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Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 6

Calories Not Matching Macros

Question: This may come across as sounding like a very rookie question so bare with me. I just had a question regarding my macros/calories. My current macros are at 46 fat, 165 carb and 144 protein and calories at 1650. However, recently I have been hitting my macros spot on but not my calories. I am aware that there is 4 calories per gram of carb/protein and 9 calories per gram of fat. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: This is going to be a very short Q&A since I am currently embroiled (perhaps better described as overwhelmed) in the editing of the The Women’s Book.  Just in case anybody is not familiar with the term, macros is simply short for macronutrients and refers to protein, carbohydrates, fats and technically alcohol.  It’s all nutrients that are consumed in large amounts (lots of grams).  Fiber could technically fit here as well.

Calories are a measure of energy.  Technical one calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.  This is done in something called a bomb calorimeter and many correctly point out that the human body is not a bomb calorimeter.  But this is all accounted for and yields the Atwater constants.

Nutrient Calories/g
Protein 4 cal/g
Carbohydrate 4 cal/g
Fat 9 cal/g
Alcohol 7 cal/g
Fiber 1.5-2 cal/g

Alcohol is weird in terms of how it affects bodyweight but no matter.  Contrary to commonly held belief, the human body does derive calories from soluble fibers through fermentation in the gut of to Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA).  As well, different foods vary slightly from the above but it’s not major.  So two fats might be 8.8 cal/g or 9.2 cal/g and the above are averages.  But this doesn’t make much difference unless you are looking at extremes of diet.

Technically, diets don’t work in calories (little c) but in kilocalories (1000 calories, kilo = 1000) or Calories (big C).  It’s a math thing, 1000 calories is 1 Kcal but most people use calories and Calories interchangeably even if it’s technically incorrect (a 2000 kcal diet is 2,000,000 little c calories and that’s dumb math).

Now, the above question actually comes up quite a bit, both for individual foods as well as the types of diets.  So you might see on a food label something like this:

Protein: 5 grams (20 calories)
Carbohydrates: 10 grams (40 calories)
Fat: 3 grams (27 calories)
Calories: 90 calories

I’m making up the numbers but the Atwater constants should mean that the food has 87 calories.  And the label lists 90. What’s going on?

Rounding is what’s going on.  Legally, numbers can be rounded up or down depending on the actual amount of the nutrient.  So 5.4 grams of protein becomes 5 on the label.  10.3 grams of carbs becomes 10.  2.7 grams of fat would round up to 3 grams.

Annoyingly, companies can actually round any value less than 0.5 down to zero.  So a food that has 0.4 grams fat is listed as zero.  It’s the same reason they often use absurd serving sizes.  If you take a food that has 0.8 g of fat per serving (which rounds to 1 grams and 9 calories), and cut it in half, you get 0.4 grams of fat per serving which rounds down to 0 and you can list it as zero calories.

But that’s the discrepancy.  The actual calorie count on the foods, if you added them up won’t ever exactly match the macro value of the diet if you math it out.  Due to the rounding.  Since we are not doing clinical nutrition here, this isn’t worth worrying about under most circumstance unless you do something goofy like use a ton of “fat-free” foods (cooking spray is the worst where a short spray may be zero calories but people will spray and spray) and add calories that aren’t being included in the totals.

Reverse Cyclical Dieting for Mass and DBs for Growth

I was thinking if you do like eat 2700-2800 calories or 200-300 calories surplus on Wednesday through Sunday, that could increase muscle growth, because you are in a surplus while muscle protein synthesis is right there.  But you also fast with a ton of protein on Monday/Tuesday so can’t see why you would break down muscles.

also are dumbbell exercises only, a huge problem in the long run for a natural bodybuilder?, like you get up to a 100kg bench press and like 100kg lunges and stuff, but squat is harder to do, but not all bodybuilder squat that have big legs i have heard.

