is this a healthy calorie deficit for this exercise plan?
July 4, 2011 3:27 AM   Subscribe

Question regarding maximum calorie deficit, BMR and calories burned calculation in relation to my exercise plan.

Question regarding maximum calorie deficit, BMR and calories burned calculation in relation to my exercise plan.

Really confused and would appreciate your help in evaluating my workout plan for the next 7 weeks. I apologize if this is a bit long, and it asks more than one thing, but since they all are related to the primary question I feel I need to include them.

Short background: 33-year-old male 260 pounds down from 291 aiming for 4000+ daily calorie deficit for the next seven weeks. Atkins induction phase, week eight. I'm not counting calories but I estimate that somewhere around 1800-2100 (eat same things everyday-- fairly certain about this). Resting heart rate = 57.

Various sources say the following:
>that men should not operate any calorie deficit of more than 20%. (BMR I think or maintenance level)
> Men should not go below 1500 or 1200 cal a day
> one should not operate at a calorie deficit in excess of 1000

However, what's confusing is that most of this seems to be addressing one side of the equation only, namely by cutting calories. Other sources simply do not specify. It's not clear if it's the total calorie deficit were calorie deficit from diet restrictions.

If I continue to eat approximately 2000 cal a day are there any negative effects by having a huge calorie deficit (say, upwards of 4000)?

The second part that's confusing is my BMR. (Which is obviously needed to calculate my calorie deficit)

>Various sources have said I need anywhere from 2700-3100 for the maintenance level/resting level.
> Using the Katch-McCardle model that takes into account fat percentage here it says that I would need 2600 for maintenance
> these calculators give absolutely ridiculous figures for the amount of activity that I actually do, even at a minimal level
> I have never in my life consumed 3000 calories a day except when in Army training
> I read in another thread that BMR can vary as much as 30%
> when I used to keep exact calorie counts I was eating between 200-2400 a day and slowly gaining weight while simultaneously acting as the spinning instructor (occasional cheats but also extra exercise)
> my long-term spreadsheets only balance (calories in vs weight over time) when I used calories per minute of activity X 75%. (I used the base amount of calories per minute despite the fact it is for an average man even though I weigh significantly more). However this was several years ago when I had much more muscle mass.
> during some training events some people lost 20+ pounds and I lost nothing while consuming 4000 cal a day in a standardized meal
> I generally eat less than my peers and gain weight faster

obviously, I have a much lower metabolism. When I saw a dietitian back when, she thought that my former wrestling days plus various Army training courses may have contributed to an impaired metabolism as I put my body into starvation mode several times. Short of getting tested, which is not an option in China, I am at a loss when trying to figure out the starting point. Some people say BMR should be based on a healthy weight and at this point I'm incredibly overweight. However, shouldn't the Katch-mcCardle model account for this? Should I be using my theoretical healthy weight of 190 pounds?

finally, the proposed plan for the next seven weeks of the following exercise regimen, if my injuries can withstand it. However you can see the differing calorie counts. The first one is based on my current weight the second one is based on my estimate of a healthy weight (defined as Army weight minus 15 pounds to make up for muscle loss). These figures come from the calculator at

@260 pounds = 118 KG
Totals: 4,951 calories in 6 hr 50 min

Bicycling - 14-15.9 mph (vigorous)
590 calories in 30 min
74 calories in 15 min
Bicycling - stationary, moderate
1,652 calories in 2 hr
49 calories in 10 min
Dressing and Undressing
20 calories in 5 min
Showering (self care)
39 calories in 10 min
Water Jogging
472 calories in 30 min
Swimming - breaststroke, general
590 calories in 30 min
Bicycling - stationary, moderate
826 calories in 1 hr
49 calories in 10 min
Weight Lifting - free weights or machine, moderate
354 calories in 1 hr
74 calories in 15 min
Bicycling - stationary, light
162 calories in 15 min

