Hey, Mitko aka Fitness Consistency Coach here and today I want to pick up from where I left off with my last blog post on the topic of the scientific principle behind weight loss and how to kick-start the fat loss process. In that blog post I covered the basic principle of energy balance which is the key to weight loss.
More specifically, in order to lose weight the number one thing that you need to do is consume less calories than you are burning on average. You can do this either by eating less, exercising more – or both (which is your best bet if you want a lean muscular physique).
The next logical question you might have, of course, is: “so what do I eat then?”
Well, today’s your lucky day because I’ll be answering that very question in this blog post. Again, I’ll try to explain the subject in simple terms and plain language since this stuff can get a bit confusing.
I’ll focus on giving you actionable eating guidelines that will help you lose fat and build muscle effectively without counting calories and sacrificing your time and sanity (although I’ll also include a more advanced nutritional approach for those of you who want to take things to the next level).
This is what I’d like to call a million dollar blog post. If you implement the stuff you’re about to learn, you’ll literally be ahead of 99% of people. So without further ado, let’s get right into it…
Eat whole, unprocessed foods 80-90% of the time
If you want a leaner, more muscular physique, one of the things you’ll have to do is cut back on your “pizza and TV series” time a bit, and instead double down on whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. No surprises so far, hopefully.
The problem with junk foods (i.e. highly processed foods) like pizza, pasta, donuts, cakes and the like is that these foods are often very high in calories yet very low in micronutrients (due to processing).
They often contain trans fats (which are detrimental to your health) and, to make things worse, they’re hyper-palatable – they’re literally engineered (as in scientifically modified) to make you crave and consume more of them. Hey, food manufacturing companies gotta make money too, you know?
Junk food is basically designed to make you overeat on it. You can see why this might be a problem if you’re trying to develop a leaner physique…
Don’t discard the “low in micronutrients part” either. While you can be on a caloric deficit (and thus lose weight) while eating a diet primarily composed of junk food, the combination of eating less food and that food being low in micronutrients can very well lead to a micronutrient deficiency.
And trust me, you do not want one of those.
So the first step to “cleaning up” your diet is to minimize processed foods and double down on unprocessed or minimally processed alternatives.
Whole unprocessed or minimally processed foods include fresh meats, fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, dairy and dairy products, eggs, nuts and grains, cocoa, etc. Highly processed foods include deli meats, pizza, pasta, donuts, cakes, hydrogenated vegetable oils and foods cooked with them, etc.
Notice that I said “minimize”, not “eliminate”. I know you love pasta and wine night. Plus unnecessarily strict diets usually end up in relapses and all-you-can-eat sprees.
That’s why instead of trying to completely eliminate junk food, just cut back on it and focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods 80-90% of the time.
This way you can still enjoy a donut here and a slice of pizza there while continuing to make progress towards a leaner physique.
Set up your caloric intake and macros
Macronutrients (or macros) are nutrients you need in large amounts (unlike micronutrients which you need in trace amounts). They supply our bodies with energy (in the form of calories) that we need for different bodily functions.
There are 3 macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. In the human body, 1 gram of protein gives us 4 kcal, 1 gram of fat – 9 kcal, and 1 gram of carbohydrate – 4 kcal.
- Protein-rich foods include meats, fish and seafood, dairy and dairy products, nuts, eggs, beans and lentils, etc.
- Carb-rich foods include potatoes, rice, oatmeal, fruits, beans and lentils, etc.
- Foods rich in healthy fats include nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, fish and seafood, etc.
Usually foods contain a mix all 3 macronutrients in different ratios.
Next, I’ll give you more specific information on how to set up your caloric intake and macros depending on your fitness level.
I’ll give you two sets of guidelines:
- one for those of you who are beginners and don’t want to bother with counting calories and calculating macros;
- and one for those of you who are looking for an extra edge from their diets.
How to set up your caloric intake and macros for fat loss – beginner approach
A very easy way to set up your macros without going crazy with the calculations is the hand size portion guide advocated by Precision Nutrition. It helps you determine portion sizes by using your hands (which are, conveniently enough, scaled to you).
More specifically, your palm determines your protein portions, your fist determines your vegetable portions, your cupped hand determines your carbohydrate portions and your thumb determines your dietary fat portions.
