How To Set Up Your Diet For Weight Loss

1 October 2020
Andy Tait
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All Aboard!

One-way tickets to Shred City, population, YOU!

This nutrition guide is designed to teach you how to set up your diet so you can become a full-time resident of Shred City. This should run in tandem with a strength/resistance training program for maximum Gainsville.

By the end, you will have a deep understanding of where you need to focus your attention to sustainably lose weight without the risk of losing your hard-earned muscle mass.

“How much weight should I lose?”

“How many calories should I eat to lose weight?”

I know you have many more questions that will all be made clear as you progress through this guide.

  1. Basics
    1. Calories
    2. Macronutrients
    3. Micronutrients
    4. Meal/Nutrient Timing
    5. Supplementation
  2. Calculating Maintenance Calories
  3. Calculating Weight-Loss Calories
  4. Calculating Macros
  5. Micronutrient Guidelines
  6. Your Meal Timing
  7. Suggested Supplements for Weight Loss
  8. Adjusting Calories

Basics

 

1. Calories

Calories provide you with energy to keep your vital organs functioning, and provide you with fuel to exercise, and live day-to-day life. If you eat more calories than your body uses then you will store that energy as fat. If your body burns more energy than you are feeding it then your body will break down its own tissue for fuel and you will lose weight. If the energy in equals energy out then you will remain the same weight.

The most important factor when it comes to reaching your weight loss goal is to get your calorie intake right. Everyone is very quick to look at how many meals they should have per day or which supplements they should take without first looking at the number of calories that they should be consuming to get them to their goals, this is a big mistake.

You’re reading this because you want to lose weight, ideally from fat. You need to be in a caloric deficit to achieve this.

What is a calorie deficit?

A calorie deficit is where your body is using more calories for energy than you are feeding it through food.

How do you create a calorie deficit?

There are two main ways to do this:

  1. Eat fewer calories
  2. Burn more calories

A good combination of the two is what you should be focusing on. This article will be focused on setting up your diet to create a calorie deficit. Check out my other article, Training For Fat Loss.

 

2. Macronutrients (Macros)

Although it’s the macro profile that makes up the number of calories you consume, they are secondary to calories when it comes to body composition. Deciding on a good macro ratio optimizes fat loss over losing lean tissue.

There are 4 main macronutrients, these are:

  • Protein – These act as building blocks for the body as they create and repair the body’s tissues and cells. It is also important for hormone and enzyme function in the body. There are 4 calories within 1 gram of protein. Foods high in protein are meat, fish, eggs, and legumes.

  • Fats – These play a huge role in hormone function within the body. They help your bodies absorb the nutrients that your food provides you. They protect the body’s organs and aid in brain function. There are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat which makes it the most calorie-dense macronutrient. Foods high in fat include fatty cuts of meat and fish, nuts, seeds, oils, and avocados.

  • Carbohydrates – This is the body’s primary source of energy. They will provide your body with the energy it needs for an intense training session. Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. Foods high in carbohydrates include fruit, starchy vegetables, oats, rice, noodles, and quinoa.

  • Alcohol – Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and should be limited so that you can use up your calorie requirements with foods that provide the body with the nutrients it needs. Especially when in a caloric deficit where nutrients are reduced.

 

3. Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs. They can be found primarily in whole/unprocessed foods which is why I recommend that you eat this food group 80% of the time.

To keep bodily functions running optimally, you need to consume highly nutritious foods.

Just please eat veggies at every meal, and a couple of servings of fruit daily.

 

4. Nutrient Timing

This is where you schedule your meals to optimize satiety and recovery from training.

Intermittent Fasting is a prime example of a popular meal timing format.

 

5. Supplements

Once you have focussed on the previous 5 steps, now you can look at what supplements might be useful to aid you in your journey.

Now let’s get into the good stuff, let’s calculate what you need to do to lose weight.

 

Calculating Maintenance Calories

The best way is to start tracking and see what happens to your weight over a few weeks.  This would generally be the most accurate way of assessing your own calorie needs but is also time-consuming. Starting as I suggest below might save you some time.

