A personal note from the author:
I want to be honest with you. The biggest obstacle when someone tries to implement a weight loss strategy is that they just really don't want to work for it. I see adults turn into kids that just don't want to do their homework. I hear the same thing all the time. "I just want someone to tell me what to eat". No you don't. You would just tell me why you couldn't eat this or that. I have never met anyone that could follow any diet 100% as written. Even if they were a robot and did exactly what they were told, we all have taste buds and preferences, or a lifestyle that dictates what we can realistically do. You don't need someone to tell you WHAT to eat, you need to learn WHY and HOW to eat. Why and how will dictate the what, not the other way around. This article is long compared to how we read our information today. We like to have books chopped down to a meme so we can just get the gist of it. Suck it up, read the article. I can't think of a more simple way to explain this. Put a little bit of work in now to save you a ton of work later, and you will reap the benefits almost immediately. As I mention in the article, I wanted to design and follow this plan because I caught a bug in my travels that took me from 220 to 204. Since starting this eating plan I went from 204 to 218 (very lean) so far and I'm only 5 days into it. It took a few minutes to do the math, a trip to the grocery store, time to cook the food and pack into containers but then that was it for the rest of the week. It works IF YOU WORK. Plain and simple. Anything in life worth having is worth working for.
Last week I wrote an article which suggested that our vast sea of choices when it comes to what we eat is more of a hindrance to our fitness and health goals than an advantage. This thought occurred to me while attending a 2 week training camp in Russia and my food choices, well... let me rephrase that, I didn't have food choices and it seemed to be for the better. I was then met with a lot of skepticism from clients that a diet severely lacking in choice would be impossible to follow through with.
Let me explain that my belief is that the choices we have at our disposal when it comes to what we can eat do 2 things. One, they add confusion to subject matter that is already complex for most people trying to lose (or gain) weight. Two, the number of choices invokes the power of the Schwartz paradox which suggests that the more choices we have, the less satisfied and sure we are of the choice we ultimately make. My question is, do you enjoy the time it takes to decide what you want every day, every meal and then to go get it, or is every time we eat another chance to fail and give up?
What I do here is nothing new. It's meal prep, plain and simple. While leaving Russia I contracted a stomach bug that made me lose 16 lbs over 4 days. This is the perfect opportunity for me to go through a meal prep, from deciding how many calories I need all the way up to putting food into Tupperware. Yes, my goal will be to GAIN weight, but understand that even if it were to lose weight I would do everything nearly identical, so pay attention and learn how to do the simple modifications needed to tailor this to your goals.
1st! - Protein above all else. There are many many many ways to construct a diet, and I believe some of them have practical use in the right context. For our purposes though, I can assume a few things. You want to change your body composition and you are also training regularly. From those 2 things, I believe protecting and even growing muscle is the most important thing (yes even if you are trying to lose weight. Keep up). There are 3 macro nutrients. There are 3 DIFFERENT macro nutrients because the body uses them for 3 different things. (let's keep this simple all you internet warriors out there). Protein for muscle, fat for health and organs, and carbs for energy. If you are training and want to lose body fat, not muscle, then a specific protein requirement must be met everyday. While again there are plenty of articles out there that would love to make you feel inadequate to decide how much protein you need, a tried and proven consensus I see is 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. So if you weigh 200 lbs, and are 20% body fat, then you are looking to try and hit 160 grams of protein a day. NOW, later down the road if your goal is to lose weight and the other macro nutrients have already been scaled down, you can come back to this 1 gram per pound of lean mass and cut back up to only .7g per pound of lean mass. There are studies that show .7 g/lb is enough to help keep your current muscle mass.
Ok, so for my purposes I will use my DESIRED weight to calculate what I should be getting in. This is a simple and safe place to start. I weigh 204, I want to weigh 220, so calculating everything off of 220 will already have me eating the surplus of calories I need to start gaining weight.
220 lbs body weight - 1g per pound = 220 grams of protein a day.
2nd! - Now I base everything else off my protein requirement. Remember, my main concern is muscle and protein. No matter if I am trying to gain weight or lose weight, I want to make sure my muscle mass is taken care of.
From here I will determine what my ratio of carbs should be based on my goals and my level of training intensity / lifestyle. For myself, I train 4-5 times a week, my job is pretty demanding, and I am already at a low percent of body fat, I will make my carb intake represent 50% of my diet. This is where you tailor this to your goals. If you train more, or differently, say for endurance work, then maybe you want 60%. If you are wanting to lose weight, then 30-40% might be a better place to start. The manipulation of macros is ultimately where all diets are born, but it's nothing special. It's just the manipulation of numbers to fit your needs or create a desired effect. If you want to do low carb, then your low carb days would be 20% or lower and high carb days might be 70%.
WHAT MATTERS MOST THOUGH IS YOUR PROTEIN INTAKE IS ALREADY DECIDED.
