We have all heard it before, the infamous eat less, move more. Is this statement true? If so, should we aim to eat as little as possible? The bear minimum we can function on? We probably wouldn’t get much done; we would feel so crummy and lethargic, and our bodies would fight us to hold on to every last bit of potential stored energy it has- read: body fat.
So how can we keep our bodies happy and lose weight? The real question should be how can we keep our bodies happy and lose body fat? We don’t want to just lose scale weight. The problem with losing scale weight is that we might see our “goal weight” on the scale but often that doesn’t translate to our goal look in the mirror. On top of that, our goal weight becomes harder and harder to maintain. Why?
There isn’t a single variable that will effect your metabolic rate more than the amount of lean mass (muscle) you do or do not have. I hear it almost daily “it has been so much harder for me once I hit (fill in x age).” Are we just doomed as we age to never reach our fitness goals? No, the problem is that over the course of time we haven’t been actively doing things necessary to keep and build our lean mass. We are now left with a less desirable body composition- lean mass is that “toned,” athletic look we all strive for- and more body fat even if our weight has not changed drastically.
How can we change our diet to help us build muscle from our training sessions?
You don’t need to spend seven days a week in the gym to build gorgeous lean muscle. You need to train and eat smarter, not necessarily harder. In this article, I am going to guide you on how to eat smart to keep lean mass, maintain your goal look with less effort, and achieve the look you want in the MIRROR, not just the flashing number on the scale.
Enter: the composition of your diet aka counting macronutrients.
The term flexible dieting is all the craze right now and with good reason. We have now realized that it is possible to have a cookie or two whenever you want and still build muscle and have low body fat- gasp! To do this, you have to know how to set up your diet to prioritize what is important. Then with the remaining wiggle room in your daily calories, you must understand how to incorporate those treat items, so they don’t destroy your fat loss efforts.
I’d like to refer to the pyramid of the hierarchy of nutrition by Eric Helms below that organizes which items you should tackle first in getting your diet right and how to work your way up. This is wonderful as you can take things one step at a time and not feel overwhelmed. Are you new to training and stressed about changing your entire eating habits, your schedule to fit the gym, getting your new extensive supplement regimen spot on in the next 24 hours? You don’t have to do it that way. Take one thing and master it, move to the next and so on. One good habit leads to another- it’s called the Domino Effect and is one of my favorite things to teach clients. Good habits, no matter how small, are intertwined with other good habits, and once you knock down that one domino, you can keep the momentum going. The trick is to take things one step at a time.
Looking at the pyramid, we need a calorie goal first indicated as “energy balance.” To do this, you will want to calculate your BMR. Your BMR is your basal metabolic rate which is what you would burn just lounging around all day in bed (see formulas below). Once you have your BMR, you will then calculate your TDEE. Your TDEE is your total daily energy expenditure which will be the number of calories you can consume to maintain your weight at your current activity level. From that number, you should subtract approximately 500 calories to give you the amount of calories to consume per day for a loss of 1 pound of body fat per week.
After finding a calorie goal, the next most important step is to deduce a protein target. Protein is important in fat loss to preserve the muscle mass you have while being in a caloric deficit- read: keep your gains. The easiest way to do this is to set your target at 1 gram per pound of lean mass. The DEXA scan is very accurate although costly. Having a skilled professional test you with calipers is likely the least expensive and most accurate option available. The least accurate measurement of body fat is with BIA machines (typically found in most gyms) and can be used as a last resort keeping in mind their level of accuracy or lack thereof.
Now we have our calories and our protein target.
From there, keeping things simple to start, I would suggest dividing up the remaining calories after you subtract your protein into carbohydrate and fats based on how you prefer to eat without taking dietary fat too low for an extended period of time. Dietary fat is important for hormone regulation and your body cannot create dietary fat on its own. A basic guideline would be to attempt to stay at or above 0.4 grams per pound of lean body mass.
The rest is carbohydrate or you can add more fat grams and adjust the carbohydrate based on your eating preferences. I have personally been utilizing a ketogenic diet Monday through Friday and having high carbohydrate days on Saturday and Sunday to shed body fat. Some people choose to utilize a carbohydrate cycle. A carbohydrate cycle, or carb cycle, is a mix of high and low carbohydrate days in a pattern. There are many different patterns that can be used such as one high day then one low day and repeat or two low and one high and repeat, etc.
