Let’s make things clear, real quick.
You are different than me.
I am different than you.
This means that some things are going to work better for me than they are going to work for you, and vice versa.
And that is totally okay. Whether it comes to fitness, nutrition, lifestyle, finding “balance”, whatever.
Everything and everyone requires context to fully understand what will work for them.
Let’s take my normal diet, for example:
When people find out that my breakfast usually consists of a pre-made protein shake followed by a sugar-free Monster energy drink (not EVERY morning, but many), they are usually taken aback because they’ve likely always heard about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day (and that artificial sweeteners are the devil).
I think breakfast is super important… I just happen to eat mine at about 3:00 PM.
I do this because if I wake up and eat a big breakfast, I tend to feel sluggish afterwards and I like to do the majority of my work in the mornings and early afternoon, so a big breakfast wouldn’t be the best route for ME.
This is a major reason I do not normally provide meal plans for my clients because it’s just not practical for many people to be able to eat the same foods every single day at the same time. Instead, I get my clients familiar with tracking their food intake and then give them calorie, macronutrient (proteins, carbs, fats), and fiber targets to hit each day, which allows them to eat whenever and “whatever” they want as long as they get close to their targets by the end of the day. This type of dieting is usually referred to as “flexible dieting” or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM).
This makes it much easier to fit their diet to their lifestyle as opposed to making their lifestyle fit their diet.
Now, on the other hand, I think meal plans DO work for a lot of people. If you have a very routine and ritualistic day, meal plans can be great for taking the guesswork out of what you’re going to eat next and can be awesome for saving time. If you want a cool app that helps make you a meal plan, check this out.
I actually tend to combine both of these methods, which may work for you as well.
I’ll have a set number of calories, proteins, carbs, fats, and fiber targets that I try to get close to each day.
I usually eat about 4 times per day.
3 out of 4 of those meals usually consist of the same meals and same foods, just like a meal plan. This makes eating and planning less of a hassle.
Then, my last meal will usually be up to me based on whatever I’m feeling. I also usually save up a lot of my calories for my last meal of the night.
I know, crazy right, eating the majority of my food before bed? Yes, and if you’re curious if eating at night will make you fat, check this out and see if you change your mind. I like to go to bed with a full stomach because it usually knocks me right out.
Again, this is a great teaching moment because there are many people who DON’T like to eat a lot before bed. Therefore, if you don’t like to eat a ton before bed, you don’t have to!
I know a lot of this sounds like common sense.
“Do what works for you, duh.”
You’re exactly right, but you’d be amazed at how many fitness “professionals” I know who are so caught up with one diet and one ideology that they believe in and think if you don’t do it THEIR way, you are a stupid idiot.
If you are a fan of The Office… I love you.
Paleo, Atkins, Mediterranean, intermittent fasting, vegan, vegetarian, The Zone, Weight Watchers, South Beach…
All of these diets work.
But, all of these diets don’t work best for you.
Okay, so they don’t all work for you. So what do you do now?
First, what usually makes a “diet” successful?
Don’t call it a diet. When you think of going on a diet, this means you also intend to go off your diet after a certain period of time. Learning about food, it’s effects on your body, and how you can integrate it successfully into your lifestyle is the key to sustainable nutritional success.
Building off point one, if you can’t see yourself eating this way 6 months from now, you may want to reconsider your approach. Obviously, the amount of food you eat may change based on your goals (gaining fat or losing muscle) over time, but the habits, types of foods, meal timing, etc., should all be able to be held consistent.
Eat foods you enjoy! There are no inherently “good” or “bad” foods. All foods can be incorporated into a healthy food plan if the calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats; keep reading to figure out how much you need!) are accounted for. When we restrict certain foods, natural human behavior makes us actually crave that food even more. On the flip side, some people can’t enjoy just 1 or 2 cookies because they end up eating the entire sleeve once they get that first taste. In this case, food restriction can make sense if there are certain tactics in place to allow continued adherence (refeeds, planned “cheat” meals, etc.).
Second, let’s think about what works *almost* exactly the same for most people:
I completely understand there are individual complexities to each person’s physiology, but the main general principles will likely apply to each of you reading this.
With that being said, let’s reverse engineer here on what is most important for improving our body composition.
What do you need in order to lose body fat?
A calorie deficit (energy expenditure > calorie consumption).
What do you need in order to gain muscle?
A calorie surplus (energy expenditure < calorie consumption).
Once you figure out your calorie needs based off whether you want to lose body fat OR gain muscle, we can review some rough guidelines on finding your macronutrient targets:
1. General range for PROTEIN needs: 0.7 – 1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
i.e. 180 lb male = 126g – 234g of daily protein; if you’re in a calorie deficit, leaner, or of older age, aim for the higher end.
2. General range for FAT needs: 0.25 – 0.6g of fat per pound of bodyweight or 15 – 30% of total calories.
i.e. 180 lb male = 45g – 108g of daily fat; if you’re less active, older, or higher body fat %, aim for the higher end.
3. General range for CARBOHYDRATE needs: After you calculate your protein and fat needs, your calories from carbohydrates will make up the rest. Use 0.5g per pound of body fat as a minimum. The more active you are, the more carbohydrates you should consume.
4. FIBER: You should also have a daily fiber goal included in your nutrition plan. I won’t get into the various benefits of fiber in this article, but I will provide a recommendation.
I would recommend at least 20g/day for women and 25g/day for men. Another good rule of thumb is 10g per 1000 kcals (i.e. 1500kcals/day = >15g fiber/day). As a maximum, don’t go above 20% total carbohydrate intake.
With all of these recommendations, you may be super worried about finding your EXACT calories and macronutrients that are best for you. This is a tedious process that requires consistently monitoring your daily eating. Instead of trying to find the perfect numbers, simply follow the guidelines I have provided and simply test out different ends of the ranges to see what works best for you.
For example, if you usually eat more carbohydrates on a daily basis, lower your fats some to keep the daily calorie goals similar. If you like to eat more protein, edge closer to the 1.3g/lb end of the protein range, but just make sure by doing so you aren’t sacrificing the guidelines provided for carbohydrate, fats, and fiber.
There’s no one right way to do it, this is where the individuality comes into play for each of you. Make the diet fit for you.
Third, when and how many times should you eat per day?
Hitting your macronutrients and total energy balance (calories) for that day is the key.
You should split up your meals however is most convenient and sustainable to your lifestyle, whether that is two meals a day or seven meals a day.
I will suggest that there has been some evidence showing that 3 to 6 meals, containing at least 20-30g of protein each (especially before and after training), may produce better results than other ranges. This is likely better because this maximizes muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in the body throughout the day. This will help aid in anabolic processes and minimize muscle protein breakdown (MPD).
Taking control of your nutrition is a process.
After reading all of the above information you may be feeling slightly overwhelmed and confused by some of the concepts I mentioned.
This is okay!
When you first learned long division or first drove a car you probably thought the exact same thing. But with time and consistency, you figured it out. 😉
Read and possibly re-read all of the guidelines I provided above and just take it one step at a time. Your nutrition is a majorly important part of your life and it is vital to learn how to manage your daily diet by becoming aware how the food you eat impacts your mood, energy, body fat, strength, and much more.
If you’re having trouble starting your diet, read last week’s blog post here. It’s been my most shared blog post yet, so make sure to check it out!
While we are all different when it comes to finding a nutrition plan that works for us, and you may not want to eat like me or anyone else you know, there are basic principles that have been proven to lead to dieting success. You owe it to yourself and those you love to take control of your health and I genuinely hope this article brought you one step closer to achieving that.
By Matt McLeod