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Nutrition for Lifting Weights - Daily Calorie Intake

Weight loss is an individual endeavor - yes, you burn a lot of calories when lifting weights, but how much calories and your level of replacement depends on your particular metabolism and goals. For the best results, you need to start with a specific program and then modify your daily calorie intake based on your results.


  1. Define Your Overall Goal:
    Why are you lifting weights? Are you trying to lose weight? Are you trying to build muscle? Do you just want to improve your overall fitness? Each of these goals requires different daily calorie intake, so it's important to know what you want before you start.

  2. Start a Food Diary:
    If you're like most people, you only have a vague idea of, at best, how many calories you're eating. Why is that important? Because what you are eating has brought you weight and your current body composition. You have given your body the right amount of calories for the muscles you carry and for the level of body weight you have, assuming your weight has stabilized lately.

  3. Learn About Different Food Macronutrients:
    You don't have to be a nutritionist, but you do need to know the difference between carbohydrates, proteins and fats. While all three are important for your daily diet, they are not the same. For example, carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram while fat has 9 calories per gram. Part of knowing how many calories are right for your daily intake will involve knowing the macronutrient ratio you need to ingest. One useful tool is counting the amount of food - there are so many that you shouldn't have trouble finding a good one at a local bookstore or online.

For simplicity, let's start with your daily calorie intake. Since you're already the result of that level, you can start making adjustments from there. Protein levels are the first step, as they are necessary for muscle building and need to be high enough to protect your muscle level when you are trying to lose bodyweight too. The most commonly cited target for daily protein intake is 8 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of weight.

Obviously, if you want to lose weight, the goal is lower than the end, and at the top of the range if you want to build muscle. If you're tired of tracking your calorie intake to this level, there's a good chance you're not getting enough protein every day, so that's the first thing you need to improve. There are easy ways to add protein - eggs instead of cereals for breakfast, tuna or salmon instead of peanut butter and jam for sandwiches, and always have meat, chicken or chicken with dinner every night. Protein shakes and supplements also help, but remember they are called 'supplements'. The reason is - they will supplement your protein with food, not replace it.

Build the Muscle Mass

Once you are sure you are getting enough protein each day, you can begin to change your daily calorie intake overall based on your goals. If you want to build muscle, increase the amount of protein you need daily to bring you up to 1.2 grams per pound of weight and give yourself a week or two to get used to those calories. To grow from there, every few weeks add 200 - 300 calories daily by increasing your complex carbohydrates - sweet or purple, brown, red or black rice, cut oatmeal, broccoli or brussel sprouts, and more. It's easy - simply supplement your diet with new protein & carbohydrates an hour before you start lifting weights and / or hours after your gym session. Keep an eye on your stomach - you can continue to increase your carbohydrate every two weeks or so until you start to notice a slight increase in belly fat. After that, cut back on your carbohydrates to 200 or 300 calories a day - you've found your daily calorie intake. Remember, even if you continue to lose weight and eat properly, you will be adding new muscle mass, so every month or so will add enough protein and carbohydrates to match your current weight.

Weight Loss

If you are lifting weight to cure body fat, there are two things you MUST remember ahead. First, your goal is NOT to lose weight - it's to lose fat. Calories that restrict calories from the beginning will cause you to lose weight - but losing that part of the body will lose muscle, and that's not your goal. Many people are shocked when they start lifting weights to find their clothes loose, their waist shrinking but their weight gaining. This is because the muscles are thicker than fat, and therefore heavier in size. Don't let that bother you - focus on how your clothes fit or have your body mass index measured by your doctor or certified personal trainer.

Second, understand that the calories you eat, and the source of those calories, will determine whether or not you are losing fat. Yes, you burn extra calories when lifting weights. Yes, you are building muscle and more muscles burn more calories 24/7, even while you are sleeping. But this will NOT be enough calories to burn enough to make a big difference - especially when compared to the nutritional difference you can make.

As you try to build lean mass, start by taking protein into the range. If that means you are getting more calories per day from protein, reducing the same amount of carbohydrates you eat every day. You determine how many calories you eat each day, and 20% of those calories should come from healthy fats - especially Omega-3s. Once you decline 20%, plus the calories that will consume the protein, the rest comes from carbohydrates. Every 2 or so reduce your daily carb intake by 200 - 300 calories. This will not cause sudden fat loss, but will slowly force your body to start burning stored energy - body fat - to increase your daily activity and weight lifting. A larger or larger calorie reduction can trigger your body to slow down your metabolism, and that's not what you want, so continue to slow down. Remember NOT to use scales to assess your progress - based on body fat measurements or how your clothes fit in your waist.

You can achieve your goals, whether you reduce body fat or muscle mass, as long as you use proper nutrition to lift weight and maintain your daily calorie intake in line with your current body composition, activity level and goals. And with better health, stronger systems and a better body as a side benefit, this is definitely worth the effort you put in - see you at the gym!



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