The Metabolic Factor is a simple calculation and rating scale we use to determine if a client is metabolically ready for prep. It’s remarkably simple and everyone can use it. Maintenance Calories divided by weight. If you are in a surplus or deficit, you will need to use your “calculated” maintenance.
I’m a data junkie. For the previous 20 years prior to becoming a coach, I was an eagle-eyed analyst for the DoD, CDC and Department of Veterans Affairs sniffing out hidden trends and finding ways to optimize processes. Little did I know that those very same data digging, and process improvement skills would make all the difference when it came time to take my career in a new direction – becoming a coach! My background has been invaluable ever since.
When analyzing our competitors’ data, it wasn’t long before I started to see some patterns develop. There were distinct correlations developing between a client’s weight and maintenance calories, in numerous ways. I decided to apply this simple calculation already used by many: it wasn’t anything revolutionary but still allowed us further insight into the numbers.
By taking a deep dive into the data and crunching it across hundreds of competitors, I uncovered some fascinating trends! With this knowledge in hand, I pursued new paths that would have otherwise remained unexplored.
Metabolic Factors of 10 or below can make it incredibly challenging to increase calories without rapid weight gain. These folks have a suppressed metabolism, so they experience low energy and struggle to get stronger in the gym – even after several weeks! Even minor calorie increases like 60 extra per day can cause unwelcome increases on their scale numbers.
If you’re looking to grow and build muscle, the speed of your progress matters. While it’s important that we consume food for growth, going too quickly can cause an increase in body fat accumulation instead of healthy muscle gain. Eating right is key but having a good body composition plays just as big a role when building up our strength! Body composition has just as much impact on anabolism as calorie intake. I encourage you to read that article, it will put more things into perspective.
If body composition gets too skewed towards fat, it can impede the process of building muscle. Trying to push more food can make the situation worse. Though many believe that size and strength go hand in hand, it is only true to a point. There comes a point of diminishing returns. Once you go to far, you are adding much more Fat Mass than Fat Free Mass, and more weeks to your next prep. We talk about this at length in our 5 Phases of Off-Season and 5 Phases of Contest Prep E-book, in particular during the Transition Phase of Off-Season
“Remember that the more fat you gain, the longer you’ll have to diet and the deeper you’ll likely have to hammer into a calorie deficit. In 25 years of coaching, that always means less lean body mass retained. I know it’s counterintuitive—we like to think the size and strength we gain at higher body fat levels is worth it—but once you’re moderately above your metabolic setpoint, the law of diminishing returns isn’t in your favor. You gain much more body fat than lean body mass and you lose both on your way back to the stage.” ~Joe Klemczewski, PhD
At a a Metabolic Factor off 10 to 11, clients begin to see tangible results. Small calorie increases lead to enhanced strength and improved overall wellbeing without any increase in body fat. Increases may be still far and few in between…but the pick-up in pace is noticeable. It’s an exciting time when the hard work begins paying off!
Once crossed over into a Metabolic Factor of 12, increase frequency usually picks up a little more. By a Metabolic Factor of 13, it becomes clear that steadily increasing calories over a couple of weeks (sometimes weekly) allows clients to stay fairly lean (if you are in the state already) and energized. Even weekly increases are yielding little to no weight gain, but strength continues to rise!
At a Metabolic Factor of 14, clients may start to notice not only is weight stable with increases in calories, they are getting leaner as we let their progress lead us down more aggressive pathways with increased calorie intake. We start flirting with some positive changes in body composition without changes to workout programming or nutrition. It just starts to happen naturally for many.
As a general rule of thumb, starting prep with a Metabolic Factor of 15 and higher is ideal. Such an environment usually allows clients to achieve body recomp without drastic changes in nutrition or exercise programming before prep even starts. In the past four years, all those who began prepping at a Metabolic Factor 15 or higher (barring a few exceptions) made 1st callouts.
When clients reach a Metabolic Factor of 16, we see a sharp rise in those who win their divisions, overall titles and/or pro cards. Clients who reach a Metabolic Factor of 17, may not even do much cardio during prep. Our Wellness client Amanda Wright just won her IFBB Pro Card without doing any Steady State Cardio. Her metabolic rate was so high when prep started, it was never needed.
Can someone do well starting prep lower than a Metabolic Factor of 15? Sure, but the lower you start, the more difficult prep may be as you would need much more cardio and have to dive deeper into lower calories which means a higher rate of muscle loss.
Everyone follows the same Metabolic Factor rulebook, but athletes have higher expectations and individualism still applies. I like to see competitors achieve a Metabolic Factor of 15 or greater before commencing Contest Prep (there are exceptions) in order to reach extreme levels of leanness and diet down harder for longer periods of time. Non-competitors are not obligated to do so; that level of leanness is to extreme and unhealthy so attaining a Metabolic Factor of 13-14 is preferable for them, prior to starting any dieting phase!
Now that you understand the importance of Metabolic Factor, let’s explore how this formula can be put into practice. Remember: when calculating your factor, we are looking at maintenance calories. If you are losing weight or gaining weight, the calories you are consuming IS NOT your Maintenance Calories.
Let me give you an example.
Losing or gaining weight is all about the numbers. A 500-calorie deficit each day will cause you to drop 1 pound per week, while a surplus of this amount causes the opposite effect. Your daily calories and caloric balance either give your body energy…or take it away! If you are losing or gaining as shown below, the numbers below indicate how many calories you are in of a deficit or surplus.
- 1.0lbs = 500 calories
- .75lbs = 375 calories
- .50lbs = 250 calories
- .25lbs = 125 calories
Let’s assume you weigh 130 lbs., and you are gaining .75lb per week at 2100 calories. That means you are in a 375-calorie surplus.
Lets do some math!
To find your Maintenance Calories, subtract 375 from 2100 and that leaves you with 1725 “Calculated Maintenance Calories.” To find your Metabolic Factor, divide 1725 (Calculated Maintenance Calories) by 130 (weight in lbs.) which equals 13.269, so round up and your Metabolic Factor is 13.3.
If you are losing weight, you do the same thing, but you would add the calories back in. In the example above, the Calculated Maintenance Calories would be 2100 + 375 which equals 2475, for a Metabolic Factor of 19.
The Metabolic Factor is an easy-to-use rating scale that helps you decide when your metabolism is ready to entera dieting phase like Contest Prep. It considers the individual’s Maintenance Calories divided by their weight – if they are in surplus or deficit, it uses “calculated maintenance”. Hopefully this will give you a little guidance regarding where your metabolism should be before you start your next phase.