Muscle Growth on 1000 Deficit?

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Hi,

I’m curious if the muscle growers in this community can weigh in on this one.

If I am 170lbs, and eat 250g of protein a day, but end the day in 1000 to 1500 deficit due to a mix of cardio, mobility and weight lifting work…will I gain muscle, or is the deficit just too great? Is there a math ratio to work with, most articles say, keep your deficit 500 or under, but if I’m eating enough protein, can the deficit be great and the results be quicker?

Replies

  • Lietchi
    Lietchi Posts: 6,271 Member
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    There is no precise formula, it will depend on many other factors (newbie or experienced lifter, individual propensity to build muscle, protein intake, training program...)
    Building muscle in a deficit is already somewhat defying the odds (more likely to happen if you're a newbie to lifting), but a deficit of 1000-1500kcal per day (on average) is huge, especially when you aren't even obese (at 170, I can't imagine you have much weight to lose). Maintaining muscle mass would already be an accomplishment IMHO, with that kind of deficit. You can't just compensate for a huge deficit by throwing extra protein at your diet and hope one cancels out the other :smile:
    There are factors that promote and hinder the likelihood of building muscle, so you're kind of playing the odds - in the end your concrete results will tell you what your individual needs are, but you're definitely not helping the odds by having a deficit like that (if it's consistently that high, I don't mean the occasional individual high deficit day).

    (PS: to judge progress, don't rely solely on the weights your using - you can get stronger without gaining muscle mass, most notably newbies).
  • Retroguy2000
    Retroguy2000 Posts: 1,543 Member
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    Some questions.

    1) What makes you think you are in a 1000-1500 deficit? Are you losing 2-3 pounds per week and are you past the initial water weight loss period?

    2) At 170 pounds, what makes you think you need to be in such a large deficit?

    3) Are you a new lifter?

    AFAIK there isn't much or any data on building muscle in a large deficit, but the consensus seems to be that it's best if you're in a small deficit, say 250-500, and even better if you're a new lifter. A larger deficit puts more stress on the body, and means you have less readily available fuel (protein + carbs) to build muscle.

    Btw, 250g protein is a lot. The data shows no benefit above 0.7g per pound, call it 0.8g to include statistical outliers.

    If you want to focus on fat loss, absolutely be lifting hard and frequently, and getting good protein, but you should consider that time as muscle maintenance while losing weight, with perhaps some muscle gain if you are lucky and especially if you're a new lifter.
  • tomcustombuilder
    tomcustombuilder Posts: 1,803 Member
    edited May 7
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    At your stats you’ll be lucky to have enough energy to train and recover properly and potentially be less active outside of the gym which will negate a good part of the deficit that you perceive to have.

    It depends on your maintenance calories. Someone with a 4K daily maintenance will most likely be fine at 3K however someone with a maintenance of 2,500 will be hard pressed to consistently consume 1,500 without issues with a decent training program.

    Muscle gain or loss will be determined by several factors however the lower the calories, the more likely to not gain or actually lose.
  • springlering62
    springlering62 Posts: 7,788 Member
    edited May 7
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    Be careful maintaining a very large deficit.

    I did that during the pandemic. I was determined not to regain the weight I’d just lost, and plunged into zoom workouts, miles long walks multiple time a day etc.

    My weight plummeted and I lost all the muscle I’d worked so hard to build.

    In addition, very large deficits for an extended period come with a host of problems. Your heart is a muscle. You don’t want to risk damage to your heart. Large deficits can cause hair loss- in hanks at a time. Many here report that loss from malnourishment takes an unusually long time to grow back. Irritability. Fatigue.

    Learn your cues. For me, if I find myself dropping off to sleep on the sofa or at the computer in the afternoon, that’s my first warning. If my husband accuses me of being snappish, that’s a good one too. 😬. If I find myself too tired to complete a workout, not looking forward to a favorite class or instructor, telling the dog I don’t feel like taking him out, wishing a workout were over, having muscle cramps, those are all cues.

