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I've been dieting for a few months now, and progress has been quick: from 73kg to 55kg today since late August. I've been lifting heavy and managing using a lower kcal diet, however, as I approach my goal state, I'm finding it very difficult to continue.

I haven't re-evaluated my calorie intake requirements, so I've been on 1500kcal for a while. As a male who's 157cm, I don't know if going lower is going to destroy my ability to continue lifting.

I've seen a decline in strength, mainly in some pushes, but also pulls as the weights become closer (and within 10kg) of my body weight. I've had to reduce the weights on pushes to avoid absolute failure, however, I feel like my strength progress has stalled - I'm not able to continue to increase the weight performance. I wonder where it's better to fail at lifting heavier or finish sets at a lower weight? Comparing to my gym buddy, my performance sucks. Obviously, the data shows me that I'm technically stronger given a body weight ratio - I do not find that comforting.

Back to where I started: I started around 30% body fat and am trying to figure out how much I've left - I believe I'm sitting around 15-20%, but I can't seem to quantify this. My scales shows that I'm tip-towing around 55kg weight, but I feel I need to lose 2-3kg of fat, maybe more to achieve my goal. Obviously I really don't want to be losing muscle mass. Even though the scales has a calculated body fat %, using the trend data (as opposed to single value measurements), I seem to be very slowly losing fat, but the trend is straightening now.

Should I reduce my calorie intake (and by how much) or what should I do? Obviously I am now believing I'm no longer in a sustained caloric deficit.

2 Answers 2

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The “preserve muscle mass” ship has sailed.

You’re weaker because you’re losing muscle mass, and probably a good bit. Based on your question, it seems you’ve lost 18 kg in 11 weeks. This is extremely aggressive weight loss. Losing over 1.5 kg per week is extremely aggressive for your body weight, and I’m honestly not sure how you had the will power to do it. But it is what it is. At that rate of weight loss, it is likely that you have lost substantial muscle mass, and continuing at that rate will result in greater proportions of lean tissue loss as your body has less and less access to adipose energy stores.

If you aren’t losing weight at your current intake, you have to reduce your intake.

If you do want to continue losing weight, and you are currently weight stable, you have to reduce your intake. If you want to preserve muscle mass, you need to take it slow. Much slower than you were previously.

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  • Thanks @Thomas, I agree that the initial cut was VERY aggressive, and I have likely lost a lot of muscle mass. In terms of next steps, my rate has slowed down to below 1kg per week, around 0.7kg over the past few weeks, so it seems to have stabilised.
    – bear
    Nov 20, 2022 at 14:28
  • @bear 0.7 is still higher than the upper end I’d recommend for weight loss aimed at preserving lean mass. Most figures in the research are between 0.5 and 1% of total body mass.
    – Thomas Markov
    Nov 20, 2022 at 14:33
  • @bear I started cutting around the same time you did, I’m down to 92kg from 104kg, and I hit 94% of my 1RM bench press and 90% of my 1RM deadlift on a strength test last week, and have kept my weekly rate of weight loss under 1% of total body mass.
    – Thomas Markov
    Nov 20, 2022 at 14:47
  • I'm happy to reduce the rate for loss to 0.5-1% (that's about 0.55kg at most a week) - so should I increase the calorie intake a little bit to reduce the rate?
    – bear
    Nov 20, 2022 at 16:06
  • Since OP is already on 1500kCal / day I believe lowering intake further is not a good idea. Reverse diet until calories can be lowered again is a better approach, as pointed in the other answer.
    – Luciano
    Nov 24, 2022 at 10:04
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You did an extremely aggressive weightloss diet which most assuredly caused a loss in muscle mass. Luckily, it probably wasn't that substantial since you started at (an estimated) 30% BF. However, most people who diet so aggressively do see a drop in TDEE as the body tries to compensate for the loss of daily calories by reducing NEAT and exercise performance. Hence why your weightloss is slowing down alongside a decrease in workout performance.

At this point, since you're only 2-3 KG from your goal, you can start a "reverse diet" approach. The basic goal of a reverse diet is to slowly bring back calories so that reach back up to maintenance. Doing so also slowly increases NEAT and performance which will restore your metabolism back to normal levels without a drastic increase in fat gain. In your case, you're still trying to lose fat so you'll still lose fat for the initial few weeks and then you'll be at a stable level.

So basically how you start is you take the calories you're dieting at right now and add 0%-20% depending on how badly you feel. Then you add roughly 25-100 calories per week until you're at a level that you feel is sustainable. I.E, you're not starving all day, you feel energized, your workouts are getting better rather than regressing, etc.

Note though that by doing so, you'll probably see a slowdown in the scale or even an increase in weight. This is because you're eating more volume as well as eating water soaking ingestibles like salt and carbs. This does not mean you're gaining body fat.

So, an example of a very conservative reverse for you would be:

Week 1: 1525 calories

Week 2: 1550 calories

Week 3: 1575 calories

Week 4: 1600 calories

Week 5: 1625

Week 6: 1650

And so on.

A far more aggressive and faster approach would be:

Week 1: 1800 calories

Week 2: 1900 calories

Week 3: 2000 calories

Week 4: 2100 calories

Week 5: 2200

Week 6: 2300

and so on.

You may or may not reach your ultimate goal, but that's fine. Personally I think at this point you're better off for your long-term health by slowing down and taking a break.

Once you're at maintenance you can decide where to go from there, but it would probably be best to just hang around at that level for at least a couple months and try to rebuild all the muscle you lost. Also just for mental sanity. You may find that you're happy at this point and just cruise from there.

When you do decide to start dieting again, aim for a 0.5%-1.0% rate of loss per week. Then slowly stair-step the calories down as your body adapts.

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