Like everything else in the health and fitness industry, there's no one set way to identify your maintenance calories - which makes it confusing for someone who doesn't know where or how to start.
Below, I'll go through the options we can draw on when trying to set ourselves up for a maintenance, deficit or surplus phase.
The first thing we want to do is, identify the amount of energy we need to maintain our current body weight. There are a few ways we can do this which I’ll discuss below
Depending on your activity levels, you’ll either sit at the upper or lower end of the scale. Again, this requires some honesty and trial and error.
Given the accessibility and cost associated with this method, it’s not one I’d expect or anticipate many readers of this article would use. Indirect calorimetry is a technique used by clinicians or dieticians that requires a subject to hook themselves up to a mask and machine that analyses gas exchange (oxygen consumption and volume and concentration of carbon dioxide and monoxide) to determine someone’s resting energy expenditure. From here, the individual would need to have an idea of their energy expenditure to figure out what their maintenance calories are.
Once you have tested and identified your maintenance calories, if your goal is weight loss or weight gain we can either reduce or increase this amount depending on your goal.
Remember, the ideal rate of gain / loss is going to look different for everyone. We can't expect a 50kg female to have a similar rate of gain/loss to a 110kg male.
Context is another factor: a novice lifter looking to build some size is going to experience a lot more muscle growth when compared to an advanced lifter.
Rate of gain:
A safe place to start a calorie surplus is by increasing calories slightly - this could be by either 5% or 10%. When looking at your rate of gain, keeping context in mind we can treat this as a spectrum. Roughly an increase of ~0.025 - 0.05% of BW per week is a comfortable place to be. A newer lifter would sit on the higher side of the spectrum.
This generally equates to a surplus of around 200-300 kcals to begin with (which isn’t much at all and is easily an additional snack or increased meal portions) and will need to be adjusted depending on data collected. If you're a more advanced lifter and want a more conservative approach to building we could simply set this to an increase of 1% of bw per month.
Rate of loss:
Depending on context and starting weight / BF% a comfortable place to start a calorie deficit could look like decreasing maintenance calories by 10%. A more aggressive approach would sit around the 20% mark. When looking at a rate of loss per week, 0.05-1% bw per week is a good start for most, depending on the amount of weight the individual has to lose to begin with.
Remember, humans aren't robots and things like stress levels, hormones/menstrual cycles can contribute to scale fluctuations and things like changes to weekly activity levels can influence fat loss. If you find weight loss stalls after x2 weeks of consistency, a slight reduction in calories may be required. Tracking things like steps and measurements in addition to scale weight is going to be extremely beneficial
Hopefully this article has provided you with what you need to get you started, and if you have any questions - get in touch!