Most active men need a total daily intake of:
- 6-8 palms of protein-dense foods;
- 6-8 fists of vegetables;
- 6-8 cupped handfuls of carb-dense foods;
- 6-8 thumbs of fat-dense foods.
All you do is you eat 3-4 meals a day. For each meal you might begin by eating 2 palms of protein-dense foods, 2 fists of vegetables, 2 cupped handfuls of carb-dense foods and 2 thumbs of fat-dense foods.
This intake comes out to around 2300-3000 kcal and is a good starting point from which to modify your diet.
Next, since your goal is to lose weight (and you know that to do that you need to go on a caloric deficit i.e. eating less calories than you’re burning), you’ll want to remove 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1-2 thumbs of fats from a few meals.
In other words, you reduce carb and/or fat intake (while keeping protein the same) until you get into a caloric deficit.
If you’re currently trying to lose weight, you want to aim for a 0.5-1% rate of weight loss per week. So what you do is you pick 1 day of the week to measure your scale weight and take body measurements.
If after one week you haven’t made any progress on those metrics, you reduce your caloric intake further. You repeat this process until you start losing weight at an appropriate rate.
The advantages of this approach are that:
- it’s outcome-based;
- you don’t have to count calories;
- you don’t have to restrict yourself to a specific meal plan, making consistency much easier.
That’s why this should be the go-to approach for most people.
Of course, some of you will think that this approach is silly and you’re too good for it. Well then, go ahead, check out the advanced approach…
How to set up your caloric intake and macros for fat loss – advanced approach
If you’re a more advanced athlete and you’re willing to do some calculations and stick to a more specific meal plan in order to gain an edge with your diet, then bring out your calculator because shit is about to hit the fan.
First off, you’ll need to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). To do that, you can either use one of the many available calculators online, or use the following formula for men:
To calculate your TDEE, you’ll need to know your BMR (or basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is the amount of calories you burn in a 24-hour period if you were to do absolutely nothing.
You can calculate your BMR using the following formula:
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) — (6.8 x age)
Now that you have your BMR you can calculate your TDEE.
To calcutale your TDEE, you need to multiply your BMR by a factor signifying your lifestyle activity levels:
1.0 – sedentary (do nothing all day)
1.2 - very light activity (desk job, no training, some walking)
1.4 - light activity (no training, job might require some light physical labor)
1.6 - moderate activity (a physically undemanding job, but training on a regular basis)
1.8 - high activity (daily training plus a somewhat physically active job or lifestyle)
2.0 - very high activity (twice-a-day training, sports + training. or training + a very demanding job)
Once you have your TDEE, you multiply it by 90% to 80% (or 0.9 to 0.8) depending on how aggressively you want to lose weight, and you end up with the calories you need to consume for weight loss.
Remember, these formulas aren’t perfect but they do give us a rough estimate to work with. You might have to tweak your intake a bit as you go in order to see the results you’re after.
Anyway, now that you have your caloric intake for weight loss, it’s time to calculate your macros.
The first macro you need to calculate is your protein. You need to consume at least 0.82 g of protein per pound of body weight (or that would be at least 1.8 g per kg of body weight). So you simply multiply your weight in pounds by 0.82 and you get your protein intake in grams.
Next, you want to translate that into calories, so what you do is you multiply your protein intake in grams by 4 (because there are 4 kcal in 1 g of protein), and now you have your protein intake in calories.
The next macro you want to calculate is fat. Things get a bit hazy here because some people do better on a high-fat/low-carb diet (usually endomorphs) while others tend to do better on a high-carb/low-fat diet (usually ectomorphs).
Anyway, to calculate your fat intake, you multiply your body weight in pounds by a factor of 0.6 – 0.9 (or your body weight in kg by a factor of 1.3-2). If you do better on high carbs go with the lower range, and if you do better on low carbs go with the higher range.
Once you have your fat intake in grams, you want to translate it into calories, so you multiply it by 9 (because there are 9 kcal in 1 g of fat).
Now, all that’s left is to calculate your carb intake.
To do that, you take the caloric intake for weight loss that you calculated earlier and subtract the sum of your calories from protein and calories from fat. This way, what’s left is the amount of calories that should come from carbs. All you need to do after this is to divide the caloric intake from carbs by 4 (because there are 4 kcal in 1 g of carbs) and you get your carb intake in grams.