    I had just gotten back from a trip, cut calories as I usually did to shed the trip gain, and then decided to see if my bike could fly. (It couldn’t, but I sure can.) I picked up several pounds of water weight while healing and have been running a large deficit since cutting back activity temporarily. All of the above is kicking in, so it’s time to eat more.

    You gotta listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
  • robertgranholm
    robertgranholm Posts: 5 Member
    edited May 8
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    Thanks for the responses! My basal is 1750 is that the same as my "maintenance"?

    I do fine energy wise for 3-5 days at a 1500 deficit @tomcustombuilder while hitting 200+ protein, similar to @springlering62 a majority of the deficit is the cals racked up by walking and low impact along with lifting, tracked workouts, I am clocking 10 miles walked/ran a day, and 60min of mobility and lifting sessions plus some yard work thrown in...i like the grind. it's not a don't eat, don't move deficit, it's a eat a lot, move a ton deficit...monday my eaten calories were 2000, hitting 242 protein, but my tracked activity was 1667 + my basal of 1750 = -1385 for the day

    How do I know I'm in that deficit?, normal tracking methods, Apple watch workouts, tracking food in MFP.

    I typically do need to back off the deficit every 4th-5th day, or on the weekends the diet goes to crap and I'm not hitting deficits which is a battle everyone knows, and so I'm not stringing together a month straight of 1500 deficit days...but I will lose that 2-3lbs give or take by Friday, then gain all or some portion back, then lose, then gain back...sometimes I'll have a better eating weekend and continue the losing/trim down...the never ending enjoyable battle.

    Regardless i need to clean up the weekend eating to speed results, i realize that.

    @Lietchi @Retroguy2000 yes i am relatively new to lifting hard, for hypertrophy, ive been an endurance guy all my life and just hit 40 and decided maybe i should change my mindset of train for health and to lose fat, and instead train for health and gain muscle. i just had a dexa scan and i'm sitting at 19% bfat.

    I never tracked or tried to hit a protein number, or lift hard until about 6 or 7 months ago, i like the initial results, i put on some muscle, feel strong, hips trimmed down a bit and thought, woah this is working.

    So I'm trying to optimize for more muscle, less fat, seeing if I can get to 15% bfat and maintain, so I'm just curious if I feel fine energy wise, and am able to eat 200-250g protein, and end the day in a 1000-1500 deficit, am I still primarily losing body fat and keeping my muscle at an accelerated rate, or is it actually better to dial in the deficit to 500 for some strange reason.

    Maybe ill just cycle on and off and see how it goes, commit to at least a month of weekends where i track well and end in a smaller deficit, week days go for 1000, weekends go for 250, 200g protein minimum, i dont care if the research says i don't need that much, i like eating the meats.

  • springlering62
    springlering62 Posts: 7,788 Member
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    My basal is 1750 is that the same as my "maintenance"?

    That depends on your initial set up.

    If you entered “maintain current weight”, then that’s your base maintenance calories. (Assuming you set activity level correctly.)

    If you entered “lose X weight per week”, then there’s already a deficit calculated in to your 1750.

    Make sure you’re fueling your body, with all you’re doing.

    You sound very similar to me and I’m a 62 year old woman who can’t sit still and can easily maintain at 2800 or so per day.
  • robertgranholm
    robertgranholm Posts: 5 Member
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    Hmm maybe i am confused in my numbers, in the goal section, i have goal weight set to 160, weekly goal lose 2lbs per week, and activity level set to active, but i haven't paid much attention to those in a while...i just made sure my "goal" calories that show up everyday on the left are around 1750, so i know if i end the day with 0 remaining, that would be more or less a no weight gained, no weight lost scenario...and play off that
  • tomcustombuilder
    tomcustombuilder Posts: 1,803 Member
    edited May 8
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    Normal tracking methods are not a guarantee you’re in a calorie deficit. No weight change in a month you are at maintenance calories. 4 pounds lost in a month then your average daily deficit is around 450-500.

