What are your fitness goals?
Looking to pack on mass? Trying to slim down and lose some extra body fat?
While the gym is a great place to work towards your goals, what you’re doing in the kitchen can be the real difference maker. Not all foods are created equal, and when planning out your meals for the week (which you should be doing!), it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
Let’s take a look at what you can do to help your body understand what you’re trying to accomplish and how you can efficiently reach those goals.
Before We Get Started
One common pitfall people experience on their road to achieving fitness goals is trying to do too much at one time. Our bodies aren’t digital robots! Changes are not going to happen immediately and gains aren’t going to appear over night. A flat stomach probably won’t happen in the first month. The key is to stay consistent both in, and more importantly, out of the gym. Just because you have a killer workout does not mean you can eat whatever you want. You must remain disciplined if you want to see results. Don’t get discouraged and remember, trust the process.
Most of us fall into one of three categories: Trying to gain mass, trying to lose body fat, or just trying to maintain a current condition. Depending on your goal, daily caloric intake and macronutrient partitioning will vary significantly. First things first though, we need to establish a caloric baseline. This number, called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) will be used to determine what your body needs to maintain its current state. In other words, how much food can you eat in a day and neither gain nor lose?
If you search on Google, there are tons of BMR calculators that are free to use. We suggest using one that calculates your BMR in motion and your BMR at rest, and then using an average of the two. It’s important to keep in mind that this is just an estimated BMR. Everyone is different, so taking time to actually test this is highly encouraged.
Once you have established your BMR, you can then adjust calories depending on your goal and partition macronutrients. As a general rule of thumb, 1g of protein is 4 calories, 1g of carbohydrates is 4 calories, and 1g of fat is 4 calories.
If your goal is to add muscle to your frame, you’ll want to add anywhere from 250 – 500 calories to your BMR. This will give your body the necessary building blocks to repair and create muscle tissue while avoiding a catabolic state.
Once you have settled on a caloric intake, you then need to partition your macronutrients in a manner aligned with your goal of gaining muscle. Starting with protein, it has been widely accepted that 1.25 -1.5g of protein per 1lb of body weight is optimal for gaining mass. Protein, as you know, is the building block for muscle so ensuring you hit your daily allotment is crucial. Often times, consuming this much protein from whole foods is extremely difficult. Supplementing with a high quality protein powder is a great way to hit your protein macro.
Next, you’ll need to determine daily fat intake. Because fats play a role in the synthesis of hormones, it is important that we either eat or supplement the proper amount. An ideal amount of fat to consume daily when trying to gain muscle is anywhere from 25% – 30% of your total calories. (Multiply your desired calorie intake by .25 – .3). If you’re having a difficult time hitting your fat macro, try tree nuts, avocados, and a fish oil supplement for Omega-3s. Remember, 1g of fat equates to 9 calories.
From here, the last macro-nutrient we need to account for is carbohydrates. Using some simple math, calculate the calories from protein you should be consuming a day: Grams of protein x 4 = Calories from protein. Add that to the calories you are consuming from fats, and subtract that (your calories from proteins and fats) from your BMR. This will leave you with how many calories from carbohydrates your should be consuming per day. Lastly, take the calories from carbohydrates and divide by 4. This will give your daily allotment of carbohydrates in grams.
With caloric intake defined and macros mapped out, all that’s left is prepping your food for the week. There’s a real confidence boost in knowing that your meals are aligned with your goals and your workouts are being utilized to their full potential. As mentioned previously, this is just an estimate. Nothing speaks louder than results, so make sure you take is slow and test to see what foods work best for YOU.
Cutting / Losing Fat
In contrast to being in a caloric surplus in order to gain muscle and mass, cutting down and losing unwanted body fat will require you to be in a caloric deficit. Taking your cut slow is key to losing body fat while trying to maintain as much muscle as possible. Aiming to lose 1lb per week is widely considered a healthy rate and will help prevent any lasting metabolic damage from occurring.
With that said, what’s the best way to accomplish this?
There are two primary ways to let your body know you are trying to cut: caloric restriction and cardio. Using a combination of both is an ideal way to achieve your desired fitness goal. When it comes to caloric restriction, you will want to eat anywhere from 250 – 500 calories below your BMR. As for macronutrients, maintaining high protein intake is ideal to minimize muscle loss while you’re in a deficit. Keeping protein at 1.25 – 1.5g per 1lb of body weight is still what you will want to aim for. Remember, protein is what our bodies use to repair the muscle after a workout.
The second macronutrient to take into consideration when cutting is fats. One of the most common misconceptions you hear is that eating fats will make you fat. This is simply not true. As mentioned before, fats are a very important element for hormone production in the body. Not consuming enough fat to support proper hormone synthesis can be a limiting factor when trying to reach your weight loss / cutting goal. Fat intake should be anywhere from 20% – 25% of your total calorie intake when dieting down (1g of fat = 9 calories). The remainder of your calories should be consumed in the form of carbohydrates.
To reiterate, these are just estimates, and the saying “everyone is different” can not be stressed enough. Stepping on the scale to monitor progress week over week and slightly adjusting macros according to how your body responds is a critical part of the process.
With your calories and macros in hand, planning and prepping your meals should be a breeze. Going through the day on a caloric deficit will be the hard part, and mixing in 2-3 cardio sessions a week will also help the fat loss process. HIIT workouts are a great way to maintain lean muscle mass and burn calories those extra calories.
At the end of the day, remember to trust the process! Staying disciplined, keeping in touch with your body and capitalizing on what is working are all integral parts of reaching your goals. If you mess around, your results will mess around. Taking things slow and making incremental adjustments is one of the smartest things you can do when looking to add size or cut down.
Give your body time. Keep the intensity. Maintain the focus. We are here with you all the way.
Yours in Health,