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Ever wondered how people get and stay really lean? How do they come up with
meal plans that have the exact food quantities and macros laid out to fit their individual needs and preferences? How do they know how many calories they should eat? And how do they turn those calories into macros and those macros into a meal plan?
What if you want to gain muscle but all you can find are bulking plans that rely on
Don’t wrinkle your forehead so much, I am here to help! (I did that for you already) This article will show you what coaches and nutritionist do and how you can apply the same knowledge to create a totally custom diet.
You could also take any diet plan or meal plan you find interesting and tune it to your personal needs.
This will pretty much liberate you from any diet trend or plan ever created.
How cool is that?
In the fourth installment of this series we are looking at the bare bones of any nutritional plan: Calories, macros and how to get those numbers. Whether the aim are changes in bodycompostione. It really doesn’t matter if thats fat loss, muscle gain or simply “staying where you are” . If you don’t control how much you eat (that’s the calories) the what (that’s the macros) you eat is largely irrelevant.
A little heads-up: This article is bit technical and will contain a fair amount of math. Sorry for that. It’s not rocket science and we are not solving any big equations. I will lay out everything step by step, piece by piece. No calculus required, Promise!
Of course it’s up to you to use this information, take action as much as you like or just learn something out of curiosity. As these techniques are rather advanced, most dieters won’t need – at least at the beginning of their journey – that much detail and understanding.
However, making yourself comfortable with some of the technical stuff that comes and using it to create your own diet, or even just adapt an exiting one will greatly enhance how smoothly and effective your diet will be.
Creating a plan is also a form of commitment. That alone it a huge step into a successful diet. A diet, really, is just a certain way of eating. Making that a conscious decisions is a big win because many times people tend to eat how they feel. With designed foods of unhealthy ingredients it’s no wonder why it’s so hard to stay at healthy body-fat levels.
Not everyone will need a super detailed and strict diet. If you change most of the junk for a healthy meal most of the work is done.
But if you plan to take things up a notch or two, this guide will hand you the tools needed.
The centerpiece of this article is a Roadmap of 5 Steps that I’ll share with you in a minute. It’ll lead you through these steps, each with explanations, actions you can take and examples with exact numbers.
Before that, though, I need to give you a little background on calories and macros. You’ll find the roadmap again, right before we go through each of the steps.
At the end of the article you will be able to:
Here we go!
Calories are a measure of energy. Almost everything has calories and can therefore provide energy. Not only to our bodies but also to machines. As your car needs gas and your smartphone needs electricity your body needs calories.
This energy is provided by the food we consume (eat or drink) or have consumed (stored body fat, protein from tissue and carbs stored in the liver and the muscles).
You can compare your body to a construction company.
There are workers, machines and raw materials which they turn into a building.
The calories are the money you pay the workers and the macros are building blocks.
In the context of the human body or any living being really, the cells are the workers. There are many different kinds of cells as there are many different professions a worker can have. To be able to do a given work energy is needed. And this energy comes from the food or drinks we consume.
Grab any pack of food and check the food label. The top row always shows the calories per unit. It’s usually displayed in kilo-calories. That means 100kcals (kilo-calories) are actually 100,000 calories! Commonly, though, you just say calories.
Be aware of that and don’t mix that up! Throughout this article and all others on LPM I will use kcals for short. And if I just write “calories” that’s the commonly used kilo-calories.
For those looking for a more technical and detailed explanation I like to refer you to this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calorie.
Imagine a scale. One of those old ones with two plates where you have to put counterweights on one side to balance the scale. By matching the weight on both sides you get the weight of the object you want to weigh.
Now imagine you sitting on one side and on the other side you have food. And instead of weight or mass, we use calories.
To balance the scale you have to put on a certain amount of calories. Let’s say 2000kcals.
What happens when you only put on 1500kcals? Right, the plate on which you sit will lower.
And if you add 500kcals to those 2000kcals? The plate on which you sit will rise.
