Calorie Deficit vs. Calorie Surplus

Nutrition can often be an intimidating topic to touch on, especially for beginners who are just getting into fitness as there is a plethora of information on the internet which leads to overload but being more informed on nutrition is the key to achieving your goals. So you may find yourself asking, "Where do I even start?!". Fret not, let us help you drown out the noise!

Introducing, Melissa Webb, a BSc Food Science and Nutrition graduate from the UK who has been sharing her knowledge of nutrition in Brunei for over 3 years. Here's what she has to say about calories and how they can affect you! 

What is a calorie?

Calories are the amount of energy a food or drink is measured in; it is also used to measure the amount of energy we use up during the day and exercise. Our bodies need calories and energy to function normally and to stay alive.

To maintain your weight, the energy you put into your body should be the same as the energy your body uses to function and through your physical activities. That said, there may be times that you want to be in a calorie deficit such as to lose weight, or a calorie surplus such as to gain muscle, let’s dive deeper into that now.

What is a calorie deficit?

A calorie deficit means that you are consuming fewer calories than you need to support your calorie expenditure; this means less energy is coming in than is going out, resulting in weight loss. This could be achieved through eating fewer calories or through exercising more; usually, a balance of eating less and exercising more is the most effective and easiest way to achieve a calorie deficit.

How many calories do I need to reduce my intake?

A healthy calorie deficit reduces your total calorie intake by no more than 500 calories per day; this is 3000 calories a week. This deficit should equate to a healthy weight loss of 0.5 Kg per week, which is a healthy and sustainable amount of weight to lose. Losing weight too fast and restricting your calories too much will lead to low energy levels and will usually lead to weight gain after you stop restricting yourself.

To calculate your calorie deficit, you need to know how many calories your body needs to maintain your body weight. There are many calculators online that can help you do this; I recommend this one from BBC Food (you can also find great recipes on this website). Use this link to check your daily calorie intake to maintain your current body weight, then subtract 500 to determine your new intake goal for a calorie deficit and weight loss.

As you lose weight this number will change, so I recommend checking and adjusting the calories once a month. Healthy weight loss should not require total calorie intake to be less than 1200 calories a day for women and 1500 calories per day for men; make sure you are eating adequate calories for your body to function normally.

How can I achieve a calorie deficit?

Surprisingly, exercise does not burn as many calories as people believe, and relying on exercise alone to be in a calorie deficit will be tiring in the long run. It is best to achieve a calorie deficit from your diet and exercise combined. It is recommended that you carry out strength training and cardio exercises each week to maintain optimal health, as well as to maintain your body weight or in this case help to reach a calorie deficit.

You can reduce your calorie intake by eliminating sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, fruit juice, tea tarik, lattes, or any specialty coffee with syrup. Drinking your calories does not fill up your stomach in the same way food does and can leave you feeling hungry sooner, try to stick to sugar-free drinks, order your drinks kosong, and always drink water.

Eat home-cooked meals, this allows you to control the ingredients you use, the portion size you eat, and overall your calorie intake. You should try to limit highly processed foods including fast food, breakfast cereal, hot dogs, fish balls, processed cheese, and snacks. A diet high in minimally processed foods helps you to be fuller for longer, lowers the chance of overeating, and helps your body to get all the nutrients it needs.

Protein powder to help you meet your daily protein targets

When in a calorie deficit it is important to consume enough protein to maintain your muscle mass; this helps to ensure that you are losing body fat, not muscle. If you struggle to get enough protein using Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate can be an easy and convenient way to increase protein without increasing carbohydrates, fat or overall calories. The Impact Whey Isolate provides 20 grams of protein with only 1.2 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of fat, all in only 90 calories per serving.

An alternative is the Myprotein Impact Diet Whey protein powder, which has 221 calories per serving, 37 grams of protein, 6.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 3.9 grams of fat. Having a little carbohydrate helps with muscle recovery, and a little fat helps to slow digestion and keep you feeling fuller for longer. The higher protein also helps to keep you satiated (feeling full) and increases daily protein intake so you lose fat, not muscle.

For those of you who are sensitive to lactose or on a plant-based diet the Myprotein Soy Protein Isolate is perfect for you; it provides 108 calories with 27 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 grams of fat. It is low in calories and high in protein, so perfect to help you increase your daily protein intake without the excess calories.

What is a calorie surplus?

This is the opposite of a calorie deficit; the number of calories consumed is more than the calories burnt, leading to an increase in body weight. Calorie surplus is used to increase body weight, gain muscle and to fix your metabolism if you have followed a very restrictive diet for a prolonged period of time.

How many calories do I need to eat to be in a surplus?

Being in a calorie surplus means something different for everyone, depending on their current calorie needs to maintain their current body weight. Use the calorie calculator mentioned above to calculate how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your current body weight. Then calculate 10% of that (this can be done by dividing by 100 and multiplying that number by 10), add the 10% to the calories required to maintain your body weight and this will put you into a calorie surplus.

The optimal calorie surplus for men is 100 to 400 calories a day, and for women 100 to 300 calories. This is a healthy amount of extra calories that your body needs to create new muscle and not just gain weight as fat. There are other factors such as age, weight and exercise routine, intensity, duration and frequency which all determine how much of the surplus will be used to build muscle and how much will turn into fat.

How long should I be in a calorie surplus?

Usually, a calorie surplus will range from 4 to 6 months; this is enough time to increase weight, size, mass, and strength. Longer than this you will need to re-evaluate your calorie requirements, because as your weight increases, so does the number of calories you need to maintain a surplus. It is uncommon to be in a surplus for a long period of time, but rather to try to consume within 5% of your daily calorie requirements to maintain weight and muscle mass.

What foods should I eat to be in a calorie surplus?

You should try to eat whole foods, maintain a healthy diet and increase caloric intake from all the food groups namely, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Eating fast food, high fat, sugar, and salt foods, drinks and snacks will put you into a calorie surplus, but the energy from these foods is more likely to be turned into fat than muscle. It is important for your health and your goals to maintain a healthy balanced diet, even within a calorie surplus.

If you are tracking your macros while in a surplus, you should aim for no less than 45% of your calories from carbs, 30 to 35% from protein, and no more than 30% from fat. For example, a man aiming to eat 3300 calories to be in a calorie surplus, eating 45% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 15% fat should aim for 371 grams of carbohydrates, 248 grams of protein, and 55 grams of fat. Many apps such as MyFitnessPal will help you to calculate this and to track it when inputting your daily meals.

Protein powder to help you meet your daily protein targets

It can be difficult to reach your daily protein target when in a calorie surplus; therefore, many people will use protein powder to maximize daily protein intake. It is a convenient way to target one macronutrient or a blend of protein and carbohydrates to boost energy before your workout or maximize muscle gain post-workout.

Myprotein Weight Gainer Blend provides 388 calories per serving, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 31 grams of protein, and 6.2 grams of fat. This is optimal for someone who is looking to gain mass without changing their current diet much, the extra calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat required can be achieved with this protein powder. I would recommend this for someone new to a calorie surplus and will not be making big changes to their diet, but adding this in to increase daily calories and macros.

Myprotein Impact Whey Protein provides 103 calories per serving, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 21 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat. This would be suitable for someone who eats a higher carbohydrate diet and struggles to reach their protein goals; it is a convenient way to increase protein without increasing carbohydrate and fat intake.

As mentioned above, the Myprotein Soy Protein Isolate provides 27 grams of protein, which is very high for a plant-based protein powder. If you struggle to digest milk, lactose or you follow a plant-based diet this would be perfect to help you reach your protein macro goals.


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