What comes into your mind when you hear macro counting? A lot of people think that it is all about weight loss, but it’s not the only thing that macro counting can do. This podcast episode will help you to understand that macro counting is simply a tool that can be used in many different ways, which includes weight loss. Join me as I discuss the four phases of macro counting, what happens in each of those phases and how to start to figure out which of the phases you should start in.
Find show notes at bicepsafterbabies.com/266
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- Macro counting as a tool (03:47)
- Understanding TDEE (12:32, 16:10)
- Cut (19:33, 23:03)
- Bulk (33:27)
- Maintenance (38:35)
- Reverse Diet (49:57)
- Free Macro Counting Starter Kit (10:29)
You're listening to Biceps After Babies Radio Episode 266.
Hello and welcome to Biceps After Babies Radio. A podcast for ladies who know that fitness is about so much more than pounds lost or PR's. It's about feeling confident in your skin and empowered in your life. I'm your host Amber Brueseke, a registered nurse, personal trainer, wife and mom of four. Each week my guests and I will excite and motivate you to take action in your own personal fitness as we talk about nutrition, exercise, mindset, personal development and executing life with conscious intention. If your goal is to look, feel and be strong and experience transformation from the inside out, you my friend are in the right place. Thank you for tuning in. Now, let's jump into today's episode.
Macro counting is a tool 00:49
Hey hey hey. Welcome back to another episode of Biceps After Babies Radio. I'm your host Amber Brueseke and today we are talking about a very important topic, The Four Phases of Macro Counting. Now listen, when a lot of people hear about macro counting, all they think about is weight loss and going into a deficit and cutting and losing fat and it, one of the things that really drives me nuts is that in a lot of circles, macro counting has become synonymous with weight loss, and it's one of my missions to be able to teach and remind people that macro counting is simply a tool, and it's a tool that can be used in a lot of different ways. And one of those ways, yes, is weight loss, is fat loss and it's very effective for being able to help you to lose fat. But that is not the only thing that macro counting can do, nor is it the phase that everybody should start with. So the purpose of this episode is to really help you to understand the phases, the four phases of macro counting, what happens in each of those phases and how to start to figure out which of the phases you should start in. So let's dive in. Alright, so coming back to this concept of macro counting being a tool again I, I always bristle when people collapse macro counting with weight loss as if the only reason one person would count macros would to be to lose weight. Now I totally get why people do this it is because oftentimes, the reason that people find macro counting is because of a weight loss goal or because they want to use fat and macro counting is awesome for that because it allows you to be able to create a caloric deficit which is necessary for you to your body to be able to release fat while also not forcing you to cut out food groups or to restrict yourself or to not eat sugar or not eat carbs. And so it's a beautiful way to find a balance and moderation, to be able to hit your fit your you know physical goals that you want to hit in terms of weight loss while also, being able to find moderation with food, not have a a terrible relationship with food where you, you know, deem food bad or you can't eat this food and so it is awesome for that, it's awesome for weight loss and honestly, it's how most people find macro counting. But that isn't the only thing that you can do with macro counting, nor should it be the thing that you're doing most of the time and we're going to talk about that a little later when we start talking about the phases that cutting where most people again think synonymous with macro counting. They think cutting is not actually the only thing that you can or should be doing with macro counting, so I always love to approach and teach about macro counting from the standpoint of it being a tool.
Macro counting as a tool example 03:47
And tools can be used for lots of different things. The analogy that I often use is the tool of a hammer. And yes, a hammer can be used to bang in a nail, can be used to build a house that can also be turned around and used to take that nail out. It can also be used to tear down something, and so the tool itself is doesn't really do anything. It's, it's just a hammer. It lays there ready to be used in multiple different ways, but what really matters is what the person who picks up the hammer is doing with that hammer. They can tear something down. They can build something. They can hammer a nail. They can pull out a nail. There's probably even more things that you could do with a hammer, but the the tool itself doesn't actually do anything, and that's exactly what it is like with macro counting is that macro counting isn't isn't only used for one thing. Macro counting is just paying attention to the different macro nutrients that you're eating. It's paying attention to how many carbs, how many fat, how many protein that you're eating and then being able to manipulate those numbers to be able to get whatever result it is that you're wanting to achieve. And a lot of people get really you know, held up with macro counting being really rigid and really strict of. I see people all the time when they have their macro count their macro numbers set for them that they become really strict and rigid in having to hit those numbers but I I really like to loosen the reins on what is macro counting. Macro counting isn't hitting your numbers, macro counting is being aware of how many carbs, fat and protein you are consuming and then figuring out how to manipulate those numbers to align them with whatever goals you're trying to achieve. That's what macro counting is, and your goal that you're trying to achieve could be fat loss. It could also be trying to maintain your weight. It could also be trying to put on muscle. It could also be trying to improve your performance. And the cool thing about macro counting is I've been able to use the tool in each of those different scenarios. I've gone through a period of fat loss and use macro counting to lose fat. I've gone through a period of trying to intentionally and gain muscle going through hypertrophy period, and I use macro counting to be able to support that goal. There was a period of time when I was really focused on performance. Back in my power lifting days when I was really trying to get as strong as possible and I use macro counting to be able to support that goal. So macro counting just really means how can I align my nutrition to be able to support whatever physical goal whatever I require in my body. What do I want my body to be able to do and how can I use nutrition? Because we know that such a huge piece to be able to support that goal and that's where macro counting comes into play. I actually shared a reel recently about how I'm starting to count macros because I don't count macros all the time. I think that's really important for people listening to know I don't count macros every day of my life and I actually don't want my clients to do that either. I think macro counting again is a tool that can be used for a period of time to be able to learn more about food. To be able to learn more about portion sizes. To be able to learn more about nutrition and how to align your nutrition with the goals that you want to achieve. But I don't think that someone should have to count macros every day of their life for the rest of their life. I think it's a tool you use for a specific period of time, for a specific purpose and then that teaches you how to find that moderation all the other times. So most of the time I'm not tracking macros unless I'm trying to hit a really specific goal. I'm just using what I learned during those periods of time when I did count macros to be able to support me just living my, living my life. But recently I started tracking again and the reason is is because I started a new hypertrophy training block, meaning I'm I'm focusing on my training, really building muscle, and I know that nutrition is such a big part of being able to build muscle, and so because I wanted to make sure I was giving myself the best chance to be able to gain as much muscle during this hypertrophy period as possible, I started counting macros again, not to eat less, but actually to make sure I was eating enough and also to make sure that I was eating and consuming enough protein to be able to support my goal of building muscle. So again, macro counting is not just about weight loss, it's about your nutrition supporting whatever physical goal you're trying to achieve.
