The 3 Phases of Nutrition for Fat Loss, Muscle Gain & Maintaining Results

In talking with applicants for the Performance Program this week, the obstacle that is most common is nutrition. Most people have done a diet to lose body fat, but aren’t sure how to sustain that fat loss after the diet is done. So they gain some or all of it back.

Today I want to help clear up the confusion around nutrition for body comp goals and how to use a calorie deficit, calorie surplus and maintenance calories to create sustainable results.

Let’s dive in.

Maintenance Calories are exactly what they sound like – the calories you need to consume in order to maintain the weight you’re sitting at right now.

Maintenance calories are most commonly used to maintain a new weight or body composition that resulted from being in a caloric deficit. The amount of time you were in a calorie deficit, as well as watching your biofeedback, determines the amount of time you need to stay in maintenance. 

Have you been in a calorie deficit for 12 weeks, and still want to continue your journey? Cool, bring your calories up to maintenance for 2-12 weeks, spend some time restoring internal health like hormones & thyroid, get your body prepped to go into a deficit again, and then when biofeedback looks good, you can drop your calories again.

Are you at your goal body composition? Maintenance is your new best friend. Hang out at these calories to maintain the body fat and muscle mass you have on your body right now. 

***this is the #1 missing link to maintaining results after “dieting”*** 

If you don’t understand where your maintenance calories are, and how much of a deficit keto is putting you in, how are you to maintain your results after the diet ends!?

You can find your maintenance a few ways, but for the sake of this email, head over to Precision Nutrition’s calculator and choose “Improve Health” to get a general idea of what your maintenance calories are (this won’t be exact, but it’s a good start)

Calorie Deficit is a reduction in calories from maintenance calories and is most commonly used to lose weight.

Our rule of thumb at High Mountain is to keep calories as high as possible while still seeing progress toward improved body composition. An average rate of weight loss .5-1% bodyweight per week is fantastic and very sustainable. 

The lower our calories, the more breaks we have to take by going back and hanging out at maintenance. Wouldn’t a slight deficit for a longer duration be more sustainable?

And the lower the calories, the less energy we want to expend through NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). The more we move (expend energy) the more calories we burn. This is another huge miss in diet culture. By going into too much of a deficit, we’re also reducing our total daily energy expenditure which obviously plays a huge role in burning calories. 

Wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce calories slightly and fuel our bodies for better performance in the gym and burn more calories through NEAT (walking, talking, moving your hands, etc)?

Calorie Surplus – calories consumed above your maintenance calories and is most commonly used to gain muscle mass or body fat, depending on goals.

For building muscle, a slight calorie surplus is all we need. We will put on some body fat, but by keeping our surplus small, we can make sure the majority of weight we are putting on is indeed muscle mass, and not body fat.

I want to take a minute here to make a point, your muscles need fuel to grow. So if your goal is to look better naked, and you want your “naked look” to include muscle, you’re going to have to spend some time in a surplus.

That might be doing a 12-24+ week phase in a slight surplus, and then doing a cut via a calorie deficit once you hit a certain body fat % or get to our goal muscle mass. 

Or if you are already at a higher body fat percentage, we may want to do a body fat loss phase via a deficit first, and then do a slight surplus to put muscle on!

Of course, you will want to pair both of these with a progressive overload training program because muscle doesn’t grow just because we’re eating more food! We need to stress the body with strength training to grow our muscle mass.

If you’re a newbie or have a young training age, you may be able to recomp your body (lower body fat, increase muscle mass) at maintenance calories. You may not need to go into a surplus. This is a bonus about having a young training age!

Now that we’ve covered the 3 phases of nutrition, it’s time to put it into action.

Where do you want to be in 12 months? How can you use these 3 phases to get there? No one wants to be in a calorie deficit for a year, and for the sake of your health, you absolutely should not be in a deficit anywhere near 12 months!

As mentioned above, an average rate of weight loss .5-1% bodyweight per week is the goal. So if your goal is weight loss, how long will it take you to get there? Now what if you spend 12 weeks in a deficit, then 6 at maintenance, then 12 in a deficit, etc. Where are you in 12 months?

I hope this was helpful in understanding how to use maintenance calories, calorie deficit & surplus to help you move toward your goals and sustain them.

Last but not leastenrollment for our 1:1 Performance Program is open. We’ve had a fantastic response in the first few days of enrollment and as stated above, nutrition seems to be one of the main obstacles for most people. Low energy, unsustainable calorie deficits, and weight regain are all extremely common amongst the clients who have signed up so far.

Our goal with Performance is to get you on a program that is sustainable for YOU, forever. The program includes personalized nutrition and training programming and you’ll have a coach to guide and even more importantly educate you through your journey.

You don’t have to figure this stuff out on your own.

If you’re ready to have a conversation with me to see how we might be able to help you better navigate your journey, head over to our application and i’ll be in contact soon after I receive it.

If you have any questions about the program at all, maybe you’re not sure if it’s the best fit for you or you just want to chat before applying, hit reply and let’s connect.

Coach Kelly

PS – you shouldn’t be in a calorie deficit forever. You deserve better, you deserve to fuel your body to have the energy to live life hard and I’m in your corner. One last time, here’s the application for 1:1 Coaching. 


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