    Your maintenance calories are your 1,750 basal calories plus all your activity, day to day and exercise.

    Basal calories are the calories your body uses if you just sit on the couch all day and don’t move around.

    Maintenance = Basal + exercise calories burned + NEAT calories burned ( day to day non exercise calories)
  • robertgranholm
    robertgranholm Posts: 5 Member
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    Ok so my maintenance is then closer to 3-3500

    1750 basal +
    apple watch says i’m on a 6 month average of burning 1300 daily in my move ring which accounts for just moving around in my day and tracked workouts so i think that accounts for my NEAT
  • tomcustombuilder
    tomcustombuilder Posts: 1,803 Member
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    Ok so my maintenance is then closer to 3-3500

    1750 basal +
    apple watch says i’m on a 6 month average of burning 1300 daily in my move ring which accounts for just moving around in my day and tracked workouts so i think that accounts for my NEAT

    The size of your average daily deficit is defined by what your weigh has done in the last 6 months and not what your watch told you. What you actually burn or what your watch told you what burn is only one factor in your overall deficit equation.



  • robertgranholm
    robertgranholm Posts: 5 Member
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    i get it, no system is perfect and it’s a complex thing, it’s not even just what your weight has done but your body comp, i’ve only lost a few pounds in weight but i’ve gained about 7 in lean muscle mass according my scale, aura band and methreesixty scans
  • Retroguy2000
    Retroguy2000 Posts: 1,543 Member
    edited May 8
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    @robertgranholm Your goals are almost perfect imo. I think you're still confused by a few terminology things though:

    BMR - calories burned to stay alive.
    RMR - calories burned at rest, basically doing nothing, with minimal activity like eating.
    TDEE - calories burned in a day, including the above plus your NEAT (fidgeting, random moving around, etc.) plus your exercise.

    Your estimated deficit can be whatever you or your watch or online calculator thinks it is. Your actual deficit is your weight change over time, at a rate of 3500 calories per pound. So if you've been losing one pound per week in recent weeks, then your deficit is 3500 per week, 500 per day, coming from your TDEE. So if you're losing one pound per week and you know you're consuming 2500, then you can assume your TDEE is 3000. That's better than any online calculator guess based on population statistics.

    You're getting more protein than you need. Nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying the evidence says it's not necessary. 0.8g per pound is plenty.

    I wouldn't trust any scale for body comp numbers.

    I think your approach of being very active is great, also your goal to get to 15% bf and maintain (or maingain). Looking to lose 2 pounds per week while 10 pounds from goal weight seems excessive and optimistic to me, but again see above re what your actual deficit is.
  • neanderthin
    neanderthin Posts: 10,011 Member
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    If someone is in a deficit and regularly weight trains the best that can be accomplished if protein quality and in sufficient quantity is maintained is hopefully not too much lean muscle mass is lost. imo.
  • Retroguy2000
    Retroguy2000 Posts: 1,543 Member
    edited May 8
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    If someone is in a deficit and regularly weight trains the best that can be accomplished if protein quality and in sufficient quantity is maintained is hopefully not too much lean muscle mass is lost. imo.
    That is not true, especially for a new lifter which he says he is. I would agree, and already stated earlier, that he's less likely to gain muscle on a large deficit. He should keep doing what he's doing, but have more realistic expectations of the outcome.
  • neanderthin
    neanderthin Posts: 10,011 Member
    edited May 8
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    If someone is in a deficit and regularly weight trains the best that can be accomplished if protein quality and in sufficient quantity is maintained is hopefully not too much lean muscle mass is lost. imo.
    That is not true, especially for a new lifter which he says he is. I would agree, and already stated earlier, that he's less likely to gain muscle on a large deficit. He should keep doing what he's doing, but have more realistic expectations of the outcome.