Understanding the phases of macro counting 08:16
Now when most people get into macro counting, they are actually unaware that there are different phases that they can and should be cycling through while using macro counting. Most people, when they find macro counting, they're very familiar with one phase, and that's the cutting phase. That's the creation of a caloric deficit, eating less food than you are using per day with the goal of losing fat. And what most people do when they come and use macro counting is that's the only phase that they are familiar with, and so that's the phase that they just stay in for way too long. And so what it looks like for them is they're in a cut, and then they're still in a cut and then weeks later they're still in a cut. And then months later, they're still in a cut and they're still a cut, there still a cut and still cut. And that's all that they know. And I totally get why that is most people are coming from a background of cycling through diet and you know you're either on a diet or you're like way off a diet. That's the cycle that most of us are familiar with, and so people bring that diet or mindset into macro counting and they are in a cut and they're focus and they're in the cut and then they're way off the cut and then they buckle back down and they focus. And they're in the cut. And then they're way off the cut and It simply you're bringing that experience that diet or mindset that you've had that's been instilled in you throughout your life. You're bringing that diet or mindset into macro counting and that mindset, well, it doesn't really work, and it really doesn't work in macro counting because there are other phases that you can and should be cycling through, and so that's what we're going to talk about today, because in reality, while what it looks like for most women is cut, cut, cut, cut way off, a cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, in reality it should look much more like cycles where you're going through a period of cutting and then reversing and then maintaining and then maybe doing a subsequent cut and then doing some more time and maintenance. And then maybe even going in into a bulk, and if those four terms that I just used don't make any sense to you or you don't know what the heck talking about, keep listening because that's what I'm going to discuss in this episode. OK, but before we dive into more specifics, if you are at the beginning of your macro counting journey, I highly, highly recommend downloading my free macro counting Starter kit. This is a kit that I've created to be able to get you started on the right foot with macro counting focused on the right things and not overwhelmed with all of the things that a lot of people will tell you to focus on. So I highly recommend going to bicepsafterbabies.com/starterkit and go get that free starter kit to get you on the right track as you start this journey. All right, so what are the four phases of macro counting? Now it's really important to recognize that regardless of whether you are tracking or not, you're always in one of these phases, OK so it doesn't matter if you're tracking macros or not, you are either in a cut at maintenance or in a surplus. Always, so when we're counting macros, we're just now aware of the phase in which we and we're trying to be more intentional. But even if you're not intentional, even if you're not aware, you are always in one of these phases. You're always either in a cut or a deficit, meaning you're eating less calories per day than you are burning. Or you're at maintenance, which means you're eating the same number of calories that you're burning. Or you're in a surplus, which means you're eating more calories per day than you're burning. So one of those three has to be is always happening and the cool thing about macro counting is that now we can be aware of it and we can be intentional about it, because a lot of people are going through their lives and they're unintentionally in a cut or a maintenance or surplus. A lot of times it's in a surplus and they're unintentional about it, and they feel out of control. They feel like they don't have any control over how their body responds, and understanding the phases and understanding where you're at and being more intentional about it can help you to regain some of that control.
Understanding TDEE 12:32
So before we talk about the four phases and I'm going to, I'm going to talk broadly about all the phases, then we're going to go in depth with each of the four phases. It's really, really important to understand a term called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. You'll also see this abbreviated as your TDEE. And your TDEE is the amount of calories per day that your body is expending. Now what is a calorie? A calorie is a unit of energy. Many of us are familiar with calories because we see them on nutrition labels. But if we back up just a little bit, a calorie is just a unit of energy and our body uses energy every single day. And where does that energy come from? It has to come from somewhere, it comes from the food that we eat. So we eat food, it gives our body calories, which we're able to use as energy and we're able to go through our daily life, were able to walk down the street, we're able to continue having our heartbeat. We'll continue, we're able to you know, get up and down and and climb up ladders and move our bodies. All of those things require energy from our body and that energy comes from the food that we eat. So our total daily energy expenditure is just a a unit of calories of how many calories our body is burning each day. Some of those calories are used for your exercise, so if you're going to the gym, obviously you need energy to be able to do that, but a lot of those calories are just used to keep your heart pumping and to keep your lungs expanding all day, every day. And a lot of those calories are used for to digest your food. And a lot of those calories used for all the metabolic processes that are going on inside of your cells all the time. So those all of those amount of calories that are being used all day long when we're exercising when we're walking when we're just sitting down and breathing, all of those energies add up to a total daily energy expenditure, and that's going to be different for every single person. So your energy expenditure is not going to be the same as my energy expenditure. Now, some of the things that impact your total daily energy expenditure are things like your height and your weight and the amount of lean body mass that you have. So the more muscle mass you have on your body frame, the more metabolically active well muscle tissues, more metabolically active than many other tissues. And so the more muscle you have on your frame, the more calories you're going to expend on a day. It also depends on your gender. It also depends on how many calories you eat in a day. The more calories you eat, actually, the more calories you burn because our body actually has to use calories to digest our food. Also, hormones play a role in how many calories you burn and your age somewhat plays a role. Although I always like to dispel the myth that the older you are, the less calories that you burn. Because age in and of itself doesn't change how many calories you burn, but what tends to happen is that the older you get the more muscle mass you lose and since muscle is so metabolically active, the less muscle mass that you have on your body, the less calories you burn so it is not inevitable that the the older you get the less calories you burn. But that is often what happens, especially if we're not focusing on weight training and making sure we're maintaining and or building more muscle mass as we age, which is one of the reasons that lifting weights, especially for females, is one of the best things that you can do for your long term health as you age.