@190 pounds = 86.1825503 kilograms

Totals: 3,618 calories in 6 hr 50 min

Bicycling - 14-15.9 mph (vigorous)
431 calories in 30 min
54 calories in 15 min
Bicycling - stationary, moderate
1,207 calories in 2 hr
36 calories in 10 min
Dressing and Undressing
14 calories in 5 min
Showering (self care)
29 calories in 10 min
Water Jogging
345 calories in 30 min
Swimming - breaststroke, general
431 calories in 30 min
Bicycling - stationary, moderate
603 calories in 1 hr
36 calories in 10 min
Weight Lifting - free weights or machine, moderate
259 calories in 1 hr
54 calories in 15 min
Bicycling - stationary, light
119 calories in 15 min

The difference between these two is a staggering 1333 cal.

Should I be using the current weight or the healthy weight?

I must say that I'm being quite conservative with both of these, as I've noted spinning for two hours down as "Bicycling - stationary, moderate", when in actuality I have a hard time going below the cardio zone and quite often push up to max heartbeat. Based on the propensity of my body to burn less than others I try to discount everything.

So the final question is, based on the answer to 1, 2, will doing the proposed exercise regimen in #3 put me at risk for further degradation to my basal metabolic rate by slowing my metabolism down further? If so, how dangerous is this exactly?

I'm trying to replicate, the best I can with the constraints I have of my many injuries, at least a part of my past training environment in the Army, so I'm inclined to think that it shouldn't be all that dangerous. But on the other hand I've seen firsthand several former soldiers get incredibly fat after getting hurt, even though they were always quite disciplined and hard-core, and wonder if this kind of training is not good in the long run once activity drops off. Outside of the resiliency of my three rebuilt body parts to keep up, there is no issue with motivation or fatigue.

If you want to know why I'm doing this and why feel I have to do it this way, it's because I've had planter fasciitis for over two years which is at this point incredibly debilitating and that I can't walk for more than 10 min. or stand for more than a few minutes and I've tried everything save losing weight. I have two rebuilt knees, rebuilt shoulder, debilitating wrist injuries and the doctors say it might help some extent to get the weight back off for walking/biking purposes. I have already been going to the gym for seven weeks in a row now, I am also in the eighth week of Atkins (keeping on induction phase-- no cheats) and everyone is saying I've lost weight. My peak weight was at 191 pounds/132 kg after re-breaking an ankle last year. Current weight is approximately 160 pounds (it's a guess because the scale the gym is broken). I have seven weeks off the summer, and really want to knock the weight back down in a hurry. Starting in September I will have further responsibilities which might preclude me from doing nearly as much. thank you so much for reading this and for your advice .
posted by chinabound to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So the final question is, based on the answer to 1, 2, will doing the proposed exercise regimen in #3 put me at risk for further degradation to my basal metabolic rate by slowing my metabolism down further? If so, how dangerous is this exactly?

No. But the amount you need to maintain your body will decrease as your weight falls, and the number of calories you burn off doing exercise will also decrease as your weight falls - as you've figured out for yourself with your two lists of exercise calculations above. Likewise, being 'in starvation mode' will have had no impact at all on your basal metabolic rate other than that you'll have been metabolising muscle; the really big difference between people is the fat/muscle ratio - more muscle = higher basal metabolic rate, weight for weight. That's it.

There is no definitive answer to your question about a 'safe' deficit - as far as I can tell you'll be self limiting with that, i.e. it'll simply be the case that you're slow and tired and feel rubbish and be unable to motivate yourself.

(I'm assuming that you've got the weights wrong in the last paragraph? You mean 291 and 260 rather than 191 and 160? Or have you made a typo in the opening section?)

I am, frankly, slightly boggled at the idea of a 4000 calorie deficit on a daily basis, for an extended period of time. Even the hardest end of the ultraendurance sports burn around 8-10k calories during a day-long event, and they're loading with carbohydrates all the time; hard physical labour for 8 hours/day usually clocks in at 3k-5k. Doing that on a daily basis on top of a normal life for an extremely extended period of time, whilst on a restriction diet, seems like an incredibly ambitious and almost certainly impossible task. You will be tired, you may have weird blood sugar issues, cranky hormones, sore, damaged muscles and ligaments, disturbed sleep and digestion, etc.

