Slide 1- How to Calculate Your Diet for the Optimum Body Recomposition (Based on Goals and Body Type)
You may have heard the expression that “abs are made in the kitchen.” Well guess what? So are biceps, lats, traps, and quads!
As anyone who is serious about their training is no-doubt aware, muscle building is a “biphasic process.” In plain English, that means that it happens in two stages. Stage one occurs in the gym: you break down muscle tissue during training, and you send plenty of stimulus to encourage growth. (We could go into great detail here, but suffice to say that you’re looking to create microtears, along with metabolic stress, and mechanical tension.)
Stage two occurs during rest, and particularly when you are anabolic. At this point, the body sets about repairing the damage caused to muscle fiber, creating new muscle fibers, and synthesizing lots of new protein.
Slide 1.1 - Rebuilding phase
If you keep pushing yourself in the gym without ever giving yourself the time to recover, then you’ll keep breaking your muscle fiber down but never give it the chance to come back stronger.
That “rebuilding phase” is JUST as important as the breakdown phase. And just how successful this is, is almost entirely determined by what you eat prior to your recovery.
Of course diet is also crucial if you want to lose weight. And it plays an important role in providing the energy you need for your training too. In fact, your diet is even critical for preventing injuries by ensuring that your tissue is able to recover from the constant bombardment!
So how do you calculate this and make sure you get it right? In this post, we’re going to go into detail, discussing everything you need to know in order to track your calories, get the right nutrients, and ensure maximum performance, recovery, and growth!
Slide 2 - The Basics: Calories
It starts with calories.
Calories are units of energy found in food. Strictly, a calorie (known as a small calorie and written as “cal” on your food packaging) is the amount of heat energy that would be needed to raise the a gram of water by one degrees Celsius. A kilocalorie (kcal) is what we typically refer to when calculating what we eat however, which is equal to 1,000 calories! If you hear someone refer to a calorie, they will normally be talking about kilocalories.
This energy is what is available to the body once the food is consumed. Physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, and therefore once it is consumed, it has to go somewhere. Typically, that means that it will either:
- Get stored in the body as fat
- Get burned as a fuel source for energy
Ultimately, this is what will either lead to weight loss, or weight gain.
Slide 2.1 - Calories in, calories out
If you consume more calories than you burn from exercise, then come the end of the day, you will have some leftover that will get stored as fat.
If you burn more calories than you consume on the other hand, then the body will have no option but to search for calories elsewhere. Usually, that will mean it turns to the fat stores.
These two states are referred to as a calorie surplus and a calorie deficit respectively – surplus meaning you have extra calories, and deficit meaning that you have not enough.
- If you want to gain weight (including muscle) you must maintain a calorie surplus. Most advice suggests starting with around 200 extra calories in order to slowly build mass without adding lots of fat.
- If you want to lose weight, then you need to maintain a deficit. Again, 200 calories is a good starting point.
- If you want to maintain your current weight, then you should eat precisely the number of calories that you are burning in a day.
To accomplish this, that means you need to know two numbers:
- Calories in
- Calories out
Slide 2.2 - Calculate your calories
Calculating your calorie consumption is fortunately fairly simple. To do this, you need only to make a note of what you’re eating. That usually means checking packaging, looking up averages online, and weighing things.
Highly advisable is to use an app like MyFitnessPal. This app will allow you to scan barcodes, which will then add the calories for any given food item to your list directly. MyFitnessPal also lets you save foods that you eat regularly, look up items that other people have scanned, create recipes, and more. This can save considerable time and result in a more accurate final number.
This will never be 100% accurate. The truth is that no two apples are completely alike. Likewise, it is nearly impossible to perfectly measure every ingredient in a bolognaise – especially if you are then dividing it between people.
But while that’s true, this number should be close enough that you can get a workable average that will serve your purposes.
Next we need to calculate what we’re burning during the day. This number is called an AMR, and it’s significantly more complex to figure out (though you only need to do it once most of the time!).
Slide 3 - Your Active Metabolic Rate
AMR stands for “Active Metabolic Rate.” This number is a rough indicator of how many calories you will be burning in any given day.
This is based on two separate factors. The first is your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which tells you how many calories you are burning simply by being alive. Your body burns a lot of calories just by being awake. Every process in your body requires energy: from breathing, to digesting food, to pumping blood around your body. So long as you are alive, you are burning calories.
Slide 3.1- How to calculate your AMR
This number varies significantly from person to person. For instance: the taller you are, the more calories you will burn by being alive. That’s because your heart needs to work harder to get blood around your body, and your immune system has more cells to look after!
Likewise, if you are broader, then this will require more calories than if you are thinner.