The calories that balance the scale are called maintenance “calories”. In this situation you will not gain or loose any weight. The technical term for this situation is called “homeostasis”.
By eating less food (subtracting calories) from your maintenance calories you create a deficit: You eat less than you actually need. This diet is called a “hypo-caloric diet”.
By eating more food (adding calories) on top of your maintenance calories you create a surplus: You eat more than you actually need. This diet is called a “hyper-caloric diet”.
Keep that concept in mind, it’s an important piece of the puzzle and I will come back to it later when we choose the goal of our diet.
If you want to predict your progress on a diet or set the amount of weight-loss for a given time – per week for example – it’s good to know how to calculate that.
The number above is the amount of calories 1lbs (roughly 500gr) of body-fat has.
Say your diet has you eating 500kcals below maintenance. Over a week you would eat 500kcals x 7days = 3,500kcals less. This deficit will then create a fat-loss of 1lbs or 500gr per week.
You could also burn that in the gym, with running or any other activity. To your body these calories are missing and it has to take them from somewhere. If you’re not eating enough, or doing that much activity your body will have to use stored body fat.
Keep that number in mind. Whenever you want to know how much weight-loss your diet should be able to generate take your deficit of a week in calories and divide it by 3,500 to get in a more useful unit: weight of body-fat.
The foundation of any diet plan are the calories. It’s the energy content of the food we eat.
To function properly, your body needs a certain amount of calories. This number is highly individual to each person and not even constant.
The demand for energy changes all the time. It increases with activity and falls when you rest.
At the end of the day, everything we consume does provide energy which your body “measures”. It does its thing and when all is set and done it draws a line, adds everything up and checks the balance. The balance tells your body if there is a deficit, surplus or if you just ate exactly what you needed.
Diet-wise, we are looking for a certain outcome. Whether that’s gaining muscle or loosing body-fat. We want to know what the outcome will be. By setting calories, we create a situation where this outcome can be predicted. We increase the odds of it (the outcome) happening.
Macro is short for “macro nutrients” and describes the big building blocks of the food we need to consume. In the fitness world “macros” are a magic word. Coaches, bodybuilders and athletes figured that out pretty quickly: control macros to control how you body performs.
By eating a diet with defined macros you set the perfect environment for the desired outcome. Each “macro” has a specific effect on the body and it’s the composition of macros (macro ratio) that athletes and coaches are working with.
This becomes a huge concern when you diet really hard and really long. Bodybuilders who reach extremely low body-fat levels are very meticulous about their diets. The calories get so low over the weeks, that they need to give the body exactly what it needs to function. There is no room for extra calories as that would reduce the rate at which they loose body fat. So the macros are set to specific ratios – which, by the way, change as the diet progresses.
Luckily, we have way more wiggle room. It’s not necessary to be that strict and extreme. Still, the macros consist of the caloric load we are to consume and that’s why we have to control them.
The macros of concern for the human body are protein, fat, carbohydrates and alcohol. Yes, alcohol. With a substantial amount of calories it’s easy of off-set any deficit you created with food. Of course you should limit alcohol consumption in general, but if you want to have the occasional drink and still make progress on you diet you have to account for it. So, don’t get hammered every weekend and wonder why your diet isn’t working 😉
On to the macros!
Function: Or amino acids are the main building blocks of the human body and many other living creatures. There are essential and nonessential amino acids. The body is able to produce the nonessential on its own, but not the essential ones. They have to be taken in through diet. (wiki)
Animal meat contains all essential and nonessential proteins, which makes for the perfect source of protein. They are called complete proteins. Many plant based sources have an incomplete protein profile and need be supplemented (for example with a complete protein) to make up for the missing essential amino acids.
Storage: The body does not have any considerable storage capacity for protein. That is one reason to include some sort of protein into you daily meals. Another important factor is muscle growth and retention, where you should meet a certain threshold to optimize both.