How to figure out TDEE 16:10
OK, so that's your total daily energy expenditure and everybody has a different TDEE. Now, how do we figure out what that is? Well, the shortcut or the the shortcut that a lot of people like to take is through equations. Now scientists have done models with lots of different people and they've kind of tried to reverse engineer a an equation from a sample size of people they've, they've looked at a bunch of people. How many, how many calories they're expending? And they've tried to reverse engineer some equations that allow us to be able to estimate our TDEE. Now that's a great place to start, and so you can find these equations online. You can find lots of calculators online that have you put in your height and your weight and your your gender and can can populate and give you an estimated TDEE. Now listen up, this is so important and something way too few people understand. When a calculator pops out your TDEE, it is not your TDEE. It is your estimated TDEE and that is very very different from your actual TDEE. It may be more, it may be less. It may be spot on, but it is not set in stone and so many people I see putting their numbers into calculators and then having their TDEE pop back at out at them. They look at it as like gospel truth like this is how many calories I'm burning per day and then they get in their head because they say this calculator says I'm burning 1800 calories a day. I'm only eating 1200 calories and I'm not seeing any fat loss, what gives like what's the problem? Again, anything that a calculator ever pops out at you is only an estimated TDEE and we need to understand what your actual TDEE is. Now how do we do that? Well, there are you know scientific measurements that people can do that we've, that we can get, you know, fairly close to someone’s TDEE. But it requires a lot of equipment. It requires a research laboratory that I don't think any of us have access to to be able to do this kind of measurement to be able to get at a more accurate TDEE. So instead, the best way to figure out your TDEE is to actually get feedback from your body and see how your body responds to different caloric intakes that's going to be much more accurate in figuring out how many calories you're actually learning rather than just how many estimated calories you are burning in a day. OK, so once we understand our total daily energy expenditure right, the number of calories that you're burning per day and we're really clear that just because it popped out of a calculator doesn't mean that that's your TDEE. It just means it's an estimated TDEE. It's a good place to start. But it's not the gospel truth, right, we're all clear on that. OK, once we understand TDEE then we can talk about the four phases because the four phases are always in relation to your total daily energy expenditure. So the four phases if you didn't catch them before are cutting, reverse, diet maintenance and a surplus/bulk and I'll talk about, there's a little bit of nuance and difference in what a surplus plus a or a bulk is, so we'll we'll get into that a little bit deeper when we start talking about bulking, but those are the four phases, cutting, reversing or reverse diet, maintenance and surplus/bulk.
Macro counting phase: Cut 19:33
So we're going to start with talking about what a cut is. This is probably the one that people are most familiar with but it's the one that we're going to start with, so a cut is when you eat less calories than you burn, right, so you know what your total daily energy expenditure is, or you at least have an estimate and you're attempting to eat less fat, less calories than that in order to promote fat loss. Now, if you're listening and you're hearing me talk a whole lot about calories and not a lot about specific macros and you're like what's what's the deal Amber? Like why is macro counting so important? You're talking a whole lot about calories. You're absolutely right. And there is also a reason why counting macros is more helpful than just counting calories. And I go extensively into that topic in Episode 143: Why should count macros instead of calories? So are we talking a lot about calories and if you want some clarification about OK, well why are you talking so much about calories and yet you're telling me to count macros, Episode 143 is going to be for you and we'll link that up in the show notes for this episode. So a cut is where we create a caloric deficit, it means we are eating less calories than we are burning. The goal or the purpose of why somebody would go into a cut is typically that they are, their goal is to lose fat. Now the mistake that a lot of people make is they say, oh, I want to lose fat. So that means I should start with a cut. And that's not always actually, the best phase for people to start in, we're going to talk about some of the other phases and how to know maybe if you should be starting even if you do want to lose fat, if maybe you should be starting in a different phase than just a cut, but a lot of people automatically assume, oh I want to lose fat, that means that I should start with a cut and it's not, it's not always the first phase that you should start with, but you know if you say I want to lose weight, it's really easy just to say oh, I should start with a cut. Now the most successful women and I've worked with thousands and thousands of women over the years, the most successful women who go into a cut are the ones who do so proactively and not reactively. OK, so what, what does that mean? When I will say most women and you may have some experience with this in the past, even before you found macro counting, most women become very reactive when it comes to their nutrition and it comes to dieting and let me walk you through a very common scenario and you can start to see the reactivity and how this decision is made. This may look like you step on the scale and you look at the scale and you're like, Oh my gosh! I've gained 5lbs. I can't even believe it. Well I don't know what happened. I'm going to start a diet today. And then you like you know, start it, start your diet or it looks like you know trying to put on your favorite pants and they are a little tight and you're like that's it, going on a diet or you were looking through pictures from your vacation and you look at yourself and you're like, Oh my gosh, that is, that what I look like. I'm sorry to diet, diet starts today. OK, see how that is, is very reactive. It's very reactive like if something happens and then your reaction to that, your emotional reaction to that is, I gotta, I gotta I gotta start to diet. It's like frantic. It's like reactionary, and it hasn't usually super successful. If I'm being honest.
