I get this question a lot. What does this all look like when I reach my goal and just want to maintain my weight? Will I always have to track and weigh every day?
The maintenance phase, initially, is still that—a phase. The good news, after a period of cutting, is that the goal is to slowly increase your intake until we figure out how much you can consume and still maintain the same weight. Clients who reach their goal often happily check out of the process without exploring the fun part. How much can I actually eat and stay the same weight? So the fun part becomes the climb. We increase your calories (by way of macros), watch the scale and body composition piece (taking pictures every three weeks is key here, too), and now that your body is accustomed to processing macronutrients at a specific, zone distribution, it’ll theoretically be able to process more at the same distribution without gaining fat. How much more depends on your regular exercise routine, which should not change, and how compliant you are throughout the process, as precision yields invaluable information that is easily manipulated.
Clients with a rigid, high-level exercise routine and schedule can often double their intake during the maintenance phase (i.e. going from 100g/carb to 200g/carb daily or more). These are people with high daily calorie expenditure, and their bodies become little ovens, burning well into N.E.A.T. (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which means the time they spend exercising affords them greater calorie burn when they are not. Their bodies continue to burn fat while they are moving about their day, in and out of carpools, the office, the stairs to the laundry.
Even people with a lower-impact routine can continue to improve their NEAT by moving more frequently throughout the day, outside of typical, aerobic exercise. It’s a great way to heat up that internal engine.
Maintenance Phase 1:
The climb. This is after we’ve done all the work with body composition. Perhaps you met your goal weight, but want to improve muscle tone. Here we’ll adjust macro distribution until you’ve more or less achieved your ideal. Then we increase intake every week or two with a keen eye on the scale and any body composition changes.
Maintenance Phase 2:
We’ve found that happy place. Your weight is where you want it to be, your muscle tone is intact. Here we have a basic number—your ideal calorie intake. At this point, you’ll know what most of your portion sizes look like. You’ll have figured out when you can add in that extra bowl of ice cream, or cocktail(s), or burger. You will know how to cheat because you’ve learned to work your day around it. Or even still, how to rein it back in when you haven’t. You can be strict during the week, and let your hair down a bit on the weekends. This is where those bad habits have been broken—the mindless eating, the endless glasses of wine throughout the week, the general lapse in a regular exercise schedule. Because you’ve learned at this point, that it’s not worth, all over again, the hard work it took to get here.
So in a perfect world, maintenance means not tracking every bite. It means you’re keenly aware of how to do moderation. How not to deprive yourself of the things you love with the people you love because that’s what life is about. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done all the work and now you can throw caution to the wind. It is just about being mindful, active, and invested in your own well-being.
And worse comes to worst, you’ve let that hair down a bit too much in your new-found freedom, macros is also a place to come back to. It has worked before; it’ll work again.