Ok so there’s two questions in the above.  The first is about using Monday/Tuesday as essentially Protein Sparing Modified Fast Days (PSMF, my Rapid Fat Loss Handbook) and I assume he’s asking about doing such to limit fat gains (if he’s asking something else, I’m unclear).

This actually isn’t a new idea, I believe it was Fred Hatfield who first put this out there suggesting to train and eat at a surplus for 5 days and then diet for 2 days.  For whatever reason, it never seemed to catch on.  I’d also point out that as protein synthesis can run up to 36 hours and fasting on Saturday could limit growth from Friday.  So a single day fast might be better here and there is a recent article in the NSCA journal suggesting that athletes who need to keep bodyweight/bodyfat in check might benefit from such a strategy. I’d be inclined to start with a 6/1 pattern.

So far as the second question regarding dumbbells and growth.  At a fundamental level any exercise that allows you to safely overload an exercise over time can generate growth.   In that sense, DB’s work as well as anything.  However, there are often practical issues involved with DB’s in this regard.  Grip can be an issue although straps can be used.  Many gyms may not have DB’s that go heavy enough although that’s individual.  When the weights get heavier, even setting up with them or lifting them can be it’s own set of problems.  So in premise, yes.  In practice, maybe.

Undereating and Fat Loss Plateaus

Question: Hi Lyle, I’m a new follower of yours and have really enjoyed your talks on You Tube, thank you for all your research and willingness to share. I work as a Dietitian and Personal Trainer so fat loss is a big part of what I do. There has been a topic that I go back and forth on and would love your insight. In your recent talk with Iraki Nutrition you mentioned that when people stall while dieting it may be that they’re underestimating what they eat however you also referenced cortisol leading to water retention understand these things.

My question is, is it at all possible to stall weight loss if you under eat? You mentioned that you can jump start your weight loss again by loosening up on your diet every few days, and I have actually seen this with clients, so could one in fact stall their loss by not eating enough? Could there be so much cortisol that the body just stops losing? Thank you!

Answer: In the most literal sense, no, undereating cannot stop fat loss, at least not in the way that I think you’re asking.  Yes, the body adapts and could conceivably reach the point that the deficit is reduced or eliminated due to the decrease in bodyweight and the adaptive changes in energy expenditure.

If this didn’t happen, weight/fat loss would continue indefinitely on any diet and we know that’s not the case.  It doesn’t even occur linearly, you see a gradually flattening curve as the size of the deficit is reduced due to the fat loss that is occurring   In that sense, you have to keep adjusting the diet by reducing calories further or increasing activity.  That’s just the reality of dieting.

I’m aware of exactly TWO case studies (i.e. two individuals) where women’s bodies adapted to a 500 calorie/day deficit with a 500 calorie/day reduction in energy expenditure.  Two people after 5+ decades of research.  So in the aggregate, no.  But with a sufficient deficit, fat loss always continues.  If it didn’t, nobody would ever starve to death (extreme example).

But large deficits raise cortisol, excessive training raises cortisol, the kind of neurosis found in the dieters who combine the two raises cortisol.  Add it together and you get cortisol mediated water retention along with a few other effects (i.e. cortisol mediate leptin resistance) that are negative.  Invariably when you get these folks to do a refeed (increasing calories and carbs lowers cortisol), take a couple of days off, or just stop being nutjobs (I recommend getting drunk and laid) they drop the weight overnight.

And then go right back to ineffective dieting.

Obese Beginners and Raising Metabolism with Muscle

Dear Lyle, I just read your series “Training the Obese Beginner” and it was amazing! So much good information, and so many things explained! I am not a trainer, but I am an obese person trying to get in shape. My questions pertain to what comes after the initial break in period. For example, about how long does it take for the metabolism to substantially improve?

Specifically, if I focus on low weight/high rep for the initial period in order to maximize glycogen depletion and improve fat burning, when would it be ok to shift the focus to high weight/low reps for strength and muscle building? Should I wait until I get my fat % down to a healthy level first? My cardio is on track with a good frequency, moderate intensity, and increasing volume.