Because your protein intake won't change (at this point anyways) you are relatively safe when it comes to choosing your ratio. If I make fat represent 50% of my diet, my protein is still 220g a day. If I make carbs 90% of my diet, my protein WILL STILL BE 220G A DAY.
1. decide your protein intake
2. chose your macro ratios based on your goal / training intensity / lifestyle / current body fat.
OK so if my Carbs will be 50%, I want protein to represent 30%, and fat to be 20% of my diet.
Now comes the math. (I'm sorry, it had to pop up sometime). Just plug in your numbers where I underline and do the same math.
Protein has 4 calories per gram.
220 g X 4 = 880 calories<----- Now pay attention here. IF YOU ARE TRYING TO GAIN WEIGHT- Taking the multiplier from the Mifflin St Jeor equation for daily caloric intake, you multiply this number by:1.2 for training at moderate intensity 3 times a week / 1.4 for training hard 3 to 4 times a week / 1.7 for training 5 to 6 times a week hard / and 1.9 if you a training twice a day multiple times a week. The protein amount goes way above anything that will provide benefit, but at a certain point with enough training it becomes more about caloric surplus to grow and survive. If you are training this much, then it would be advisable to seek someone out who can fine tune this more to your needs as a small percentage of the population. The following advice is more applicable to general population.
*If you are trying to LOSE weight, then do nothing. Do not add the multiplier. You want to be in a caloric deficit and this calculation will automatically put you in one at roughly 15-20%. I will do an example below so you can skip over this one if you want.
So for me, I take 880 x 1.4 = 1,232 calories from protein. **Remember now to adjust your protein. 1,232 / 4 = 308g of protein a day.
1,232 calories is 30% of what?
1,232 / .3 = 4106 calories
Carbs should be 50% of that, so
4106 X .5 = 2503 calories
Carbs are also 4 calories per gram, so
2503 / 4 = 625 grams of carbs per day.
Now fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram, and represents 20% of my diet
4106 X .2 = 821 calories
821 / 9 = 91 grams of fat per day
This is what I wrote down in excel (don't worry about that other stuff yet, I will explain it).
From here, to meal plan for a week you simply multiply by 7.
Now let's write out someone trying to lose weight.
150 lbs body weight. 20% body fat, so 120lbs lean mass. This would be 120 grams of protein a day. 120 x 4 = 480
480 / .3 = 1600 calories a day to lose weight while maintaining muscle.
For carbs, trying to lose weight, let's make them represent 40% of the diet to start (remember, I am not trying to get you to do any special diet right now, I just want to establish healthy eating at the right amount of calories before trying to get fancy)
1600 x .4 = 640
640 / 4 = 160g of carbs a day
Now fat, which will be the other 30% of the diet.
1600 x .3 = 480
480 / 9 = 53g of fat a day
Calories - 1600 / Protein - 120g a day / Carbs - 160g a day / Fat - 53g a day : Multiply by 7 and you have your weekly goals to shop for now.
This is a caloric deficit of about 15-20% below what would be considered maintenance calories. So yes, you may feel a little hungry here and there on this amount, but that's your goal.
A note on these numbers. There is accuracy and validity. Accuracy is hitting the same mark every time, and validity means that something represents absolute truth. I don't care who they are, who they've trained, or what book they wrote. Any calorie formula given to you, any meal plan advice based on calories, or macro ratio suggested can be only accurate at best. Nothing here will ever be valid. With variability in digestive health, cooked foods vs raw, cold vs hot foods, etc...you can never be valid with calories. What you can do though is use the same method all the time, create a log of accurate data, and you can then adjust everything off that. What that means here is you can use this formula to start yourself off, watch the scale and adjust accordingly.
Another note on the macros. Do not stress about the numbers. I tell all my clients the following idea. Protein don't go under. Carbs don't go over. Fat be in the ball park.
So even though my numbers didn't match up exactly, that's good. It leaves me room to add in amino acid drinks through the day (protein), and I can add condiments in for my meals (ketchup has sugar = carbs) or add in something extra after workouts if I want.
NOW FOR THE WEEKLY PLAN
After getting your numbers and multiplying by 7 you have your weekly total of calories and macros to hit. To make things easy, don't start researching the calories and macros of certain foods and try to fill in the blanks. That would be difficult. Instead, lets list out several foods we know we would be good with for at least one week.
We will needs some obvious protein, fat, and carb sources.
Fat is usually the hardest one for people to think about, but keep in mind that if you choose your meats wisely then a lot of the fat will come with it.
You can see my food choices above. BEEF, CHICKEN, LAMB, RICE, OATMEAL, EGGS. Now I also know that I will try to take in some kind of protein or amino acid drink surrounding my workouts, and that can end up be a substantial amount of protein so I was sure to include it.