Protein from meat & fish:
Protein from dairy:
Protein from plants:
Function: With over double the calories per unit the main function of fat is to provide an easy to store (because dense) long-term energy storage. As with protein there are essential and non-essential fats that have to be provided by your diet.
Certain fats also have very important effects on your body. Omega-3 & Omega-6 fatty acids play a special role other than providing energy. Listing the benefits of omega-3 would go beyond the scope of this paragraph. Check the links for more information.
Storage: The body has – sadly – an almost unlimited capacity as it meant survival back in the days. The fat is stored directly under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and behind the abdominal wall (that’s your abs, bro!) (visceral fat). Some of the fat is also stored inside your muscles and at your liver. With increased fat mass the body has to get quite creative to find new places where it can store the incoming load. (forehead-fat anybody?)
High quality fat sources:
Function: The bodies favorite energy source. So much so, that it will always choose carbs over fats for energy. They are easily digested and quickly available to the cells where they are burned for energy. All carb sources are composed of different types of sugar, but none of them are essential. To survive, you do not need any carbs at all. But they help you run well. The brain loves carbs and can only switch to an alternate energy source (ketones, created from fat) when carb levels are very, very low.
The main purpose is to fuel high demanding tasks such as hard labor and regular lifting of heavy weights.
Storage: From its main use you might have figured already that carbs are stored where they are needed most: Inside your muscles. Some of it can be “stored” in the blood, but that’s only temporarily until insulin moves it out of the blood and into the cells where it’s burned. The liver is also able to hold some sugar for storage.
On a metabolic-level, there really is no use and no need for alcohol. It is not essential and you can live absolutely well without any. However, alcoholic beverages have a big social aspect. All around the world and in different cultures alcoholic beverages are consumed for celebration, pleasure and sociability.
In the context of dieting, health and fitness, though, there are a few things you should know. The list below is partly taken from here:
You might also have heard of micro-nutrients, too. These are just as important for your health as the macros, but are needed in much smaller doses. Vitamins and trace minerals are the typical representatives of this group. The caloric-load of “micros” is so low that it’s not necessary to count them on a diet.
Quality sources for vitamins and minerals:
Let’s draw a picture again. This time think of a cake. The whole cake represents your total daily calories. Now let’s cut it into slices. Each slice represents a macro-nutrient. For starters let’s go with 3 slices, one for protein, one for fat and one for carbs. The size of each slice shows you how much of your calories is taken up by this particular macro.
A macro ratio is the ratio between the size of the slices, so to speak.
These ratios also represents different diets. Below are a few examples of diets in “cake-style”- diagrams.
Keep the ratios in mind. We’ll come back to them later when we pick a diet.
These are my 5 steps to setup a custom diet that I have found to work very well over the years. The steps are:
Keep in mind that we are making an estimation. Numbers will get rounded up and down, but at the end you get a very good starting point.
I mentioned it before: Any diet will and has to change over time. But we need a starting point. If you like, see the diet as an experiment. Try, measure, take notes about what happens, change a thing, repeat until happy with the outcome.
Let’s go through the step together, I will use my current stats to show you how to create a diet from scratch. After we finish you will find the compact version with all calculations and examples in form of a quick-guide, without all the detailed explanations that follow next.
The Basel Metabolic Rate or BMR is the average energy the body needs to function at rest and is stated in kcals (kilo =1000 calories) for a 24h time period. If all you did was laying around, doing nothing the whole day (24h), the energy needed to just exist: that’s your basel metabolic rate.
It’s the amount of energy need for you heart to beat, your lungs to breath and your brain to control everything and so on. It does not include any physical activities.
My current stats are:
All you have to do is plug in your height, body weight, age and (biological) gender to get your BMR in calories per 24h. Your daily calories without considering any activities.
If you want to a quicker way and don’t want to rely on an online-calculator you can alternatively use this method. By multiplying your body-weight with a factor you get a similar result.
