There is no magical diet. After more than a decade of working with hundreds of weekend warriors and professional mixed martial artists I can tell you that all diets can work, and any can fail.
The single factor that determines the success of a diet is the individual following it. More so, if the individual is following the right plan for their own personal physiology and goals, they are set up for success.
Needless to say, my 220 lb. professional athlete who trains 4 hours daily, cuts down to 185 lbs., and fights in a steel cage will be eating very differently than my lawyer who works 9-to-5 and has a membership at the local gym.
To build the perfect plan you must first identify your goal. If you’re an athlete, your primary focus should always be improved performance. For the average Jane and Joe, improved aesthetics is the typical goal.
Once you have established your goal, it’s time to begin building a nutrition plan that addresses your caloric (energy) and macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) needs. For the purpose of this article, we are going to build a plan for an individual looking to lose body fat and improve overall body composition.
A meal plan for improved body composition must prioritize 3 things:
- A caloric deficit to lose weight.
- Macronutrient ratios to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
- Enough energy to perform daily tasks and workouts.
In the simplest terms, a calorie deficit means you are burning more calories than you are eating. Every year or so a new fad diet or social media influencer comes along touting a diet that can help you lose weight without a calorie deficit. They’re lying. Any diet that results in weight loss does so by creating a calorie deficit, whether it’s being measured or not.
On the other end of the spectrum, many people would have you follow an extremely aggressive diet that leaves you eating as little as possible to achieve a calorie deficit.
My general recommendation is to apply a 300-500 calorie deficit from food intake. To do this though, you must first know your maintenance calories or in other words, the calories your body utilizes to perform day to day activities.
My general recommendation is to apply a 300-500 calorie deficit from food intake.
There are several formulas to determine this which can be found free online. My preferred method of finding your maintenance is by tracking your food intake for several weeks to determine the calories at which you can consistently eat without seeing weight gain.
While this method requires more time, I find that it prepares you for the commitment you must make to succeed by dieting and also makes you more aware of your eating habits and choices. For this to work though you must be honest and track absolutely everything you eat and drink each day. There are many free smart phone apps that making tracking easy.
Let’s say you noticed your weight didn’t change for two weeks with an average 2,700 calories per day. For a more aggressive deficit we would subtract 500 calories from this to find the calories we need to eat for weight loss. This will come to 2,200 calories.
Now, let’s say you hit the gym for an intense hour before work. When you get to the office you sit at a desk for the majority of your shift before clocking out and heading home. Once home, you spend most of your time relaxing on the couch, watching television, and chatting with your spouse until time to go to bed and repeat the same process. All in all, no matter how intense your hour in the gym was for the day, your day wasn’t filled with much activity and you probably burned far less calories than you thought as you were lying in the gym floor gasping for breath.
Increasing your NEAT could be as simple having more sex (Got your attention, yeah?).
To create a larger calorie deficit through calories burned, I first ask people to increase their non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT accounts for the calories burned while awake that aren’t by exercise. I utilize this method because it has an overall greater impact than simply asking people to “workout more”. Increasing your NEAT could be as simple as taking the stairs, parking further away, doing more chores, mowing the grass, or even having more sex (Got your attention, yeah?). Another method I use is to ask clients to wear a smart watch or step tracker and aim for 10,000 steps per day.
If you’re concerned with looking better, it’s vital that you preserve or even add as much lean muscle as possible while burning fat. This is where we focus not just on number of calories, but on what those calories are made of. Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the nutrients you eat that provide you with energy.
The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat with both protein and carbohydrates containing 4 calories per gram and fat containing 9 calories per gram. Each macronutrient provides its own set of benefits. So, it’s important to know how each plays a role in your success.
Consuming adequate amounts of protein is crucial to improving your aesthetics. Not only is protein important for gaining or maintaining lean muscle, but it’s highly thermogenic. This means your body uses more energy (calories) to utilize and digest protein than it does carbohydrates or fat.
While the most general recommendation of protein for those concerned with lean muscle mass is 1g/lb. of bodyweight, it’s advised that you increase this when entering a caloric deficit to better preserve muscle and increase thermogenesis.
My recommendations are that you consume 35%-45% of your daily calories in the form of protein. For an individual consuming 2,200 calories per day this would come to between 193g and 248g of protein per day.
Like protein, carbohydrates are also very important for preserving muscle mass in a calorie deficit. Not only are carbohydrates in the form of glucose the most efficient source of energy in the weight room, but consuming too few carbohydrates could actually result in a loss of muscle mass.
If adequate carbohydrates are not available the body will convert protein to glucose by a process known as gluconeogenesis, meaning some of your hard-earned muscle will instead be utilized for energy.
Your carbohydrate needs will vary greatly depending on the intensity of your exercise, but my general recommendation is that carbohydrates consist of 30%-40% of total daily calories.
Fats play an important role in hormone health and vitamin absorption. In fact, fats play such a large role in hormone health that consuming too little fats can cause major disruptions in the female menstrual cycle and plummet testosterone in men. Although consuming too little fat can be detrimental, it’s also important to realize that since a single gram of fat contains more than double the number of calories as either protein or carbohydrates, you must be diligent not to consume too much fat to maintain your calorie deficit.
For fat, my general recommendation is between 20-30% of total calories. For an individual consuming 2,200 calories per day this would come to between 49g and 61g of fat per day.
If you’re unsure where you would fall in the above percentage ranges, it’s safe to split the difference and maintain those numbers for two weeks. Then reassess how you feel and look before making any necessary adjustments. It’s also important to be honest with yourself and where your body composition currently lies as well as your activity level.
For instance, a leaner individual who is only looking to fine tune their diet to lose a bit extra would be usually be advised to eat on the higher end of the carbohydrate recommendations while someone with a more significant amount of fat to lose would do better to eat on the higher end of protein and lower end of carbohydrates.
Supplements can be monumental in helping you hit your macronutrients and also allow for quicker absorption of nutrients in times when needed. My 3 favourite supplement options are glutamine, DIESEL, and creatine.
Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid that athletes take before a workout to help preserve muscle tissue. While consuming a DIESEL, a high-quality whey protein isolate, during or after a workout will help you get a jump start on muscle recovery.
Finally, Creatine Monohydrate is an important supplement for anyone looking to improve their physique because of its ability to increase muscle size and strength. As well as providing the muscles with more energy to complete tough workouts. My recommendation is that you take creatine daily at the same time each day whether you workout or not.
Summing It Up
As I mentioned at the start, there is no magical one-size-fits-all approach to building a meal plan. The recommendations I have shared are what I have discovered to work best with the majority of individuals looking to improve their body composition in the safest way possible.
It’s important to realize that whether you realize it or not, it takes a lot of consistent effort and choices to become overweight. Likewise, it will likely take greater effort and consistency if you want to lose the weight and keep it off. If you apply the above methods with honestly and commitment, dedicating a full effort for an extended period of time I am confident you will achieve results that are both great and long-lasting.
Author: Tyler Minton
Tyler “Melee” Minton is one of the most recognized Nutrition Coaches in the UFC. Having worked with hundreds of professional mixed martial artists including many world champions, Tyler’s coaching services are sought after by professional athletes and the general population alike. Applying his education and experience, Tyler promotes a no-nonsense, science-based approach to nutrition and it’s why he’s part of the PERFECT Sports Advisory Board.