Start a cut and set an end date 23:03
So the difference for women who are more successful is that they are very proactive with when they start a cut. A cut is something that is planned for the most successful women. It's something that they've planned on. They have a start date and they have an end date. This is a huge mistake that a lot of people make when they start a cut is they start an open-ended cut with no end date. And I always say you should have an end date, not an end weight for your cut. A lot of them go in and they say I'll finish my cut when I hit my goal weight. That is backwards, that is not going to be the most successful way for you to approach this this process. Instead, I really recommend my client set an end date for their cut, and so if you're being proactive about this you are, you are setting a start date and it's usually not I'm going to start today. It has, there's a start date on the calendar so that you can plan ahead, you can prepare and you can get ready for it, and there's a end date on the calendar. You've you've set your cut period of time and you know most likely you're going to stick to that cut period of time. OK, so I don't want you just saying Oh my gosh, I gotta start this today or Oh my gosh I gotta start this next Monday. OK, so women who are successful, they pick a start date and it's not usually tomorrow and it's not usually next Monday. They are intentional about looking at their calendar, and they're intentional about picking a good time to start to get themselves ready to have a period of time when maybe they can minimize the number of impactful things that are happening. So a lot of times I'll have clients look at the calendar and think hey when would be the best place to fit a cut? When do I have the least amount of trips? When do I have the least amount of you know, events that are happening. Holidays that are happening, and that's not to say that you can't cut during the holidays or you can't cut if you have a vacation or a trip, not saying that, but looking at your calendar and trying to find a period of time that's going to be the most successful is going to be really, really helpful for you. An intentional time where you're cutting.
What successful people do while doing a cut 25:05
Also people who are most successful with a cut are choosing to make it a priority. Now we all have lots of priorities in our lives. We have lots of things going on and I'm always really clear with my clients, not everything can always be a priority. And so if you are choosing to make your nutrition a priority for a period of time that may mean something else needs to you need to be willing to let it go. And maybe that's you know you need to be willing to let go of the house being as clean, or you know, making dinner every night or watching you know TV in the evening. I'm not saying that these are things that you have to let go of, I'm simply saying we all have, you know a, a plate and we can allot our attention and our priorities to only a finite amount of things and if you're in choosing to take a period of time and focus more on your nutrition and make that a priority, it may mean that you need to let go of something else to be able to create this space for that and women who are successful or willing to do that, they're saying, hey, I'm making this a priority for this period of time and and I'm willing to maybe sacrifice some other things in order to avert some of my attention towards this goal that I have.
Women who are successful, as with the cut, make the process as enjoyable and as fun as possible you know now there may be hard times there may be moments that are challenging, like that is part of stretching yourself that is part of growth. That is also part of the “fun of a cut” is is pushing yourself. But women who are successful, they recognize that it might be hard, but that they are choosing to do this, and that is why being proactive and not reactive is so important because when we are reactive it's it, It feels like we're being forced into it like I have to do like I look terrible in these pictures so I have to do that and it it like, takes your element of choice out of it when you can be proactive and you can schedule it and you can say, hey I'm I'm diverting attention towards this for this period of time, that's a choice. It's a choice that you're making, and you can always make any choice just because you made one choice doesn't mean you have to keep going with that choice, but it's a choice, and so you can step back when it's hard or when there's challenges and say I'm choosing this and I could choose something different at any point in time, but I am choosing it and that's a really powerful place to be when you're in a deficit.
The most successful women also do what they can to set themselves up for success, and this is why you're not just starting a cut on a whim. You're not just like saying I'm start a cut today or next Monday, but you're actually intentional about setting a time frame for that cut, because they're doing what they can to set themselves up for success. Their meal planning, their grocery shopping, they're learning to track first before trying to be in a deficit. They've spent time at maintenance, that's another thing that successful women do is they've tracked at maintenance first, figured out they're tracking app, figured out how to do recipes, figured out how to weigh food at a maintenance level first before trying to go into a deficit.
Free guide to set your macros 28:14
So if you can check these boxes and you're somebody who has that that you're wanting to lose, perhaps a cut is the first phase that you should start with. We'll talk more about some other exceptions in some of the later phases, but if you're wanting to start with a cut and you're wanting to set your macros for deficit, it's so so important to first figure out roughly what your maintenance is. Now you can pop that into a calculator, of course, but again, remember that's only going to give you an estimated TDEE, not your actual TDEE and let me tell you a lot of women, especially those who have been in cycles of dieting for years and years and years, often would a calculator pops out is not going to be your actual TDEE because your metabolism has adapted over the years. So it's a much better way of figuring out roughly where your maintenance is currently right now, today, with your body is to figure out how much food you've been eating in the past and how your body's been responding. If you've been maintaining your weight for the last several months, one of the best things that you can do is to simply take a week and just eat normally. Just eat like you've eaten the last several months and see roughly how many calories you're eating because that is going to be a much better estimate of your maintenance, because you've been maintaining on about that number of calories, so I always recommend and if you've downloaded my free guide to set your macros, which, if you're wanting to set your own macros, I highly recommend my free guide. You can go to bicepsafterbabies.com/setmymacros, all one word, and I have a free guide that walks you through the steps of setting your macros. But if you've downloaded that guide, you know the very first thing that I tell you to do is to take seven days and track your normal intake. And that is because that is going to be a much better estimate of your total daily energy expenditure right now, today, currently, in your current body than any calculator is going to be able to be for you. And then once you figure that out now we can create a 15 to 20% deficit from whatever you've been maintaining on and that is going to put you into a cut. Now the mistake a lot of people make is they only pop this into a calculator and then they look at their calories and they're like way off, you know, maybe they've been eating 2700 calories and they pop, pop it into a calculator and the calculator is like, oh you should be eating 1400 calories and now they're trying to go from 2700 calories to 1400 calories and they're wondering what's wrong with them because they're struggling so much. Well, friend like, what's wrong with you is you're doing a drastic caloric deficit from what you used to be eating. But if you didn't actually take the time to track that if you didn't actually take the time to gather that information about what you've been eating in the past, you may create way too large of a deficit, or you may not be creating enough of a deficit, and that's why spending at least a week tracking your normal intake is so vital to being able to get your numbers right during a cut.