Just a little difference there that lies within the decimals. As we are rounding numbers up and down during the process the difference can be ignored.
No matter which method you use, it’ll get you to our starting point. A ball-park number, somewhere to start where we are not totally off.
Calories after Step 1:
1850kcals per day
Up until now all you did was lay in bed. It involved breathing, your heart pumped blood through the veins and all other organs did their thing. But, what happens the minute you figure that this is super boring and decide to stand up and do stuff? Well, there are your muscles that have to do the work and this action requires energy. Even signaling your muscles to do something requires energy.
Picture someone who is sitting most of the day, but does some stuff with his hands (clicking, moving papers, drinking coffee). That takes some energy to do.
Now picture someone who, after sitting and doing stuff is over, goes to some place to lift heavy things off the ground for some time. That requires more energy. Right?
So we need to add calories to the BMR to be able to do the things we do.
The next question is: “How much do I add to account for any activities?”
By multiplying your BMR with the PAL-value you get another part of your daily calories:
The TEE – the Total Energy Expenditure.
PAL lifestyle and value examples
In general: You can add 0,3 PAL-Units per day that you exercise on or have a taxing free time activity.
Example: I have a sedentary job as a design engineer, but work out 3-4 days per week.
For starters I would go with a PAL of around 1,5
TEE = BMR * PAL = 1840kcal * 1,5 = 2760kcals per day
This is the amount of calories I should eat on a daily basis to sustain my current weight and body composition in the context of my lifestyle.
Until this point we are not thinking about dieting to lose fat or gain muscle.
This amount of calories – however it is brought into the system – is for maintenance.
To preserve the status quo, that would be my number.
By the way: It’s harder to stay where you are then to move into a certain direction. Because this number is always moving and because you don’t know it and because you can barely eat this exact number the needle on the scale will always tip to either direction, just a little bit.
What if you want to move the needle, purposely, in a certain direction? And without going so hard into that direction that your body blocks or swings all over the place (jo-jo-dieting)?
Check Step 3 …
Calories after Step 2:
2760kcals per day
Fat loss, muscle gain? Deficit or surplus? That’s the words you often hear when people talk about their diets. “How big’s your deficit?” “How big should my surplus be to pack on muscle but no fat!?”
What that means is, that you have to add or substract a certain amount of calories to achieve your goal. Remember that CICO from the beginning? That’s what we need to apply next.
Depending on your desired goal you have to decide for either “direction” and the “severeness” of (how big) the deficit/ surplus should be.
Below are a few suggestions, each with a little comment and their potential use. Let’s begin with the deficit as most of you reading this will probably want to loose bodyfat.
Almost not noticeable, this approach is very slow. You’d have to weigh out everything you eat exactly and there would be no room for any additional activities or treats.
For a person with a body-weight of 80kg and moderate activity levels this deficit would result in a daily deficit of 135kcals (2700kcals x 0,05) or 1 glass of orange juice. On a weekly scale that’s 945kcals or roughly 120gr on the scale of lost body-fat. That means 1 glass of orange juice can eliminate all the “dieting” you did for a week. doh!
This kind of deficit is starting to make sense. It’s still rather little but can be sustained for very long periods. You get to eat plenty and it should barely feel like dieting. Our example prospect would lose around 250gr per week from a daily deficit of 270kcals. A mix of regular activity and a little bit of food restriction make up for a very sustainable diet. This approach can work for years and could be achieved without any strict and detailed meal plan.
We are now getting in the realm of real dieting. For most people 20% represents the industry-standard of 1lbs or 500gr fat loss per week. Our prospect is now eating 540kcals below maintenance. At this point the food restriction starts to make you a bit hungry and the food choices have to be more conscious. Having a meal plan with laid of quantities is highly advised at this point.
