Cutting Calorie Deficit Calculator

With Macronutrient Recommendations

How the Calculator Works

Most calorie calculators use your age, height, and sex to estimate your leanness and muscularity. That can feel nice. It can feel like they're taking the time to get to know you. Unfortunately, they're using that information to apply loose generalizations, making them less good at estimating your calorie needs.

For example, if you tell a calorie calculator that you're old, it will assume you have less muscle. That's true on average, but if you lift weights, then growing older allows you to accumulate more muscle mass. You'll be more muscular at 50 than at 30.

We've written about how age affects muscle growth here. The point is that instead of guessing how muscular you are based on your age, it's better to ask you how muscular you are.

That's why this calculator asks for your weight and body fat percentage instead of your age, height, and sex. It still isn't perfect, but we'll deal with that below.

Body-Fat Percentage

If you know your weight and have a rough idea of your body fat percentage, we can estimate how lean and muscular you are. This allows us to calculate your resting metabolic rate more accurately (using the Cunningham Equation).

If you're relatively lean, here's how to visually estimate your body fat percentage:

  • 10% body fat: chiselled abs.
  • 12% body fat: faintly visible abs.
  • 15% body fat: flat stomach, maybe some upper abs.
  • 20% body fat: flat stomach, maybe some love handles.

If you're over 20% body fat or don't want to guess, use this Navy body fat calculator. It estimates your body fat percentage using your height, weight, waist circumference, and neck circumference. It's accurate to within a few percentage points, making it far more accurate than BIA bathroom scales.

Lifestyle & Activity Levels

Once we know how many calories you burn at rest, we can factor in how active you are (using an activity multiplier).

  • Sedentary: You spend almost all day sitting. This is common with deskworkers, students, and people who write articles about how to burn fat. You should try to bump up into the next category if possible.
  • Somewhat active: You spend most of your day sitting, but you also spend an hour or two walking around. Maybe you have kids or a dog. Your daily step count might be 5,000–10,000. This is a healthy amount of physical activity, and it's great while cutting.
  • Very active: You spend most of the day on your feet. Think manual labourers, personal trainers, athletes, and nurses. Your daily step count is probably far north of 10,000. This is great, but you don't need to force it.

Exercise (Workouts Per Week)

Any type of exercise counts as exercise, whether that's cardio or hypertrophy training. Cardio tends to burn the most calories, but a hearty bulking workout can still burn upwards of 300 calories per hour. We need to factor that in.

You can count any workout that's at least moderate intensity. Don't count warm-ups, stretching, yoga, or walking the dog. Do count weight training, brisk walking, jogging, rucking, cycling, and other forms of cardio. Playing sports counts, too.

If the workout is half an hour or less, only count it if it's more intense. For example, 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) would count as a workout, whereas going on a 30-minute walk every morning doesn't count. (That's part of an active lifestyle.)

Rate of Weight Loss

Finally, we need to get you into a calorie deficit. That means removing calories. Here are your options:

  • Classic cutting (-500 calories) is when you eat in a moderate calorie deficit to lose about a pound per week. This makes for a great default for most people. You'll burn fat quickly, there isn't much risk of losing muscle, and you don't need to track calories (unless you want to).
  • Slow cutting (-250 calories) is when you eat in a small calorie deficit to lose about 0.5 pounds per week. Losing weight more slowly makes it easier to control your cravings and maintain your muscle mass, but the margin of error is small, so you'll probably need to track your calories.
  • Aggressive cutting (-1,000 calories) is when you eat in a huge calorie deficit to burn as many as two pounds per week. This works best for people with plenty of fat to lose. Otherwise, there's a risk of losing muscle mass and sanity. If eating so few calories starts to feel unsustainable, you can slow it down, gearing into a classic or even slow cut.

Note that when you first start cutting, you'll lose some fluid, gut contents, and glycogen. That can make you lose an extra 1–4 pounds during the first week. Don't worry about that. Ride it out.

Macro Recommendations

The macro recommendations are the minimum amount of each macronutrient you need to maintain your health and muscle mass. You might have some extra calories left over, which you can spend however you like. Most people like to spend them on carbs and fat.

The protein requirement is unreasonably high and difficult to reach, but if you don't eat enough protein while cutting, you risk losing muscle mass. I recommend filling sources like chicken breast, white fish, extra-lean ground meat, tofu, nuts, seeds, and dairy, but protein shakes can help in a pinch (especially for vegans). You can have up to three protein shakes per day without any known negative impact on your health.

Carbs improve workout performance, energy levels, and muscle growth (as explained here). They're great. But some people prefer cutting on low-carb or ketogenic diets. That's perfectly fine. I recommend getting most of your carbs from filling, fibrous sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains (like oats), beans, onions, garlic, peppers, bell peppers, frozen berries, brown or wild rice, potatoes, and so on.