Caloric Surplus 31:15
Alright, so let's go to the opposite end of the spectrum. If a cut is when you are creating a caloric deficit, a bulk or a surplus is when you're creating a caloric surplus, you're eating more calories per day than you're actually burning. Now, why the heck would someone ever want to do that intentionally? Well, the reason is and the and the goal behind a bulk is to build muscle. In order to build muscle, in order to create muscle tissue, in order to create more muscle fibers, your body has to put energy and calories into that process. And so when you give your body extra calories, it allows it to have those put those extra calories to use in being able to build muscle. Now here's the key and I said this before, but I really want to make this clear, a caloric surplus has some overlap with a bulk but they are not the same things and let me explain more what I mean. A caloric surplus simply means you're eating more calories than you are burning. Now, if you're in a caloric surplus and you're not doing any weight training, you're either sedentary or you're just doing a whole bunch of cardio, but you're still in a caloric surplus. Your body is going to use it, it's going to have extra calories laying around and what it's going to do is it's going to to save those calories for later by creating fat, like fat becomes our storage for later. It's like I don't need these calories right now, but put them in those fat and then I can be able to use them later if I need that. And so a caloric surplus, if you're not lifting weights, if you're sedentary, or if you're doing a bunch of cardio like it's really important for my cardio bunnies to hear this, because people wonder why they gain weight doing cardio. I've shared the story before, but I was my heaviest well, my heaviest before having children, when I ran my marathon, and that is because I was, cardio makes you more hungry often times and I was eating more calories and I was eating more calories than my body needed and I didn't give it any, I wasn't doing any weight lifting at the time and so my body just sorted as fat.
Macro counting phase: Bulk 33:27
So that's what the surplus is, now a bulk is just slightly different. It is a caloric surplus. So the same thing I'm eating more calories than I'm burning, but a bulk specifically is done in tandem with lifting weights and not just lifting weights. But actually implementing progressive overload, actually having intelligent programming at the gym. So what I mean by this is a ton of women don't really understand that you can't just pick up a dumbbell and have it give you muscle. That there is a specific way that you need to have your programming created to be able to, like essentially communicate to your body, I want to build muscle, and that process is called progressive overload and if you don't know what progressive overload is or you're not sure if what you're doing in the gym is actually helping you to build muscle, then I highly recommend my free class. I have a free class called 5 Vital Ingredients Your Workouts Must Include To Lose Fat And Gain Muscle. It's about an hour long free class. It will walk you through what progressive overload, what other elements need to be included in your workouts to make them effective. Because I see way too many women, way too many women wasting time at the gym doing workouts that they think, oh this is going to get me the results that I want, and in fact they're just wasting time because those workouts aren't actually driving the results that they want. So if you want to watch that free class, it's an on demand class, meaning you can pick what time you want to watch it and just go to bicepsafterbabies.com/workshop and you can sign up to watch that class.
So, a bulk is specifically a caloric surplus done in conjunction with the stimulus of weight lifting in order to optimize for building muscle. Now who needs to go into a bulk? So I don't recommend, you know, just everybody going into a bulk and the reason is is because when you get started with weight lifting, as a, as a newbie we call this newbie gains, when you just start with weight lifting, you're going to gain muscle at a very fast rate, a much faster rate than you will gain it later on. So we, we call them newbie gains that usually lasts about six months to a year where your rate of like, it's like your body over responds. It’s like, you give it any sort of stimulus, any sort of training, and your body's going to say, oh, cool, we're we're in this, like we're building muscle. And for those people who are in those that newbie game period of time, you don't really necessarily need to be in a caloric surplus in order to gain muscle. And so I highly recommend people who are newer to weight lifting or maybe you're not newer to weightlifting, but you're newer to progressive overload, you're newer to actually effective weight lifting. Use those first 6 to 12 months and you don't necessarily have to be in a caloric surplus, your body is going to respond. It's going to put on muscle and that's going to be really awesome, really exciting, your weight, your weights are going to go up in the gym much faster. You're going to see a lot of progress. You're going to see those muscles hard to build. You don't necessarily have to be in a caloric surplus for that to happen. After that I usually like to have people at least out of maintenance, so I guess to say during that period of time, if you're wanting to optimize for muscle growth, I would recommend being in a maintenance phase. That's going to help support them muscle growth, but you don't necessarily need to be in bulk.
Now for my friends who are more advanced with weight lifting or have been doing it for longer, there comes a point where your body is not going to continue to respond or continue to respond as quickly, unless you go into a caloric surplus so you know if you think about it like a graph where the first part of the graph, the rise, is really steep and then the longer you’ve weights, the more that graph starts to kind of plateau out and the and the harder it is honestly to put on more muscle. And so at that point, that's when I really recommend people who have kind of plateaued. They've kind of put on the amount of muscle that their body is willing to do at a maintenance level, and they're wanting to continue to push that those are the types of people who I recommend going into a bulk. I have a whole episode on bulking so you can go and listen to Episode 94. I talk about when I went through my bulk and I talked about the process of bulking but I make the recommendation there that I really recommend not going into a bulk until you feel like you have, you know, had a period of time at maintenance and you really have been able to maintain your weight and one of the reasons is is because bulking can be really mentally challenging, for a lot of women it can be just hard mentally to go into a caloric surplus to intentionally eat more food that that runs counter to a lot of things that a lot of us have been told for most of our lives. And so there's a lot of mental challenges that come with a bulk, but it can be super awesome for being able to really improve your strength, really improve the amount of muscle that you have on your body. And a bulk was one of the best things that I did for my body to really help it to be able to respond and put on muscle.
