You might have the greatest workout program in the world. But if your nutrition is off, you’re not going to get the body you want.
If you eat too little, your fat burning will stall and you’ll lose muscle mass. Eat too much and you won’t get lean. And if you’re trying to gain muscle while losing fat, it gets complicated.
Ditch the blinders and take control of your diet. Once you start to measure and manage your intake, you’ll finally get the physique you work so hard for.
Figure your total daily calories
First you need to know how much to take in. There are several formulas. And whichever one you choose, you might still need to experiment a bit to get it right.
Calories: the easy way
This formula is pretty basic, but it works well.
- Take your body weight
- Multiply it by the following number:
- 12-13 for fat loss
- 15 for maintenance or body recomposition
- 17-18 for muscle mass gain
That’s it. Easy breezy.
Calories: the scientific way
If you want to be more precise, try the following equation. It’s a tried and true formula used by a lot of trainers and exercise physiologists.
- Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). The simplest way is to multiply your body weight x 10.
- Figure your daily activity level. (Be honest here. You could work out 3x/week, but if you sit for 13 hours a day, you’re not “active.” Keep it in perspective.)
- sedentary = 1.2
- light = 1.375
- medium = 1.55
- active = 1.725
- extremely active = 1.9
- Multiply BMR x activity level, that’s your baseline calories.
- For fat loss, subtract 400-500 calories. For mass gain, add 200-300 calories.
If you find a discrepancy between the two formulas, you’ll have a range to work with. No calorie formula is exact, so you may have to play with it and make adjustments.
Figure your daily macronutrient intake
Caloric intake is important for energy balance. But you’re trying to achieve optimal body composition. The right balance of protein, carbs and fat is critical.
For fat loss
To burn fat you need to have a caloric deficit. And the easiest/most effective thing to cut is carbohydrate.
Here’s your fat loss macronutrient breakdown (listed in grams per pound of body weight):
- Protein: 1-1.3 g/lb
- Carbs: 1g/lb
- Fat: 0.4-0.6 g/lb
Do not cut too many calories. And don’t stay in a deficit for too long. Both of these are a recipe for disaster — slowed fat loss, slowed metabolism, and loss of muscle. Don’t do this.
Limit your fat loss cycle to 4-5 weeks max. If you have a large amount of fat to lose, you can do this for longer, but your calorie/carb deficit needs to shrink over time in order to avoid the problems I just mentioned.
For muscle mass gain
To pack on muscle mass, you have to take in excess calories. And you especially don’t want to skimp on the carbs.
Mass gain macros:
- Protein: 1-1.3g/lb
- Carbs: 2-2.5 g/lb
- Fat: 0.3-0.5 g/lb
You’re going to gain some fat while you’re trying to bulk up, and you have to be okay with that. Just don’t go balls-to-the-wall with pizza, cake and cookies, and your fat gain will be moderate. Don’t start or continue to bulk if your body fat is above 15%. Lose some fat first.
Once you’ve gotten the mass gains you want (or exceed 15% body fat), start a fat loss cycle and get ripped with your new muscle mass. Alternating mass gain and (shorter) fat loss cycles will give you the body you want over the long term.
For maintenance or body recomposition
Once you’ve achieved your desired size and leanness — and you don’t want to add mass or reduce body fat — you can eat to maintain your current physique.
This also works for body recomposition, which is the practice of building muscle and burning fat at the same time. But make no mistake, the body recomp approach is very, very slow. And it simply doesn’t work for a lot of people.
You’ll get better, faster results by alternating mass gain/fat loss cycles as noted above.
Maintenance/body recomp macros:
- Protein: 1g/lb
- Carbs: 1.5-1.75 g/lb
- Fat: 0.3-0.5 g/lb
Count macros, not calories
Caloric intake is the most important factor in determining your body composition. Your calorie targets are what govern the whole process.
Figuring a target caloric intake will help you determine your target macros. But when it comes to daily tracking, count protein, fat and carbohydrate. Focus on your macronutrients, and the calories will work themselves out accordingly.