A lot of people I meet already know what I do for a living. So when we’re introduced, they tell me their fitness goals and ask questions. Often they’re frustrated with their lack of progress.

Some want to lose fat. Some want to build muscle. Both great goals.

Usually they don’t know these three terms:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Deficit
  3. Surplus

If you don’t have a complete grasp on these, you’re setting yourself up for future frustration. Ready? First up, maintenance calories.

Maintenance is the amount of calories you need to maintain your current body weight.

This number will be higher if:

  • You weigh a lot
  • You’re a guy
  • You’re highly active
  • You carry a lot of muscle

Your maintenance calories will be lower if:

  • You don’t weight a lot
  • You’re a female
  • You’re inactive
  • You don’t carry a lot of muscle

Allow me to use myself as an example. I check almost every box on the first list. My maintenance calories are about 2,800. This means that if I eat 2,800 calories per day, my weight will not change. I will stay at 205 pounds.

What happens if you eat under maintenance? Our second term: a deficit.

If you’re in a deficit, you will lose weight. This is called cutting.

When you eat above maintenance calories, you’re in a surplus (our third and final term).

If you’re in a surplus, you will gain weight. This is called bulking.

If you’re in a deficit and not lifting weights, you will lose muscle. If you’re in a surplus and not lifting weights, you will gain mostly fat.

The most confusing part: it doesn’t matter what you’re eating for these terms to apply. Only how much.

You can make great choices in the kitchen and gain fat. You can even make poor food choices and lose fat (IIFYM, anyone?). Hello, frustration.

So, even if you’re eating “healthy” you can still gain fat. Kind of depressing, right?

But if you understand these three terms, you’ll know the reason for this. You’re still in a surplus.

If you’re eating “a lot” and still not gaining muscle, you’re still in a deficit or at maintenance.

Both a caloric deficit and surplus do NOT respect your food choices.

This isn’t an invitation to eat like crap, by the way. Simply an explanation. You will feel and perform better by making nutritionally sound choices.

Your take-home points to understand and apply TODAY to lose fat or gain muscle:

  • You can eat “healthy” and still gain fat if you’re eating over maintenance calories
  • You can eat poorly and lose fat if you’re under maintenance calories
  • You will feel, look and perform your best if you eat highly nutritious foods in the amounts that align with your goals (deficit to lose fat, surplus to gain muscle)
  • Use this guide for implementing your new knowledge to transform your body

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