To work out your BMR, you can perform a very simple calculation:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
Slide 3.2 - BMR to AMR
Now we want to turn our BMR into an AMR. That means that we’re adding activity into the mix in order to see how manual labor and other activities will impact on our calories burned. If you are a couch potato with no job who spends 8 hours in front of the TV every day, then you will burn fewer calories than if you are someone who works on a building site for 9 hours straight.
Depending on the system you are using, this won’t need to include your exercise in this. This is your activity during a normal day.
To adapt this number, you are simply going to take your BMR and then multiply it by a set number:
- 1.2 if you’re sedentary (little or no exercise)
- 1.375 if you’re lightly active (you exercise 1-3 times a week)
- 1.55 if you’re moderately active (you exercise or work about average)
- 1.725 if you’re very active (you train hard for 6-7 days a week)
- 1.9 if you’re highly active (you’re a physical laborer or a professional athlete)
This resulting figure is your AMR.
Slide 3.3 - Calculate your workouts
NOW you also need to include any workouts that you do on top of this. A good way to do this, is by using a fitness tracker which will measure your heartrate and movement during training.
My favorite option right now are:
- The Apple Watch Series 5
- The Galaxy Active Watch 2
- The Garmin Vivoactive 4
Each of these will come with its own app, which will integrate with MyFitnessPal. This will then automatically calculate the number of calories you have burned during any workouts you do, along with any walks or other activity. That is then combined with your BMR and the amount you ate will be subtracted. The result will tell you your net profit or loss come the end of the day.
While this system is very effective for tracking your calories coming in and out though, it once again isn’t perfectly accurate. We’ll talk more about how this can be a problem in future, but for now know that the system works well enough for most people to be perfectly usable.
From here, all you simply need to do to build muscle is to eat an extra 200 calories per day. If you want to build more muscle, more quickly, you can of course increase your calorie count further – at the risk of adding fat too (this is an option for a “dirty bulk”).
If you want to cut fat and lean-up, then you should aim to consume 200 calories less per day.
And if you want to maintain a lean physique? Then you should consume precisely the calories you are currently consuming. Jeff Cavalier of AthleanX fame states that he eats his “maintenance calories” (I.e. his exact AMR) but then trains on top of that. This allows him to add more muscle, without also adding any fat.
Of course though, it’s not quite that simple!
Slide 4- Enter: Macros
On top of this, you also have your macros. Macros in bodybuilding parlance are “macronutrients,” which are carbs, fats, protein. These three food groups describe most types of food, though you could argue for a separate category for alcohol and fiber. We don’t typically include those last two however, as they don’t add to our physique in a meaningful way.
Slide 4.1- Know your type of food
Knowing what type of food you are eating is important, as they will add different amounts of calories, while providing other important benefits:
- Carbohyrdates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram
- Fats contain 9 calories per gram
- Fiber contains 0 calories per gram
- Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (but is usually not stored as fat)
What’s also important to recognize though, is that the way these foods react once in the body is also very different.
Protein for example, is the body’s main resource when it comes to repairing tissue and building muscle. Protein is made from amino acids, which are made from carbon – you know the building blocks of life! This is also what your muscle is made from, and so when you consume protein, your body breaks that down into its constituent parts and then uses that to replenish and reconstruct your own muscle.
You really are what you eat! Your muscles are made up of all the turkey, beef, and pork that you have ever eaten! Even some broccoli and bread.
(Of course the bioavailability and quality of that protein also plays a role, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Slide 4.2 - Your calorie intake
If you want to grow then, eating enough protein is absolutely fundamental to your success. As for how much, sources vary somewhat on that. However, what we do know, is that you need lots of it. The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Sports Nutrition, suggests that we should be eating 1.2-2grams of protein for every 1lb of bodyweight. Therefore, if you weigh 150lbs, then you should be eating up to 300grams of protein! Sounds like a lot… because it is!
This then also tells us something about our calorie intake. If you’re eating 300grams of protein, then that means you have already accounted for 1,200 calories in your diet. If your target intake was 3,000, then that leaves you with 2,800 left to play around with – to consume your carbs and your fats.
What’s important to recognize is that both of these macronutrients are important. Some athletes make the mistake of assuming that carbs are somehow “bad” because they don’t contribute to muscle mass. We know that carbs spike the blood sugar, that sugar can lead to inflammation, and that there are all sorts of other issues with the modern, high-carb diet.
But that doesn’t mean you should throw out all carbs. Carbohydrates in the form of complex carbs (things like wholegrain bread, sweet potato etc.) will release their sugars more slowly, reducing the risk of inflammation and of fat storage. At the same time, we know that carbs play an important role in providing the body with energy during workouts, in aiding recovery, and even in maintain high levels of testosterone.