A 20% deficit can be used for several weeks. However, if you get into very fit levels of body-weight you should take a diet-break after 8-12 weeks where you would eat at your new maintenance (TEE after your diet) for 2-4 weeks to reverse metabolic adaptations your body has made. This kind of diet also helps to build new habits and create a healthy lifestyle.
A mix of activity and diet can work great. If you feel the portion size of each meal is getting to small and it becomes a psychological challenge, increase the level of activity. That lets you eat bigger meals, but still generate a big enough deficit to make progress on your diet. If you are rather light-weight and would end up with portion sizes below 400kcals per meal this is highly recommended. 400kalcs per meal is hardly a satisfying meal.
Our prospect would loose about 1,6lbs or 800gr of body fat per week. Awesome, right? But also not very sustainable. If you have a lot of weight to loose a 30% deficit can kick things off, but after a few weeks you should take a break, give your body some time to recover. From there it makes sense to head into a less severe deficit (10 to 20%) and get rid of the final pounds. Again, with breaks to counter the adaptations your body will make.
40- 50+% deficit:
Crash-Dieting or “Mini-Cuts” should only be used for 1-2 weeks. This is not sustainable and I would always opt-in for the slower approaches. If you want to kick-start your diet this can be a nice motivation. Be aware that even during this short period you will experience mood changes, hunger will become very present and energy levels will suffer. You might be OK for a few days, but your body will soon make notice. Thinking will get harder and you will become very sluggish.
As with all short/intense diets you will not experience a real lifestyle change. This kind of “diet” may physiologically be better suited for a very heavy person as the body still has plenty of stored energy and will not see this “event” as a big deal. The psychological part of such a diet may very well set you back to square one if you break and return to your old eating habits. Beginning a diet with a failure will impair your diet success of the future. Let’s not do that.
In most cases a deficit of 10 to 20% works very well, as this brings you into the realm of “making noticeable progress”, which is also possible to sustain for long enough. Bigger deficits will cause a lot of adaptations like increased hunger and less overall energy levels. An experienced dieter might try the bigger deficits and will return to a healthy diet or better a maintenance-diet at the end of a mini-cut.
It’s usually associated with mass-gains in the form of muscle-gain. Muscle growth is generally slower and limited compared to fat-gain. Therefor the overall surplus will be lower to minimize fat-gain. Gaining muscle depends on many other factors like eaten protein amount, sleep/ rest and of course a weightlifting plan designed to promote muscle growth. Every person has limited potential. Simply eating more does not promote more muscle gain.
Paraphrasing from this article:
To gain 500gr of muscle around 3,500kcals are needed, over the course of a month that’s around 120kcals per day.
Which brings me to …
This is the industry-standard for muscle-gain which puts you into the area of steady muscle growth. Together with a weight lifting plan the fat gain is very limited.
Our example prospect with a TEE of 2700kcals per day would increase the calories to 2970kcals (+10%) or roughly 2950kcals per day. That’s higher than the mentioned 120kcals per day, so the expected muscle-gain could be above 500gr per month.
From the comments on the 5-10% surplus you are suspecting correctly that after you topped-out your potential of muscle growth the remaining surplus will go mostly into fat gain.
“Spilling over” – like the full glass of water is a very good illustration of what happens.
I’ll mention this kind of surplus only to make the point of not doing stupid diets. The “dirty-bulk” actually begins even before this surplus and is not necessary to gain (more) muscle. If you ever find someone who seriously recommends something like GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day = +2400kcals) please run or at least ask questions.
To limit fat-gain during a mass-phase you should stay in the 5-10%-range. If you find yourself getting a little soft over the weeks cut back 100kcals per day. If you are gaining slower than predicted or not at all add a 100 – 150kcals per day.
Let’s move on to our example-diet.
So, what’s YOUR goal?
