Calorie Balance Explained – How To Build Muscle & Lose Body Fat

Calorie Balance Explained – How To Build Muscle & Lose Body Fat

Calorie Balance Explained – How To Build Muscle & Lose Body Fat 1748 1240 Athletic Pursuit

Do you want to lose body fat and build muscle?

Have you already tried and seen little to no progress… then it’s time to make a change and the most important factor when it comes to body composition goals is calorie balance, and you may be asking yourself these questions…

  • How many calories do I need to build muscle?
  • How many calories do I need to lose body fat?
  • Can I build muscle and lose body fat at the same time?

All important questions when you have body composition goals and by the end of this post you will have more of an understanding on what it takes to achieve a leaner, more muscular physique.

To get a better grasp on how to achieve a leaner more muscular physique we first have to look at how our bodies expend energy. Understanding the different areas we burn calories will make you more aware of how you can potentially maximise your results through your daily lifestyle/habits. Then we look at the different energy balances in order to achieve your goals.

Right let’s get into how your body burns calories…

The above graph gives you an insight into where your calories go at rest and at non-rest. You can see the majority is burnt at rest which is called your basal metabolic rate and the rest is burnt through our daily activities and through digestion. You can manipulate both resting and non-resting energy expenditure which would speed up your metabolism and result in you burning more calories, keep reading to find out how…

(BMR) Basal metabolic rate

Energy required to sustain vital functions in the waking state, that includes the following:

  • Brain function
  • Respiration
  • Digestion
  • Reflects the bodies heat production marginally influenced by body composition

Greater muscle mass = Greater BMR

Each additional 1lb muscle = +7kcals burnt / day

By adding more muscle on your frame you boost your BMR, this is why it’s very important to practice regular strength and hypertrophy work.

(NEAT) Non-exercise activity thermogenesis

Includes conscious/unconscious activity

  • 10k steps, shopping, gardening, cleaning etc

It accounts for 20% of your TDEE

A hugely overlooked and under-utilised tool for fat loss. 

Most people will overlook 10k steps per day, mainly because it’s not a sweaty workout that feels like you’re doing lots. 10,000 steps equates to on average around 5km. Imagine how many more calories you’d burn on average if you did keep up this simple but effective habit. This could be your secret weapon to getting to your goals in a more sustainable way, a lot of people overlook this, being more active should be apart of your daily lifestyle if you want to see longterm health gains. This works well for people wanting to build muscle and get stronger also, it can help speed up recovery to allow you to train hard more frequently, has less of an effect on your strength training (because its low intensity) and you achieve some cardio/heart gains too, which you shouldn’t neglect.

(TEF) Thermic effect of food

Also know as DIT (diet-induced thermogenesis)

When you eat food, your body must expend some energy (i.e. calories) to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients in the food you’ve eaten, therefor you will see an Increase in metabolic rate after the ingestion of a meal.

TEF significantly increases as energy content of meal increases

TEF Differs with macronutrients

Protein > Alcohol > Carbohydrate > Fat

Just another reason why we need to keep protein high.

(EEE) Energy expended during exercise

Accounts for 10% of your daily calorie burn. It is the reason that the 23hrs you spend outside of the gym matter when it comes to body composition goals.

Metabolic equivalent tables (compendium) measure the intensity of an exercise/activity and can be tracked through following this method. 

Heart rate monitors/trackers can be unreliable in level of inaccuracy when tracking calories burnt, but can give you a rough estimate.

Now we have covered how our bodies expend energy let’s dive into calorie balance..

Calorie balance

If you haven’t read up on calorie balance before, in short, it means calories in (the food and drink you consume) verses calories out (as discussed above).

Calorie balance is the single most important variable to change body composition. This is where you need to get clear on your goals, do you want to get leaner or do you want to build muscle. It is possible to do both at the same time for people new or coming back to training, or who potentially have higher amounts of body fat, but as you become a more seasoned trainee, it will become increasingly difficult to achieve any real progress trying to do both at the same time. This is why it’s more beneficial to pick one goal and attack it for a good amount of time around 8-12 weeks.

Both a negative and positive calorie balance come with trade offs. When you are in a negative calorie balance (catabolic state) you will burn body fat but also unavoidably lose muscle too. The same goes with a positive calorie balance (anabolic state) but in the reverse, you will gain muscle but unavoidably gain some fat too. Being aware of this is important and why living in the extremes isn’t recommended. If you try to cut as much fat as possible in a short period of time, you accelerate muscle loss also, so it’s wise to cut calories gradually. Same goes for gaining muscle, eating as much as you can will just result in storing large amounts of body fat, which isn’t ideal, so it’s wise to add calories gradually.

Negative calorie balance

This means you burn more calories than you consume, over an extended period of time this will result in weight loss as your body has to find energy from somewhere and this is normally from fat or muscle. Recommended calorie deficit is around 100-500 calories, this can be done gradually over the span of your 8-12 week goal.

Calorie Maintenance

This means you burn as many calories as you consume, roughly, it will never be exactly the same and over an extended period of time your weight will stay around the same.

Positive calorie balance

This means you consume more calories than you’re burning and over an extended period of time you will gain weight as the extra calories will be converted into either glycogen, fat or muscle. Recommended calorie surplus is around 100-500 calories, this can be done gradually over the span of your 8-12 week goal.


The easiest way to work out your calorie target, without getting your calculator out, is to download an app called ‘My Fitness Pal’ which will calculate your calorie needs to reach your goal.

This app is a great tool that will educate you on calories, macronutrients, and keep you accountable. It really is an invaluable tool for anyone who has a body composition goal.

Calorie balance can take a little trial and error. Just because My Fitness Pal said you need to eat x number of calories to lose weight, doesn’t always mean it’s correct. This is because everyone is different and the calculation is just a calculation, that is not attuned to your unique body.

Counting calories is not for everyone however, nor do you have to do it in order to see results. If this is the case and you don’t fancy counting calories then monitoring your weight and taking progress pictures is advised. Seeing the scales go in the right direction or seeing changes in your body in the mirror is a good indication that what you are consuming is spot on.

If you see little to no progress on the scales or pictures, then your calorie intake needs to be adjusted, and this is where you need to adjust by taking away food from your plate if the goal is to lose body fat or adding food to your plate if the goal is to build muscle.

Many people give up if they don’t see progress, but don’t let this be you! Measure everything to start with and analyse regularly so it’s easy to pin point the areas that are going well and the areas you my need to adjust. When you start seeing consistent progress you’ve nailed it, now you know what it takes to reach your goal.

Put it into action…

  • Decide what your goal is, get lean, build muscle or maintain.
  • Download my fitness pal and set your goals.
  • Be consistent at hitting your target if you want to see consistent results.
  • Build good habits outside the gym (NEAT), strive to get your 10,000 steps in, this really is a secret weapon to achieving your (fat loss) goals.
  • Follow a strength and hypertrophy programme as building muscle will increase your BMR (daily calorie burn).
  • Eating more protein will burn more calories through the thermic effect of food. Try to consume 1.5g x bodyweight in kg.

Do you need help implementing these things or struggle to stay consistent with them?

Our online coaching programme covers all of this and more.

We keep our clients accountable and support them throughout their journey until they achieve their goals and beyond.

If you are ready to take action, book a free consultation call with our coaches today…