A TRICK TO CUTTING WEIGHT: STAGGERING CALORIES
(adapted from Module III: Bodyfat Control, by Tom Deters DC)
Way too many BJJ and or MMA fighters subject themselves to unnecessary stress as a tournament approaches by trying to cut too much weight. That leads to feeling weak, “gassing out” earlier and suboptimal performance. While there are many things that can and should be done before cutting calories to lose weight (which will be discussed later), the fact of the matter is that if you find yourself in a situation where you need to cut calories, there are some very helpful strategies and methods that are more effective than others. Maintaining your lean body mass – hard earned muscle tissue -becomes a very fragile, delicate process when you’re in a situation of caloric deficit. Carbohydrates will be in high demand, proteins may be broken down for energy and you may not be building (or even maintaining) muscle if you don’t restrict your calories carefully and correctly.
REDUCE CALORIES SLOWLY
When it comes to cutting calories, it’s best to diet longer, not harder. If you’re attempting to lean out and make weight for an event or activity, you’ll sacrifice less lean body mass if you diet gently for a 20-week period, applying a number of strategies to boost your metabolism and then only cutting calories the last few weeks, than if you go on a crash “six-week pre-event diet.” Drastic dieting, not to mention crazy / dangerous dehydration techniques, is one of the most common mistakes made by fighters.
WEEKLY LOSS AND HOW TO SUCCEED
Once you “guesstimate” your target weight and feel that you need to cut calories to get there, plan your diet so that you never have to lose more than two pounds per week. If you diet harder than that, for sure you’re jeopardizing hard-earned lean body mass. Pick your target date and plan you diet backwards to give yourself enough time!
A POUND OF FAT CONTAINS ABOUT 3,500 CALORIES OF ENERGY.
If you want to lose a pound of fat per week you have to eat 3,500 calories less than your body is using. If your normal diet consists of 4,500 calories per day and you reduce your intake to 4,000 calories (a 500 calories per day deficit) for seven days, you’d probably lose about a pound of fat by the end of the week (500 calories a day deficit x 7 days = 3,500 calorie deficit). That’s assuming you eat quality foods and you’re training regularly.
The problem is that after cutting back a certain number of calories, your metabolism will begin to slow down and pretty soon that 500 calorie a day deficit that was working well at first, later doesn’t do anything. So you end up having to cut more calories. That’s when you start facing some major problems: nutritional deficiencies, lack of energy, poor workouts, fatigue, muscle loss, etc.
STAGGER DAILY INTAKE
A good way to help you maintain an active metabolic rate when you’re in a caloric deficit is to stagger your daily caloric intake. Continuing our example above, instead of cutting down to 4,000 calories per day and staying there every day, you could eat 4,000 calories one day, 3,800 the next, then 4,200, 3,700 etc. so that during the week you average 4,000 calories per day. Your actual intake is always bouncing around above and below this number.
Staggering your caloric intake in the range of 10 percent to 15 percent above and below your target number helps keep your metabolism up and doesn’t let it get accustomed to any one particular low level which can cause it to slow down. At the end of the week, your total caloric deficit would still be 3,500 calories and you would still have lost a pound, but you probably reduced the risk of slowing your metabolic rate.
STAGGERING YOUR DAILY INTAKE OF CALORIES MAY HELP RESIST THAT METABOLIC SLOWDOWN.
This allows you to eat the same average number of calories over any period of time and still experience fat loss. At least this way, you can help minimize the number of times you need to reduce your average target number throughout the period of the diet.
THE STAGGER AND TRAINING
The next question might be: “How do I stagger my caloric intake and coordinate it with my training? Should I go low calorie on off days and high calorie on training days, or vice versa? Should the stagger be symmetrical, high — low, high — low or should I jump around more?” Good questions indeed! Let’s see if we can shed some light.
Unfortunately, there are no absolutes. However, there are factors you should take into consideration when planning your program. There are definite advantages of constantly stimulating your metabolism with a variety of stresses throughout your period of fat loss. For example, instead of having a hard and fast rule that “a hard rolling day is an up calorie day,” try alternating not only your caloric intake, but your caloric intake in relationship to your training.
TRY LETTING YOUR HIGH-CALORIE
DAYS FALL RANDOMLY IN SEQUENCE
TO YOUR TRAINING PROGRAM.
In the above example, it might be tough to roll hard for a couple of classes on a lower-calorie day, but it may also be a great metabolic stimulus
to fat loss. You’ll end up being depleted a little more than usual on one day, but then will let the body recuperate, store a bit more glycogen and enjoy a few more calories on the next.During the next week, your hard rolling day may fall on a high-calorie day. Great! That means that you’ll (hopefully) end up having a bit more energy for those extra growth-stimulating sessions!
Similarly, an occasional low-calorie off day (rest day) makes sense because your energy demands aren’t that great, but when your off day falls on a higher-calorie day, don’t be paranoid! Those extra calories will probably offer your body the energy it needs to keep the metabolism active, speed recuperation and reduce the risk of overtraining. This random, hit-or-miss approach may sound chaotic, but in most cases it works well.
If, during the course of your calorically restricted diet, you feel that you are over-trained or excessively depleted, then you may want to coordinate your diet with your energy demands. But remember, everyone differs. Some people who feel over-dieted never feel like their body gets “caught up” even when they make sure that their toughest training days are also higher-calorie days. These same people seem to feel that the only way their body recuperates is by having a high-calorie off day where their body can just suck up the calories and replenish its energy reserves.
Other people feel just the opposite. Listen to what your body is telling you! That’s the only way that you will ultimately get the best results with your entire program.