There are many calculators and equations out there to help you determine your daily calorie needs. Most of them are a good starting point but be aware that due to individual differences, they can be even 500-1000 calories per day inaccurate.

First, you need to calculate your daily calorie needs. This is your resting metabolic rate + daily activity.

We’re going to keep things super simple here:

To calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is your daily calories needed to keep you alive if you weren’t to move. Take your body weight in pounds and multiply by 10 (or 22 for kilograms).

Here’s an example: Sunny’s body weight is 185lb, he, therefore, has an RMR of roughly 1850 calories per day. If you are severely under or overweight then this calculation might not give you the most accurate calculation.

Now you need to account for daily activity levels. Use the chart below to determine your daily activity levels:

 

Activity Description

Multiply RMR by

Sedentary – Little to no activity + Desk Job – 1.2

Lightly active – Light exercise/ sports 1-3 days/week + <5000 steps – 1.375

Moderately active – Moderate exercise/ sports 6-7 days/week + 5000-10000 steps – 1.55

Very active – Hard exercise every day, or exercising 2 x/day + 10,000 + Steps – 1.725

Let’s take 185lb Sunny’s example whose RMR is 1850. He has an office job, he walks 8000 steps per day and he trains 4 days a week. Sunny is considered “Moderately Active” and therefore we multiply his 1850 calories by 1.55 which means, that to maintain weight, he needs approximately 2866 calories per day. This is known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Remember that this is just an estimate of how many calories you need per day to maintain weight. You will need to track your weight and make adjustments based on the feedback you get. I will cover this below in more detail later.

 

Calculating Weight-Loss Calories

To calculate calories for weight loss, you need to decide on how much weight you wish to lose per week.

Research suggests that an optimal and sustainable rate of weight loss is between 0.5-1% of total body weight loss per week.

Often people want to lose weight very quickly at a rate that is way above the suggested 1% upper limit. It’s possible to lose more than 1% of course, but losing weight that fast can result in the body breaking down muscle tissue for fuel.

You would have to be very restrictive to lose weight this fast, this in itself is not sustainable long term, and can result in you not adhering to the diet.

Also, the faster you lose weight the more at risk you are of “rebounding” and putting the weight back on down the road.

I have found through working with clients that the best long-term results and adherence come from 0.75% of total bodyweight per week. This is enough to see a difference each week which keeps motivation high, but not too much that it’s a drastic change to your lifestyle.

Sunny, for example, should aim for a weight loss of 0.925 (0.5%) – 1.85 (1%) per week.

I hope this deters you from being tempted to buy into “lose weight fast” schemes because at first, it seems like a pretty low number to be losing each week, but that 1.85lb target would require a 925 calorie deficit per day.

So now that you know how much weight you should aim to lose, you need to calculate your daily calorie target.

To do this, you need to multiply your weekly weight loss target by 3500 (7700 if working in kg), as this is approximately the number of calories within 1 pound of fat. Then you divide by 7 to get your daily calorie deficit needed to apply to your TDEE.

Sunny wants to lose 1% per week so he multiplies 1.85lb by 3500cals, which is 6475 (weekly calorie deficit needed), then he divides by 7 which gives him a daily calorie deficit target of 925.

The calculation he now needs to do is TDEE – Daily Deficit = Daily Calorie goal.

2866 (TDEE) – 925 cals = 1941 calories per day.

This number of calories should theoretically mean that Sunny loses on average 1.85lb per week.

 

Calculating Macronutrients

Now that you know how many calories you need to target, you can reverse engineer your macro targets.

As discussed earlier, each macronutrient contains energy for the body (calories). However, they contain different amounts.

  • 1g Protein = 4 calories

  • 1g Carbohydrate = 4 calories

  • 1g Fat = 9 calories

  • 1g Alcohol = 7 calories but we’re not going to discuss this as alcohol should be limited especially when in a “cutting” phase.

 

1. Protein

Protein is the most important macro to be discussed in a weight-loss phase as most people who are new to tracking undereat protein.

