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Eat more food to lose weight?

How is it possible that someone can add calories to their diet and lose weight?

These days in the bodybuilding world it is all the rage to claim that you can eat more and lose weight. Every program and every coach will tell people that someone is eating too little and that they need to eat more in order to lose weight. Is this some sort of voodoo magic, is it bullshit? Well, yes and no.

First off, it should be said that sometimes people try to force themselves to eat so low of a caloric intake that they can’t stay on plan for more than 3-4 days. So if someone goes from eating 1000 calories per day with a binge every 4th day and instead starts eating 1300 calories per day but makes it through without cheating then they will indeed lose weight. So this is a common case.

Now with that said, there are incidence of bodybuilders at the end of their contest prep adding food, losing weight, an actually getting leaner. So what are the mechanisms behind this? There are a few actually:

  1. More food= more energy for training. More energy for training means possible increases in poundage used and a slight increase in some of the muscle mass that has been lost during contest prep. This increase in muscle can make muscle push more tightly against the skin and therefore you appear leaner. The increase in training energy and weight used will also lead to greater caloric output. So even though more comes in, you will end up with more going out as well.
  2. The increase in food causes increases in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). What this means is that you essentially get more food so you feel better and therefore move more on a daily basis. If you’ve ever been in prep you’ll know that when you are truly in shape, getting up to go get the mail or even talking can seem like a huge task. It’s amazing how even just a little bit more food can make you more active in living life. It just so happens that living life and acting like a normal person requires calories. You then can actually burn MORE calories than you increased and see losses in fat.
  3. The increases in food may cause an increase (ever so slightly) in thyroid hormones which will then also contribute to fat loss.
  4. The increase in food can temporarily cause a drop in cortisol. Cortisol can make you hold water underneath the skin. So when this drop in cortisol occurs you’ll not only lose water weight, but you’ll appear leaner as well.
  5. The extra carbs will increase glycogen storage which will make the muscle bigger/fuller and therefore cause them to push out more tightly against the skin and the little bit of fat that remains. Think of adding extra air to a balloon.

All of these factors can add up to a somewhat drastic change in weight and appearance when adding food to a bodybuilder that is already as lean as they can get. So while you can’t continue to add calories and get leaner forever, in the short term a slight increase in calories can be a great tool to get leaner assuming you are already very, very lean. However, it doesn’t mean you will be 20% body fat and start ramping up calories to achieve that beach body you are after.

How many meals per day is best for fat loss. I always hear 4-6 meals is best.

This is actually a common misconception. A lot of nutrition programs call for 6 small meals per day to “stoke the fires of the metabolism”. The truth is that while the metabolic rate is increased after eating a meal due to digestive processes, the rate of increase is directly proportional to the size of the meal. This means that eating 3 large meals, or 6 smaller meals that are half the size will equate to the same thing. It is the same thing as asking what is greater 2+2 or 1+1+1+1? The answer to thatis 4. So the number of meals you eat will have absolutely no impact on fat loss. What WILL dictate fat loss however is the total number of calories you consume, and the macronutrient ratio of those calories.


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