Macro counting phase: Maintenance 38:35
OK, so we just talked about the two extremes, right, so we have the cut, which is a calorie deficit. We have a bulk which is the caloric surplus plus weight lifting, right, we have to have the weightlifting piece in there if we want to actually have a bulk and not just gain a bunch of fat. We want to give our body something to do with those calories. So what's in the middle? Well, that's maintenance. Maintenance is where you're eating the same number of calories that you are burning and I would say maintenance is probably the most underrated of all of the four phases, but it's actually the phase that you should spend the majority of your life at. The majority of your life should be spent maintaining, simply eating as many calories as you are burning, and that maintenance you know may be injected with a cut you know a 6 to 8 week cut here and maybe you do a bulk later on in the year for, you know, six months but then you're going back to maintenance in between all of those, and that's where you're spending the majority of your life. If I'm being honest, I really, really, really wish that more women started at this phase. I wish more women started at maintenance and I get it right why they don't, they find macro counting they're really excited they want to lose weight. They have this goal to go into a deficit, but that that feels like the fastest way to be able to get the results that they want. And most people like it's not sexy to be at maintenance, More people out there who are like yes, you know what I what I totally want to maintain where I'm at right now, especially for people who want to lose you know 20, 30, 40, 70 pounds that, but like this, this idea of staying put intentionally at this weight, at this body, right now, on purpose, feels wild. It feels crazy, but it is one of the best things that you can do if you are really focused on long term success and let me tell you why. One of the biggest cycles that I see so many women get stuck in is going through the cycle of losing and regaining, that yo-yo diet cycle. And some of you are listening can raise your hand and say, yeah that's me, right you lose the 20 pounds and then you regain 25 and then you lose, you know 30 pounds and you regain 40 and you've gone through that cycle multiple, multiple times where you're losing and regaining and even regaining more weight. Let me tell you like this is I don't have to tell you if you're listening, you know that, that's a defeating cycle and is a that is a hit to your psyche, is a hit to your mental health, a feeling that like oh, I'm awesome. I'm doing amazing look at like all the praise that I'm getting and then having it cycle the other way and feeling terrible about yourself and feeling like you you lost it and you're such a loser. And now everybody is like seeing that you regain the weight making opinions about you. And I mean, it's like yo-yoing is a terrible terrible cycle, and if you've been in it, you know exactly what I'm talking about and so so oftentimes I like to think about yo yoing like swinging from one extreme to another, so it's almost like a pendulum. It's like you have this pendulum that just like swinging back and forth and back and forth and oftentimes, we think that the solution to that pendulum is just to like push harder like if I just do better this time, if I just push that pendulum further to the other side, somehow, that's going to like counteract and I'm never going to swing back. But it's like you know how gravity works and a pendulum works if you push a pendulum even further to the side. It's only gonna rebound even harder to the other side, and that's what's happening with a lot of women.
Start spending more time in maintenance 42:24
And so what's actually the solution if I'm trying to like find the happy medium with this pendulum, what do I need to do? I need to stop swinging to extreme to extreme and I just need to like gently find the middle ground right, stop the swing and that is what maintenance is and so I know that a lot of people are like I can't imagine Amber maintaining at this weight that I'm at right now. I totally get it, but the the opposite of like what may happen if you don't spend time here intentionally maintaining, is that you'll continue swinging back and forth. And yeah, you may lose some weight. You may lose 30 pounds. But just like has happened in the past, you also make regain 40 pounds if you don't figure this out. If you don't figure out how to be in the middle, and that's the problem is most people have not figured out how to be in the middle. They're really comfortable at extremes. They're really comfortable on a on a diet, and they're really comfortable of the diet and they have never been able to find that middle ground, and that's what that's what maintenance is, is the middle ground. It's intentionally maintaining where you're at right now. I know it's hard. I know it's mentally challenging, but it can be one of the best things that you can do. And I have a lot of episodes about maintenance and a lot of clients that I brought on to talk about maintenance, so if that's something that you want some help working through or you want to hear some peoples experience, I highly recommend going back and searching the archives with the bird maintenance and you're going to find some really awesome stories that will help to buoy you up and help you to realize why maintenance is such an important phase. I also think if more women started at maintenance and at least tracking at maintenance and figuring out what their maintenance is they wouldn't be so extreme going into a cut and they would be more successful because I see a lot of people give up on macro counting because it's too hard. It's like they're they're they're trying to go too low with their calories, or they're trying to eat way too much protein. And if we can figure out your starting point of like what you've been doing easily up until this point, then we can make minor tweaks that don't feel challenging to change, but can start you moving in the right direction and start giving you some momentum. So I really, really highly recommend one spending a lot of time in maintenance and two starting that maintenance. I think it's such a beautiful place to start.
How to start with maintenance 44:47
Now, where does maintenance kind of fit into the cycles that we go through? Maintenance can and should be after every single cut. Now, many cuts you're going to want to go through, well, I would I should say at least your first cut. You're definitely going to want to go through a reverse diet. We're going to talk about that next, so if that's a foreign concept to you, we’ll talk about that. After your first cut, you're definitely want to go through a reverse diet that's going to help you to be able to really zero in on how much you can eat and continue to maintain be able to, to push that metabolism as high as we're able to get it and be able to have a really solid footing for what your maintenance is. So reverse side is really important, especially on that first cut. Now for subsequent cuts and I get this question a lot, for subsequent cuts, do I have to go through a reverse diet or can I just hop up to maintenance? And my answer for that is it depends on the length of the cut. The longer the cut is, the more likely you are going to need to go back through a reverse diet, and I'm talking about often times this is more in reference to people who are trying to get like stage lien, so they're doing like a 16 or a 20 week cut, and they're trying to lose, you know, trying to get down to 12% body fat. You're definitely going to want to go through reverse if that's the case, but I find for many women who I'm working with who are just doing more of a lifestyle, you know. But they're not trying to get uber uber, uber lean, that if you're just doing, you know a 6, 8-week cut and it's your and you've cut before and you've spent time at maintenance that you don't necessarily have to go through a reverse diet that you can just hop back up to maintenance and you'll be totally fine making sure that you're maintaining you're spending that time in maintenance.
