The purpose of this thread is to educate dieting neophytes. It will provide you basic parameters to get started and tools to individualize your program over time. Please note the target audience is resistance trained individuals.
Determining your caloric intake
Calorie counting is essential to an optimized weight loss program. You cannot minimize the loss of lean muscle mass while losing body fat without knowing how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis.
The first order of business is to determine an initial daily caloric intake. In the interest of keeping things simple a great rule of thumb is to multiply your current body weight by 12.
If you weigh 200lbs you will start with 2,400 calories daily.
If you weigh 278lbs you will start with 3,336 calories daily.
Monitoring and understanding your weight loss
Any diet worth its salt (pun intended) requires a method of monitoring the results. As stated above, I like to keep it simple. I go with daily weigh-ins. The best time to weigh yourself is first thing in the morning after you have fasted for 8 or more hours. This minimizes variances due to foods consumed and water weight.
Even though you will be weighing yourself daily you need to consider the data at a macro level. You may find that on any given day you gain a few pounds, but then a few days later you lose those and a few more. So long as the trend is downwards at a reasonable rate then you are on the right track.
What is a reasonable rate for weight loss? The general consensus is 1-1.5 lbs per week. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, in the first week of nearly any diet significantly more weight is lost due to things like the consumption of less sodium and carbs. Total body weight is another significant factor. Larger individuals will tend to lose more weight weekly. For them, 2-2.5 lbs might be a more normalized and healthy weekly rate of weight loss.
I recommend you focus on losing weight in a slow and steady fashion. The slower the process the more lean muscle mass retained and the more likely one is to keep the weight off.
Setting up your macronutrients
Macronutrients are the calorie containing components of food. For our purposes 3 of the 4 macronutrients will be focused on:
Protein - 4 calories per gram
Carbs - 4 calories per gram
Fats - 9 calories per gram
Let’s first address protein intake. I shoot for 1g of protein per pound of body weight. So, if we use a 200 lbs individual as an example, he would consume roughly 200g of protein per day. That would be 800 calories of his total daily intake of 2,400 calories (roughly 33%).
Fats are next. The amount of fats in one’s diet that are either necessary or optimal is debatable. Based upon experience, I recommend a minimum of 60g of fat daily. That equates to 540 calories.
The balance of one’s calories, in the example above 1,060 calories, can come from protein, fats, and or carbohydrates depending upon the needs of the individual. Some people will benefit from the balance of calories coming primarily in the form of fats thus creating a ketogenic style diet. Others will thrive on the balance coming primarily from carbohydrates. I personally prefer that the balance is attained primarily with carbohydrates.
Consuming a reasonable amount of carbohydrates even when on a calorie restricted diet serves the resistance trainee well as it allows them to better maintain glycogen levels in their muscles thus allowing them to train harder and more easily recover from intense exercise. The insulin releases that occur with carbohydrate intake also have an anabolic effect and if properly timed around one’s training can optimize the post-workout (PWO) anabolic window of opportunity.
For those whom hunger pangs are grounds for non-compliance with their diet a significantly higher fat intake can be useful as it promotes satiety. Protein serves a similar function, though not quite as effectively as fats.
Some experimentation within the confines of the total caloric intake, protein, and fat rules above (12x body weight for total caloric intake, 1g per lb of body weight for protein, and 60g of fats) is encouraged. Find the mix that works best for YOU.
Once you have settled on a mix that works for you stick with that plan for 2 weeks. Monitor your body weight daily as described above. If you find that during the 2nd week you are not averaging in the 1-2.5 lbs target range of weight loss a minor caloric intake adjustment is recommended. Drop 2-300 calories per day (do not cut into the 1g per lb of protein and 60g of fat – use the balance calories). Consume this new caloric intake for another 2 weeks monitoring daily. If you find you are now losing weight too quickly move back up 200 calories. Continue this process until you reach your target. As a note, males should NEVER drop below 1,800 calories per day and women not below 1,400 calories per day.
The above may seem a bit confusing, but once you narrow it down to its key points it really is quite simple:
- Multiply bodyweight by 12 to get your starting total caloric intake.
- Consume 1g of protein per lb of body weight
- Consume at least 60g of fat.
- The balance of caloric intake (after the protein and fat requisites) can come in virtually any form (protein, carbohydrates - always consume at least 80g of carbs per day, fats, or some combination thereof).
- Monitor your weight every morning and watch the trend. Adjust caloric intake up or down in 2-300 calories increments as needed every 2 weeks.
Follow the above principles and you will be well on your way to a new you.
*Revision and significant contribution by Chris Mason