No Bullshit Nutrition Guide
Meal planning can seem like an intimidating task, so I’m going to break it down for you as simply as possible- calorie counts, macros, supplements, meal timing, the whole nine yards.
It isn’t as difficult as it seems at first, but I know there is a massive amount of information out there that can seem daunting at first, especially to those who are new to the nutrition world.
Like most things, the major difficulty is not in the information gathering but in the application, especially consistently, over long periods of time. None of the info here is going to help you out if you won’t use it to sculpt a better, more fit body and life for yourself.
I promise, it’s worth it.
Typically people associate bodybuilding or weightlifting with massive calorie intake, but your actual calorie count will depend on your goal.
Usually someone is trying to accomplish one of two things with a nutrition plan: bulking or cutting, or, put in simpler terms, gaining size or losing it.
-Bulking, in the most basic of terms, will require a calorie intake that exceeds the amount of calories your body is burning up during training and daily activity so that your body has extra nutrients to grow.
Protein plays a particularly vital role in this. Your muscles will synthesize it after a workout to repair the microtears they’ve accumulated over the course of your training session and grow larger.
The need to maintain a caloric excess not mean that you should set out on a campaign to consume everything in sight regardless of nutritional content – eating 7,500 calories worth of cake will definitely make you larger, but that’s not the type of mass you want to cultivate.
The goal is to gain muscle without gaining an excess amount of fat in the process.
Conversely, when you’re cutting, you’re looking to lower your overall body fat percentage while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible.
This is a common need for fighters and competitive athletes preparing for competitions as well as those who’ve succumbed to the temptation of the “dirty bulk” described above, or those who have lived a sedentary lifestyle and become overweight.
This is often done by lowering carbohydrate or fat intake while keeping a high protein intake, but at day’s end, it is simply the opposite of massing.
You will take in less calories than what your body needs to remain at its current size, and, subsequently, will lose fat as the body burns what is onboard for the energy it isn’t getting through a fuel source.
To get started with either process, you’ll first need to calculate what’s called your “maintainence level” – that is, the daily calorie intake that you would allow you to remain at your current weight, neither gaining nor losing.
There are many “maintenance level” calorie calculators online, but the only way to do it correctly, for you and your individual level of intake, activity, and so on, is to log everything that goes in your mouth religiously for a week or two.
Many will bail out right here, but for those who actually do it, you will have a perfectly accurate representation of your maintenance level by taking an average of your total calorie count each week to determine a daily maintenance level.
Simply tally the total amount of calories you took in during the week and divide by 7. Doing this for two weeks should give you a very accurate maintenance calorie number, assuming that during those two weeks you follow your general eating habits that have you at your current weight.
After establishing your maintainence level, the easy way to start your weight gain or reduction is simply to add or subtract 500 calories a day from your current maintenance number. For example, if you’re currently averaging 1800 calories a day, your new target will be 2300 calories daily in order to mass up.
If you’re looking to cut and you’re not competing in anything that demands you immediately drop a significant amount of weight, I recommend dropping 50-100 calories a day for the first week, then another 50-100 and so on until reaching your target number rather than a drastic adjustment.
For bulking, ease in the same way instead of putting 500 extra calories on your plate on day one.
Gradual adjustments will naturally take more time, but it’s far easier to make small changes to your diet over the course of a few weeks than make radical changes overnight, and will give you a better idea where your ideal number will be.
I also recommend maintaining a nutrition log book religiously, especially for the first several months to a year, as you will learn a great deal about this process if you pay attention to the small incremental changes made and what happens to your body composition over time.
As important as the amount of calories you take in, is what those calories consist of.
Your three macronutrients are: protein, carbohydrates and fat – each contains a certain amount of calories per gram:
protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram.
A proper macronutrient ratio plays a key role in developing an ideal body composition.
Someone training at a moderate to high level of intensity with weights is ideally going to take in 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, with 15-30% of your calories coming from fat, and the rest from carbs.
Let’s say you weight 200 pounds, have a 2500 calorie a day maintenance level, and a desire to put on weight, so you set your target at 3,000 calories a day.