I’m working on dialing in the diet by eating 3 meals, each with 1/3 of daily caloric target, and more or less balanced macros. I can definitely start to work on dialing down the carbs a bit, though, as you suggest in your article. Also, if you have recommendations for reading that pertain to my situation, I would love that.


First and foremost, although I’ve written a lot of articles over the years (I have over 500 on the site alone), the Training the Obese Beginner series is one that I’ve gotten the most (or close to it) positive feedback on.  So many people training themselves or being trained go so wrong that I seem to have contributed some good with it.  If there is anything I should turn into a short book, it’s probably that.  Anyhow.

The question above is asking when to switch from the break-in period of lighter reps to heavier training to build muscle and increase metabolism.  Well, here’s the reality.  A pound of muscle burns very few calories, current estimates are roughly 6 calories/pound per day.  To raise metabolic rate substantially requires large scale increases in muscle mass.

One study cited by a particular individual in the field found like a 300 calorie difference in energy expenditure for heavily muscles people.  But they also held like 10+kg (20+ pounds of muscle) more than the other group.  That’s a lot of muscle mass to gain and the reality is that short-term changes in muscle mass amount to 3/5ths of nothing.

A woman might gain 3-4 pounds of muscle over 6 months of training.  Theoretically that’s 18-24  calories more per day.  That’s 5 minutes of cardio.  And sadly, two different studies have found that, while men increase metabolic rate when they gain muscle, the increase in women is insignificant.

So in the strictest sense, never.  As discussed in that series, overweight individuals already have increased muscle mass and the reality is that small gains in muscle have no measurable impact on metabolic rate (and even less so in women) in the first place.

Which isn’t to say that eventually transitioning into heavier weights isn’t beneficial.  It’s critical to maintain/improve bone density, it can help with appearance, etc.  It’s just not going to do anything for your metabolic rate unless you gain an absolute TON of muscle.  An for women, that’s a multi-year process.  Even the 10 pounds you *might* gain in a year will only raise metabolic rate by 60 calories.  Certainly, the calories burned in the training and synthesizing that muscle all count but the impact is, ultimately, depressingly small.

Artificial Sweeteners and Insulin Resistance

Hello Lyle, I would like to ask you what is your opinion of the latest study on artificial sweeteners. They found that sweeteners with no calories induce glucose intolerance by altering gut microflora in both mice and humans. Do you think it is good to drop artificial sweeteners from the diet of normal healthy people trying to lose/maintain a healthy weight? Thanks for your opinion


Short answer, I don’t think it’s that useful or interesting.  Some detailed analysis points out that it used 7 people, most of the work was in mice who don’t metabolize any of this like we do, and that they combined the data on three different sweeteners.  The main issue seemed to be with Saccharin per se and it’s used fairly rarely anymore (it was in Tab, the stuff women drank in the 70’s) and that means you can’t generalize to aspartame or sucralose.  I’d point you to that link for the detailed analysis.

There is also the fact that one study shows that weight maintainers use such products along with other strategies.  Another showed that artificially sweetened drinks were SUPERIOR to plain water for both short-term weight loss and long-term weight maintenance.  Because when you’er dieting and need something sweet, something with an artificial sweetener helps.

Now, don’t misread me, I’m not saying to mainline diet products or drink as much as possible.  But I don’t think this study means much unless you’re drinking a ton of Tab.  And unless you were a 30 year old woman in the 70’s…..

Finally, while people love to focus on this factor or that factor in all aspects of health, including changes in the microbiota, the fact is that all of this is multi-factorial. No one compound can be examined in isolation from the rest of the diet, lifestyle, etc.

Yohimbine and Water Retention

Do you know what we can use or do to prevent water retention while using yohimbine? Methods to suppress vasopressin hormone? For example.

In that I actually don’t know the mechanism behind this, the best way is to stop using it for 3 days.

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