By Myprotein Writer
Diet is king for those wishing to change their physique – but how do you really change it to suit your goals? It is quite simple – if you want to get bigger, add additional ‘energy’ (in the form of calories – this is known as a surplus), if want to get smaller ingest fewer or burn more energy (this is known as a deficit). If you want to re-composition your fat into muscle you must spend at least some time in an energy deficit (so that you burn up fat stores), and some time in an energy surplus (so that you build muscle stores).
The rules are simple, but the execution can be messy. This rule can be expanded somewhat to further match your goals – for instance, if you wish to get bigger, you do not necessarily want to just build any mass (i.e. fat), but you may want to build muscle mass specifically. The same can be said about losing ‘weight’ – you probably want to get rid of your fat stores but hold on to your muscle stores right?
This article will show you how to determine how many calories you usually get through in a day, with guidance on how to adjust them. Then we will go over adjusting your diet within your calorie limits so that desirable weight is lost or gained (as opposed to undesirable). Finally some strategies will be covered to ensure that you eat to pursue your goals.
#1: Recording Calories (temporary)
Don’t worry about adjusting your diet for the first few weeks – just ensure that you record what you consume. It is best to get a set of food scales, so that you can accurately record the calories that you eat (which can be found on the back of most food packaging). What you want to do is find out just how much you normally eat, and try to work out how much you can eat without losing or gaining weight.
To do this, you must also weigh yourself – try to do this in the morning. Do this a several times per week, and find an average – as everyone will fluctuate many times, so don’t become too caught up on it. Record your weight, and your daily calories. If your weight goes up, then you’re obviously in a caloric surplus, and if your weight goes down then obviously you are in a caloric deficit.
If your weight doesn’t change then congratulations, you have found your maintenance calories! To find your maintenance calories, either add or take 100-200kcals until you find an amount that doesn’t cause weight change.
Find out what your body prefers
In addition to teaching you how your body responds to certain amounts of calories, recording your food also teaches you about proper portion control.
The goal isn’t to record meticulously forever – that would be insane, but to learn just how much of each type of food corresponds to roughly how many calories so that in the future you can better direct your diet. To make matters easier, there are many food recording apps to run on your computer or smart phone, but for the first few weeks at least I would recommend the use of food scales, as it’s all about experimenting to understand how your body works.
In addition to recording your food, for the first few weeks I recommend that you get on top of taking in enough water. A rough guide would be 8-12 glasses (250ml, or your typical medium sized glass). Water can help blunt hunger (hunger is often a sign of dehydration!), but it can also help cognitive function, fuel high intensity workouts and prevent injury/ill health.
Stage 1 summary
For at least 3 weeks >>>
✓ Weigh your food, and record it daily!
✓ Weigh yourself 3-7 times a week
✓ Drink enough water
#2: Macro Counting
Calorie balance is the fundamental for weight control, but we can go a step further to control the composition of this weight change. For instance, if we are in an energy deficit then you will lose weight no matter what (you are not a photosynthesising plant; you cannot create energy out of nothing), but we want to control this weight loss and make sure that we are losing as much fat as possible and as little muscle as possible.
By training (especially resistance training), we can provide incentive for our bodies to take fewer nutrients from our muscles and instead use fat cells, and we can also make use of macronutrient ratios.
All About Macronutrients
Macronutrients are nutrients that we use lots of, and each have a calorie number assigned to them. Now, in order to preserve muscle, we should try to get in as much protein as possible. This is because your body will try to use up muscle protein to replace the protein of other body organs.
Carbohydrates & Fats
In order to build muscle, we should get in lots of carbohydrates, and a moderately high level of protein. This doesn’t mean you should avoid fats however – they are essential to maintain your health; fats are vital for hormonal control, insulation and structural integrity of many of the body’s cells.
I could recommend a certain ratio of macronutrients (an often stated one is 40/40/20 which is 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fats), but in all honesty everyone reacts differently. Some people can have great bodies with a Ketogenic Diet (essentially their diets consist of pretty much all protein and fat, with little or no carbohydrate), whereas others (like myself), prefer to have a mega high carbohydrate diet, with moderate amounts of protein and fats.