Not only does protein help you build and maintain muscle, but it is also very satiating. This means that with a higher protein diet you will feel much more full which can be helpful while in a calorie deficit. This can lead to better adherence in the long term.

You should start by calculating how much protein to eat before the other macronutrients.

The minimum suggested amount of protein per day is 0.35g per pound of body weight. This is by no means optimal but should be enough to sustain good health. However, for someone like you who trains, a great daily target is between 0.8-1.2 grams of protein, per pound of body weight.

This should provide you with enough protein to keep you satiated and to limit muscle loss while in a caloric deficit (as long as you’re still resistance training).

The middle ground at 1g per pound of body weight per day is the recommended target.

If protein’s so great, why not eat more?

Great question!

You get diminishing returns on the benefits the more you add extra protein. But more importantly, you need to save enough calories to allocate to the other macronutrients, by doing so you’re going to have a much better outcome when it comes to adherence to your diet, ability to train, and losing fat.

An exception to this calculation is, if you’re very overweight to obese then this could overshoot your protein targets. What you could do is try to estimate your lean body mass and base your calculation on that. Or, base it off an ideal weight for yourself.

 

2. Fat

The second macro you should calculate is fat intake.

It’s easiest to calculate fat as a percentage of total calories. Which requires a little more math on your part. Use the following percentages

  • Low-fat preference – 20% of calories

  • No Preference/medium fat – 25% of calories

  • High-fat preference – 30% of calories

With a minimum recommendation of 0.25g per pound of body weight per day, you need to decide on what your preference is.

You then need to do the calculation to find out how many grams you need to consume. The calculation is your daily calorie target multiplied by your chosen percentage of fat intake, then divided by 9 (calories in 1g fat).

Although preference is important for adherence, you don’t want to go too high on fat as you need some room for the last macro.

 

3. Carbohydrate

Bring on the good stuff.

You can tell anyone that tells you that you can’t lose weight by eating carbs to bugger off.

Although this is the only macronutrient that your body doesn’t require, as it can run off ketones, it is far from optimal to do any form of exercise on a low-carb diet. Especially strength training where glycogen (stored carbs) is the primary fuel.

To limit any muscle loss while in a caloric deficit, you need to A. keep protein high (1g/lb), and B. be doing a resistance training program. This will provide your body with the stimulus to maintain lean mass, and potentially gain some muscle if you’re a beginner.

To train hard and to recover well from training, you need to be well-fuelled. WALLOP, that’s where carbs come in! Carbohydrates are going to provide you with energy for training and recovery.

Calculating this macronutrient last is quite easy because you have already calculated protein and fat intake, now you just use up the remaining calories as carbohydrates.

The calculation would be:

Daily Calorie Goal – (Protein Cals + Fat Cals) = Carb calories/4

 

Example

Sunny’s daily calorie target is 1941 for a goal of losing 1.85lb per week. Please note that this is the upper target of 1%, while I recommend that you aim for around 0.75% weekly weight loss, the math is easier for me (the author) at 1% ;-).

Here are his macros.

  1. Daily Protein (1g/lb) = 185g, 740cals (185g x 4cals/g)

  2. Daily Fat (No preference, 25%) = 54g, 486cals ((1941cals * 25% = 486cals)/9cals)

  3. Daily Carbohydrate (The Remaining) (4cals/g) = 179g, 715cals (1941-(740p+486f))/4

I’m confused by just writing that.

Ok, so Sunny is going for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight because he wants to limit muscle loss during his weight loss phase.

He has no preference for fat intake so goes with the middle ground of 25% of cals from this macro. He could reduce his fat intake slightly to get more carbs in, however, if he goes as low as 20% this would mean his daily intake would be only 43g. With a body weight of 185lb he is dipping under the minimum suggested amount, which for him would be 46g.

To simply put it. Calculate your protein intake, then your fat, and then allocate what’s left to carbohydrates.

This will give you a close to optimal macro profile.

 

Considerations on Macros

“Optimal” is all well and good on paper, but will you be able to meet those numbers consistently?