A good rule of thumb is to eat at least ten grams of fibre per thousand calories. For example, if you're cutting on 2,000 calories, aim for at least twenty grams of fibre. You can eat much more than that, though, especially if you work up to it over time. It's great for your health and digestion, and it will keep you feeling full for longer.

Fat is a valuable source of fat-soluble nutrients, and it's important for your hormone production. Fortunately, the minimum fat target is low, so it should be easy to hit. You might find it easier to get fewer calories from oils and more from nuts, seeds, avocados, and dairy.

In rare cases, you might not have enough calories to eat enough macronutrients. That's not great. It might be worth trying to increase your metabolism by being more active, building more muscle, or taking a break from cutting. But if you need to, you can eat fewer carbs.

What If You Aren't Losing Weight?

This calorie calculator should do a pretty good job of estimating how many calories you need to eat to get into a calorie deficit, but it isn't perfect, and your metabolism might fight back.

  • There's a genetic component to metabolism. You might burn more or fewer calories than the average person.
  • Your metabolism might be adaptive. Most people adapt to how many calories they're eating. If you eat fewer calories, your body will adapt to burn fewer calories. It does this by reducing subconscious activity levels. For example, you may start leaning instead of standing, sitting instead of leaning, lounging instead of sitting, and lying instead of lounging. Those subtle changes can save you hundreds of calories per day, cancelling out your calorie deficit.
  • You might be underestimating how many calories you're eating. Nutrition labels aren't perfectly accurate. Cooking with a bit of extra oil can add hundreds of extra calories. Maybe your serving sizes are slightly too big.

The solution is as simple as it is cruel: you need to eat even fewer calories. Try removing another 200. I'm so sorry.

Before and after photo showing Johnny's cutting results as he went from overweight to lean.

What if You Stop Losing Weight?

All a calorie calculator can do is give you a reasonable starting point. You aren't supposed to stick with the recommendation forever, just for the first week or two.

Muscle burns around six calories per day at rest. Fat burns around two. That doesn't sound like much, but you also burn quite a few calories carrying that weight around (study). That means you'll need to eat around ten fewer calories for every pound you lose (explanation).

Your metabolism can also adapt (study). As you get used to eating fewer calories, your body will probably try to burn fewer calories. It's sort of like how if you get a pay cut at work, you might start spending less money, such that you don't burn through your savings. In this case, your body fat is your savings account.

Weigh yourself on the scale every week (or use a weekly average weight). If a week goes by and you haven’t lost weight, it might just be a fluctuation, so hold steady for another week. If your weight stays the same for a second week, remove 200 calories.

Keep weighing yourself and adjusting. That's the only way to guarantee continued progress. It gets harder as you get deeper into your cut, but it doesn't last forever.

SHould You Track Your Calories?

You don't need to track your calories while cutting. The trick is to eat similarly sized meals at similar times every day, getting into a consistent rhythm. When your weight loss stalls, make those meals a little smaller, kill a snack, or spend some extra time walking.

But tracking your calories can definitely help. I did it during one cut, and I learned a tremendous amount about my eating habits (and about nutrition in general). I think everyone should try it at least once.

If you want to try tracking your calories, we're affiliated with Macrofactor. We think it's hands down the best calorie tracker:

  • It's great for losing fat, but it also prioritizes muscle and health.
  • It automatically adjusts your calorie targets based on how quickly you're losing weight.
  • It uses a verified food database, making it far more accurate than cheap trackers.

We've used it ourselves and with hundreds of clients over several years. It's fantastic, and it's constantly getting better. We have a full review here.

You can get an extended free trial with the code "b2b". Try the app and see if you like it. Not everyone does. It's a lot of work, especially during the first few days. Get through those first few days and then decide if you want to continue.

A Calorie Deficit Isn't Forever

As you get deeper into your cut, your metabolism will shrink ever smaller, and your hunger will grow terrifyingly large. Thankfully, all of this is temporary. When you stop cutting, you can go back to eating a more normal amount of food.

Keep working out, eating a good diet, and living a healthy lifestyle, but start listening to your appetite again and eating only as much as you want. You’ll gain a little bit of weight, but hopefully, most of it will be muscle and glycogen. Your metabolism will speed back up again, and you’ll be back to eating an intuitive, comfortable amount of food. (You might even achieve a bit of body recomposition.)

Another option is to gear into a bulk, intentionally eating in a calorie deficit to burn fat faster. We have a bulking guide, a lean bulking guide, and a bulking calorie calculator.


The Bony to Beastly Program

If you want a full fat loss and muscle-building program, including a 5-month workout routine, a diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want a customizable intermediate hypertrophy program, check out our Outlift Program. You can use either of these programs for bulking, cutting, or recomping.

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