Getting lean requires a cut in calorie intake.
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Losing weight is just as much a part of bodybuilding as gaining weight and adding muscle is. The main time you'll be trying to lose weight is coming up to a competition, when you're looking to get your body fat down and look as lean as possible. This requires careful manipulation of your calorie intake to ensure you lose fat, but don't sacrifice muscle and strength in the process.
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, which involves consuming fewer calories than you burn. It takes a deficit of around 3,500 calories to burn 1 pound of fat, so if you're currently maintaining your weight, lowering your daily intake by 500 calories will lead to 1 pound of fat loss each week. Losing fat faster may sound like a better option, but lowering your calories too far can lead to a drop in strength in the gym and a loss of muscle mass. Aim for 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss each week.
Women and men should generally follow very similar dieting strategies. Females do burn a higher ratio of fat to carbs than males though, notes nutritionist Dr. Mike Roussell, so you may fare better with a lower-carb diet. Unfortunately, you'll probably have a harder time losing weight than your male bodybuilder counterparts, as women tend to have lower basal metabolic rates, meaning your calorie intake will need to be lower, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Working Out Your Calories
No calculation will give you the exact number of calories to eat for optimal weight loss, but there are several ways you can determine how many calories you need. In "A Guide to Flexible Dieting," nutritionist Lyle McDonald recommends women multiply their body weight in pounds by 14 to find how many calories they need each day to maintain weight. From here, subtract 500 calories each day for weight loss. This should yield a loss of around 1 pound per week.
Keep track of your calories by looking at the nutrition information on food packaging or online databases. Don't be afraid to make adjustments -- while calorie calculations are all well and good, you may need to tweak them, so increase your intake if you're losing more than 2 pounds per week or are finding you're not able to train at full intensity and are losing muscle mass. If you're not losing at least 1/2 pound per week, drop your calories by 50 to 100 to rectify this. Nutritionist and bodybuilder Tom Venuto advises that women not drop below an absolute minimum of 1,200 calories per day, as this could have potential negative health effects.