The first question is “Do Calories matter in what?”. If the “what” is weight-loss then the question is, “Do Calories matter in Weight-loss?”.
The answer is both yes and no. The standard formula Calories In minus Calories Out has many problems including:
- Doesn’t differentiate between the sources of calories. In this formula 1000 calories of seven layer chocolate cake is the same as 1000 calories of broccoli (although try to eat 1000 calories of broccoli sometime).
- At a finer level, doesn’t differentiate between the macro-nutrient mix of two things. Is a 200 calorie bag of chips really the same as a 200 calorie bag of macadamia nuts? The chips are carbs and fat as are the nuts but the proportions of fats and carbs are completely different between the two.
- Within a particular macro-nutrient it also doesn’t differentiate between types of macro-nutrients or how the body processes them.
So where/how do calories matter?
Since the subject of this BLOG is largely Ketogenic diets it is a given that the Low Carb (less than 20 grams of net carbs a day) is the baseline. There’s plenty of science that shows this is an effective and safe diet. But what does that leave? There are only three macro-nutrients (and we aren’t counting the fourth which is alcohol) so that only leaves fat and protein.
Let’s Look at Protein First
Here’s where it gets controversial or fun, depending on your own tolerance for different opinions. You need some amount of protein to maintain your Lean Body Mass. Fasting has been shown to be sparing of lean body mass, but there’s some minimal loss on longer fasts. At one end of the spectrum is Dr Jason Fung who’s patients are often older and present to him with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. He prescribes a limit on protein (How much protein is excessive?):
The average necessary would be 0.6 g/kg/day (around 50 g/day) and LESS if you are trying to lose weight.
The value of 0.6g/kg of body mass translates to 0.27g/lb of body mass. Note Fung’s number is not for Lean Body Mass, but current weight. Let’s round to 0.3 to make the math easier here.
At the far other end are bodybuilders who have much higher macros. But the focus here is ketogenic eating, Here is the KetoGains suggested intake of protein (KetoGain FAQ):
*Sedentary people: 0.69 to 0.8g per lean pound
*Mildly active or doing endurance / strength training: 0.8 to 1.0g per lean pound
* Heavy strength training / bodybuilders / PSMF: 1.0 up to 1.2g per lean pound
So picking the middle number would be 0.9g/lb of LBM. There’s no easy translation between LBM and body weight since it varies greatly person to person. The formula is:
Body weight times (1-fat percentage) = Lean Body Mass (LBM)
For the sake of simplification, let’s assume that the person has 25% fat. Their LBM is 0.75 times their body weight. For a 200 lb person that would be an LBM of 150 lb.
The protein recommendation of Dr. Fung for maintenance is then 200 x 0.3g/lb or 60 grams. The protein recommendation of KetoGains would be 150 x 0.9 = 135 or a bit more than twice that of Dr Fung.
Note the different goals. Dr. Fung’s number is based on the goal of maintenance of LBM and the KetoGains number is based on body recomposition or growth in muscles.
In the end this is a fixed value which should be adhered to – if possible on a daily basis. And what this means is that the number of calories (4 times the number of grams of protein) is also a fixed number and is specific to your current body weight, etc. If you are a 200 lb male with 30% body fat that translates to 135 grams a day (KetoGains model).
The Only Thing Left is Fat
And surprisingly, fat is also controversial. But it really shouldn’t be. The standard keto advice is eat until satiety. But for many of us that’s a hard point to discover. We’ve eaten until we are stuffed for so long that we are barely able to do otherwise. And fat becomes what we use to feel really full. And fat is very dense.
The Problem with eating too much fat is that we don’t pull fat stores from our bodies when we overdo fat. That is why most of us stall in our losses. We don’t gain weight if we keep low carb because it’s really the carbs which make us fat not the dietary fat. But we are not losing weight either.
How Much Fat Should We Eat?
If you are asking this question it’s because the standard “Eat till satiety” isn’t working for you any longer. In the beginning it worked well but the real reason is that your body had a lot of fat stores to pull from. As we go on in this Way of Eating our bodies have less and less reserves of fat to eat.
There’s a constant called the fat oxidation rate which limits our ability to pull fat from our bodies (A limit on the energy transfer rate from the human fat store in hypophagia). That number is 31 calories per lb of fat mass per day. If you have 50 lbs of fat mass you can only pull around 1500 calories a day from that fat mass. On a long fast, if you pull more calories that comes either out of dropping your metabolism or your body’s protein stores. There are no other sources. And usually it is your metabolism which drops. Some of this is made up by the thermogenic effect of food (you are not burning energy to eat food).
So some of us have tried doing reduced calorie diets without concern for our macro-nutrients. We don’t need carbs (we are keto, right) so there’s only two choices when reducing calories. Either we reduce protein or we reduce fat. If we spare the protein by eating enough (see above) then we have to strike the balance at the cost of lowering our fat consumption.
And lowering fat consumption makes a lot of sense. It’s often easy to not put a stick of butter on a pile of broccoli. It tastes just as good if you have been doing keto for a long time and in essence, the fats are just wasted calories. They won’t make you fat (it takes carbs plus fat to make you fat) but they won’t make you thinner either.
The amount of fat we should eat should be set by the maximum rate of loss that we can do through fat oxidation. You can always choose to go slower, but how many people want to do that? A cheat day would consist of over consuming fat which would be a stall and not a weight gain. But you don’t need to cheat.
The Math is described here. In outline it works like this:
- Get some measurements (Weight, simple body tape measurements)
- Determine your assumptions (Base Metabolic Rate, Protein needs)
- Set your goal (Body fat percentage is the sole goal)
- Run the numbers to determine the results (end weight, weight loss time, macros for each day)
- Pick your foods to reach your goals depending on each day’s needs
- Chart your progress as you do it
- Don’t use this information to help your anorexia or some other eating disorder. There’s some ways to help with that like not looking in a mirror but look at a picture of yourself to see what you really look like to others. I did that and I looked fat in the viewfinder but not fat in the picture itself. Same with mirrors.
- Don’t set unreasonable goals. Don’t go for 5% body fat. There are safe numbers out there for body fat percentages. You are may not be the best judge of what is good for you (particularly if you have a food disorder). Trust those numbers out there and not your own perceptions of whether or not you are fat.
- Don’t try to cook the numbers. By that I mean don’t try to run at a calorie deficit to get it done sooner.
- Don’t just run the numbers once and stick to the same pattern for the next three months. At least recalculate the numbers and readjust weekly. The numbers shift quickly on this method. You may be eating almost no fat one day and need to supplement more as you go on.
- Don’t forget to track all of your macros. It’s not all that hard. You already know how to keep your carbs below 20 but track them anyway. Tracking the macros lets you check against the model.
- Don’t cut protein to accelerate weight loss. Eat protein in a consistent way. I am choosing to use Protein Powder. May not be the right choice for others. Let’s me isolate protein from the other macros.
- Don’t cut fat to accelerate weight loss. You will sabotage yourself by lowering your metabolic rate too far.
- Don’t overdo but if you overdo then make it fat that you overdo not protein or definitely not carbs. Know that too much fat slows weight loss.
The math here can be daunting. But there are calculators for every part of it on the Internet. If you don’t like the calculators you can get measured with BodPod or DEXA to get more precise body fat numbers. More precision probably doesn’t matter in most cases but if you get close to your goals it may matter.
Bottom line is:
- Keep keto for carbs (less than 20 grams a day)
- Eat the proper protein amount
- Eat the amount of fat calories you need to reach your Total Energy Expenditure (minus the calories of fat your body can oxidize)
You can break your stall.