Establishing key concepts: maintenance, deficit or surplus?

Blog Author
Harry Longworth
Date of post
8 October 2023
Blog Category

The phrase ‘abs are made in the kitchen’ has some truth to it. It’s all well and good being a gym regular, but if your diet is poor, it’s likely that you won’t see much progress. While there’s a lot of information flying around about what your diet should look like, what you should eat and how much you should eat, it’s important to note that diet is individual. Nevertheless, there are some basic concepts that are worth gaining an understanding of. Once you grasp these concepts, they can be applied to your diet, depending which aligns with your goals.

Key concepts

  • Maintenance calories
  • Calorie deficit
  • Calorie surplus

What are maintenance calories?

Maintenance calories are the number of calories that your body needs in order to support energy expenditure. They are called maintenance calories as they serve to maintain your current state. 

The average maintenance calories for a man is around 2500 calories a day. For a woman, it’s 2000 calories a day. However, maintenance calories are dependent on factors such as basal metabolic rate (BMR) and physical activity levels. BMR is the number of calories that your body needs in order to carry out life-sustaining functions, such as breathing and hormone production. Your physical activity levels are basically how much you move throughout the day. If you exercise daily or have a high step count, for example, then it’s likely that your maintenance calories will be a little higher than the average person. 

what is a calorie deficit?

A calorie deficit is when you burn more calories than you consume. People usually enter a calorie deficit if they want to lose weight. 

Over the course of a day, your body will naturally burn can range from 1300 to more than 2000, depending on factors such as age, sex and height. You can also burn calories through active energy expenditure, like sports and exercise. To put it into perspective, if your body naturally burns 1800 calories a day and you burn 200 calories through active activity expenditure, your calorie maintenance will be 2000 calories. However, if you want to be in a calorie deficit, you’ll have to eat less than your maintenance calories, which might be 1800 calories a day.

To put it simply, to be in a calorie deficit, you either need to eat less or move more. You can move more by increasing your step count or adding cardio into your workout routine. When eating less, you can track your meals to monitor how much you are eating. You can either constantly track or just track for a short while to establish your eating habits. Tracking foods is not essential but it’s definitely a tool that you can utilise to make the process a lot easier. 

When it comes to how quickly you should be losing weight, 1 kilo of body fat contains about 7,700 calories, and losing weight at about 0.5-1 kilo per week would be a safe and sustainable approach. It’s also important to note that how quickly you should be losing weight is dependent on the person. But, usually, any more than 1% for a long period of time may result in a risk of muscle loss. That being said, if you eat plenty of protein and aim to continue strength progressions, then it is unlikely that you will lose muscle.

What is a calorie surplus?

A calorie surplus is when you consume more calories than you burn. People usually enter a calorie surplus when they are wanting to gain weight or muscle. It works opposite to a calorie deficit, so if your maintenance calories is 2000, then you might eat 2200 calories a day to be in a surplus. 

Being in a surplus may require you to eat more, but it’s still essential that you engage with a balanced diet – dirty bulking isn’t necessarily your best friend. It’s also vital that you continue to move a healthy amount throughout the day. 

We hope that this basic overview has given you some insight into some key concepts. If you’re still struggling with direction or feel as though you need to be educated further, get in touch with one of our coaches.

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