To optimally fuel your performance in the gym and recovery outside of the gym, you need to follow a structured nutrition program. Figuring out this nutrition program may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. After reading this article, you will be able to determine the proper amount of nutrients to eat each day and create a program to ensure long term progress. I will lay everything out for you 💪🏼
Calories are energy stored in the foods we eat. The number of calories you eat, termed caloric intake, will determine whether you gain or lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn (a surplus or hypercaloric intake) you gain weight; if you burn more calories than you eat (a deficit or hypocaloric intake) you lose weight. This fundamental principle of dieting to change body composition.
Achieving optimal results requires controlling your caloric intake more precisely than simply creating a caloric surplus or deficit. When targeting fat loss, setting your caloric intake too low can result in the loss of lean mass and decreased performance. When focusing on gaining muscle, setting calories too high can result in excessive fat gain. In order to optimize body composition changes and maximize performance, caloric intake must be monitored and controlled while progressively making adjustments based upon progress.
We are going to set your starting Caloric Intake at 15 calories/lb bodyweight. Note I said STARTING caloric intake as you may need to adjust your calorie intake based on the rate you gain or loss weight (more on that later).
The foods we eat supply calories in the form of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Protein and carbohydrates each contain 4 calories per gram while fat contains 9 calories per gram. By tracking your macronutrient intake, you are precisely tracking your total calorie intake. Each macronutrient has unique metabolic properties and functions in the body and therefore different dietary intake requirements.
Overview of each macronutrient’s role in energy production:
Protein—limited involvement in energy production but supplies the amino acid building blocks needed to repair the body.
Carbohydrates—functions primarily as a fast-acting energy source stored as glycogen in muscle and the liver.
Fats—high capacity energy source stored as body fat.
Protein intake is critical due to its role in protein synthesis and repair. The combination of an insufficient protein intake and caloric deficit can result in the loss of lean mass. An insufficient protein intake can impede lean muscle gains when in a caloric surplus. To optimize protein balance throughout the day, current research recommends one should consume a minimum daily protein intake of 1.6g/kg bodyweight (0.8g/lb) with an upper daily protein intake of 2.2g/kg bodyweight (1.0g/lb) . To ensure you are indeed eating enough protein to optimize results, we are going to aim for the higher intake of 2.2g/kg (1.0g/lb).
Protein = 2.2g/kg (1g/lb) bodyweight.
Once protein intake is set, the remainder of calories are distributed between carbohydrates and fat. Carbohydrate and fat intake are set in accordance with goals, food preference, and individual response to each nutrient (i.e. some people respond better to more carbs vs. fats). Furthermore, reducing carbohydrates too much can hinder performance and reducing fats too much can negatively affect mood. Therefore, a BALANCED diet that supplies sufficient amounts of all three macronutrients is ideal.
Fat = 15-30% calories
- if you prefer to eat more fats than carbs, you can do 25-30% fats.
- If you prefer to eat more carbs than fat, you can do 15-20% fats.
Carbs = Remainder of calories.
I will put all of the above information into practice using myself as an example.
Bodyweight = 205lbs
Calorie intake = 205 * 15 = 3,075 calories
Daily Protein Intake = 1.0g/lbs Bodyweight * 205 lbs = 205g protein
Fat intake = 3075 * 30% = 922.5 calories/9 calories per gram fat = 102.5g fat
Carb intake = 3,075 calories – 820 calories (from 205g protein) – 922.5 calories (from 102,5g fat) = 1332.5 calories/4 calories per gram carbs = 333g carbs
I would aim for 205g protein, 102.5g fat, and 333g carbs per day for a total of 3,075 calories per day.
Tracking your macronutrient intake is imperative when looking to maximize results when your progress stalls.
The best way to control and track your macronutrient intake is by utilizing a food scale. A food scale allows you to precisely measure food in ounces and grams. While it may seem inconvenient to measure your foods, doing so is the most effective way to accurately track your macronutrient intake and allow you to make changes when your progress stalls. If you do not know how many macronutrients you are eating, you cannot accurately make changes to your nutrition program. The rate you should aim to lose/gain and what to do when progress stalls is as follows:
- If your goal is fat loss, aim to lose between 0.5-1.0% bodyweight per week. If you do not lose in this range, then decrease calories by 250 (decrease carbs and/or fats).
