Define Your Goals
When trying to determine your dietary needs, you want to first define your goals. What this means is, before even figuring out how many calories you should be intaking, you want to determine what your goal and focus should be. Typically, your goal will fall within one of the following categories: losing body-fat, building muscle or maintaining your current weight. Once you have decided on what you want to focus on, then you can move over to determine your calories.
Determine Your Caloric Intake
A rough estimate to figure out your maintenance calories (where body-weight will remain the same):
14-15cals x BW (body-weight in lbs)…ex: 150 pound person’s maintenance calories will be around 2100-2250 cals.
*Note: this number for estimating your maintenance calories are simply that, there are many factors that come into play such as your age, sex, weight, muscle mass, hormonal & physiological state, exercise frequency, daily activity level & macronutrient intake.
Once you have you have your maintenance calories you will need to alter them in order to work towards your desired goal (fat-loss or muscle gain).
In order to lose body-fat, you will need to be in caloric deficit. 1 pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, so in order to lose 1 pound a week, you will want to drop 500 calories from your daily maintenance calories. So going from the example above, our 150 pound person will want to drop their daily calories from 2100-2250 to 1600-1750 cals in order to lose around 1 pound a week.
If you want to focus on gaining muscle, just simply increase your calories in order to best support recovery from your workouts. To be clear, you need to be in a caloric surplus in order to gain muscle, there is no other way around it. So again, using our 150 pound person as an example, we will want to increase calories by 500 cals (in order to gain 1 pound a week).
**Some of you may also be interested in losing fat & gaining muscle at the same time aka recomposition (recomp) of your current physique. Recomping is a very slow and difficult process. A lot of times it will feel like you are spinning your wheels and are going nowhere. I personally have tried it for an extended amount of time and definitely felt like it was futile approach. It is best to simply focus on one aspect (fat-loss or muscle gain) at a time in order to best reap the fruits of your hard work
By the way, as mentioned earlier in this posting, all the calculations are a rough estimate. There are a lot of individual factors that play a role in all of this (such as: lifestyle, activity, workout frequency, & metabolism). You will want to track your calories and monitor your weight for 2-4 weeks in order to determine if you are indeed in a caloric surplus, deficit or at maintenance.
Track Your Calories…Calories > Food Content
Some of you reading may not want to track your calories, but trust me by tracking your calories you will make progress towards your goals. It is a necessity because it is very easy to over-eat (when losing) or under-eat (when gaining) if you are simply eye-balling your meals.
At the end of the day it comes down to calories in vs calories out; if you intake more calories than you burn, then you will gain weight & the opposite will happen if you burn more calories than you take in. Just eating “clean” or “healthy”, will not cut it. You can eat all the chicken breast, veggies, peanut butter, almonds & you will not lose fat if you are eating too much it. Remember Calories > Food Content.
Monitor Your Rate of Loss or Gain
Now that we have determined your caloric needs, you will want to pay attention to your rate of loss/gain.
According to The National Athletic Trainers Association, the recommended rate of loss that a person should aim for is 0.5% to 1.5% of your total body weight per week. Which, pretty much works out to the maximum rate the human body can oxidize/burn fat. The more body fat a person has, the more fat & less lean body mass (muscle) they will lose. A leaner individual (doesn’t hold a lot body-fat) will lose weight/fat at a slower pace while potentially losing a greater percentage of their hard-earned muscle (L. McDonald, 'Determining the Maximum Dietary Deficit for Fat Loss').
So for our 150-pound buddy, this works out to a loss of 0.75 to 2.25 pounds week. The more body fat you have, the more you want to err on the higher end of the scale for your rate of loss per week. If you are on the leaner side, you will want to err towards the lower end of the scale for your rate of loss. If after a few weeks you notice that your fat-loss has ceased, then you will want to either make an adjustment to your calories or cardio.
Before switching gears to cover the rate of gain for muscle, I do want to make a note that for female clients I also like to aim at the lower end of the rate of loss scale. The reason for this is due to the fact that women will see greater fluctuations in weight (due to their menstrual cycle), so it is highly possible that a female may very well be losing fat even though the scale isn’t showing it due to her menstrual cycle. What this means is that we will have to wait an extra week or two before deciding if weight/fat-loss has indeed plateaued. To put things in rough numbers, I like to see female clients to lose around ~ 0.5 to 1 pound a week max (this will enable her to lose weight in an efficient manner and still maintain a suitable quality of life while in a deficit).
**note if in contest prep with a deadline the rate of loss rules change…But with that said I like to have someone ready ahead of time so I recommend 4-6 months to get ready for a competition.
If working towards gaining muscle, a natural male who has their training & diet nailed down, can gain about 0.5 pounds of muscle a week. Women gain about half as much as that (L. McDonald, 'General Philosophies of Mass Muscle Gain'). What I recommend is for you to aim to gain around 0.25 to 1 pound a week. This is mostly just to ensure that you are in a caloric surplus. Gaining more than 1 pound a week will most likely fat. Gaining muscle is a slower process than losing fat.
For women, I recommend an even slower rate of gain (around 0.25 to 0.5 pounds a week). The reason for this is that women have a fraction of the testosterone levels that a male has, thus a woman’s body can only synthesize so much muscle. Chasing the scale and gaining too much weight per week will only result in excess body fat being gained (same goes for males , with regards to chasing the scale). Do not chase the scale, be patient.
How To Figure Out Your Macronutrient Needs
The three macronutrients you want to pay attention to are:
The following example below will be for a 150-pound person whose maintenance is 2000 calories -
*Everyone's macronutrient set-up will look different, this will depend on what their goals are, what food sources they prefer to eat & feel comfortable eating. With that said that can all change as well depending on how they respond and feel on a certain macronutrient set-up.
**In order to avoid being neurotic with hitting your macronutrient goals on the dot, I recommend for you to just aim to be to be +/- 5 grams of each macronutrient and you should be fine.
To wrap things up, you want to do the following in order to get your nutritional intake setup:
If you're feeling stuck on anything, or need me to clarify anything, feel free to reach out and I'll be more than happy to help you out!
- D. of DNav Fitness