“You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”
Oh, how I wish the above statement weren’t true.
Getting to the gym? No problem! That’s something I look forward to.
But when it comes to diet?
Let’s just say, I’ve previously been known to consider sour gummy worms a viable “meal”.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a thing or two since then 🤦🏻♀️
The most important lesson learned: Without the right diet in place to support your effort in the gym, it doesn’t matter how on-point your workouts are. You’ll severely limit your results.
In this post, I’m not going to tell you that you MUST hop on the Keto bandwagon or that becoming a vegan is the only way to go.
The reality is everyone’s different.
The “best” diet for you comes down to a variety of factors including your culture, beliefs, geographic location, personal biology, and budget.
It’s highly personal – and anyone who preaches a one-size fits all “best” diet for everyone is just flat-out wrong.
I personally favor Author Michael Pollan’s simple diet philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Let’s break this down quickly:
Now, with that in mind, let’s move on to the nuts and bolts of creating your personal meal plan!
The first thing that we need to do is calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE, which is the amount of calories you burn per day.
Your TDEE is made up of four components:
Use this free calculator to determine your TDEE.
Now that you know how many calories you need to eat every day to maintain your current weight, it’s time to consider your goals.
Do you want to focus on losing body fat or building muscle?
The age-old debate of whether or not it’s possible to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time is highly controversial.
Suffice it to say, if you’re trying to do both – you’re probably not going to be doing either well.
I recommend tackling these goals one at a time.
This can be achieved by reducing the number of calories you eat, by burning more calories through exercise, or a combination of both.
Don’t let the sensational headlines fool you. The recommended healthy rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week.
So let’s say you set a goal to lose 1 pound per week.
To lose 1 pound, you need to burn an additional 3500 calories above maintenance levels.
If we divide 3500 calories by 7 days per week, we see that this is a deficit of 500 calories per day.
To achieve this 500 calorie daily deficit, you could start by consuming 250 less calories per day, and burning 250 calories per day through exercise.
To put this in perspective – a grande pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks is 380 calories (!). Many people could easily knock 250 cals off their daily intake through simply swapping one high-calorie beverage a day for water or another low-calorie alternative.
Burning 250 calories via exercise could be as simple as taking an exercise class at your gym, 30 minutes on the elliptical, or a 1 hour walk.
The goal is to make this process work for you.
If cleaning up your diet isn’t much of a struggle, but you loathe working out – focus more on creating the deficit through changing your eating habits first.
If getting yourself to swap cookies for veggies is a struggle and a half, focus on squeezing in more gym time to burn those extra calories.
While ultimately a healthy diet and exercise are both important to long-term health, in the beginning of your weight loss journey it’s all about making changes that you can sustain and build upon. Give yourself the opportunity to make small wins.
A lot of people blow this fact WAY out of proportion. Just because you want to put on some muscle doesn’t mean you should start manically chugging protein shakes and wolfing down pizzas.
The number of additional calories you need is not as much as you’d think.
For most people, adding 250 – 500 calories (the lower end of that range for the majority of females) to your TDEE is ideal for gaining muscle.
In addition to increasing your calorie intake, you’ll want to:
To maximize your results, it’s important to consider not only how many calories you consume, but also the source of those calories.
Macronutrients refer to the three basic components of every diet: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Each macronutrient has a different number of calories per gram:
Like most things in health and fitness, there is no “one-size-fits-all” macro split that will give every person their personal best results. Take the following suggestions only as starting points for your own self-experimentation.
IF YOU WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT:
Try to get 10-30% of your calories from carbohydrates, 40-50% from protein, and 30 – 40% from fat.
IF YOU WANT TO MAINTAIN YOUR WEIGHT:
Try to get 30-50% of your calories from carbs, 25-35% from protein, and 25-35% from fat.
IF YOU WANT TO GAIN MUSCLE:
Try to get 40-60% of your calories from carbohydrates, 25-35% from protein, and 15 – 25% from fat.
Choose your starting macro split. Remember that you can adjust your split at any time and that finding what works best for you will be a process of trial and error and self-experimentation.
Take the goal-adjusted TDEE value that you came up with in Step 2 and do the following:
For carbs and protein: Multiply your selected percentage (in decimal form) by your TDEE. Take this result (total calories) and divide it by 4 calories, to get the number of grams you should eat per day.
For fat: Follow the same steps above, but divide the total calories by 9 to get the correct number of grams.
For example, let’s say I’m on a 2100 calorie diet plan for muscle gain, using a 50% Carbs, 30% Protein, and 20% Fat macro split.
Now it’s your turn: Use your goal-adjusted TDEE and starting macro split to calculate your daily macro targets. Remember that this is just a starting point, and that you’ll likely need to tweak the ratios as you go along.
So now you know how many calories you need per day to reach your goal and you’ve calculated your macro targets. Amazing! Now it’s time to put your plan into action.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
DOWNLOAD MY FITNESS PAL
This free app is truly a lifesaver when it comes to tracking your meals. Myfitnesspal allows you to easily keep an organized food diary with their giant food database. In addition to listing what foods/drinks you’ve consumed, it tracks your total calories for the day, as well as your carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugar, making it super easy and hassle-free to know how many grams of each macro you have left. It also integrates with several fitness tracking devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit and it allows you to log your exercise which is an awesome bonus!
BUY A FOOD SCALE
A food scale will be crucial for measuring your food so that you can track it accurately. Don’t try to guess your portion sizes when you’re first starting out. You’ll likely be able to eyeball it eventually, but the massive portion sizes served up in the U.S. have a tendency to make us underestimate just how much we’re eating and overestimate what a normal serving size is.
Meal prepping will save you a lot of time and hassle! The best way to consistently hit your macro goals is to prepare your meals in advance, rather than winging it day by day and hoping the numbers come out right. I don’t know about you, but if I come home from a long day at work, I’m physically and mentally drained, and I’m starving – macros are going to be the last thing on my mind. I’m just going to eat the first thing in sight. When you’ve prepped meals in advance, the “right” option becomes the easy option, and it takes little to no effort in the moment to stick to your meal plan.
Congrats on taking the first steps in creating your customized meal plan 🎉 What are your biggest challenges when trying to stick to a meal plan? Do you have any helpful tips to share? Let me know in the comments below!
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