Remember that your calorie target is the most important factor when it comes to weight loss (or gain, for that matter). If you find these macro calculations to be too ambitious to hit, I don’t blame you. Trying to consume 185g of protein per day isn’t easy, especially if you’re not used to it.

Therefore it’s more important for you to calculate your macros on what you think you could adhere to the best and what keeps you energized and feeling full. Then as you get more experienced with tracking macros, you can move towards optimal.

There’s no point in setting out to achieve perfection, do it for 2 weeks and then stop because it’s too difficult to stick to.

Make small adjustments to your macronutrients if you feel there is an easier target for you to adhere to. Just make sure that your macro totals match that of the total calories.

 

Your Meal Timing

Remember that as we progress, these stages become less important than the previous. There’s no point in trying to optimize your meal timing unless you’re first in a calorie deficit and getting in optimal macro and micronutrients.

The most important thing about meal timing is finding something that works for you. What will best keep you adhering to your diet?

 

1. Intermittent fasting

People often bring up Intermittent Fasting (IF). The most popular method of IF is 16:8 where you eat all of your food within an 8-hour window and then fast for 16 hours per day.

Some find this a helpful tool while in a calorie deficit as after the initial phase of getting used to fasting, it means that you can have bigger portions of food which for some means higher satiation levels.

In essence, you’re eating 3 meals worth in 2 meals instead.

With that said, some studies have shown that eating breakfast can reduce hunger levels later in the day.

As I said, it’s what you find that works for you. The most important thing is that you’re eating in a calorie deficit and optimizing your macro intake.

fast-intermittent-plate-clock-diet-concept-fasting-fork-knife-meal-breakfast-ketogenic-food-health_t20_B824Vj.jpg

 

 

Although IF can be a good tool, it’s far from optimal. This is because people that train in the morning or early afternoon wouldn’t have had the chance to properly fuel their training through carbohydrate intake.

2. Protein Intake

Also, as you’re in a calorie deficit your body is trying to break down its own tissue to support its activity. In an attempt to maintain muscle you’re eating high protein, you’re resistance training, but we need to discuss protein timing too.

Your body needs amino acids from protein. Because your muscles are made up of proteins, if there aren’t enough amino acids in your bloodstream then the body will start to break down muscle tissue to provide the rest of the body with these amino acids.

Therefore, to optimize things you should aim to spread your protein intake out evenly throughout the day. This will ensure that you have sufficient amino acids in the bloodstream most of the day.

 

3. Pre/Post Workout Nutrition

If training performance and maintaining muscle are important to you then you will benefit from properly fuelling your workouts with carbohydrates.

Around your workout window (1-2 hours pre and post-workout) you should aim to eat a high carb/high protein meal while limiting fats and fibre.

Fat and Fibre both slow down digestion and this can lead to your body still digesting food while you train. This can leave you with an upset stomach and could impact your performance.

After training, when the muscles you’ve used are depleted of glycogen storage, eating a high-carb and protein meal will start the recovery process.

In addition to this, consuming high Glycemic Index (GI) carbs the closer you are to working out can provide you with great workout fuel and recovery.

This is more important the closer you get to your training window. The further away you get from training the higher fat, fibre, and lower GI foods you can have.

For example, if you’re 3 hours away from training then you want to have a slower release of nutrients. If you’re 20 minutes away from training then something much quicker releasing will be better for you.

This is looking to optimize your diet, so please remember that it’s more important to meet your daily calorie and macro requirements, than it is to stress about this.

 

Supplements

This is the last piece of the puzzle. Remember that these aren’t to replace your diet but are supplementary. Below I have listed the supplements that are the most researched and ones that you might find helpful on your weight-loss journey.

In no particular order:

Supplements to consider in your diet.jpg

 

1. Whey Protein

Whey protein is fast absorbing and is a good quality protein. It’s also cheap and convenient. It can be very helpful in hitting your protein target for the day. You should still aim to eat mostly whole food and lean meat to get your protein intake. However, this supplement can be useful.