- If your goal is muscle growth, aim to gain 0.25-0.5% bodyweight per week. If you do not gain in this range with the starting caloric intake, then increase calories by 250 (increase carbs and/or fats).
Nutrient Timing and Meal Frequency
Nutrient timing is eating certain macronutrients at specific times in order to maximize their metabolism and usage, optimize recovery, and/or improve body composition. For example, lifting weights increases glucose uptake into skeletal muscle making post-workout a great time to eat carbohydrates. In the grand scheme of things, your total daily macronutrient intake is far more important than nutrient timing. This is not to say that nutrient timing, like having a large amount of your carbohydrate intake post-workout, does not have merit, but it will not substantially improve results beyond controlling your total daily macronutrient intake. The one area where I do feel nutrient timing is important is protein distribution.
Research shows that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rates are elevated for two to three hours after eating a mixed meal of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Interestingly, MPS rates returned to baseline levels even though amino acids levels were elevated above baseline for five hours after eating this meal . This suggests that after MPS is maximally stimulated there is a refractory period during which ingesting additional protein will not further stimulate MPS. Peaks in amino acid levels, not a constant flow of amino acids, stimulate MPS. Based on this currently available research, spacing meals out every 4-6 hours may be the ideal way to maximally stimulate protein synthesis. In order to optimize protein balance throughout the day, your daily protein intake of 2.2g/kg (1g/lb) should be distributed evenly into a minimum of four meals with 0.4-0.55g protein/kg/meal . If you prefer to eat more meals per day, you could increase this to 5 meals per day. Your carbohydrate and fat intake can be distributed between meals based on your hunger and personal preference.
Continuing with our above example (reminder my weight = 93kg), my protein intake per meal would be:
4 MEALS/DAY: Protein Per Meal (0.55g/kg) = 51.15g (We will round this to 50g protein per meal for simplicity)
5 MEALS/DAY: Protein Per Meal (0.4g/kg) = 37.2g (We will round this to 40g protein per meal for simplicity)
3 Meals + 1 Protein Shake
The number one thing people struggle with when following a nutrition program (not counting overall adherence) is hitting their protein intake every day. Eating all of the protein you need from whole foods can be a challenge for some. Protein powders provide a convenient and economic way to ingest protein and meet your daily protein needs. To help make hitting your protein intake easier, I recommend aiming for 3 solid food meals + 1 protein shake per day. You can drink the protein shake for whatever meal you need to. If you aren’t hungry in the morning, you can drink to protein shake for breakfast. If you tend not to be hungry at night, you can drink the protein shake before bed. The protein shake is all about convenience and working with your schedule and needs.
Example Daily Diet: 3 Meals + 1 Shake (Protein Sources Only)
This is an example of how I could setup my protein source to meet my target 205g of protein per day:
Meal 1 = 3 Whole Eggs + 10 oz Egg Whites (~50g Protein)
Meal 2 = 8 oz Chicken Breast (~50g Protein)
Meal 3 = 8 oz Beef/Fish (~50g Protein)
Meal 4 = 2 Scoops PR-BREAKER HITPOINT Protein (~50g Protein)
You would add your carbohydrate and fat food sources to the above protein sources. Since your carbohydrate and fat food sources also contribute to your protein intake, you would adjust the exact quantities of your protein sources based on how much protein the other foods you eat contribute.
If choosing to eat 5 meals per day, you could do 4 solid food meals + 1 protein shake or 3 solid food meals + 2 protein shakes.
The above outline of how-to setup your nutrition program accounts for the MAJORITY of what you need to focus on. Set your caloric intake, set your macros, distribute your protein evenly between meals, and track your macros and you will be well on your way to optimizing your nutrition to produce long term progress.
- Morton, R.W., C. McGlory, and S.M. Phillips, Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Front Physiol, 2015. 6: p. 245.
- Campbell, B., et al. (2007). "International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4: 8.