By recording what you eat without following guidance, you can work out what your body craves, which may give insight on how it works with certain nutrients (for instance, those that crave fats may be better at metabolising them).
✓ Start counting your macronutrients in addition to counting/now estimating calories
✓ Work out what macronutrient ratio works for you
✓ If you are cutting, prioritise getting higher amounts of protein
✓ Make sure you do not cut out fats completely!
#3 Diet strategies
Now that you have found how many calories you need to eat in order to change your weight to match your goals, and have discovered what composition of macronutrients you enjoy eating/also match your goals, now it is time to find some strategies to keep you eating the way you need to in order to get where you want to be!
Fat Loss Tips
The most effective fat loss strategies are those that keep you feeling full for longer, staving off any hunger that will drive you to over-eat. Sure, burning more calories during a workout can be great, but at the end of the day, you’re only going to burn a few hundred calories, whereas you may be eating several thousand each day.
One very easy strategy that can be used is altering the order that you eat things each meal. By drinking a glass or two of water, you are already filling up your stomach, meaning that hormones that lead to fullness will start being produced, leading you to feeling fuller sooner, and driving the hunger away.
1) By starting with vegetables/fruit, you are pumping your stomach with food that is low in calories (most vegetables are like 80% water, and water doesn’t typically have any caloric value). Following these low-calorie fillers, you can move on to protein sources.
2) Protein is a little harder to digest than fats or carbohydrates, and they’re much less likely to be stored as fat (the process of turning protein into fats – gluconeogenesis/ de novo lipogenesis – is not a major factor in fat gain). Protein has been proven to make people feel fuller for longer than carbohydrates, and they have a much lower caloric density than fats. A
3) After pumping your stomach with bulky vegetables, nutritious protein, you can move on to the fun things – carbohydrates and fats. By this point your belly should be pretty full, meaning that the potential for over eating fats and carbohydrates is reduced!
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is training that involves several relatively short bursts of high intensity effort – think doing sprints rather than a marathon. Though they may not burn too many calories (as they tend to be very short in duration), they do have a curious effect of blunting hunger for several hours. This may be due to the fact that HIIT training mobilises fat for use, meaning that there is fat flowing in your blood vessels and thus signalling to your body that it doesn’t need to eat just yet.
Whenever I am cutting weight, I always make sure I have a low/no calorie drink on hand to cure any sweet cravings I have. It is a plus if said drink contains caffeine – as the drug has been proven to blunt hunger for several hours. That is why people tend to over eat at night – during the day they have plenty of caffeine in order to perform better at work, but no-one in their right mind would drink stimulants before bed!
There’s no way around it, if you w
ant to build muscle, you’re going to have to get stuck in and provide the calories to your body.
Protein Shakes: Besides cramming your face, the only strategies I can think of when bulking would be to make use of liquid calories. By blending protein, fats and carbohydrates (for instance, you could use bananas, peanut butter and whey protein) you can create shakes that can be several hundred calories each!
Another strategy could be to use shots of oil – either downing them straight or by chucking them on every chicken breast/rice/vegetable you can get your hands on you can easily up your daily calories by a few thousand.
You can’t directly turn fat into muscle (or vice versa), however, over time you can reduce the amount of fat you carry and increase the amount of muscle you have. A total re-composition will involve strategies covered above, because you have to spend some time burning fat, and some time building muscle as the two are highly unlikely to happen at the same time.
By cycling how many calories we eat per day we can fulfill the requirement stated above. A common tactic is to eat a caloric surplus (more calories) on resistance training days and to eat at a caloric deficit (reduce calories) on cardiovascular/non training days. In order to not lose or gain any weight, you would need to cancel to deficit/surplus out – an example would be to eat at a 300kcal surplus if you train with weights 4 days per week, and eat at a 400kcal deficit on the remaining 3 days).
By eating more of your food around training time, it is possible to partition more nutrients to go to your muscles rather than storage in fat cells.
Take Home Message
By taking several weeks and working things out via trial and error, you can work out what you need to eat, and in what amounts, to reach your goals. This method of discovering your diet is a fool-proof way of tailoring things to suit you.
Once you have discovered what your ‘baseline’ is, you can think about how best to adjust your diet so that it works for you!