The other question I get a lot is, how long should I be spending that maintenance in between cuts? Because, oh, I should talk about this during the cutting phase but ideally, how long does your cut last? I usually recommend like 6 to 8 weeks for most women is going to be a really good length of time for cutting. Now, can you extend that a little bit longer? Can you extend that to 12 weeks, 16 weeks, even maybe 20 weeks? Yes you can, although just recognize the longer that process is, the harder it is to maintain momentum. The harder it is to keep your mind straight, the harder it is to keep going, the more likely you are to have diet fatigue. So all of these things factors need to kind of be weighed with how long your cut is going to be. A lot of times we think oh the longer the cut is, the better, the more results we'll see, but it's almost like two graphs that intersect at some point and if it becomes, if your cut becomes too long, actually, usually compliance starts to fall off, we have more diet fatigue. We like, struggle to keep going like mentally it's just hard. It's harder to run a marathon than it is to run a sprint and a 20-week cut is much more like a marathon than a 6-week sprint is and so take that into consideration when you're setting the time frame for you're cut, but I usually recommend like 6 to 8 weeks is actually a really good time for a lot of people. Now, if you have more weight to lose, maybe you're extending that to a, you know, 10-week or a 12-week cut, maybe a 16-week cut. There are very few people that I would ever recommend a 20-week cut, but that's kind of the max that I would ever recommend anybody you know, do, it's just it just gets really hard to continue to do it. It's like running a marathon, and I find that most most people are much more are able to stay in it and and and finish it successfully if it's a shorter period of time. And then you're spending at least as much time at maintenance as you did in the deficit. So if you had a 6-week cut then I would expect you to spend at least six weeks on maintenance. If you did a 12-week cut, I would expect you to spend at least 12 weeks at maintenance in between your cuts. Now I talk more about the cycles of weight loss and how to cycle through cutting and main reversing and maintaining in Episode 76. So if you're wanting to hear more about how to kind of cycle through those different phases and set up a cut then period of time and maintenance and then a subsequent cut and why that's really valuable to do rather than just setting an end weight and trying to cut, you know, as long as it takes to be able to get there, Episode 76 is going to be a really good listen for you.
Now for my friends because it's always a question, it's like well Amber I’ve been cutting for like 40 years. So if that's the case, I really recommend at least a 2 to 3-month maintenance. You don't have to maintain for 40 years before going into another deficit. But I recommend at least a 2 to 3 and that's conservative, like if I really am being honest, if you can spend six months at a maintenance before going into another deficit, that's going to really benefit your mental game. It's really going to benefit your body. It's really going to benefit your metabolism and your body is going to be more responsive having spent time in maintenance, one of the reasons that people's bodies kind of stop responding to what they think should be a caloric deficit is that your body just hasn't spent enough time at maintenance, like every time you go into a deficit, you're stressing your body and so we can come up to a maintenance, we can reduce that amount of stress. It's like the body can recalibrate, find that new homeostasis. It's going to be much more likely to respond in the future when you go into a deficit.
Macro counting phase: Reverse Diet 49:57
OK, the last of the four phases is reverse diet and this is a concept that blows people's minds, and in order to understand why you would ever do a reverse diet or what a reverse diet is, we have to understand the concept of metabolic adaptation. Earlier in the episode I made the offhanded remark that our body, the more calories we eat, the more calories we burn and this also happens in reverse, meaning the less calories you eat, the less calories you burn. And it makes sense why our body does this. It allows it's it's allowing our bodies to adapt to whatever life is going to throw at us. So evolutionarily, when times were were hard and we weren't able to eat as much calories. It made sense for our body to be able to down regulate things, to be able to be as efficient as possible and use the least amount of calories as possible to be able to keep us alive as long as possible until we were able to get to our next food. And so this idea of metabolic adaptation is something that evolutionarily has been an advantage to us to be able to not starve in the first seven days that we had reduced amount of food because our our metabolism actually can down regulate we can become more efficient and we can burn less calories. And so this happens when, especially when people have been in a dieting phase or been on lots of diets or have consistently been trying to be in a diet for a long time. Our bodies actually down regulate our metabolism down regulates and you actually burn less calories. So let me give you some hard like numbers to kind of just explain this concept.
