In my last nutrition article, I covered the fundamentals of nutrition, having that basic knowledge is a crucial part of any fitness journey, as nutrition is the most important thing for any goal. In this article, I will be talking about nutrition for goals, whatever yours may be. This will help you to take the fundamentals of nutrition and apply them in ways that are specific to your goals. The 4 different types of goals and their basic principles are outlined below:
Fat Loss – Must be in a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than your body burns), emphasis on protein intake, as well as weight training (weight training will be covered in another article)
Bodyweight Maintenance – Maintenance Calories (equal amount of calories consumed to calories burned), average levels of macronutrients relative to your lifestyle
Fat Loss & Muscle Gain – Must be in a caloric deficit, have an emphasis on protein intake and a large focus on weight training
Muscle Gain – Caloric surplus (size of surplus depends on goal), good amount of protein, emphasis on weight training
Fat loss is when you’re trying to lose body fat but maintain as much muscle as possible, don’t get this confused with weight loss. Weight loss refers to an overall drop in body weight, this includes fat and lean body mass (muscle as well as other things such as water). We want to avoid this as almost all of us are trying to hang onto as much muscle as we can. So how do we accomplish this goal? There are 3 main pillars to fat loss, these include:
- Caloric Deficit
- Focus on Protein Consumption
- Amounts of Fats & Carbs
In order to lose weight, it is required that you be in a caloric deficit (negative energy balance), you need to be consuming fewer calories than your body burns. Simply put, this will force your body to find alternate energy sources to burn, such as unwanted stored fat.
It is first important to know that there are 4 areas in which your body burns or uses calories. The order of which typically burns the most calories descends from the top.
- The first is your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), this refers to the calories your body burns just to keep itself running.
- The second is your NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), these are calories your body burns throughout your daily activities.
- The fourth is called TEF (Thermal Effect of Food), this refers to the calories your body burns to digest and use the food you eat.
- The third is EA (Exercise Activity), these are calories you burn by “planned” exercise such as weight training
If you are trying to burn more calories without taking them out of your diet, there is one of these that is quite easy and I would say the best to alter. That is EA, quite simply if you exercise more, you will burn more calories.
We know that we need to be in a caloric deficit, and how we actually use and therefore burn the calories we consume. Now the question is, how do we achieve this caloric deficit? There are 2 main ways in which a caloric deficit can be achieved, either through your nutrition (reducing calories consumed) or exercise (increasing exercise). I would suggest getting your caloric deficit influenced by exercise more so then nutrition. This because if you exercise smarty with ample weight training, being able to eat closer to your maintenance level of calories can help your muscles to repair and therefore aid in retaining muscle.
All in all, you need to tip the “calorie balance scale” towards the caloric deficit side, this will allow for weight loss. The keyword is weight, that could mean muscle as well, which is what we are trying to limit. Protein consumption is a major part in retaining this muscle, that is what will be explained next.
Protein consumption is huge for retaining muscle in a caloric deficit, it has a direct impact on muscle repair through a process called muscle protein synthesis. The biggest thing with weight loss is the caloric deficit, however, when it comes to nutrition, you need both a caloric deficit and adequate protein intake to focus on losing fat and not muscle.
As your muscle fibres break down, they require the amino acids in protein to repair them. Adequate protein intake will ensure your muscles will have enough of these amino acids to complete this function. This is especially important while in a caloric deficit as your body is already running on lower energy intake. Because of this, you don’t want your body to be taking amino acids and using them for other things such as glucose for energy. Taking in adequate protein will ensure your muscles have enough protein to help maintain your muscle mass.
As far as how much protein you should be taking in, the range is between 1.8-2.8 grams/kilogram of lean body mass (total body weight minus fat weight). Around 2.4 grams/kilogram of lean body mass is ideal for most unless you can’t/don’t want to have that much protein for some reason. Going up to 2.8 grams won’t hurt you, however it isn’t shown to have any additional anabolic benefits. Ultimately the amount of protein you take in is up to you, these are some good suggestions, however.
