This is my attempt of ‘nut-shelling’ everything I know about setting up a realistic nutrition plan to achieve (and often smash) fat loss and muscle building goals.
The breakdown of how to set up your nutrition plan is very simple and clear. The best advice I could give is to STOP soul searching online for shortcuts. Believe me when I say I’ve tried all I have come across. For me, they are waste of time and money.
Unfortunately there are a lot of misconceptions, confusion and biased opinions as to what’s important when setting up your ideal plan. In the guide I’ll walk you through the order of priority, so you avoid majoring on the minors and concentrate on the basic fundamentals of what works.
The amount of calories you consume versus the amount of calories you use on a daily basis, this is what determines whether you will gain or lose weight. Get this fundamental part of energy balance right and even if you concentrate on nothing else….you’re already well on your way to achieving your goals.
Below you will find a complete nutrition calculator which will help you to do the following:
Calculate calories based on your goal of weight loss or weight gain
How to adjust this for your level of exercise and activity
How to adjust your calories for workout and rest days
Tools to help you easily track and adhere to your calorie calculation
Beginners Tip – Leave the Basal Metabolic Rate options at the default settings
Use this image as a guideline for entering your approximate bodyfat percentage.
That’s it! You now have your ideal calorie intake for your goals. What’s next?
- Beginners – Use a free tracking tool like Myfitnesspal to track your daily calorie intake, try to stay as near to your calorie goal as possible. If you’re feeling brave, go to step 2 and set your macronutrient intake. Just be aware that making too many changes at once may adversely affect how long you stick to the plan. My advice would be to stick to the calories for a month and see how you go.
- Intermediate – Play close attention to your workout day and rest day calories, if you haven’t tried calorie and carb cycling before this is a natural way to fit this highly effective strategy into your overall plan
- Advanced – Go to step 2 and determine your macros. You’ve probably already been down this route before, please bookmark this page for easy reference and of course, feel free to share it on social media 😉
There are all kinds of calorie tracking tools out there. Myfitnesspal is free and I’ve been using it for years. It has by far the largest database of food you will find anywhere, all localised to your country in terms of brands and stores. Myfitnesspal tracks calories, macros, nutrients weight and a whole host of other values.
Fitbit is a paid tool, requiring you to purchase a fitbit wearable device. Fitbit is of course optional but I use the two tools below as my dream team of fitness. The best thing is that the two apps sync together, so your food intake is pulled through to Fitbit via Myfitnesspal. If tracking is a new concept to you, it may take a while to get used to but if you’re serious about your goals you’ll persevere and it will become second nature in no time. Ask yourself this…..how badly do you want to get into great shape?
You’ve set your calories in step 1. You know your ideal energy balance for determining whether weight is lost or gained. By utilising your macronutrient (macros) intake, you can control whether the change is muscle mass or fat. There are a few more variables to consider….but so long as this ‘fat or muscle’ point hammers home, you’ll achieve your goals far quicker and in a more sustainable fashion.
By macros we are of course talking about protein, fat and carbohydrates. All of the food you consume is made of of these three macronutrients.
Use the macro calculator below to determine the best type of protein, fat and carbohydrate breakdown based on your goals.
The basic macro calculation and ethos is as follows:
Take Your Workout Day Calories
(Number from above)
Take Your Rest Day Calories
(Number from above)
Select Protein Options
- 1.0g per lb of bodyweight (Minimum)
- 1.2g per lb of bodyweight (Recommended)
- 1.5g per lb of bodyweight (Bodybuilding)
- 2.0g per lb of bodyweight (Maximum)
Fill the rest of your calorie intake with carbohydrates and fat, it doesn’t really matter how much of each, so long as there is some of both.
Example (based on my own requirements)
- Calories: 2984 (workout days) 2238 (rest days)
- Protein: 844 cals / 211g (both days)
- Carbs: 1605 cals / 401g (workout days) 1045 cals / 261g (rest days)
- Fat: 535 cals / 59g (workout days) 348 cals / 38g (rest days)
- Calories: 2984 (workout days) 2238 (rest days)
- Protein Requirements: 1.2g x 176 (my bodyweight) = 211g (211 x 4 = 844 calories of protein on both workout and rest days)
- What’s Left (Workout days) = 2984 – 844 = 2140 calories
- For fat requirements, I recommend using 0.5g fat per lb of bodyweight
- Workout Day Fat Requirements: 792 calories (88 grams)
- For carb requirements, they basically make up what’s left of your calories
- Workout Day Carb Requirements: 1347 calories (337 grams)
Use the calculator to work this out for both workout and rest days.
Micronutrients & Fibre
For the purposes of nutrition, let’s forget about micronutrients as being chemical compounds as such. Vitamins and minerals are the main two types of micronutrients.