Personally - and IANAMD - I would figure out the regular resting calorie needs for your ideal weight (something between 2000 & 2500 depending on your muscle mass), eat to that so that you don't have to constantly retweak your diet as you lose weight, and then exercise as much as you personally find feasible - whilst accepting in advance that the losses you make may decline over time as you get closer to your goal weight, and that losing more than a pound a day is not a fesible long-term weight loss goal - three or four pounds a week, maybe.
posted by AFII at 5:00 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

@AFII--I thought that a pound or two a week was the max you could lose and still be healthy? Please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by 200burritos at 5:48 AM on July 4, 2011

Sure, a pound or two a week is the usual amount advised by nutritionists and dietary advisors for sustained weight loss over a long period. But you can certainly crash diet a lot heavier than that if you want to - not least because you can drop quite a lot just through shifting stored water (via a shift to low carb).
But doing it at that rate is unlikely to be sustainable (e.g. the water will probably come back, at least!). It's not that losing 5lb a week is inherently bad for you, it's more that it's likely the way in which you will do that will be unhealthy, unbalanced, or unsustainable. The OP is starting at a fairly high weight with an apparent willingness for pretty intense exercise, so I can't see a reason that they couldn't lose at a rate double the 'standard' amount (and I don't know a single study which would show active harm caused by doing so).

I mean, I sure as hell couldn't do it, but that's due to motivation not medical contraindications!
posted by AFII at 6:04 AM on July 4, 2011

This seems like insanity to me, a sure path to burnout or injury. Use the 7 weeks to establish a normal exercise routine that you can keep up after you go back to work instead.
posted by yarly at 7:04 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

guys, I don't want this to get derailed here...

I didn't want to say too much about my background, because I don't like too much focus on me and I don't want to sound arrogant or like I am bragging. But I want to put it to rest so we can move on:

1. first marathon at 15 + distance swim events even earlier
2. lettered in more than 1 sport, MVP cross country etc.
3. marathon times in 230's at their best
4. pursued the hardest paths in the Army until I was physically unable to
5. was a certified spinning instructor--AFTER my running and military career effectively ended.
6. I am currently doing up to 4 hours on a bike a day. (1 commute, 1 recumbent, 2 spinning) on "hard" days.
7. I did the workout listed above on Saturday. Not tired a bit--only problem is holding back for the injuries.
8. This is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING compared to what I used to do when I was able bodied.
9. I love punishment and misery in a way I can't describe here.

I don't want to sound curt, but leave the motivation to me.

"(I'm assuming that you've got the weights wrong in the last paragraph? You mean 291 and 260 rather than 191 and 160? Or have you made a typo in the opening section?)"

yes, sorry

"Even the hardest end of the ultraendurance sports burn around 8-10k calories during a day-long event"

sure, but they are lighter. These calories are from well established norms, and NONE of these are impact exercises. (just not sure which set I should use)

"Doing that on a daily basis on top of a normal life for an extremely extended period of time, whilst on a restriction diet, seems like an incredibly ambitious and almost certainly impossible task."

and it's what every man who has ever tried to don a black (in my day) or green beret or been down range has done. Not sleeping for days at a time, putting on gear and a 90 lb ruck and going for 18-30 miles on uneven terrain in hot weather is a lot harder than being on a bike or jogging in a pool. And when I think of those days I think they were the good times. Not for everybody, but for me it made me click. Although some of the injuries were from trauma some were from overuse--didn't get that way by playing safe. I hope you can understand me a bit more now. The only challenge in this is holding back when the knees start to go funny.

Apparently the Biggest Loser folks do similar and they are NOT athletes.

"You will be tired, you may have weird blood sugar issues, cranky hormones, sore, damaged muscles and ligaments, disturbed sleep and digestion, etc." And I might feel alive again which is part of what this is about after finally learning to modulate my activity after being overly cautions for too long. The motivation factor is a NOT a problem. I feel completely the opposite if I can make my self tired. That motivates me.