Consumption of Fats & Carbs:
The main thing with any caloric deficit is to make sure that total daily calories and protein is accounted for. This will ensure you are eating the proper amount of calories to induce weight loss, and taking in enough protein to retain as much muscle as possible, thus influencing fat loss. However, we are missing 2 of the 3 macronutrients, fats and carbs.
When total daily calories and protein is accounted for, fats and carbohydrates can be moved around as you prefer, it isn’t shown to have an effect on fat loss. This is more so to focus on sustainability, and what makes you feel/perform the best. One guideline, however, is to make sure fat is above 15% of your total daily calories. Lower then this can cause decreased amounts of certain things such as different types of hormones, essential fatty acids and such.
Layne Norton does a great job explaining fat loss in detail within a series on his Youtube channel, I gained some of my knowledge from this actually. You can check that out here.
This is most often a goal for those who have excess amounts of fat and have relatively low amounts of muscle, and are looking to lose fat and gain muscle. That is what body recomposition is, losing fat and gaining muscle. This will be easier to accomplish with a higher fat to muscle ratio and not a lot of weight training experience. The biggest difference between how you accomplish fat loss or body recomposition is not your nutrition, it is actually your training. I will be talking more about training relative to your goals in my next article.
As I said, the nutrition between fat loss and body recomposition doesn’t have much difference. That means you will still be in a caloric deficit while putting an emphasis on protein intake. It would make sense that your protein intake should go up right, since protein has a direct impact on muscle growth? Well not necessarily. We know the range for protein intake should be around 1.8 – 2.8 grams/kilogram of lean body mass. If you are in a caloric deficit, being at the higher end of this (around 2.4) is roughly where you should be. This doesn’t change with a body recomposition goal, because you are still in a similar caloric deficit and your ability to put on muscle won’t depend on increasing protein intake if you are already around the 2.4 grams/kilogram of lean body mass. Whether you have the goal of fat loss or body recomposition, you can go up to 2.8 grams/kilogram of lean body mass, however, going above 2.4 grams isn’t shown to give any extra anabolic benefits. What matters is your current state, which is excess fat with minimal muscle. Little weight training experience will make body recomposition easier.
If you are a relatively lean person or skinny in general and you are not looking to lose more body fat but to put on muscle, a muscle gain approach may be what you are looking for. The goal with this is to put on as much muscle as possible while limiting the amount of fat you gain. This is also great for those who are “skinny fat”, as they can get bigger by putting on muscle which in turn will help them to get leaner/reduce body fat percentage in the process. This goal can be achieved easier as a whole if you are new to weight training and or do not have a whole lot of muscle to begin with. If you have some years of training under your belt and already have a considerable amount of muscle, this can be harder to do when trying to put on muscle alone. However, it can still be done.
There are 3 main things when it comes to putting on muscle, they are:
- Caloric Surplus (for muscle gain alone)
- Sufficient Protein Intake
- Consumption of Fats & Carbs
As we know a caloric surplus is not required for muscle gain, however when you aren’t looking for fat loss, a caloric surplus makes sense. Especially if you are a hard gainer or in other words someone who has trouble putting on muscle. There are 2 ways to achieve this, one of which includes a relatively small caloric surplus, another with a larger caloric surplus. The smaller surplus will yield slower muscle gain, however, it will allow you to put on mostly muscle compared to fat. A larger caloric surplus will allow for a quicker gain of muscle, however with that will come more fat. Both of these are being talked about assuming protein intake is sufficient.
If you are quite lean a larger surplus may not you too hurt you too much, however, if you want to stay lean and aren’t looking for quick results a smaller surplus may benefit you more. The opposite is correct for someone who has some body fat and is looking to gain mostly muscle, you would want a smaller surplus so you are putting on as much muscle as possible with minimal fat. This could also help with getting leaner if you have added muscle and not fat. If for some reason you’re not concerned about your body fat level (example being certain positions in football) and you need to put on a certain amount of weight to get ready for the season, a larger surplus may be an option for you. As you can see, all of this depends on your goals.