My suggestion is to find a combination that works closely with your preferences and current eating pattern. This will make dieting easier for you. The best program is one that you can adhere to. I am less hungry on a ketogenic diet and it is easier for me to adhere to. For competing and performance, I need the carbohydrate so this mix is what works best for me based on my preferences and my needs.
Protein= 4 grams per calorie
Carbohydrate= 4 grams per calorie
Fat= 9 grams per calorie
The below equations can also be calculated using calculators you can find on the web. For example, you can find your TDEE HERE (https://tdeecalculator.net)
LBM= your total body weight minus pounds of body fat (use methods above to calculate body fat
(ex: I am currently at 17 percent body fat 127 lbs x 0.17= 21.59 lbs of fat mass 127- 21.59= 105.41 lbs of lean mass)
Harris Benedict Formula
This formula is less accurate than the Katch- McArdle formula but you do not need to know your lean body mass
Men: BMR = 88 + (6.1 x weight in lbs) + (12.2 x height in inches) – (5.7 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 448 + (4.2 x weight in lbs) + (7.9 x height in inches) – (4.3 x age in years)
This formula is more accurate if you have your lean body mass
BMR (men and women) = 370 + (9.8 x lean mass in lbs)
Adjust your BMR based on activity
You need to add an ‘activity multiplier’ (x1.2~x1.9) to your BMR depending on your lifestyle/training.
Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
Lightly active (training/sports 2-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (training/sports 4-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
Very active (training/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
Extremely active (training/sports and physical job): BMR x 1.9
Subtract 500= calories to consume to create a deficit of approximately 1 pound per week.
Protein target= 1 gram per pound of lean mass
The rest of the calories are carbohydrate and fat to your preferences keeping fat grams above 0.4 per pound of lean body mass as much as possible.
Please note these formulas may not work for everyone and we all have individual differences. The variables for each individual will have to be taken into consideration. (Which is what your resident knowledgable coach is for of course ;)) You must think about these equations logically as it relates to your current intake. If you are grossly low on calories and this equation suggests to consume 2 or 3 times as much to lose weight you may want to consider taking a break from active fat loss to rehab your metabolism by slowly and systematically consuming more and more calories over the course of time. This, as of late, has been called reverse dieting. Decide if your body is screaming for a reverse diet by reading my previous blog HERE.
Could you lose weight only using the calorie equations while ignoring macronutrient intake altogether? Yes, but this process will make arriving at your goal look much less painful and without a guessing game. Plus, no food is off limits. With that approach and basic guidelines of a 90/10 rule being that 90 percent of the time you consume nutrient dense foods and 10 percent of the time you consume lower quality foods that satisfy you mentally. With this approach, the vast majority of dieters can also preserve their relationship with food which, in my opinion, is the single most important factor in sustaining a happy and healthy lifestyle for years to come.
After you have your calorie and macronutrient goal we need to focus on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), meal timing (nutrient timing) and supplementation. Start small with these changes. Shoot for a calorie goal and protein goal first, then manipulate your carbohydrate and fats. Make sure you are consuming a variety of foods, fruits and vegetables. Begin with taking a multivitamin, having a whey protein powder on hand, and using branch chain amino acids during training sessions. That is a great stack for beginners. When you are ready for meal timing changes, put a higher carbohydrate, low fat and low fiber meal before and after your training sessions to allow the carbohydrate to be readily available for the training session and to easily replenish the glycogen lost after the training session. This will help you build lean mass. As you adjust to your new lifestyle, you can continue to take things to the next level with your nutrient timing schedule and supplement regimen.
Paying attention to these factors in order of importance will vastly improve your results with dieting as well as keep you socially involved with friends and family. Since you will be able to consume foods at restaurants or on the go, your likelihood of staying connected with loved ones will increase as will your adherence. Easing your way into counting macronutrients and changing habits one by one will make the transition less stressful and you will be more likely to succeed. Before you know it, you will be on your way to your dream physique with a healthy mindset.
Are you a beginner and want to learn more about counting macros? Snag my colleague and close friend Sohee Lee’s ebook The Beginner’s Guide to Macros HERE.
Want a more customized approach plus accountability? Want me to calculate your macros for you? Email me directly for coaching availability at [email protected]