Concept of reverse dieting 51:33
Let's pretend that your body, your metabolism burns 2000 calories. But you go into a really, you know you you do like a really severe diet and you're like I'm just going to eat 1000 calories because that's going to like produce me the best and fastest results. Well, your body sees that you're now eating 1000 calories and you've been burning 2000 calories. And that's a big red flag because we can't maintain that for a long time. We're going to starve and so what our body does is it says OK, we got to become more efficient, we gotta burn less calories and this happens yes with your body being more efficient. But it also happens with like you slowing your body down, you become more tired. You don't move as much during the day. You have less energy during your workout, so you burn less calories. It's it's like a whole series of events that happens, so you used to be burning 2000 calories and then your body down regulates and now you're burning you know 1500 calories and you're continuing to eat 1000 calories and you were seeing some weight loss. And you were super excited. So your body's like at 15 now it's like, oh gosh, we got we still gotta like down regulate even more and then your body is burning 1200 and your weight loss is slowing down and you're like man I'm only a 1000 calories. Why am I not seeing more progress? And then eventually your body is only burning 1000 calories and now you're stuck because you're burning 1000 calories. You're eating 1000 calories. You're like what the heck is happening. I'm only 1000 calories, like why am I not seeing any results? Well, it's because your metabolism is now your TDEE. Your total daily energy expenditure. I don't care what the equation says. You are now burning the same amount of calories you are eating a day and you are not going to lose anymore fat. So, Ah! What do we do now? That's the problem, right, because what do you want me to eat 800 calories and then 600 and then like 0 calories that is not, let me be clear, that is not the solution to this problem. The solution to this problem is what we call reverse dieting. And just like your metabolism down regulated just like your metabolism adapt downward, it can do the opposite in the opposite direction. If you start to eat more calories, your body will actually burn more calories now we gotta be careful with this because if we just jump and we're eating 1000 calories and our body is burning 1000 calories. We just jump back up to 2000 calories. Now you've created 1000 calorie surplus. Your body is ripe and ready to put on as much fat as possible and to convert as many of those surplus calories into body fat. And so just jumping back up which, by the way, is what often happens when people finish diets is they, they just jump from 1000 calories eating what they see before and then they regain all the weight like that's what, so instead of just jumping up what we do with the reverse side is we're really strategic about it and we slowly add calories. We titrate the calories in and then we see how our body responds to that little addition of calories, and then we add a little bit more calories and then we add a little bit more calories and then we add a little bit more calories and over time, what we're able to do is coax our metabolism back up to be able to burn more calories and so eventually we're able to get back up to 2000 calories. We're able to burn 2000 calories and now when we create a caloric deficit, not 1000, but maybe we cut down till you know, 1600. Now we're able to have that caloric deficit that allows us to be able to see the fat loss that we want.
Starting a reverse diet and red flags 54:48
So that's what reverse dieting is. You'll hear it called reversing. I have a bunch of episodes on reverse dieting, how you walk through that process. Episode 9, 42 and 170 are good resources if you want to learn more about reverse dieting, but the reverse diet phase should follow a cutting phase. Specifically, the first cut that you ever do, right? I kind of made point if you go into a cut, we definitely want to have a reverse out of that so we can find a really good period for maintenance, a really good place for maintenance, a place for you to maintain long term and then you can go into a subsequent cut. And if that subsequent cut is 6, 8 weeks we can, we can kind of skip the reverse phase we can go just jump back up to maintenance, but reversing is really important especially during after that first cut, because one you'd probably don't have a good sense of where your maintenance really is. And two, a lot of times people are able to eat more calories than they think that they can eat. And so one of the cool things about a reverse diet is you're really, starting to like push your body and see how many calories can I eat and still maintain and a lot of times people blow their brains like be able to eat way more calories than they ever thought was possible. And so why I reverse diet is like one of my favorite things to be able to coach people through. Now there are some people who they should be starting with their reverse diet. And the biggest red flag one, well, I guess there's really two big red flags, a big red flag is if you've been dieting for a long time, if you've been a serial Dieter, a yo-yo Dieter. all you know is like being on a diet and off a diet and my guess is that you probably should start with the reverse diet, not a cut. A reverse diet to get up to maintenance. The second red flag is if you're plugging in your calories into a calculator and the number that it's popping out at you to be in a deficit is more than you're currently eating. So you pop it into a calculator and this calculator is like, Oh, you should be eating 1700 calories to lose weight and you're like girlfriend, I'm eating 1100 calories that is a huge red flag, so big old red flag that you probably need to start with a reverse diet before you go into a cut, before you like focus on maintenance like we start you with the reverse, you start where you're at. Start at 1100 calories and start to work your way up so that we can up regulate your metabolism, get you going and be able to create a caloric deficit without having to drop you to you know 500 calories.
A review of the four phases of macro counting 57:16
OK, so those are the four phases of macro counting: a cut, a reverse diet, maintenance and a bulk. And hopefully at this point you feel a little bit more confident about the different, the different phases, why you would be in that phase when you should be in that phase, and the purpose behind cycling through all the different phases. Remember you're always in one of these phases, whether or not you're paying attention to it. So macro counting would just being intentional about hey, this is the phase that I'm in, this is what I'm doing and you know this is the reason behind it. Whew! That was a little bit of a longer episode, but it's been one that I've wanted to do for a long time because I think not enough people understand that macro counting can be used for so much more than just weight loss, and that macro counting is not just about cutting. It's not just about a caloric deficit. One of the best things I ever did for my body was do a bulk and be able to intentionally gain more muscle and improve my performance by eating more food so that that was I did that with macro counting. It wasn't about eating less, it was actually about intentionally eating more is actually about, you know getting myself to eat more food and more calories so macro counting can be used in a lot of different ways, and it's really important to understand these four phases so that you can cycle through them appropriately. And if you want help in being able to figure out which phase you should be in, how to cycle these phases, how to set your macros, how to adjust them based off the feedback of your body, that's exactly what we do inside of Macros 101, that is my signature coaching program and it will be reopening on April 3rd. So if you are not on the wait list, I highly recommend hopping on those are the people who we let know first, they get first dibs on the next round of Macros 101. You can go to bicepsafterbabies.com/waitlist to get on that wait list. Again, doors will be opening. We only open doors twice a year. We run this program 2 times a year. Once in the Spring and once in the Fall, and the next round will be opening on April 3rd. Alright guys, if this was helpful, will you do me a favor and will you share it? Will you share it to your social media and tag me and let me know something that you learned in this episode. The more that we can get the word out that macro counting is not just about cutting, it's not just about fat loss, but it's actually a tool to be able to align your nutrition with the goals that you have set for your body the better. That wraps up this episode of Biceps After Babies Radio. I'm Amber, now go out and be strong because remember, my friend, you can do anything.
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