I would try to keep your meal prep food choices to 8 or less to keep things simple, but also it makes it easier to change things up next week so you don't get burnt out. For next weeks meat choices I may go buffalo, turkey, and pork. Don't forget the power of the internet too. You could easily order deer, yak, bison, antelope, boar....the list goes on. Things don't have to be boring.
Not comprehensive, but a nice list to have on hand for ideas
While shopping for these items, you should have your macro numbers handy. You have to do a little more math (sorry) but as you grab for, lets say lamb, look at the protein content and try to purchase equal portions of your protein sources that would come close to that. Its better to undershoot the number than over shoot, and I'll tell you why later.
Easy example. Lets say your macro goal for the week was 1000g of protein. You chose 4 main protein sources. When you go to grab one, aim to buy the amount needed to hit 250g of protein, or 1/4 your weekly goal. Got it?
**A note on vegetables. I am of the camp that I don't believe in counting your veggies towards calories OR carbs. We don't get enough of them in our diet as is, and I dont want to put a limiter on them. In fact some vegetables require MORE energy than they provide to breakdown. Count them towards your fiber intake for sure, but nothing else. Eat some at every meal you would like to. For this week I purchased peppers, cucumbers, and carrots. I have them at 4 out of 6 meals a day. Fruits on the other hand you would count towards your carb intake. While we are on that subject, I feel fruits should be used sparingly if you are trying to lose body fat. In the middle of a busy day, or at the end of a work out, sure have some. All other times I think your carbs should come from complex and hardy sources.
HOME FROM THE GROCERY STORE
So you have all your choices. Here on out it's simple. You cook them up, season as you would like, and split the cookout up evenly into containers. For myself, I looked at my day and asked when do I like to have food.
I have: something when I wake up, a meal at 8am, a meal at 11am, post workout meal, another small meal around 5pm, and then I come home to dinner.
6 meals a day normally.
For clients trying to lose weight I suggest a few things.
1. do 3 meals a day, and 1 snack time. Limiting yourself to only 3 meals a day greatly helps regulate your blood sugar, especially if you can stick to it for a meaningful amount of time and let your body adapt to it.
2. 3 meals is easier to fit inside a "feeding window". If you have followed my stuff you know I am a big proponent of following a circadian rhythm of eating. Ideally, 10 hours is the best bet for healthy weight loss, but 12 is the next best thing. Set your times and stick to them no matter what. They don't change day to day or week to week either. It's not 8am to 6pm one day and 10am to 8pm the next.
3. With the time you are going to save not having to drive all the time to get food, use an extra 10 - 15 min after eating meals to walk. Walking after meals will help with a cascade of health related items you want to boost in order to reach your goals.
For the love of God, please season your food. I am not trying to punish you here. I don't want you crying while eating your food because it's so bland. Salt the hell out of everything. I love salt, and guess what, your body loves salt too.
Condiments - This is likely the only thing you have to pay attention to in the week. Companies like to sneak shitty stuff into here to get your taste buds addicted. Mind the sugar intake. Keep it low. Stay away from anything canola or hydrogenated.
Can you believe that's it!? You are all set up for your week. You appreciate all the time and money you will save, and hopefully you start to shift your perspective on food towards eating for your day/task/goal. You may not be jumping for joy reaching in to the fridge to grab the same thing out on Thursday, but I would bet money that you appreciate how good you feel after you eat it. Whats more is I know you will love how you feel and look as the weeks go by on this plan.
Oh wait, back up. Remember how I said it is better to undershoot than overshoot your calories and macros? That is for variety when you have time. As you can see in the chart further up I have room for 15g of protein and 50g of carbs a day. In other words I have room for a snack or to throw something in every day out of the norm. So what do my days look like now?
When I wake, I don't waste time figuring out breakfast. I have eggs and oatmeal with my morning supplements to get me out the door. For the other small meals through the work day it cycles between beef, lamb, and chicken with rice. Always with a strong serving of vegetables and salt as well. Surrounding my workouts I take in my amino acids and protein.
At night I come home to a different kind of dinner I can have just enough to keep me full for the night till I go to bed. I believe, especially if you are trying to lose weight, that eating big at morning and through the day while eating small as you make your way to bed is the way to go. It makes the best use of your digestive system as it goes into fasting while you sleep. Remember too, this is only for this week. You have all the power to change it up week to week.
The only difference from what I've done here for myself and someone trying to lose weight would be the amount of calories and number of meals in the day. You still train and eat for muscle.
As much as I would love to say this is the end of it, it is not. You will eventually need to get into "re-feeds" or cheat meals or whatever you want to call them. You will have to adjust your numbers every 5 to 10 lbs. You should cycle in high fat, low protein days. I believe supplements are key to making things like gaining or losing mass easier. If you want to take all the guess work out of your food choices then get a food allergy test.
The info in the article will take you a very long way, but I would still suggest getting in contact with someone who would know how to make this work for a long time.
I truly hope this article gave you some points to think on.
photo source: http://www.jordantimes.com/news/features/homework-struggle-real