Ultimate Guide to Nutrition Basics: Changing Your Numbers
Last time round we covered macros.
By now, you’ve got a good grasp of calories, how to track your food (including weighing and measuring) and what your macros need to be to lose fat or gain muscle.
As you probably latched on to, these guidelines aren’t set in stone though.
There’s definitely leeway for changing things around, as we did when setting fat and carb intake.
So how can we take this a step further?
Are there different tactics we can use when setting numbers for fat loss versus setting our calories and macros for muscle gain? And how can you make your diet is even more palatable and tasty, meaning you’re more likely to stick to it?
As we discussed already, you can change your calorie intake a little based on your goals.
If you remember, we found our maintenance by multiplying bodyweight by an activity factor. (11 to 14 for women and 13 to 16 for men.)
You then subtracted 10-25% of your calorie intake for fat loss, or added 10-25% for muscle gain.
There’s your first variation.
Depending on how quickly you want to trim down or bulk up depends on how big a deficit or surplus you give yourself. Just bear in mind that a more drastic calorie cut does mean you risk losing muscle and plateauing sooner, while a bigger surplus runs the risk of added fat gain.
All this though, is personal preference.
It’s the same with protein intake too.
I suggest around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, but that doesn’t mean you have to do exactly that.
Provided you’re between 0.7 and 1.3 grams per pound each day, you’ll be fine.
Some people (especially women) often struggle with hitting the 1 gram per pound mark, so I start these clients off at 0.7-0.8 grams per pound, and aim to build it up.
Likewise, if you’re bulking, while folk tend to think that you need more protein, the truth is actually the opposite.
In a calorie surplus, your body is primed to build muscle, so provided you hit a protein minimum (i.e. that 0.7-0.8 grams per pound) you may actually be better served eating more calories from carbs.
When you’re cutting however, and calories are lower, I would encourage hitting a minimum of 1 gram per pound, if not more. Reason being, when your calories are down, you’re at risk from losing muscle, and protein is muscle sparing, so an excess can help you hold on to that lean mass. Plus, protein is more satiating and filling, so keeps you feeling full on a diet.
Changing Carbs and Fats
Last time round you made the diet fit your preferences by deciding what type of foods you liked more:
Fattier foods such as steak, cheese, bacon, olives, butter and oily fish, or higher-carb foods like bread, pasta, desserts and fruit.
If you liked those fatty foods, you set your fat intake at 0.5 to 0.6 grams of fat per pound each day, and if you were a carb monster, you went with 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound to give you more scope to eat a higher carb diet.
This still stands, but here’s a way you can take it further, and tweak on a daily basis without having to redo all your sums…
Establish your calorie intake, and then set your minimum protein goal.
Each day, aim to hit your calories by 5% either way (the closer the better) and get in your minimum protein target.
After this, you can fill in the rest of your calories as you see fit.
This could come from carbier foods, higher fat items, or even more protein.
This works really well for those new to tracking, if you have a day where you’re not sure exactly what you’re going to eat, if you’re off out for a meal or food with friends, or even if you’re going to be including alcohol in your diet.
For instance, if you were dieting with a daily calorie allowance of 2,000 and you weighed 160 pounds, that would mean you’d be aiming for somewhere between 1,900 and 2,100 calories, and preferably a minimum of 160 grams (1 gram per pound) of protein.
Protein has 4 calories per gram, giving you 640 calories from protein.
Taking that away from your 1,900-2,100, you’re left with between 1,260 and 1,460 calories from carbs and fat.
I wouldn’t recommend this approach to advanced athletes, those who prioritise training, or anyone who’s looking to really get shredded, but for the average fat loss client, or someone in a bulking phase, it can work well, as it encourages flexibility and makes tracking a bit easier.
Finding Your Foods
This is where flexible dieting and macro tracking really comes into its own.
Were you to pick up a bodybuilding magazine and read their guide to nutrition, you’d see a whole load of info on what foods to eat and what to avoid.
You’d be told you pretty much have to base your diet around chicken breast, tilapia, egg whites, oats, sweet potatoes and almonds with a few veggies thrown in here and there, and that junk foods like pizza, Pop Tarts, donuts, bagels and ice cream were completely banned.
This is not the case with flexible dieting.
Sure, you do want 80-90% of your calories to be made from nutrient-dense foods like lean meats, fruits and veggies, whole-grains, nuts and oils, but there is room for fun too.
10-20% of your nutrition can be from your favourite foods – even if they’re high in fat, sugar and additives.
This is what we’ll touch on more next time, as I’ll teach you how to work out your “junk food budget” to have even more fun with your nutrition.