Tip 1 – Try to eat earth grown nutrients
Real food wins every time. Fresh and raw nutrient sources are the most dense and beneficial. It’s true that chemicals and pesticides along with preservatives draw some of the goodness from micronutrient food sources so eat organic sources if you can. It may not be convenient or affordable to do so in which case go to tip 2.
Tip 2 – Cheat and take multivitamin and mineral pills
Guilty as charged, I actually do this, in fact I’m a hybrid between tip 1 and 2. I take a multivitamin and mineral pill every morning as an insurance policy to ensure I’m taking in enough micronutrients. This is easy and cheap.
Micronutrients in Food
All foods contain micronutrients. Here’s a list of important micronutrients and common foods where they can be found:
- Vitamin C – bananas, broccoli, peppers and oranges
- Vitamin B12 – beef, cheese, eggs and fish
- Calcium – milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, and sardines
- Zinc – beef, cashew nuts and turkey
- Potassium – apricots, bananas, potatoes and spinach
Try to introduce as many of the following micronutrient packed plant based food sources into your diet;
Sweet potato is a carbohydrate-rich vegetable, but has lots of micronutrients too! These pinkish-orange veggies are an excellent source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, a good source of vitamin C, B6 and magnesium, and contain plenty of fibre too.
Beetroot contains great amounts of potassium and minerals such as magnesium and calcium.
Kale is a dark leafy green containing calcium as well as fibre and vitamin C
Avocados are packed with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins B6, C , E and magnesium. These nutrients combine to improve the conversion of food into energy for your body.
Puy lentils can help to balance blood sugar levels. They are rich in “alkaline” minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium. Puy lentils are great for bone and structural health.
Hempseeds supply omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, which can be converted to the longer-chain omega-3’s DHA & EPA.
Chia seeds are a source of healthy omega-3 fats via calcium, manganese, and phosphorus.
Millet is a great source of iron & magnesium and iron, along with vitamin B6.
Goji berries are sources of vitamin A, and vitamin C. They are rich in fibre and when added to salads and very tasty to boot.
Tofu contains calcium, iron, B vitamins, and selenium.
Timing & Frequency
Timing can be an effective tool to use in conjunction with the previous nutrition steps.
Nutritional timing comes into play during a number of techniques and strategies:
- Meal frequency (how many meals you eat per day)
- Intermittent fasting
- Calorie cycling
- Carb cycling
- Pre workout meals
- Post workout meals
The screen shot on the right was taken from myfitnesspal. As you will see I utilised nutritional timing for the purposes of carb and calorie cycling. This can be beneficial because A) it fits into my lifestyle and B) my body can remain satiated whilst maximising fat loss and muscle retention. Most of this is down to preventing my body from going into starvation mode and drawing benefits from hormones vs eating the same amount of calories per day.
Is Nutrient Timing Important?
In short, yes! I actually train fasted first thing in the morning but you can utilise nutrient timing before, during and after exercise to get the best performance and results out of your body. Timing is something you’ll have to experiment with as an individual, however I find eating small frequent meals is a great way of keeping my metabolism permanently revved up.
Just the right blend of nutrients taken just after exercise helps muscles to recover, however nutrients must be consumed within the parameters of an overall well-designed training diet to have maximum effect.
Eating a small amount of protein such as lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, or yogurt with each meal (or snack) will help utilise it effectively for muscle building and repair.
Nutrient timing can be used as a really effective strategy towards training, sports performance and body composition. By fully co-ordinating food intake with workouts, you will be able to take advantage of body chemistry and hormonal changes which positively affect your health and results as well as maximising energy storage and output.
Supplements can’t totally paper over the cracks of a poor nutrition plan. However they can certainly benefit you in a number of ways;
- Supplements can help you to achieve your optimum calorie and macro intake
- Supplements can be consumed quickly (protein shake vs cooking a chicken breast whilst at work)
- Vitamin and mineral levels can be kept optimum at all times
- Energy and power boosts can be achieved via taking supplements
The supplements I take regularly myself and recommend for anyone else, whether your goal is to add muscle or to lose fat are stated below.
#1 – Shakeology
A huge cornerstone of my diet, Shakeology plugs the gaps in protein, nutrients, vitamins, minerals and is an all round super food
#2 – Energize Pre Workout Supplement
Energize provides a safe surge of direct focus and energy to help you to last longer and push harder during your workouts. I train early in the morning and at that time of day….trust me, I need Energize!
#3 – Fish Oil
This has hormonal benefits. Fish oil contains essential fatty acids, these fatty acids are termed “essential” because we need them for proper function but our bodies cannot produce them. While the flax seed and chia seeds in Shakeology provide some omega-3 fatty acids, it is still recommended that you take Omega-3 supplements to meet your daily requirement. The omega-3 fatty acid in fish oils can have fat burning benefits and can also cause your body to reduce the amount of body fat it stores. Omega-3 contains eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid and linolenic acid.
#4 – Creatine
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver that helps supply energy to cells all over the body – particularly muscle cells. In short, it helps you to become stronger and more muscular.