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When it comes to creating a nutrition program it’s important that it supports your goal.
Before jumping in and overwhelming yourself with calculations and macronutrient tracking, make sure that you are in a good place mentally to take your nutrition to this level. We offer several programs that focus on nutrition and fat loss WITHOUT counting macros or kcals exclusively. They are wonderful for those who become easily frustrated with their results or who have spent many years yo-yo dieting and need to find a sustainable approach to nutrition.
This article is intended to be a quick reference for setting up a diet with the goal for fat loss. It will NOT be exhaustive or tell you all the “whys” behind the protocols or methods that are shared. Since this is a common question that we receive I wanted to offer some guidance that could get you started.
I’d recommend this set up for those who understand the principles of nutrient timing and who have mastered proper portion control and food selection.
Typically, most ladies aren’t eating enough or eating consistently so this will help ensure that you’re in a good place to even start a fat loss focused diet (like a contest prep).
Let’s get started….
Step 1 – Set Calories
Total calories will be the base for setting up any dietary protocol.
Think of your total Calories as bricks or resources to build a house. A builder can show up to work to build a house every day, but if there’s no concrete to pour, lumber to build the frame and bricks to build the house, there will be no house.
All of that hard work without resources is like all the hard work that goes into transforming a physique. Once you’re food intake is high enough, you have some bricks to build your house!
There are several formulas to estimating Calories or “kcals” for short, but Precision Nutrition Provides this easy chart as reference:
Let me give you an example:
Susie is 165lbs and exercises about 3-4 days per week (weights and some light cardio), but sits for work. A healthy maintenance caloric intake for her would be about 2310-2640 total kcals each day. Those kcals are achieved by multiplying her bodyweight of 165 lbs by 14-16.
If Susie wanted to set herself up on a fat loss diet, she’d want to reduce her intake to about 10-12 kcals per pound. (165 x 10-12). We typically prefer to start on the upper end of that range since the ultimate goal is to lose fat while eating as much as possible.
Starting at the lower end might result in faster fat loss in the beginning, but hunger will be higher (making it more difficult to remain compliant) and when the body begins the plateau there’s not much room to make adjustments.
So, I’d likely start her at about 1908-2145 kcals each day.
Note: very overweight people can set their fat loss intake even lower – about 8-9 x bodyweight – because body fat is protective of the metabolic hormones. Of course, this doesn’t factor in stress, past dieting history, etc.
If you’re currently maintaining your weight in the deficit range and you’ve been dieting for many months, I’d recommend bringing your intake up to maintenance for a few weeks (or months) in order to restore some metabolic function before reducing intake and dieting more. This will truly depend on how long you’ve been in a kcal deficit and how your body responds as you increase your intake.
Step 2 – Set Protein
There are two ways to set your macronutrient ratios:
Both have their benefits and we suggest to use a mix when setting up the macronutrient goals.
For protein specifically, we prefer to use grams/lb. This is because protein is predominantly NOT used for energy. Eric Helms points out that it might be 10% of your total kcals at most.
Typically, since we are working with those who exercise, we like to set protein intake about 1-1.4 g/lb when dieting. If someone is a bit more overweight we can take this a bit lower and possible use a reasonable goal weight as the determining factor.
Using Susie as an example again, I’d recommend setting her daily protein intake about 160-180 grams. (that’s 1-1.1g/lb)
Step 3 – Set Fats and Carbs
These two macronutrients are what “fill in the rest” for your total kcals. BUT, they can impact your overall body composition, energy levels, hunger levels and hormones.
In order to maintain healthy hormone balance and provide fuel for training we prefer to set fat first, but of course, this can always be different depending on each person and their individual needs. As I covered above, you can set macronutrients in two ways (percentages or grams). We typically set fats and carbs using percentages.
When dieting for fat loss, fat intake is typically set a bit lower than “normal” at about 15-25%. This is another reason why dieting can’t last forever. This also needs to be adjusted the more bodyfat someone loses. As I mentioned above, stored body fat helps to regulate hormones. So, the less BF you have, the more important it is that you get it from your diet.
When focusing on building lean mass, fats can be set in the 20-30% range if the diet is going to be carbohydrate dominate. Again, this can change depending on the person and THEIR needs.
When fat macronutrients are set, the carbs just fill in the rest until you reach your total kcal goals.
Let’s use Susie as an example again:
Her kcals are about 1908-2145/day
Fat ~42-47g/day (set at 20%)
Carbs ~ 223-250g/day
Step 4 – Create Your Meal Plan
First on the list is how many meals you want to eat in a day. Typically, this will be 3-5 depending on your schedule and what your coach might suggest. Personally, I suggest between 4-6 for most people, but this is very individual.
The point is, be consistent. Pick a number of meals that works for you and stick to it for at least 2-3 weeks. Gather data about how this is working for you and make changes accordingly.
You can refer to this article: Create A Meal Plan Using Macros for more details about this topic as well as suggestions about meal timing, etc.
And this video for the step by step process of building a meal plan:
Once you’ve set up your meal timing and what macronutrients each meal should contain you can add in the TYPES of foods you want to eat!
Step 6 – Get Started
As I mentioned above, consistency is crucial…especially in the first few weeks. It’s important that you are taking notes about how you’re feeling mentally, emotionally, physically as well as recording your performance in the gym, girth measurements and taking pictures as you continue to diet.
These things are called biofeedback and it’s your body’s way of communicating with you. Based on this communication, you (or your coach) can make adjustments to your program. I typically suggest not making any changes for at least 2 weeks. If you’re having trouble following the plan you’ve set in place then addressing your overall compliance is what is most important.
It is important to remember that progress is rarely going to come as quickly as you want it to come, but if you’re moving in the right direction then you don’t adjust anything. Just stick to the plan and be patient.
Overall, this should cover the basics for setting up your own fat loss diet.