 

2. Creatine

Creatine can improve strength performance, and helps in building and maintaining muscle mass. If you start taking creatine you can expect your body weight to increase within a week. This is just water retention and is completely normal. If your body weight goes up, that’s a good indication that you respond well to the supplement.

 

3. Vitamin D

If you live in a country where there is limited sun for several months, it might be worth taking a Vitamin D supplement. If you get enough sunlight regularly then you may needn’t take this supplement.

 

4. Omega 3/Fish Oil

Western diets are often lacking enough Omega 3. If you don’t eat oily fish at least 2 times per week then consider supplementing with this for improved health and cognitive benefits.

 

5. Multivitamin

If you struggle to eat 80% whole foods then you can supplement with a multivitamin to ensure that you’re getting the micronutrients that your body needs.

 

6. Casein protein

Another great source of protein. This one however is slow releasing and perfect before bedtime. You should only take this if you still have room in both your calorie and protein budget for the day. Taking this will mean you will have amino acids in the blood for up to 7 hours.

 

Adjusting Calories

As mentioned earlier in the article, your calorie targets are just an estimate. Therefore it is probable that you will need to make adjustments to them to ensure you hit your target rate of weight loss.

You don’t need to be hitting the exact weekly weight loss target, but you should aim to be close.

First, you need to be tracking your progress. You should weigh yourself daily (or at least 4 times per week) and then take an average weight at the end of the week. You need to be comparing week to week instead of getting caught up on the day-to-day.

Many things can have an impact on daily weight fluctuation; sodium intake, hydration status, gut content, carbohydrate intake, and stress. Hence why I suggest that you take a weekly average of your daily weight.

You need to track for a few weeks and see what happens to your body weight. In the first week of dieting, you can expect to see a bigger impact on the scales than what follows in the subsequent weeks. This is because you’re potentially going to be eating fewer carbohydrates which means less stored glycogen.

Each gram of glycogen is stored with 3-4 grams of water. This means a reduction in carbs could be a reduction on the scales. This is normal and to be expected. So really you need to look at the rate at which you are losing weight (if at all) from the second week onwards.

If you do not see any weight loss then you need to either increase your daily activity or further reduce your calorie intake. If your goal was to lose 1lb per week and you haven’t lost anything, you know you need to reduce daily calories by a further 500 ((1lbx3500cals)/7 days).

((Weight loss target – actual weight loss)x3500/7)

This formula also works if you lose too much weight.

((2lb target – 2.5lb weight loss)x3500/7) = -250 (this is the number of calories you have undereaten per day and need to add back into your daily goal)

Which macro(s) should you add or subtract these calories from?

You should add or subtract them for either fat, carbohydrates, or both. Protein should be set already so you don’t need to change that. So which would you prefer?

As long as you don’t go below your minimum fat intake of 0.25g/lb bodyweight then you will be fine.

Remember that fat has 9 calories per gram and carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram. So you will need to calculate this when making the change to your calorie goal.

 

Real-World Application

Having now calculated your calories and macros you need to go away and make a start on tracking your food intake. I recommend an app like MyFitnessPal which makes tracking calories and macros very easy for the user.

Please note that I haven’t said you need to be perfect. This is a learning experience and it will take a few weeks to get to grips with these numbers, even if you’ve tracked them in the past.

So for the first 2-4 weeks, you could start with just tracking calories before introducing macro tracking, as this will add an element of complexity.

Remember that you will likely need to make adjustments to your calorie intake to ensure that you’re meeting the rate of weight loss that you’re aiming for. You need to take into consideration any changes in your movement such as getting a new job. For example, you would need to reduce daily calories if you go from being a construction worker to working in an office.

Choose a sustainable rate of weight loss and consistently adhere to your diet, while making changes to your calories/macros to ensure that you’re hitting your target rate of weight loss.

Download and calculate your calories and macros for free using this calculator below.

If you have any questions regarding how to set up your diet then please leave a comment and I will reply.

Much love,

Andy

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Kristy
Kristy
2 years ago

Thanks so much for this excellent piece. It is the best and most easily understandable guide I have ever read. I appreciate you for making it available.
Kristy

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