    Ok, I was just responding to his first post and I did qualify by saying if someone was weight training regularly. Regardless though, it's wishful thinking for the most part and the bigger the deficit and the longer that deficit is maintained the less likely someone is going to gain mass or maintain any that was gained. But yeah, it's possible, anything is possible.

    EDIT: I see you said basically the same thing, and I agree with you. cheers.
  • tomcustombuilder
    tomcustombuilder Posts: 1,803 Member
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    i get it, no system is perfect and it’s a complex thing, it’s not even just what your weight has done but your body comp, i’ve only lost a few pounds in weight but i’ve gained about 7 in lean muscle mass according my scale, aura band and methreesixty scans

    Again, don't put too much confidence in those machines. They don't compute muscle mass but lean mass which can be other tissue including water.
  • PAV8888
    PAV8888 Posts: 13,866 Member
    edited May 8
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    Goals good. Approach excessive.

    If you were obese and first months aiming for large deficit may have made some sense

    170 to 160 is not quite rounding error but literally there is zero health benefit to whether you achieve it in three, six, 12 or 29.9 months.

    If you're willing to train, fuel your training and your recovery right now

    Already some fat loss will be hiding because of exercise induced and water weight so the 3500 is close but not absolutely correct.

    That said it's also irrelevant. Don't introduce big spikes and troughs if you don't have to

    Use weight trend app to gauge overall weight level progress

    Do not try the be good on the weekends routine together with a large deficit to go faster

    But not only do try the good on the weekend routine, but it would also probably be your path to the absolutely best long term results. Do try it but with small consistent deficits with only occasional spikes on a few special occasions (and not ever Friday to Sunday with very low weekdays to compensate)

    Whether you feel it or not there is no evidentiary or logical backing to "I perform better with a large deficit as compared to with a smaller".

    you may perform better after weight loss especially if and as your power ratio changes but that's because of the total loss not the size of the deficit

    Smell the roses and put your effort in hard training but not into making it hard to train
  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 27,988 Member
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    Hmm maybe i am confused in my numbers, in the goal section, i have goal weight set to 160, weekly goal lose 2lbs per week, and activity level set to active, but i haven't paid much attention to those in a while...i just made sure my "goal" calories that show up everyday on the left are around 1750, so i know if i end the day with 0 remaining, that would be more or less a no weight gained, no weight lost scenario...and play off that

    With only 10 pounds to lose, a far more reasonable weekly rate loss is 1/2 pound per week. Change that and enjoy the extra calories!

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  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,707 Member
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    i get it, no system is perfect and it’s a complex thing, it’s not even just what your weight has done but your body comp, i’ve only lost a few pounds in weight but i’ve gained about 7 in lean muscle mass according my scale, aura band and methreesixty scans

    Hmmm, maybe. Or maybe not.

    Anything MFP, a calorie calculator, or any fitness tracker tells you about calories is an estimate, basically an average for people superficially similar to you. In no way is it a measurement.

    Most people are close to those averages, but it's possible to be surprisingly far off, high or low. (I'm one of those rare oddballs: MFP and my Garmin - actually 2 different Garmin models, both of which give accurate estimates for others - are about 25-30% off for me, compared with nearly 9 years of logging experience. That's hundreds of calories per day. It's rare, but it can happen.)

    On top of that, even the most meticulous logging is also approximate. (I'm not dissing logging. Like I said, I've been doing it successfully for almost 9 years.)

    Your actual weight change is much closer to a measurement, but how to look at that is somewhat complicated given that you believe you've added muscle and lost fat. More about that later.

    One helpful thing about recognizing weight change as a key metric is that it somewhat takes into account any systematic error in logging. IOW, if I log intake of 2000 calories when reality is closer to 2500, and lose a pound a week, it's very likely that I can log 2250 and drop my loss rate to around half a pound a week even though my numbers are inaccurate (unless I happen to cut out the main source of my systematic logging error, which would be an interesting coincidence).

