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Can You Increase Strength In A Calorie Deficit?

If you want to boost your strength, eating more is sure to help. But if you’re also trying to shed some pounds, then upping your food intake isn’t a viable option. A lot of people believe that it isn’t possible to become stronger if you’re in a calorie deficit, but that isn’t actually the case. 

It’s still possible to become stronger while reducing your calorie intake as long as you take some sensible steps. So, let’s look a little more closely at calories and what a calorie deficit really means for your body. 

Energy Balance – The Basics

If you want to understand how calorie intake affects your body, you need to have a grasp of how the body balances energy. The term “calorie” refers to the energy we obtain from everything we consume. The number of calories we consume when compared with the number we burn during daily activities is what determines whether we gain or lose weight. If both sides of that equation balance, we are said to have an energy balance. 

Caloric surplus is the term used to describe a situation where the number of calories consumed is greater than the number we burn. In such cases, we gain weight. Conversely, caloric deficit is the term used to describe a situation where the number of calories consumed is lower than the number we burn. In such cases, we lose weight.

How Does The Human Body Gain Strength?

In order to become stronger, our muscles must grow and usually that happens when we work out. To grow our muscles we must do resistance training. When we apply stress to the muscles, the muscle fibres become damaged and start to break down. When the body repairs itself, it fuses the muscle fibres together, forming new myofibrils that become thicker and multiply in number so muscles can grow. 

So, how does calorie intake affect this process?

The process the body goes through when breaking down the muscle tissues then repairing them takes energy, and energy is derived from the calories in everything we consume. Fuelling the break down and synthesis of muscles is best achieved by consuming the right amount of calories through carbohydrates and protein. But, does that always mean we must have a caloric surplus in order to gain strength? 

Strengthening The Muscles Without A Surplus Of Calories

The human body is in a constant cycle of caloric surplus and deficit. Immediately after eating, our bodies have a surplus of calories until they use up that energy and return to a caloric deficit. In order to strengthen your muscles without consuming more calories, you need to work out while you’re already in a caloric surplus. That will give your body the right environment and stimulus to grow the muscles, even if by the day’s end you have an overall caloric deficit. 

What Must I Eat To Build Up Strength While In Caloric Deficit? 

Knowing how to build your muscles without consuming more calories involves an understanding of macronutrients. A high protein diet is essential to build up muscle, particularly if you’re planning to be in caloric deficit by the day’s end, and that means consuming more protein than the current RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) which stands at 0.8 grams of protein for each kilo of your bodyweight. Rather, you should be consuming 2.4 grams of protein for each kilo of your bodyweight if you wish to increase your lean body mass. When you accompany this diet with an intensive training programme involving weights and resistance, you’ll find you become stronger without needing a higher calorie intake. 

Carbohydrate intake is also important, though.

The human body needs energy to burn as fuel, especially if you’re planning to be working out. The energy is needed to break down the muscles and power the protein synthesis that grows the muscles and makes us stronger. The body’s glycolytic system is the main energy system used for shorter duration, high intensity activities such as resistance training. 

The main energy source for this system is carbohydrates, with the system breaking down the glycogen and glucose into energy that it can use. To become stronger without being in a calorie surplus, the body must have sufficient available energy to build up muscle both during training sessions and after them. 

Insufficient amounts of carbohydrates impairs resistance training while consuming sufficient amounts of carbohydrate before resistance training fills up those stores, optimises the system, and enhances performance while increasing strength. 

So, how much carbohydrate should you eat? 

Depending on how intense your exercise programme is, and how long you’ll be exercising for, you should have around 3 grams of carbs for each kilo of your body weight. 

What Will Happen If I Work Out But I’m Not Eating Enough?

Although it’s possible to become stronger without being in a calorie surplus, that doesn’t mean you don’t need an adequate amount of fuel to burn as energy. Without an adequate protein and calorie intake, your body may resort to burning protein stored in the form of muscle as energy which results in the muscles breaking down and being unable to rebuild and grow since there is insufficient energy to fuel protein synthesis. 

With this in mind, research has suggested that gaining muscle and increasing strength while remaining in a calorie deficit requires you to lose no more body weight than 0.7% per week. 

Should I Try To Become Stronger In A Calorie Deficit? 

It’s certainly possible to build up your strength while in a calorie deficit, but you’ll need to bear some things in mind. Firstly, you’ll need to do resistance training to continue building up muscle. 

Secondly, you’ll need to make sure that you have consumed the right nutrients before each workout session so that your body doesn’t burn muscle instead of fat. 

Thirdly, you’ll need to ensure your calorie intake remains within safe ranges, with no extreme deficits or crash diets so your body can carry on building up muscle without having a calorie surplus. 

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