We’ve all been there. Usually, you want to know if you’ve either eaten too much or too little one day (based on your goals) and then want to see if you can make this up the next day or if it’s now an irreversible mistake.
Making up calories is a tricky concept that you don’t want to get into as it can lead to future balancing acts and inconsistency rather than consistent and sustainable progress. With that said, the day-to-day calorie intake is important but your weekly average is where you will see results come.
Can you make up calories next day?
While you can’t make up calories the next day, you can use it as an opportunity to balance your weekly calorie average. For fat loss and muscle growth, the weekly calorie deficit or surplus will matter more than the day to day intake so you should look to make up the calories across the week.
If you are trying to balance calories each day, the likelihood of achieving your body composition or dieting goals is lower. While the day-to-day calories are not as important as your weekly average, a focus daily helps build consistency which ultimately leads to results.
In this article, I’ll cover whether or not you can make up calories the next day as well as some strategies to do instead of trying to “make up” calories.
Can You Make up Calories Next Day
Making up for calories can be viewed in two ways each with two different goals.
You can undereat when bulking and trying to build muscle or overeat when trying to bulk and build muscle. The first will mean that you are not getting enough nutrients to support muscle growth and recovery whereas the second example will mean you are consuming too much and run the risk of storing excess body fat.
Next, you can undereat when cutting and trying to lose body fat or overeat when trying to cut and lose body fat. The first will mean that you’ll be in a deeper calorie deficit which could lead to lower energy levels and increased hunger while the second example will mean you gain weight through water retention and will slow down your fat loss progress.
For all the above examples, the outcome seems quite detrimental to your body transformation progress and accountability but fortunately, the human body does not work in such short timeframes as a convenient 24 hour period.
Digestion, types of food you’ve consumed, hormones, energy expenditure that day plus countless other factors come into the equation on a daily basis. Tracking your calories daily has the main benefit of keeping you consistent but you can’t see any noticeable changes on one day.
In fact, digestion happens in the small intestines in 6 – 8 hours after eating, but for digestion, once food passes to the large intestine, it can take up to 36 hours to fully digest the food and absorb/transport the nutrients and then get rid of undigested food.
What this basically means is that we need to place less focus on what happens on a daily basis as our bodies simply don’t work that conveniently!
Instead, you should focus on a weekly average based on your goal. If you need to consume 12,000kcals per week to lose weight and overeat by 1,00kcals one day (which is a lot), you can try to undereat the next day to make up for this but then you lose all routine.
While you can make up calories the next day, it’s better instead to try to make them up across the week which is more sustainable and keeps your routine consistent. Consistency is key and if you hit your weekly target, you’ll still be on track for progress.
Can You Eat More Calories One Day and Less the Next
This question alongside “if I overeat one day can I undereat the next” is so common in the dieting world yet people always seem to receive mixed advice on what they should do. The reason this is such a popular question because it’s a subtle way of asking for a cheat day.
Cheat days are not a bad thing (I personally prefer the cheat meal route) but simply naming them ‘cheat’ makes you instantly think that it’s a bad thing. When people want to know if they can eat more calories one day and less the next it’s because they want a diet break for a day without it impacting their progress.
This is something that is perfectly fine when it’s programmed into someone’s routine and I recently covered “is it ok to go over your calorie limit” because again, this is specifically for people that either want a cheat day or genuinely went over their calorie limit by accident.
While I wouldn’t recommend this approach, you certainly can eat more calories one day and less the next if it aligns with your goals. When training, for example, I’ll consume more on a training day than a non-training day and the majority will come from carbs.
This is because it factors in my energy expenditure and requirements on a day by day basis.
For dieting, however, this can be slightly different. Consuming 4,000kcals one day but only 800kcals the next is not a healthy approach to balancing out any overeating. There are more logical (and beneficial) steps that you should be taking instead.
How Do You Compensate for a High Calorie Day
So, we know that the body is not quite as simple as under eat one day and overeat the next. There is some logic to support it but in general, to achieve results through dieting and body composition, you need to be consistent with your training, calories and to a lesser extent, macros.
That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do in this scenario though and I’ll therefore cover what you could do to compensate for a high-calorie day.
First, a high-calorie day usually goes hand in hand with a high carb day which means you’re likely to be holding water weight and have some glycogen stores that could become the primary energy source for any physical activity (instead of the fat stores you are trying to burn).
You’ll therefore want to hit a heavy resistance training session with a cardio session. This isn’t compulsory but to get back to a fat-burning state, you need to be running on energy stores from fat storage and not glycogen so depleting your glycogen stores is a quick way to combat this.
Sweat and water loss through exercise will also help to reduce some of the water weight you’ll have gained so that your average weekly weight is not too distorted through multiple days of excess water retention.
The main way to compensate for a high-calorie day though is to simply program it and allow a buffer for it. To use the 12,000kcal weekly fat loss target again (it’s just a made-up scenario by the way) you’ll average out 1,714kcals per day.
If however, you know you’ve got an event planned and want to allow a buffer for 2,500kcal, you simply subtract that from your weekly total (12,000 – 2,500) to give you a new six day total of 9,500kcal. This means you should look to consume 1,583kcals each day for the rest of the week to still hit your 12,000kcal weekly limit.
In my opinion and experience, this is the approach that most people find the easiest to follow as it still allows for routine and could simply mean removing one item from their diet daily to allow for the high-calorie day at some point in the week.
If instead of following this approach you go from high calorie one day to low calorie another, then these daily fluctuations will play with your hormones, hunger levels, energy levels and make it much harder to stick to the plan.
Therefore, instead of trying to make up calories the next day like the title of this article suggests, instead look to make up the calories across the week for a much more sustainable plan.
It can be easy to feel guilty after having an unplanned cheat day or eating more/less than you need to in order to hit your goals. This can lead to naturally wanting to make up for it the next day, this is a typical response that we look to make up for something immediately.
If, however, you want a long-term and sustainable process then don’t get caught in the trap of trying to make up for something the next day. Instead, try to balance it out across the week as this will be a lot less demanding, easier to accomplish, and will keep you in a set routine which is crucial when dieting.
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