CHASING THE EQUILIBRIUM: What Does It Really Mean to Maintain Your Physique?

With the worldwide obesity rates nearly tripling since 1975, with devastating implications for public health, it’s no surprise we are so preoccupied with weight loss. There is no shortage of information on decreasing body fat percentage, and the overall concept is fairly simple. Outside of specific physique and performance goals, the ‘eating less and moving more’ paradigm works well for most people seeking to lose excess body fat and improve health.

For those also working on building their dream bodies – such as our amazing BBR community! – further tweaks may be required, such as implementing reverse dieting, incorporating nutrient timing into the routine, or finding the right balance of macronutrients.

Speaking of physique goals, the solution is equally logical if you’re looking to gain lean muscle mass. At BBR, we will usually put you in a mild energy surplus combined with intense training – and voila, after a while you’ll start seeing the results.

However, eventually, you will come to a point where you’ll want to maintain your current physique – being that for a set period of time, or maybe even forever! Surprisingly, many people find maintenance harder than losing fat or gaining muscle. This is mostly because the definition of ‘maintenance’ isn’t as obvious as one might think, and a couple of other reasons.

So, if you’re someone who’s struggling with the concept of maintenance and seemingly can’t win in the process, read on – as some myths are about to be debunked!

The most important thing to know is, perhaps, this:

Maintenance physique is not static!

That’s right – there is no ‘magic number’ on the scales that is the one and only ideal outcome for your body! Rather, there is a range within which your body is the happiest/healthiest.

Specifically, a few years ago a study published in Nature took many factors, such as measurement errors and fluid balance fluctuations, into consideration, and determined that “long-term weight maintenance in adults be defined as a weight change of <3% of body weight”.

For example, if you like what you see in the mirror and your weight is currently 60 kg, you can expect your weight to fluctuate within 1.8 kg either way – without any meaningful changes to your body fat storages!

So, ladies – before freaking out upon seeing a slightly different than expected number on the scales or on the measuring tape, remember that we are living organisms, who retain fluid upon consuming certain foods or at specific times of the month. We can also get constipated and essentially carry a few days’ worth of food inside (and it can be heavy). We get bloated after drinking too much sparkling water or chewing too much gum. And all those things can have immediate short-term effects on our weight – however, it doesn’t mean the long-term maintenance is not achieved!

Can you realistically maintain your current shape?

The previous point about small fluctuation applies if you’re in shape that can be realistically maintained by consuming sufficient amounts of nutritious foods. In other words, if you have to deprive yourself nutritionally in order to avoid weight gain, you aren’t anywhere near your sustainable maintenance point.

For instance, most athletes don’t stay in competition shape all-year-round, as it’s simply not maintainable without compromising health. The body is a complicated system that works hard to physiologically stabilize all aspects of its functioning, including body weight. Trying to significantly alter your set-point through restrictive eating and compulsive exercise will only give you grief in the long run – so be gentle with yourself, and work on finding your (not someone else’s!) perfect range.

Fuelling the balance

Finally, revolving within the magical 3% of your realistic set-point requires a different approach to nutrition planning compared to the strictness of fat loss or lean muscle gain. And for many, finding that ‘sweet spot’ and achieving the right balance is much harder than staying within a clear-cut set of rules!

Essentially, maintenance is the art of nourishing your body with wholesome foods whilst not going over or under your requirements; the former will result in either muscle or fat gain, and the latter will leave you undernourished and potentially provoke muscle breakdown in the long run.

The basic principle is the following: if your routine is fairly consistent exercise and overall activity-wise, and your weight fluctuations are within normal limits, you’re getting it right! Otherwise, if any suspicious changes are happening, minor tweaks to nutrition may be required. Adjust, observe for a few weeks, and go from there!

Bottom line

As you can see, achieving the maintenance state may not be as straightforward as losing fat or gaining muscle. However, by embracing its fluctuating nature and finding your comfortable set-point, you’re likely to get and maintain the results you’re after!

Hope you found this helpful, and happy training!