I’d say we go with senseful deficit of 20% for a nice fat loss-diet. To calculate that I got two options for you:
Option #1: TEE * 0.8 = 2760kcals * 0.8 = 2208kcals per day
Opting #2: TEE * 0.2 = 2760kcals *0.2 = 552kcals, TEE – 552kcals = 2208kcals per day
For me #1 is the easiest, but if you like to see what your actual daily deficit would be option #2 will do the trick. Round the numbers up or down a bit. As with this case: 8kcals PER DAY are almost impossible to measure. Drop’em, feel good about it and don’t make things any hard than needed.
Calories after Step 3:
2200kcals per day
Now that we have our daily calories with added activity and a set goal, the next step is to transform those calories into macros. How’d you do that? By giving each macro a certain part of the daily allotment (that’s the macro-ratio from earlier) considering it’s calories per gram.
From there, when you divide the calories that you want to give to a certain macro, you get it’s weight in gr.
You decide to eat 25% of your daily calories from protein and your allowed to eat 2000kcals per day. Then:
2000kcals * 0.25 = 500kcals per day
500kcals / 4kcal per gram = 125gr of protein per day
I will give you a few examples for different diets and what the typical distributions look like.
Feel free and try these out for a couple of weeks, remember to journal about your findings and tweak! Ultimately you will come up with a diet that’s tailored to fit you and your needs perfectly.
As someone coming from a weightlifting background you will see me put protein first whenever I create meals and meal plans. Muscle growth/ retention are maximized when a certain daily threshold is reached. As you only have so many calories each day the macro with the highest priority (in this case protein) gets the cake, so to speak.
ISO is just another fancy word for “equal” or “even”. That means for a diet, your daily calories will be evenly split across the macros. But keep in mind, that fat has 9kcals per gram: Calories will be equal but not the resulting amount!
Example macros in gram for a person eating 1500kcals, 2000kcals or 2500kcals per day:
The title says it all. If you want a classic template for a body-building style diet look no further. Focused on the right protein content and with just enough fat, it leaves plenty of room for carbs to fuel and recover from the taxing workouts that are required to build a muscular physique.
Example macros in gram for a person weighing 50kg, 70,kg and 80kg, eating a 5% surplus to gain muscle and their resulting calories per day:
As the name implies, the aim of this diet is to bring carbohydrate content down as much as possible. The elimination of carbs from the diet forces the body to switch from its main energy source (carbs) to it’s “emergency” source: Ketones.
These are produced in the liver from fat and although the dietary fat content (that’s what we eat) is very high, with low enough overall calories the body will easily burn the body fat you carry around. Of course there has to be a deficit, just eating plenty of fatty foods and hoping to melt body fat off will not happen.
If you come from a diet that is mostly sugar, eliminating it will create a huge deficit. But it is the deficit that makes you loose weight so quickly, not the fact that you don’t eat sugar anymore. People can get fat on keto-diets no problem. If you need 2000kcals but eat 3000kcals (which is not that hard if you enjoy all the salami, butter, bacon and cheese), the energy does not magically disappear. Hope that clears-up some of the misconception. (link)
Example macros in gram for a person eating 1500kcals, 2000kcals or 2500kcals per day:
The gram-count you find in these tables is the content found inside a certain food product. If your diet-plan has you eating 160gr of protein per day, that means you need to eat enough food to cover for that.
Skinless chicken breast, for example, has around 20gr of protein per 100gr. To get 160gr of protein from it you’d have to eat:
160gr / 20g = 8 * 100gr = 800gr of chicken breast
(100gr of chicken breast has a protein content of 20gr)
After we decided to have a nice 20%-deficit we got 2200kcals per day @ 82kg.
The calories now have to be transformed or broken down into the actual macros.
Let’s make this a body-building diet with the recommendations from above for someone who is a regular, heavy lifter, looking to shed some body-fat.
You see me rounding things up and down: There is no method to it, really. Just make that a number that looks nice. The protein could also be rounded down to 145gr, as well. Weighing (with a digital scale) 145gr is not different to 150gr, it just looks nicer (IMHO). Keep the ranges, though. Going from 147.6gr to 160gr or even 180gr is way to generous. Same goes for rounding down. You get the idea.
