Nutrition and rest are often the ignored elements of fitness programs, and the main reason that so many fail to realize their goals. Too many people try to out-exercise a bad diet and poor rest habits, which is an impossible thing to do while expecting to see results. At the absolute most, people might find themselves training for 5 hours a week (for most people 3-4 hours a week of proper training is plenty). There are 168 hours in every week. It is impossible to think that you can train hard for 3-5 hours per week, and then ignore what you do the remaining 163 hours of the week, and expect to see results.
How Many Calories Should I Eat?
If you are trying to lose body fat, start at 12 times your bodyweight in calories daily
If you are trying to gain muscle, start at 16 times your bodyweight in calories daily
This is merely a starting point, however, and a much more effective method is to determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (or BMR), which will take into account your current body fat percentage and daily activity levels. You can use the following online calculators to calculate your current body fat percentage and Basal Metabolic Rate. However, keep in mind that they are only tools used to estimate body fat percentage in order for you to obtain your resultant Basal Metabolic Rate from that estimation.
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
Try to eat at least .55 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Protein intake is important for a number of reasons:
- Protein is the building blocks of muscle, without it your body will be unable to repair the damage you do through your training and this will in turn impair the results that you will see from your efforts.
- It is also muscle sparing when on a calorie reduced diet for fat loss. What that basically means is that adequate protein intake will prevent your body from breaking down muscle tissue for energy requirements when you are reducing your calorie intake in order to burn fat.
- More muscle equals more calories burned at rest, since the body burns more calories to maintain muscle than it does maintaining fat. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons it is difficult to lose excess body fat, as it is an easily stored emergency fuel for times that the body doesn’t get enough calories for its daily energy needs. The human body is programmed to sacrifice muscle and save fat for survival. This is why diet and nutrition is such an important component of any fitness or fat loss program.
- Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means you will feel fuller, longer, even when in a calorie deficit.
- Protein rates highest among macronutrients when it comes to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), which is the amount of calories the body requires to process and digest it.
How Much Fat and Carbohydrates Should I Eat?
There are a variety of approaches that work when it comes to carbohydrate and fat intake, regardless of whether your goal is to gain muscle or lose body fat. High fat /low carbohydrate diets work, as do low fat/high carbohydrate diets. As a general rule, when carbohydrate intake is high, fat intake must be low, and vice versa. When your primary goal is to build muscle, however, carbohydrate intake must remain higher due to its anabolic effect. It is very difficult to build muscle on a lower carbohydrate diet such as a ketogenic diet. The following is a basic rundown of the various methods of manipulating energy intake when your primary goal is to lose body fat.
Flexible Dieting – The Dietary Foundation for your Success:
Flexible dieting should be the primary foundation upon which any other secondary diet structure should be based upon. Flexible dieting is not really a diet in the traditional sense of the word, it’s more of a nutritional concept. The idea is very simple. You have your daily or weekly calorie intake target (depending on how you track it) and your daily macronutrient targets (carbohydrate, protein, fat). As long as those specific numbers are achieved via your diet, food selection is up to you. This means that you can still enjoy all the foods and beverages that you love, they just need to be accounted for within your daily calorie and macronutrient totals so that you still continue to see the results you are looking for from your nutritional plan and approach. That being said, picking wholesome foods is obviously going to be better for you from a health perspective than eating junk food, regardless of macronutrient breakdown and calorie content, but this approach does allow you a lot more “wiggle room” to eat what you love and still stay in a calorie deficit to achieve your goals.
Secondary Nutritional Strategies:
Carb-cycling is a way to manage your carbohydrate intake so that you eat more carbs on your strength training days, and lower amounts of carbs on your rest and recovery days. This approach can be a very effective diet strategy to maintain muscle mass while in a calorie deficit. The high points of carb-cycling are as follows:
- High carb days should be placed on your strength training days
- Decrease fat intake on high carb days
- Maintain your target amount of daily or weekly calories (depending on how you track them) to ensure that you are still losing body fat.
The goal of a ketogenic diet, as it relates to fat loss, is to force the body to stop burning glucose (carbs) as fuel and force it to burn ketones, which are the metabolic by-products of fat digestion. The high points of ketogenic diets are as follows:
- Keep carbohydrate consumption in the 30-50 gram range for 6 days of the week
- Have 1 day per week where you “carb load”, or increase your carbohydrate consumption to normal levels to replenish muscle glycogen levels and normalize hormone production
- Eat at least 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily
Intermittent fasting is simply a nutritional strategy that seeks to maximize the body’s ability to burn fat and create a calorie deficit by eliminating calorie consumption for a period of time, usually anywhere from 12-20 hours per day, or at least on most days. Instead of eating breakfast (which is not the most important meal of the day, contrary to popular belief, no one meal is any more important than any other), you would eat your first meal of the day at lunch time at the earliest, or as late as supper time (once you have become accustomed to this method of eating).