Slide 4.3 - The carbs
If you were to go completely carb free and didn’t properly manage a ketogenic diet (which is whole other thing), then you would end up feeling exhausted a lot of the time, and not building adequate muscle.
So how many carbs do you need in your diet? This should make up 40-60% of your diet. So if you’re consuming 900-1,200 calories from your 3,000 calorie total already, you’re now consuming another 1,200-1,800 in carbs.
Finally, fats should take up roughly 20-30% of your calorie total. Fats likewise play many important roles in your diet: they aid with the absorption of key micronutrients (see the next section), and they also provide a form of energy. Most importantly though, fats are the biggest influence on your testosterone levels. That’s because testosterone is actually made from cholesterol found in fat!
So if your BMR is 2,800, you weigh 150lbs, and you want to do a clean bulk, you might:
- Aim to consume 3,000 calories a day
- Try to get 1.7 grams of protein for every lb of body fat (220grams)
- Thereby consume 880 calories in protein = 29.33% of your calorie total
- Plus 30% fat (1,200) or 93grams
- Plus 41% carbs – 300 grams
This is how you might break down your macros. You would then use apps like MyFitnessPal and devices like fitness trackers to calculate precisely those numbers and ensure you stay on track.
Slide 5 - The Importance of Micronutrients
This approach is one of the most effective and straightforward ways that anyone can add or lose weight. In fact, this is the best option for any coach that wants to help a client start losing or gaining weight (adjustments can be made later on as necessary).
But there are limitations to thinking purely in terms of calories: and the big one comes down to your micronutrients.
Micronutrients are things like vitamins, minerals, and individual amino acids. These are the elements that make a food item nutritious or otherwise, and they are crucial for us to consume in vast quantities.
Micronutrients are used throughout the body just like amino acids, but for countless other roles. Micronutrients are used to handle important chemical reactions that aid our metabolism and our fat burning, along with digestion and immunity.
Slide 5.1 - IIFYM: If It Fits Your Macros
If you don’t get enough minerals and vitamins in your diet, then you may well be able to build muscle mass, but you’ll also see your overall health – even your mood – deteriorate.
Unfortunately, this is a mistake that a lot of new bodybuilders will make. Consider the whole notion of “IIFYM.” This acronym stands for “If It Fits Your Macros” and it became a rallying cry of bodybuilding forums.
People would ask:
“Can I eat donuts and still lose weight?”
And the answer was always yes: as long as you’re not breaking your calorie goals and your carb goals, you can still eat donuts and lose weight. The same goes for building muscle.
If you’re hitting your protein goals and you’re consuming enough fats and carbs, then there’s no reason you can’t have a donut.
The problem is, you could also build muscle by eating a diet consisting of:
- 220grams of protein
- 93grams of lard
- 300 grams of donuts
That still technically fits into your diet (not accounting for the small amount of protein in lard and donuts etc.) and it would still technically build muscle.
Slide 5.2 - Macros are OK, but you also need to eat healthily
But you may well see some serious ill health effects. You’d likely be prone to injury and illness, you’d feel constantly sick and miserable (even our brain chemicals – called neurotransmitters – are actually made from amino acids, vitamins, and minerals) and you wouldn’t build as much muscle as you would do with a more balanced diet.
Likewise, you’d have no energy, and you’d be very likely to develop diabetes, insulin resistance, and other issues.
This is the danger of following such a reductionist approach to diet: you need to meet your macros yes, but you also need to eat healthily.
In fact, if you can get this right, then many of the micronutrients you seek out will act like power-ups in a computer game, or even supplements! Did you know that you can get creatine from high quality red meat? Especially organ meat? Same goes for CoQ10 – which many people will pay through the nose for.
Slide 5.3 - Get your micronutrients right
L-Carnitine, Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin B6 (so ZMA), nitric oxide, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, citrulline, resveratrol, PPQ… all these things can be found in the natural diet. You can find foods that will reduce inflammation, that will boost testosterone, that will enhance your energy and drive, that will help you get to sleep…
I’m not saying you need to spend hours in your local health store try to find every “superfood” you can to throw in your basket. What I am saying, is that by just eating a healthy and balanced diet, you’ll feel 10x better and your results will be 10x better too!
The simplest way to achieve this is to follow some simple rules:
- Eat unprocessed: consume food that is as close to its original form as possible.
- Eat natural: grass-fed beef is better.
- Eat varied: the more varied your diet, the better you are doing. Try to get as many colors of natural food as you can, and try to get foods from different regions. This has the added benefit of improving the gut bacteria and thus helping boost metabolism and immunity that way.
- If you think it’s unhealthy (chips, crisps, candy, chocolate) then it probably is. It’s not rocket science!
Slide 6 - When Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work
Tracking calories, as I say, is the best option for most newcomers looking to build muscle. If you want to help a client add mass, or if you want to try and do a body recomp, this is precisely where you should start.
