Simple Diet Tips, No BS
Whether you're eating for fat loss or muscle gain, your nutrition strategy doesn't have to be complicated. It may seem that way, though. Why? Because of all the "diet experts" out there telling your different things.
This might ruffle a few feathers, but I'm going to say it anyway. A lot of the nutrition gurus are only trying to get your money. In fact, many of them only support the "new diet concept of the day" to ride the popularity wave and slip into your bank account.
I know one expert who was once the biggest keto proponent in our field, then moved on to being all about intermittent fasting. Now this person is all-in on flexible dieting. Why? You guessed it: to follow the trends of the market.
Others are true believers, of course, but all of these opposing viewpoints make figuring out this eating thing more confusing than it needs to be. So let's clear the clutter. Here are some simple diet guidelines you can take to the bank, plus a tip about fat loss training.
Nutrition is fairly simple. First, you don't have to follow a "name diet." In fact, you should stay away from diets that have a name: keto, vegan, paleo, intermittent fasting, carnivore, carb backloading, etc. It's not necessarily because these trendy diets are "bad." They just make things more complicated and a lot less adaptable.
A lot of people flock to branded diets because they want to...
- Feel like they belong to a kindred group.
- Feel like they're using a "secret weapon" that others aren't.
- Feel superior because they exclude the devil's food (which will vary depending on the diet).
- Feel excited by a concept, which increases their motivation.
And, subconsciously, we associate food elimination or more restrictive eating with better success.
The reality is you don't need to be overly restrictive. In fact, you shouldn't be. More variety in energy sources maintains better metabolic flexibility (the capacity of the body to efficiently produce energy from various sources) and reduces the likelihood of having nutritional deficiencies. It also makes it a lot less tedious, which will improve your chances of sticking with the plan.
Follow these simple guidelines and you can achieve any result you want, whether it's gaining muscle or strength, losing fat, maingaining (adding a small amount of muscle while leaning out), or just feeling and performing better.
These will be underwhelming for those looking for unknown or underground dieting secrets, but they work better than any fake secret some YouTube authority is trying to sell you.
1. Eat mostly unprocessed foods.
Meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts, unprocessed grains, etc. If these constitute at least 80% of your caloric intake, it's extremely hard to go wrong.
2. Ingest 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
This is at the upper limit of what's needed. You could eat a bit less and be fine. But since protein isn't efficiently stored as fat, it's better to consume a bit too much than too little. Just use common sense. If you're 350 pounds and obese, you don't need 350 grams of protein, but you probably do need more protein than you're currently consuming.
This amount of protein is enough to help you build muscle, perform optimally, minimize muscle loss when dieting, and keep you more satiated if your main goal is fat loss.
3. Adjust your caloric intake to your goal and expenditure.
The first step? Find out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. There are formulas for that, but most aren't really adequate. And anyway, your caloric expenditure varies from day to day. Also, someone who's been a chronic dieter will have a much different "real energy requirement."
I suggest recording everything you eat for 5 to 10 days. The longer you do it, the more accurate it is. Weigh yourself in the morning of day one and in the morning after your last day.
Calculate your average daily caloric intake. Then look at your bodyweight change.
If you gained weight, that average caloric intake is a surplus. If you lost weight, it's a deficit. If your weight stayed stable, it's likely close to your maintenance level.
Once you've figured out what your maintenance level is, it's very easy to plan your daily caloric intake:
- For building maximum muscle while accepting some fat gain: More than a 25-30% surplus
- For building muscle with a little fat gain: 20-25% caloric surplus
- For building some muscle with minimal fat gain: 10-15% caloric surplus
- For building a small amount of muscle while maintaining leanness: 2.5-7.5% surplus
- For getting leaner while hopefully adding a small amount of muscle: 5% deficit up to maintenance intake
- For losing fat without losing muscle: 10-15% caloric deficit
- For losing a lot of fat while minimizing muscle loss: 15-20% caloric deficit
- For maximum fat loss (higher risk of muscle loss): 20-30% caloric deficit
This one is easy to understand intellectually but hard to apply emotionally.
Nutrients are necessary for recovering and rebuilding after a workout. You need them...
- To replenish the muscle glycogen you used up during training (mostly carbs)
- To repair muscle damage (proteins)
- To enhance the enzymatic and hormonal responses that lead to muscle building, such as increasing mTOR, insulin, and IGF-1, while decreasing cortisol (mostly carbs, proteins to some extent)
- To provide the building block of sex hormones, including testosterone (fats)
If you decrease food intake for fat loss, you also diminish your capacity to recover and positively adapt to training. Here's what this means:
You should not add more hard training when your body has a decreased capacity to recover and positively adapt to training. Adding more hard work when calories and nutrients are lower often leads to unnecessary muscle loss!
Training causing muscle damage. Then, when you provide your muscles with sufficient nutrients and rest, the damage is repaired, and you make the tissue a little bit stronger and thicker.
If you don't provide enough nutrients to optimize recovery, and you cause even more damage by training a lot more, you may not be able to fully repair the damage caused. The result? Muscle loss.
Should be easy to understand, right? But many people, even those who understand this simple fact, still jack up their lifting volume when dieting down in the hope of burning more calories.
It does, but it comes with a severe price: burnout, muscle catabolism, a dramatic drop in performance, and decreased muscle tone (your muscles feel softer and flatter).
Of course, fitness influencers don't help by promoting the combination of excessive training and caloric restriction. They fail to mention that THEY can handle it because they use performance-enhancing drugs that protect them against muscle loss.
You can and should increase your activity level when dieting, but not in the form of hard lifting. You want to do as much non-stressful physical activity as you're comfortable doing. How? Walk as much as you can. Add low-intensity steady-state cardio. Play sports and games.
But don't add more lifting if you care about being muscular and strong. It will only cause more muscle damage and negatively affect an already poor anabolic balance (higher cortisol, lower anabolic hormones).