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Hey everyone! In my last nutrition article, I covered the fundamentals of nutrition. Having this 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 all about nutrition for goals. This will help you take the fundamentals of nutrition and apply them in ways that are specific to your goal. The 4 main 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 (lean body mass being muscle as well as other things such as water). We want to avoid losing muscle because… why would anyone want to lose muscle right! 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 to be in a caloric deficit, 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, with the primary source of this energy typically coming from fat.
It is important to know that there are 4 areas in which your body burns/uses calories. The order of which mechanism 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 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, consider trying to move more by going on walks, as an example. This would fit into either NEAT or EA. Where this fits into isn’t really a big deal, however.
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).
If your caloric deficit reaches a point where going lower isn’t optimal and or sustainable, consider increasing your exercise to ensure your nutrition is still manageable.
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.
If you are wondering how to calculate your caloric deficit, I have linked a video done by the reputable Jordan Syatt. Click here to check it out!
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 the weight loss towards fat loss.
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 a 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 energy. Taking in adequate protein will ensure your muscles have enough protein to help maintain muscle mass.
As far as how much protein you should be taking in goes, it is quite simple. Stick to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. If you want to go a bit higher while staying in a caloric deficit, it won’t hurt and can have some benefits as far as creating a caloric deficit goes. This is within a reasonable amount, of course. I wouldn’t suggest going around consuming 4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
If you have a relatively high amount of body fat, you may want to go with the following approach: 1.8 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass. Lean body mass is your total bodyweight minus your fat weight. The reason for this equation in this circumstance is because protein is far more metabolically active and protein demanding than fat. So if you have a fair amount of fat, basing protein intake of lean body mass makes much more sense.
You can eat higher protein if you would like. Once again, I wouldn’t suggest anything too crazy though, as there isn’t really a need for it.
Consumption of Fats & Carbs:
The main thing with any caloric deficit is to make sure total daily calories and protein are 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 are 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. Going lower than this can be less optimal in regards to things like hormones.
Layne Norton does a great job of explaining fat loss in detail within a series on his Youtube channel, I actually gained some of my knowledge for this article from his series. You can check that out here.
This is most often a goal for those who have excess amounts of fat and 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 or not a lot of weight training experience. There really isn’t much of a difference between the steps taken for the goal of fat loss and body recomposition, it is more about your starting point.
So… that basically covers that! Haha!
If you are a relatively lean person or skinny in general and are not looking to lose more body fat but to put on muscle, a muscle gain approach is likely 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 and limiting fat gain which in turn will help them to get leaner/reduce body fat percentage in the process. When they achieve a bodyweight that they are happy with, they can then decide if they would like to get leaner or not. Putting on muscle while limiting the addition of body fat 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. However, it can still be done!
There are 3 main things to consider when it comes to the goal of muscle gain alone, these are:
- Caloric Surplus
- 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 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 surplus. The smaller surplus will yield slower muscle gain, however, it will allow you to put on mostly muscle instead of fat. A larger caloric surplus will allow for quicker muscle gain, however, with that will come more fat. Both of these are being talked about assuming protein intake is sufficient.
If you are relatively lean, want to limit fat gain and are okay with slower progress, consider implementing a smaller surplus. If you already have a fair amount of body fat and want to limit anymore, yet you still want to gain muscle, also consider a smaller surplus.
If you are relatively lean, want to gain muscle at a quicker pace and do not mind putting on some body fat, consider implementing a larger surplus. If you have a fair amount of fat, are looking to gain muscle and don’t care about the amount of fat you have; (not advisable, however, sometimes this is the situation if you need to bulk up quickly for specific circumstances such as a position in football), then also consider a larger surplus.
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 caloric surplus than if you are in a caloric deficit. This makes sense as your body should be supplied with ample amounts of carbohydrates and fats for fuel and other functions. Thus, the majority of 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 body weight. You can go lower to 0.6-0.8 grams/pound of bodyweight, however, if you weight train fairly often, done consistently and are relatively active, I wouldn’t suggest this when trying to gain muscle.
Consumption of Fats & Carbs:
Similar to being in a caloric deficit, the consumption of fats and carbs isn’t a huge deal so long as you are hitting your calorie and protein goals. 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 higher carbs because they feel more energized from it for performance. Others may not notice too much of a difference between higher carbs or higher fat. However, they may find it difficult to take in enough calories, thus they may opt for the more calorically dense macro, which is fat.
This may be for those who are already at their desired goal and are 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 calories burned). You want to be at a balance of protein (consuming enough protein to maintain muscle mass) and you want to be eating carbs and fats in amounts that fit into your total daily calories in a healthy ratio that 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. Other signs to increase protein intake include but are not limited to, noticing your recovery slowing (assuming other factors such as sleep and nutrition are in check) and or noticing yourself losing muscle mass.
I hope the information within this article has been able to benefit you! As always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below and I will be sure to reply!
I would like to clarify that these are my recommendations and suggestions, they are not guaranteed to work specifically for you. They are solid 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, consult 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.