Now that you have your caloric intake for weight loss along with how many grams of protein, fats and carbs you need to eat, you can go ahead and make a meal plan using these parameters.
Anyway, I know your head probably hurts by now, so let’s clear things up with an example:
Let’s use an imaginary subject called John who weighs 80 kg (or 176 lbs), is 192 cm tall, works out regularly and is 20 years old.
Now that we have this basic data, all we do is substitute the numbers in the formulas and calculate John’s BMR and TDEE.
BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 80) + (5 x 192) – (6.8 x 20) = 66 + 1096 + 960 – 136 = 1986 kcal
So what that number means is that if John was to do absolutely nothing all day but lie in bed, in a 24-hour period he would burn 1986 kcal.
Next, we calculate John’s TDEE. Since he works out regularly, we’ll use an activity factor of 1.6:
TDEE = BMR x 1.6 = 1986 x 1.6 = 3177.6 kcal
What this number means is that John burns about 3177 calories in a 24-hour period.
So to calculate his caloric needs for weight loss, all we do is multiply his TDEE by 90% to 80%:
Daily caloric needs for weight loss = TDEE x 85% = 3177 x 85% = 2700 kcal
Next up, we calculate John’s protein needs by multiplying his body weight in kg by 1.8:
Protein intake = 80 kg x 1.8 g = 144 g
Calories from protein = 144 g x 4 kcal = 576 kcal
Next up is fat. We’ll assume that John is more on the endomorphic side so we’ll use a factor of 0.8 to calculate his fat intake:
Fat intake = 176 lbs x 0.8 g = 141 g
Calories from fat = 141 g x 9 kcal = 1269 kcal
Next up, we calculate the calories from carbs by subtracting the sum of calories from fat and calories from protein from our John’s caloric intake for weight loss:
Calories from carbs = Caloric intake for weight loss – (Calories from protein + Calories from fat) = 2700 – (576 + 1269) = 855 kcal
Carb intake = 855 kcal / 4 kcal/g = 214 g
So to summarize our example, our buddy John should have a daily intake of 144 g of protein, 141 g of fat and 214 g of carbs, if he is to go on a caloric deficit and lose the beer belly.
Anyway, аs you might have noticed this approach is a pain in the ass. Now that you’ve seen all of these calculations, you probably understand why I advise most people to stick to using their hands to determine portion sizes.
It might seem stupid or silly, but not only will it save you a lot of headaches – it will also increase your chances of sticking to good nutritional guidelines by a hundred-fold. And ultimately, consistency is the number one predictor of success.
How to minimize hunger when you’re in a caloric deficit
Funniest image I’ve ever used in a blog post, hands down
People who are in the process of losing weight (and thus are in a caloric deficit) often have issues with managing hunger levels, so besides working out regularly so that you don’t have to reduce your intake as much, there are two other quick tips I want to give you.
The first one is to pick foods that are high in micronutrients but low in calories per gram. For example, both sweet potatoes and rice are considered “carb-dense” foods. But there are 86 kcal in 100 g of sweet potatoes as opposed to 130 kcal in 100 g of white rice.
Deeply colored vegetables are some of the highest on this list, because they take up a lot of space in your stomach and are very high in micronutrients, yet they’re quite low in calories. Thus even though you’re eating the same quantity, you’re consuming a lot less total calories.
My second tip is – eat foods that keep you full longer. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient which is another reason why you want to consume a sufficient amount of it.
The next most satiating macronutrient is dietary fat which stays in your stomach longer than protein and carbs. Carbs are the least satiating macronutrient. A caveat to going crazy with your fat intake just because it’s satiating: remember that 1 g of dietary fat contains 9 kcal, while 1 g of carbohydrate contains 4 kcal so it’s easy to go overboard with calories from fat-dense foods.
Also, liquid calories pass through your GI tract faster than solid food, and small particles pass through faster than larger particles. So don’t go crazy with the chocolate milk and fruit juice either, and instead double down on solid food.
Phew! Monster post, I know. But at least now you know how to set up your macros, what to eat and how much.
OR you’re just very confused from all that math. In that case, just remember to stick to whole, unprocessed foods and the hand portion size guide, and you’ll do just fine.
And, of course, if you decide that you can’t be bothered with all this complex nutrition stuff and want someone to help you out and guide you through the maze of body transformation, I’d be glad to lend a helping hand.