Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
Are you confused, frustrated and maybe a bit overwhelmed about all this diet stuff? Is trying this diet or that diet with little to no results getting old? Feel like giving up and accepting wherever you are regarding your physique goals as the way it will always be?
Now, I am not about to propose the next, best and greatest diet fad or an extreme protocol of some miracle eating schedule promising to drop the pounds all the while eating whatever you want. I am also not going to spell out every little morsel of food for you telling you what and when to eat.
I want to take a moment and educate you, drop some knowledge or however you want to say it on some of the basic principles of structuring a sound and practical diet eating plan that will have you not only on the road to getting leaner while keeping that hard-earned muscle, but also something that you can take with you anywhere you go.
In education, everyone learns through different styles and in many different ways. I feel the same is true with eating strategies. Everyone is unique enough as there is no cookie-cutter plan out there for everyone. We are all unique and need a unique approach.
Like the old saying goes, education is something that can never be taken away from you. So, grab a chair, pay attention because class is in session.
Meal Plan Basics
Let’s get started and talk briefly about the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Made up of amino acids, protein is the brick and mortar for building muscle. It also plays an essential role in a myriad of other reactions throughout the body but for our purposes we will be focused on its processes as a recovery agent and builder of muscle tissue.
Normally on any intense training program protein should be kept at around one gram per pound of bodyweight. This, of course, can be adjusted for many reasons but this level is a good starting point. Great sources include beef, eggs, chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, cheese, low-fat or skim milk, ground meats, beef jerky and whey protein.
Energy-producing, muscle-sparing and chock full of vital vitamins and minerals, “carbs” play a pivotal role in most individuals muscle-building, fat-fighting efforts. When your goals are especially revolved around fat-loss, carbs will be the macronutrient most manipulated throughout a successful plan.
Starting at either one, two or three grams per pound of desired bodyweight depending on your goals, carbs are still essential to a healthy eating plan. All of the super low and zero carb diets floating around leave little wiggle room when it comes to training intensity, glycogen storage and overall satiety.
Some good sources include white, brown and wild rice, whole oatmeal, white and sweet potatoes, whole gain pasta and bread and a variety of vegetables.
Another VIP regarding your leverage in the muscle-gaining, fat-dropping game is fat. Healthy fats aid in so many recently unknown benefits to the body – especially during intense training and calorie restriction. From joint, hair and nail health to regulation of critical hormones such as testosterone for a healthy metabolism, healthy fat is an indispensable weapon to possess regarding your goals.
Starting at around ½ gram per pound of bodyweight healthy fat will provide much needed energy during periods of fat loss and support for holding on to your precious muscle. Good sources of healthy fat include avocado, nuts, whole eggs, olive oil and natural peanut butter.
But, what does it all mean?
Let me break it down into a simple guide to get things started. These suggestions are by no means hard and fast rules without any room for adjustment; they are simply guidelines to get you going so you can determine where you stand and ultimately want to go.
- Set your protein intake at one gram per pound of bodyweight. Later you can adjust this up or down depending on your goals but for now just create and “starting line.”
- Set your carbohydrate intake depending on your specific goals. If your goal is to lose body fat set it at one gram per pound of bodyweight. If it is to gain muscle try 3 grams per pound. If you want to maintain close to your current weight and maybe want to get more muscular without packing on too much weight shoot for 2 grams per pound. Again, these numbers may be adjusted later; the important thing is to get started somewhere.
- Set your fat intake at ½ gram per pound of bodyweight. You may find you need to adjust this regarding your carb intake, but more on that later.
- Eat anywhere between three and six meals per day. Why the large gap in meal number? Everyone is different – different schedules, lifestyles, preferences, appetites, conveniences and everything in-between. Of course the more meals the less cravings you will have and the less food at each meal. Just be sure to take in multiple meals per day to fuel the body. Be sure to spread out your proteins, carbs and fats throughout each meal as well.
- Adjust carbs first. If you find you are not gaining or losing weight at a gradual pace (i.e. one to two pounds per week) then adjust your carbs accordingly. Caution: only add or subtract around 50 grams of carbs at a time, any more will cause too much energy loss or weight gain.
- Give it four to six weeks. Once any adjustment is made give yourself around four to six weeks for the changes to take effect. It won’t happen overnight.
- Change only one thing at a time. Changing too many variables will put you in a state of confusion between what is working and what isn’t. Take it slow and steady one adjustment at a time.
- You may need to increase fats. Once carbs get to a low point and your energy levels start to drop, adding in a little healthy fat may be on order. If you were taking in ½ gram per pound of bodyweight before, simply increase it up to ¾ grams per pound. This may not seem like a lot, but since fat contains around nine calories per gram a little goes a long way.
- If you are on a low calorie eating plan including very few carbs give yourself a cheat meal or two once per week. This will not only give you a much needed break from dieting but will also serve to fill up depleted glycogen stores and help rev up your potentially sluggish metabolism.
- Set up a sensible diet plan, give it time, adjust where needed and enjoy the process. Worrying and stressing out over every minute detail will only stall or set you back preventing you from reaching your goals. Again, these are simply starting points so you can learn how you work and react to a personalized eating approach.