Macros after Step 4:
Protein: 150gr / 600kcals per day
Fat: 60gr / 550kcals per day
Carbs: 260gr/ 1040kcals per day
Almost there! For the final step you have to decide how much of each macro you want to eat per meal. Most of the decision comes from personal preferences and how all this fits into your lifestyle, daily schedule and so on.
The following are so called “eating schemes”, you’ll find the basic setup and a little comment (partly from personal experience) that gives you an idea if this might be the right thing for you.
I’ll use the macro setup from step 4 for illustration.
Simply divide each macro by the number of meals you like to eat. This example follows our general eating scheme of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make it three different meals with the same nutritional-setup or eat a breakfast meal, followed by two identical meals that one would consider as a lunch/ dinner meal.
Same idea can be used for 4, 5 or more meals of equal size. The meals can be made of different foods. Increase the number of meals when the portion size gets unpractical. A 1000kcal-meal is nice on occasion, but a hustle for every meal, week after week.
If you like three meals per day but like the meals to have different macro-ratios you can be creative and try something like this:
Meal 1 has an equal mix of carbs and fat, meal 2 is a low-carb/ high-fat meal and meal 3 is a high-carb/ low-fat meal. Protein is kept constant throughout the day to provide a steady stream of amino acids for muscle growth/ retention.
This setup is my favorite as it provides a stable base of all nutrients at the start of the day.
The low-carb/ high-fat meal for lunch keeps me from getting tired later. It’s higher fat content slows down digestion so I won’t get hungry soon. Throw in an apple before hitting the gym to bridge the gap until it’s dinner time.
Most of the carbs are eaten at night, after the gym. Carbs tend to make me tired. While that is something I want to avoid at work, it’s perfect to lead into a good nights sleep. And because we saved on carbs for lunch the portion size gets bigger.
It’s a nice trick to eat bigger meals but still be dieting. Most people are mentally occupied by work during the day, but feel the urge to have a nice meal at night. Which, then, can be bigger and mentally more fulfilling.
You can, of course, make the snack more than just a piece of fruit. If you like to spread out macros/ calories over more meals try a setup like this:
The snack in this example would be 50gr of cheese together with an apple.
Or IF for short has become a very popular eating scheme. The basic lean gains- approach (by Martin Berkhan) is, to give yourself a window of 8h in which you are allowed to eat. The remaining 16h only no-caloric foods and beverages are permitted.
Funny enough, as a kid I skipped breakfast because I wasn’t hungry or got sleepy from sugary “breakfast foods”. And even today I prefer to have my first meal of the day at lunch. In a sense, I was IF-ing without knowing it.
In the example with different macros for each meal you probably noticed that I put certain macros at different times to create a special effect. No carbs at lunch, which would make me tired. And then all the carbs at night to enjoy a big meal plus the benefit of leading into a good nights sleep.
Carbs and fat have been cycled.
Another common way is to cycle a macro in and out on different days. Having your carbs only on days that you train on is very popular among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Going low-carb for 5 days a week and then carb-up on the weekend is also a very common.
Doing a carb-cycle could look something like this:
There are arguments for and against this approach. Some say that low carbs on off-days reduce fat accumulation during a mass-phase (when you eat more to grow muscle), others argue, that carbs are also needed on off-days for recovery (regardless of the goal).
From my experience, I have to say that when you train often and with high volumes (lots of heavy sets and reps) your recovery can suffer. This might take a few weeks to notice, but I could definitely tell that carbs were missing. In that case making Wednesday or Saturday another high carb/ low fat day may help. Especially when dieting and overall calories are low you might want to add another day of higher carbs (and lower fat, respectively) to ensure quality training sessions.
