners, who aren’t used to eating high protein diets. Even 0.8g/lb might be a pretty high intake for a beginner.
As such, when it comes to beginners, the sky is usually the limit in terms of convincing you to eat more protein - because chances are you won’t actually hit that number anyway. When it comes to more experienced lifters, they can get more exact since they’re more used to that kind of consumption.
For beginners, the age-old advice holds: eat home-cooked proteins and veggies at every meal, and little else. This maximizes the contribution of protein from diet while keeping them you via veggies. Carbs and added dietary fats (in your case, usually cooking oils) are fine, but should be eaten sparingly. More advanced lifters can get more precise and follow exact macros during their weight loss phase, but this is usually overkill for beginners.
As noted above, the biggest difference between a diet for weight gain and one for weight loss, or even the difference between maintenance and weight loss diets, is that you’ve got fewer calories to work with.
With maintenance, you’re eating at your daily calorie intake. With weight gain, you’re eating at a 500 cal surplus. With weight loss, you’re eating at a 500 cal deficit. The difference between gain and loss (1000 cal) is HUGE. Additionally, protein is remaining relatively steady or even increasing during a cut - this means that while your protein needs are staying roughly the same, the amount of flexible calories in your diet is greatly diminished. As such, it’s likely that you don’t have much space left for carbs or fats or comfort food.
Here are some additional concerns:
Energy. You may feel a drop in energy throughout the day since you’re eating in a deficit. This may lead to irritability, tiredness, or other issues. Picking up a caffeine habit (aiming to avoid added sugars in your coffee) can help smooth this out.
Another problem is energy during workouts. If you’re working out on low energy, you won’t be able to train as hard. For this reason, some coaches recommend saving a small amount of your daily calories from carbs for your workout, and consuming a small amount of a sugary drink or sports drink just before your workout. Carbs are your body's preferred energy source and are processed quickly, so this can help ensure that your energy levels remain high during your workouts.
Another problem is dieting for women. Women have naturally lower bodyweights than men, so they have to eat naturally fewer calories at maintenance. If you put them in a deficit, this deficit takes up a greater proportion of their overall calories.
Let’s take for example a man with a maintenance of 2500 calories and a woman with a maintenance of 1500 calories. For the man, a cut of 500 calories is only 20% of his overall intake. For the woman, this is 33% of her overall intake - a much greater percentage. Thus, women may need to take smaller calorie deficits, even if this means taking longer to lose weight, because losing weight as rapidly as a man may mean extremely low energy intakes, restrictive diets, and feeling like crap.
When in a deficit, your body doesn’t recover as well. Again, the point during a deficit isn’t to build muscle - it’s to maintain existing muscle. Thus, some modifications to your training program will need to be made. You want to try and maintain a level of volume (work) that you’re used to, but this will probably not be possible since you’ll be losing muscle and thus strength. Instead, some reduction will be required, and you may need to avoid ultra-high-intensity work, which may be too exhausting. Instead, reducing volume in terms of fewer sets, fewer reps, or otherwise shorter workouts may be a necessity sooner or later. Be smart and make reductions when you have to.
So to break down for your numbers:
Take BW and multiply by 10. This is a rough estimate of your total calories, or you can use more accurate equations. If you use these equations, they’ll often automatically adjust for activity (the lifting you’ll be doing to build muscle) or otherwise you may need to add 300-500 calories per day to account for it. Again, this is just a rough estimate, and tinkering may be needed (adjusting the calories up 100 once per week if you’re not seeing the average 1lb gain you’re expecting) if you’re not on point to begin with.
Subtract 500 calories your total - this is the amount of calories intended to cause the average weight loss of 1lb per week. You can increase this a bit if you want to go faster or decrease if you want to go slower, but this is a good starting point. Remember - women may need to take 200-300 instead of 500, even though this results in slower weight loss, because it’ll be much more sustainable.
Take your BW and multiply by between 0.82 and 1.2 (depending on how conservative you want to be on protein). This is your g of protein per day. Multiply this number by 4 - this is the number of calories of protein per day. Subtract this number from your overall calories per day to get your number of remaining calories.
Your remaining calories can be split up however you want between fats and carbs. Again, it’s not a good idea to completely cut one or the other. If desired, save some of your carbs (20g or so) for a pre-workout sports drink or bit of juice.
Again, if you’re a beginner, you may be able to just toss this all out the window: instead, focus on eating primarily protein sources and vegetables, with a bit of carbohydrate or fat here or there.
That’s about it!
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