Re the weight
The reason I got to this weight is a made choices regarding my grad studies and then starting a business that traded off health factors--consciously. Part of putting off going back to the gym is not not wanting to exercise, but rather the frustration of not being able to really push myself and my tendency to push too hard coupled with the fear of reinjury--which I think I finally am getting a hold of. My 3 year lapse from the gym was not from a motivation issue. My healthy weight is 190, so I am about 70 pounds over weight at this point. I've always been at the heavier end of the scale. When I lifted again about 4 years ago, I think my upper arms measured in at 20 inches or so and I am 5, 10 tall. I wrestled at ~170 at less than 5% body fat and put on more muscle later in the army if that gives you a picture. I am certainly a fat f... now, but I have retained some semblance of a muscular build remaining.

So in short, assuming the knees hold up a bit more, I can do this. I know some of the risks and in many ways it makes sense if it takes the pressure off in the future given I have this short window. just want to make sure it doesn't screw my metabolism up more, so I need info on that (and associated calcs) which is the crux of the issue.
posted by chinabound at 9:45 AM on July 4, 2011

Might I add, I don't plan on going below 1800 calories of intake a day.
posted by chinabound at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2011

So you're planning on working out for 7 hours a day for the next 7 weeks? Seriously?

This strikes me as a very bad idea at best, and disordered behavior at worst. It's not a matter of insulting your motivation, and sure you might love it, but... Bodies simply aren't designed to tolerate that kind of overuse.

Sure, you may have done it in the past, but you have injuries from doing it. You said so yourself. This is a great way to guarantee you get injured again.
posted by Andrhia at 9:57 AM on July 4, 2011

I will modulate my activity according to the injuries if need be. I have finally learned not to press on stubbornly at all costs. When another injury flared up a few weeks ago, I dropped biking down to the commute only. Don't worry. Finally learned to modulate and I will if need be. I don't want to derail too far here. But I do appreciate the concern. :-)
posted by chinabound at 10:01 AM on July 4, 2011

Wow, if you are taking Biggest Loser as your model, I suggest you Google it - those people end up with injuries and disorders. I understand that you were a green beret and have pushed yourself physically to these extremes before ... but is that not how you got injured and subsequently gained the weight? I think you need to consider whether motivation and grit are actually your friends here. The true discipline might be to hold back and go slowly, regardless of what you think your capacity is. And by "go slowly" I don't mean "work yourself to the point of injury and then stop." You aren't a soldier training for max performance for one battle - you are trying to take care of your body for life. Don't forget that soldier's bodies are expendable, too ...

In short, be the tortoise, not the hare.
posted by yarly at 10:21 AM on July 4, 2011

First thing I would suggest is completely and utterly ignoring the people who lack the focus or motivation to do anything with their lives that are helpfully giving "advice" that you do the same. The only time those people have probably ever worked out was in their required high school gym classes when they couldn't get a doctor's note to exclude them. Do not take advice from losers unless you're trying to be a better loser.

Secondly, stop counting calories burned. By all means count calories ingested. But this shit: Dressing and Undressing: 20 calories in 5 min, Showering (self care): 39 calories in 10 min is just useless. Absolutely unhelpful. I mean, I see you left breathing off the list. As well as "Typing my AskMe Question" which, actually I suppose in your case might be quite a few calories because that was a hell of a long question. But honestly, trying to predict your caloric burn rate is like throwing darts blindfolded.

For instance, this is just wrong: Weight Lifting - free weights or machine, moderate
354 calories in 1 hr
. That's like saying, "reading will increase your IQ 100 points." It's just completely made-up. Reading the back of a cereal box is different than reading Kant. Light lifting over an hour is completely different than lifting to failure for an hour. Anaerobic exercise (lifting weights) burns five to seven times as many calories as aerobic exercise (a.k.a. cardio).