    When it comes to body composition, your scale, auraband, and methreesixty are also indirect estimates, not measurements. Dexa might be closer to a measurement, but it still has error bars.

    Some semi-factoids you might want to put in the hopper to think about, essentially estimates from research:

    It takes about 3500 cumulative calories to gain/lose a pound of body fat. (You probably knew that.)

    It takes roughly maybe 2500-2800 cumulative surplus calories to build a pound of muscle. (Some of those calories could come from body fat . . . but at this point you should begin to see the tension that arises when goals are to lose fat but gain muscle at the same time. You're literally trying to add mass while subtracting mass.)

    Generally, gaining two pounds of muscle mass per month would be regarded as a quite-good outcome for a male under ideal conditions. Ideal conditions include hormonal maleness, relative youth, newness to strength training, good overall nutrition (especially but not exclusively adequate protein), favorable genetics, a good progressive strength training program faithfully performed, and a calorie surplus (plus probably some stuff I forgot ;) ).

    Advice?

    I agree with others that your current protein intake is unnecessarily high. Excess protein is just expensive calories, pretty much. You can get a goal-adjusted researched-based estimate of protein needs and learn more about protein generally here:

    https://examine.com/protein-intake-calculator/
    https://examine.com/guides/protein-intake/

    Sure, if you like meat, go for it, as long as you're not short-changing other aspects of nutrition (fats, micronutrients, fiber, beneficial phytochemicals, pro/prebiotics, etc.) to get there.

    Lietchi tucked in a nice bit of advice there about not mistaking strength gain (or even a bit of a pump in appearance) for muscle mass gain, as a relatively new lifter.

    I agree with others that shooting for half a pound (or less) of fat loss per week would be more compatible with your goals. Two pounds a week is antithetical, unless you want to simply hold the line on muscle (maintain what you've got) until you're down to goal weight. I don't think that's the best route, given how light you are already, if nothing else because of the risk to energy level and general health from going that extreme.

    I mention "half a pound (or less)" because I've actually done that myself: I lost about a pound a month on average over many months, to lose something around what you're trying to lose in total now.

    Pros: It was virtually painless subjectively, and I noticed no difference in exercise performance or results. Cons: It's not going to work reliably IMO unless you have a pretty accurate estimate of your personalized calorie needs, and a well-tested logging habit. Also, it will take many weeks for the scale to confirm progress (amongst day to day water weight fluctuations of much larger magnitude), and even a weight trending app can be deluded temporarily, which many people would find frustrating.

    I suspect that your generally ambitious routine (high activity, high formal exercise, high protein, etc.) is helpful, but it's also somewhat at odds with super-extreme calorie cuts. Exercise is useful stress, calorie deficit can be necessary stress, but high cumulative stress (sum of all physical and psychological stressors in one's life) isn't great for a body. I wouldn't, personally.

    Main advice: Be more patient (slower), probably get better overall and long-term results.

    But what do I know, I'm not a personal trainer, registered dietitian, or even much of a muscle gainer anymore. I'm just some random idiot on the internet who is maybe over-analytic and thinks this stuff is interesting.

    Others will disagree with some of the above, probably.

    Best wishes!

    P.S. You said "I typically do need to back off the deficit every 4th-5th day, or on the weekends the diet goes to crap and I'm not hitting deficits which is a battle everyone knows, and so I'm not stringing together a month straight of 1500 deficit days...but I will lose that 2-3lbs give or take by Friday, then gain all or some portion back, then lose, then gain back...sometimes I'll have a better eating weekend and continue the losing/trim down...the never ending enjoyable battle."

    There are various things in there that make me raise an eyebrow, but my best guess would be that in that lose/gain/lose/gain cycle you're giving too much credence to weight shifts that are actually water retention fluctuations and digestive waste in transit, not body fat changes. Uneven eating - calories and/or shifts in certain nutrient patterns and food volumes - will do that. I'm saying that as someone who eats unevenly myself.