All of your daily calories would then be consumed during this “eating window”. Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, particularly those with some types of pre-existing health conditions (check with your doctor before trying this diet approach), or if you are unable to control the amount of food you consume during your eating window.
If this is the case, you will end up in a calorie surplus, which is counterproductive to the goal of fat loss. Intermittent fasting is also not a very good approach if your main goal is gaining muscle. If this is your goal, more frequent meals will be much more advantageous to muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. A couple of the advantages of intermittent fasting, as it relates to fat loss, are as follows:
- You are allowed to consume a larger amount of calories in a shorter time frame, enabling you to go to bed with a full stomach, while still remaining in a calorie deficit.
- Every day becomes a mini “cheat day”, which is immensely important from a psychological, as well as a diet consistency, standpoint.
There are also numerous studies that show that growth hormone and other hormones favorable to fat loss are higher in a fasted state.
Here are a few of the health advantages of intermittent fasting:
- Decreased body fat and body weight
- Maintenance of skeletal muscle mass
- Decreased blood glucose levels
- Decreased insulin levels and increased insulin sensitivity
- Increased lipolysis and fat oxidation
- Increased growth hormone levels
- Decreased chronic systemic Inflammation
- Increased cellular cleansing
- Numerous studies have shown its relation to longevity
Fasting is not a magic pill, however. You cannot simply use intermittent fasting as an excuse to eat whatever you want during your eating window. You still need to be eating at a calorie deficit to see the fat loss benefit of intermittent fasting.
What Kinds of Foods Should I Eat?
Always try to get the foods you eat as organic and naturally fed as possible as this will minimize hormones, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, etc. Protein:
- Whole organic eggs
- Organic grass fed beef
- Cottage cheese
- Sour cream
- Wild caught fish
- Whole or raw milk
- Virgin, cold pressed coconut oil
- Virgin olive oil (be very careful to stay away from vegetable oils such as canola and soybean oil as they are processed using chemical and high heat and promote inflammation in the body.
- Unprocessed natural butter (without added color)
- Nuts/seeds (be sure to portion out properly, as nuts can push you over your calorie targets quite easily as they are very calorie dense)
- Tortilla wraps
- Bananas or other fruits
If you have a grain sensitivity (as many people do these days), obviously avoid it, but bread is not a bad choice of carbohydrate post-workout in my opinion and experience. Most things are not 100% bad for you and can be beneficial if used at the right times and amounts. The same can be said for pasta or other maligned carbohydrates, timing and cycling them is the key to using them effectively.
Rest & Recovery
Rest and recovery are major components of any fitness program. Training is only the stimulus that you give your body to change, but if you are not eating properly and getting enough rest, you body will not be able to repair and transform itself. Sleep is very important as this is where muscles are made and fat is burned. If you train hard (and smart) and eat right, your body will grow and repair itself while you sleep.
The optimal amount of sleep is 7-8 hours every night, but try to get as much as your lifestyle and health allows. Sleep is also the time when growth hormone secretion is the highest. Growth hormone is mainly responsible for muscle growth and repair, but it also has a significant influence on fat burning.
Not enough sleep equals lower levels of growth hormone and an impaired level of fat burning. Sleep deprivation has also been linked in numerous studies to higher rates of obesity. The trick to getting the fat loss and muscle building results you are looking for is to pick the nutritional approach that fits your lifestyle and goals, and then be consistent with it 70-80% of the time.
Don’t overthink it, as fat loss and muscle gain are not overly complex to accomplish. They are more a matter of having a plan and being consistent with it than anything else. Concentrate on the things that will get you the most results and forget about all the other stuff, it doesn’t really matter in the overall picture. This is where the true “magic bullet” lies in relation to your success.
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Author: Chris Friesen
Chris Friesen is a gym owner, personal trainer, online fitness coach and former “fat dad” living on 60 beautiful acres of countryside in rural Canada.
He specializes in helping busy parents shed body fat quickly, WITHOUT becoming gym rats OR giving up the foods they love to eat.
In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids, sitting in his hot tub out in the snow with a glass of bourbon, and yelling at his (many) misbehaving barn cats.
CLICK HERE to download his Free Guide to rapid fat loss, “Calorie Backloading Fat Loss Secrets”