Your routine is far too monotonous. It's basically cycling. Cycling is not what your need to subject your body to if you want to lose weight. Ever seen a fat guy on a bike? Probably plenty of times. You need to include way more functional routines. Take "stretching" for instance. Stretching is great if you want to be flexible. Stretching isn't great if you are trying to lose weight. But add an exercise ball, or throw in some light yoga, some simple planks and side planks, add some motion to the stretches like the inch wormnow you're talking!

The reason you need variation is not because you will get bored (though, you will with that routine). No, the reason you need variation is because you absolutely need to include recovery into your schedule. Right now it's burn, burn, burn. That's simply unsustainable. You need variation to give your body time to recover between burns. Additionally, you need to challenge your body. Cycling day-in and day-out is just going to condition your body to one extremely narrow form of fitness. But your body will compensate, because it's constantly trying to adapt to achieve homeostasis. You have to keep it off-balanced.

Were I you, I would recommend rotating between cardio and weights and throw a core training (/stretching) day in between each. So it would look like this:
  • Day 1: Cardio (cycling, water jogging, whatever)
  • Day 2: Functional (core) training/ stretching
  • Day 3: Weights
  • Day 4: Functional (core) training/ stretching
  • …repeat…
This will at least give your body a fighting chance to sustain daily exercise without crashing. It also concentrates the activities into sensible groups. Right now you're lifting and doing cardio the same day. That's a recipe for injury and burn-out. I can personally attest that with a sensible schedule of rotation the above list is entirely do-able as a lifestyle (not just an on-again, off-again surge).

As for target caloric intake, I wouldn't go much past 2000 cal/day if you're really trying to lose weight. 4000 cal/day is insane. And make sure most of those 2000 calories are protein. Finally, avoid processed sugar like the plague, particularly HFCS which your body will have a hell of a time metabolizing. No sodas ever again. No sugar tonight in your coffee, no sugar tonight in your tea. No sugar to stand beside you, no sugar to… you get the idea.

Finally, I would strongly recommend the advice of a personal fitness trainer for specific exercises that won't exacerbate any of your pre-existing injuries.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, counting "clothes dressing" and all of that is crap. Furthermore trying to calculate calories burned from online calculators is crap. They will inevitably steer you wrong. If you are truly obsessed with figuring out how many calories you burn, buy a BodyBugg, BodyMedia, or GoFit Wear and use that. They're extremely accurate. You can get them for less on EBay.

Second, you are not going to sustain a 4000 daily caloric deficit. Unless you have the conditioning of an ultraendurance athlete you cannot sustain the level of activity necessary on a regular basis without injuring or overtraining yourself. You are overweight and dealing with long-term injuries and you are going to make them worse. Yes, you used to be in great condition, however that makes you more at risk to re-injure yourself because you know what it's like to push yourself and you're fully capable of pushing beyond what's safe or necessary. You want to know the risks? Your cortisol levels go haywire, your body starts holding onto fat for dear life, your sleep goes into the shitter, your mental health goes downhill as your body begins to eat itself . . . Yes, there are severe consequences for that kind of deficit. There is no magic calorie level where it will be OK for you to have as much of a deficit as you want. The greater the percentage of your deficit to the number of calories burned, the more detrimental the effects.

I understand that you have been dealing with pain for a long time and are feeling desperate. I understand that you did a lot of activity and are feeling OK now. However, the route to long-term lifestyle changes with permanent injury relief will be a slow and steady one, not a desperate "SUPA HARDCORE-STYLE" grab for fat loss.

I would strongly, strongly suggest you hook up with a decent trainer or nutritionist. Probably not someone at your local gym because generally they are people with cookie-cutter certifications who couldn't train someone out of a paper bag. Precision Nutrition has great coaches and offers a good cert--if you can find coaches with it you'll know they're solid.

Developing the ability to withstand punishment is great for basic-training type situations where you're trying to break people down and rebuild them with a strong sense of community and loyalty to your group. It's not good for dieting--it only leads to metabolic and eating disorders.
posted by schroedinger at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2011

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