At 1.25g of protein per pound, you’ll be eating 250 grams of protein daily, which translates to 1000 calories (remember, each gram is 4 calories).
Now that you’ve got your protein level, it’s time to divide up the rest of your calories between fat and carbohydrates.
Start by having 20% of your calories come from fat sources, then make the rest up from carbs.
So, if you were our 200lb bulking example above, you’d be taking in:
Protein: 250g (1000 calories)
Fat: 66g (600 calories)
Carbs: 350g (1400 calories)
That’s a ratio of about 33% protein, 20% fat, and 47% carbohydrates. Apply this split with your own calorie count,and observe your body – if you’re gaining too much fat, lower your carb intake.
Another, even easier way to go about it, is to take your target calorie count, and make it up from 40% protein, 40% carbs, 20% fat- a classic bodybuilding macro split that worked pretty damn well for guys like Arnold, Franco, and Platz.
After addressing dietary needs, people usually ask “what about supplements?” There’s a million of them on the market right now, most of which are trash, as the supplement industry is filled with snake oil and garbage, but focus on the three that actually work, and are trusted by some of the biggest and strongest in the world:
Protein shakes (there are a plethora of different kinds, so some experimentation will be necessary to see what works best for you) are a quick and easy way to increase your protein intake while keeping your overall calorie and macro count in line with your program.
One scoop usually contains 25-30 grams of protein.
Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical compound in the muscle cells that can be taken as a supplement and has been proven to increase strength performance, while helping to encourage muscle growth.
Although some people have considered it unsafe, there is no evidence to support this and it is one of the most studied and tested supplements in the world.
As long as you don’t take it in excess (avoid high-caffeine pre-workout supplements in favor of black coffee), caffeine will boost your metabolism and fat loss, and generally improve your performance in the gym.
I advise against becoming overly reliant on any kind of “supplement,” including protein. It is always best to get your nutrition from good food sources, and I definitely think people shouldn’t have to take caffeine or another kind of stimulant just to have a good work out.
Used in moderation, however, they can definitely provide an edge when needed.
Many people will tell you how often you should eat, what time you should eat, how much you should eat per sitting.
Ignore them. Eat when you want.
It’s all a matter of personal preference. As long as you’re hitting your daily macronutrient goals, then you’re on the right track.
It used to be a common idea that the human body was only capable of absorbing 30 grams of protein at a time, which resulted in people eating numerous small and meticulously scheduled meals throughout the day to hit their goals.
This is absolutely not proven, and you can eat any sized meal at whatever time suits your schedule.
As you adjust to your new diet, experiment with different sized meals at different times and see what works best for you – with some exceptions, as long as you’re hitting your macros, the timing doesn’t matter much.
“What foods should I eat?”
I could fill a book’s worth of pages discussing all of the different types of foods that you could effectively incorporate into a healthy muscle building diet, but if you’re just starting out, keep it simple.
The following are all common options among the pros, and those of us who have been at it for a good while, and most of them can be prepared in enough ways to keep you from being getting sick of them too quickly.
Eggs, cheese, milk, greek yogurt
Turkey, chicken, bacon, ground beef (not all beef is created equal – the high fat options will tank your macros quickly, go for the lean beef unless that matches your dietary goals)
sweet potatoes, rice, whole grain bread, pasta, fruit & vegetables.
Tuna is extremely popular for its high protein and low fat content, as well as being relatively inexpensive.
If you have the wallet for it, salmon is an equally solid choice.
Black coffee (an excellent way to suppress your appetite, especially if you’re cutting), water, protein shakes.
For the most part, this is all common-sense stuff: focus on whole, quality foods, avoid fast-food garbage, takeout and sugary carbohydrate-rich sodas.
All you have to do to get your nutrition in check is:
-Find your maintenance level
-Set your ratio
(an easy starting point is 40% protein, 40% carbs, 20% fat)
-Watch your body fat, drop your carbs/calories if you’re gaining too much
Ultimately, the hardest part is staying consistent and starting now – The most effective meal plan in the world won’t be effective unless you’re sticking to your macros, nor will it help you if you’re perpetually waiting for “next week” or “after the holidays.”
Start now. Do the work. Get the results.
I’m pulling for you.