One other avenue people take is called a bulk and cut, you may have heard of this before. This is when people are eating knowing they will cut down after, compared to someone eating for a specific goal and wanting to stay there or progress quite slowly once they have reached that goal. People who bulk and cut often do it for a specific goal as well (usually looking for continual progression). This method would often be used by someone who has reached their genetic muscle potential, however still wants to further progress. An example being someone who competes in bodybuilding, and wants to come in the next year with more muscle at the same leanness or leaner, but cannot put on any more lean muscle by itself. I personally don’t like the bulk and cut because I feel gaining muscle can be done in better ways and it is not necessary for most. I myself am still at a point where I can continue to put on lean muscle at a slow, steady and progressive rate, which is what is best for me at this point in time.
Sufficient Protein Intake:
Lot’s of people hear muscle gain and think protein, protein, protein. Well, don’t get too carried away as you actually require less protein to gain muscle while in a surplus of calories then if you are in a deficit (fat loss or body recomposition). This makes sense because your body should be supplied with ample amounts of carbohydrates and fats for your fuel and other functions, thus protein is likely going to be used for its main function of building muscle.
How much protein should you be taking in to gain muscle while in a caloric surplus? A good guideline would be around 0.8-1.0 gram/pound of bodyweight, you can go lower to 0.6-0.8 gram/pound of bodyweight. However, if you weight train fairly often, consistently and are relatively active, I wouldn’t suggest this for most people when trying to gain muscle.
You might be asking yourself, why is the protein intake measured by body weight for muscle gain, but measured by lean body mass for fat loss or body recomposition? This is because muscle demands much more protein then fat does. Thus most of the amino acids from protein would be going towards your muscles and other demanding organs and such then your fat tissue. Therefore, if you aren’t looking to lose fat, chances are you have a relatively low body fat percentage and a large portion of your weight is lean body mass. Which is why it makes more sense to measure per pound of body weight for muscle gain, again, because most of your body weight is muscle which demands much more amino acids then fat. The opposite goes for fat loss or body recomposition, you likely have higher amounts of fat which will demand fewer amino acids then muscle. Therefore, it makes sense to measure based on the amount of muscle you have (the more protein demanding tissue).
Consumption of Fats & Carbs:
Similar to being in a caloric deficit, the consumption of fats and carbs isn’t a huge deal. As I said before, you should be eating what is easiest for you to sustain and what allows you to perform your best. Some people may like more carbs because they feel like it gives them more energy for there training and other daily activities. Others may not notice too much of a difference eating higher amounts of carbs then fat or will time their carbs around their training. They may also find it difficult to eat enough calories, thus they may opt for the more calorically dense food, which is fat. Again, this all being said with the context of total daily calories and protein intake being accounted for.
This may be a goal for those who have reached their fitness goals and aren’t looking to further progress, or those who are already at their desired goal. Both of these people may be simply looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There isn’t too much to think about here, you want to be eating at maintenance calories (equal calories consumed to how much you have burned). You want to be at a balance of protein (consuming enough protein to maintain muscle mass) and you want to be eating fats and carbs in an amount that fits into your total daily calories in the ratio you prefer.
Your maintenance calories will depend on your activity level and other things relative to you. It is very simple however, you need to be eating the same amount of calories that you burn to be at maintenance calories. As far as protein goes, 0.35 grams/pound of body weight or 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight is roughly where you want to be for good overall health. You may want to consider increasing these protein numbers a bit if you are quite active, more specifically with weight training; and your noticing slow recovery (if other factors such as sleep and stress levels are in check) and or notice yourself losing muscle mass.
I would like to clarify that these are my recommendations and suggestions, they are not guaranteed to work specifically for you. They are good suggestions, however, in the end, you need to be monitoring yourself and making changes accordingly. I would also like to note, if you have any conditions or believe you shouldn’t be following these suggestions for circumstances you may have, I would suggest consulting with a doctor.
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.