Of course not all meals have to have the same calories. Cycling calories together with macros is no unheard of. And while we’re at it: If you are super crazy, you can cycle your training together with your diet. Every day, then, has a certain training coupled with strict diet for ridiculous results.
You see we are getting very complicated with our setup and schedule of the diet. And for most of us, this degree of complexity is not needed. Let’s be honest: If you want to start a diet and I hand you a scheme like this. How big would you see your chances to stick to it? Wouldn’t you rather think “This is way to complicated! I just stay where I am!”
Why not, for starters, …
There is a way to use this cycling if your are just starting out. But instead of macros and/or calories: How about dieting only a few days per week?
Say, you’d give it 100% on 3 days and eat normal on 4 days? And after some time you switch it to 4 diet-days and 3 normal-days? And then, after some more time you add another diet-day? Sounds way more doable, right?
Give it a try if going from 0 to 100%-diet feels to hard to do. This will also help you with getting into the habit of prepping. Start with a couple days spread-out and advance from there over the course of a few weeks. And without even noticing you lost weight and created a new habit for a healthy lifestyle.
Putting it all together, below are all the steps from our sample diet back to back for a quick-take-action-now!-step-by-step-guide:
Step1: Calculate your BMR using a calculator or a multiplier
Example: 82kg * 10.5kcals/kg = 1850kcals per day
Step2: Add your level of activity to your BMR
Example: 1850kcals * 1.5 = 2760kcals
Step3: Choose your goal – deficit (for fat-loss) or surplus (for mass gain)
Example: 20% deficit, 2760kcals * 0.8 = 2200kcals
Step4: Transform calories into macros
Example: Bodybuilding diet with Protein @ 1.8gr/kg, Fat @ 25% of daily calories, Carbs @ remaining daily calories. Protein = 150gr/ 600kcals, Fat = 60gr /550kcals, Carbs= 260gr/ 1040kcals
Step5: Spread macros over daily meals, considering preferences and lifestyle
Example: Meal 1 (P50,F15,C50), Meal 2 (P50,F40,C10), Meal 3 (P50,F5,C200)
When picking an eating-scheme make sure that it fits your lifestyle and how you respond to dieting. That means you have to try, tweak and try some more.
If you get off-track easily, a more strict approach is advisable.
If you can handle to juggle things around, then do that.
Some people can be very robot-like during the week, but enjoy a feast or two on the weekends. Others need to slip just once and are on a binge for weeks.
Whatever you pick, give it everything you got and make it an honest decision. Trying a scheme that works fantastic for person A might be not work at all is just unpractical for person B.
Consistency is king when it comes to reaching your (diet) goals. Find your way of dieting and stick with it.
I know that we want the right and perfect solution, now. Things have to work immediately and 100%. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s not how it works. Every successful person used trail and error to find their way. And that holds true for so many other situations in live, not just dieting and training. Spend the time, it’s worth it.
Wow, that was plenty! But I thought I’d take the rather elaborate way of explaining how to set a diet up, so you can do that in just a few steps, too. There a things that simply need a little bit of background to help make good decisions.
It’s not rocket science (math-wise), but the thoughts behind each step are what make a custom diet, well, custom. You can decide on every level what you prefer, like, have experience in or what you are eager to try.
I am sure the information will put you on the right path to achieve your goals.
Now it’s up to you! Go and create you own diet, try, keep what works, change, evolve and be just great.
What type of diet you like? How do you setup your diet and macros?
End of Series
This may be the end of the Complete Meal Prep Guide, but not the end of us learning and experiencing. This series will be the center of all future articles and posts. So make sure to come back and check the blog for new entries.
I am also aware that there are still a lot of topics I just brushed on or completely left out.
How can this series be called complete, then? In my opinion it is, if you do everything I showed you, you are on a very well laid out path to your goal. Getting your habits straight (creating/ keeping the good and abandon the bad ones) and participating in any regular physical activity will only be an addition. The foundation will always be a senseful eating plan, known as a diet.
Have a good one,
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