And it will work around 85% of the time.
But try not to be so set in your ways and so dogmatic as not to consider other possibilities and factors. I have seen this not work for clients. Some people genuinely do their best to stick to calorie goals and still don’t change body shape the way they want to. And there are plenty of good explanations.
Some people will argue “a calorie is a calorie” and anything you do to dissuade them will be ineffective. They will tell you that this is the law of thermodynamics and that anyone who says otherwise is just lazy and undisciplined.
Very inaccurate and actually quite destructive.
The issue is not with the law of thermodynamics. The issue is with our inability to accurately calculate what goes in and what comes out.
There are LOTS of limitations when it comes to tracking your calories that ensure it won’t always work perfectly for you.
As we have already seen for example, the calculation for the number of calories you consume is very much based on an estimate. While this is close enough for most people, there are many ways that extra calories can slip in or out that add up over time.
Slide 6.1- Your body doesn’t care whether something happened yesterday
It’s also true that a lot of people fail to track certain calories and macros, which results in wildly inaccurate figures. A perfect example is when a person forgets about their cappuccinos every day (with lots of full fat milk) or the butter on their bread. Those extra 150 calories per day add up to an extra 1050 calories per week. That’s a significant increase!
This is another key thing to remember as well: your body doesn’t care whether something happened yesterday. More important than your net total every day is your net total over the course of weeks and months.
Likewise, we have trouble calculating what goes out of our bodies and how many calories we are burning at any given point.
For starters, a lot of these fitness trackers don’t properly differentiate between the AMR and then the additional exercise you do on top of that. This is true even when using fitness trackers and apps and being extremely rigorous.
For example, some fitness trackers will only count the 200 calories you burned during a workout and forget to add the 50 calories you might have consumed anyway by being static. So in fact you would have burned 250 calories.
Other fitness trackers might not factor in the fact that walks and other activities are already counted as part of the AMR. In other words, if your AMR is set to 3,000 because you area a laborer, you shouldn’t really then be also including
So this is a guestimate once again. But for most people it will be a close-enough attempt to provide useful, actionable advice.
Slide 6.2 - AMR is the problem
The biggest problem is the AMR itself, which is almost as flawed as BMI! (For those who are new, BMI is famously flawed.)
The problem is that your AMR is based on your height, sex, and weight… and that’s it! It doesn’t take into account simple factors that will greatly influence your calorie burn throughout the day.
Take muscle mass for instance. We know that muscle mass is metabolically active. We know that someone who is muscular will burn more calories than someone who is not. And yet this doesn’t factor into the AMR at all.
And how about a more controversial possibility: that the person is using steroids. If you use steroids, your testosterone will be constantly through the roof. That means you’ll be burning more fat AND building more muscle… at all times!
This won’t be considered by any AMR.
The same goes for oral contraceptives. Or how about an illness like hypothyroidism, which serious slows down your fat metabolism? How about diabetes?
You may not have these illnesses, but you still lie somewhere on a spectrum. That means that you may have a slightly faster metabolism than average, or a slightly slower one. This is why you get hard gainers, and it’s what leads to the (scientifically dubious) notion of “body types.”
- Ectomorph (hard gainer)
- Mesomorph (normal)
- Endomorph (bulky)
In short, the AMR leaves out many factors that drastically influence your ultimate fat burning and muscle building potential.
Slide 6.3 - Increasing or lowering your calorie intake
If you have tried to measure your calories and macros then with no success, what should you do next? The answer is to throw the number out and recalculate it based on your experience. Try gradually increasing your calorie intake in order to see if that will help you build more muscle (or slightly lower it to see if you will lose muscle).
Likewise, carefully assess your routine and see if you can become more/less active in order to bring up or down your AMR.
There are also ways that you can manipulate your hormone balance in order to influence your ability to inability to lose/gain muscle and fat. For example, the body responds to a drop in blood sugar by ramping up the production of cortisol and by eliminating testosterone. Chemicals like myostatin are likewise released telling the body to canabilize muscle.
So if you want to avoid going catabolic as far as possible, you can try to maintain that blood sugar throughout the day. That means eating little and often, and it even means consuming slow-release fats, carbs, and proteins (like casein) before bed.
Slide 6.3 - Be on the best possible starting position
Then of course there are the supplements. Vintage Muscle Supplements contain a host of crucial ingredients that can all help to ramp up your anabolism and build muscle, while keeping fat at bay. This puts you in the best possible starting position to see genuinely transformation when you get your calories and training right.
So calculating your macros remains the very best starting point for most people, but if that doesn’t work for you – it’s not your fault. The issue is with the calculation, or factors in your biology that you can’t see. Try tweaking those numbers, and keep on keeping on!