The steps to setting up a diet plan on your own.
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To build a solid nutritional plan, you need to start with the basics. It’s helpful to understand the reasoning behind eating something. It helps you determine what other foods you could enjoy while also filling those nutritional needs. These nutritional "principles" will help build a custom plan and achieve your goals to become a healthier version of yourself!
First, you need to understand why calories are important. The number of calories you consume directly affects how much weight your body holds onto. That is why it is important to understand what a calorie is and how they are broken down. All the calories come from either protein, carbohydrates, or fats. Each plays a key role in helping maintain a happy and healthy mind and body.
When your body does anything from jumping to breathing it is using energy, also known as calories. Calories are crucial to every function of the body. Your cells need the energy for the heart, lungs, and other organs to carry out the basic function of living. Calories can be absorbed through food and drink. To find how many calories are in a particular food or drink, look at the nutritional label on its box. This will give you the data necessary to make a sound decision on how many calories to eat. So, how many calories should you eat?
To determine how many calories you should eat, you must first understand your average daily energy consumption and compare that to your goals. From there you can make adjustments and build a winning nutritional plan that meets your goals. Everybody has a maintenance calorie number. This is the amount of energy your body burns on an average day. This includes everything you do. If your goal is to change your weight, then your daily calorie intake needs to be higher or lower than your maintenance calorie number. If you eat more calories than maintenance, you are in a calorie surplus and will gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than your maintenance number, then you will be in a calorie deficit and lose weight.
Calories can be broken down into 3 main types (aka macronutrients): protein, carbohydrates, and fat. There are different calorie counts for each. See the table below for more insights.
Per 1 gram consumed
Protein 4 calories
Carbohydrates 4 calories
Fat 9 calories
For example, if your meal had 10 grams of carbs, fats, and protein each then you would be eating 170 calories. This is because the carbs and protein are each responsible for 40 calories (80 together) and the fat is responsible for 90 calories, adding up to total calories eaten of 170 calories.
Proteins are the main calorie source that will affect your muscular growth and help retain your muscle while cutting down. It is very important to eat adequate protein to see optimal results. The recommended daily protein intake is between 0.73-1.00 grams per pound of your body weight. This means if you weigh 150 lbs you should aim to eat about 150 grams of protein daily. Although going over this limit is generally safe, there have been no proven size and strength benefits for going over. Lean meats tend to be the best choice of protein. Some lean meats are chicken, turkey, and tuna.
Carbs are important because they fuel your workouts and replenish the glucose lost in your muscles from the workout. Carbs can be broken down into two types, either simple or complex. This distinction is important because it affects the time it takes to digest and access the energy. Complex carbs pack more nutrients, are high in fiber, and digest slower making them more filling. Simple carbs, made up mainly of processed and refined sugar, are worse for you yet consumed much more. This can make carb management very tricky. It’s important to note that not all simple carbs are bad though. Some come from fruits or milk products which have fiber causing them to get absorbed slower. We want to aim to consume complex carbs rather than simple carbs to ensure we are getting the full benefits of the carb source along with keeping our body clean from the processed sugar that gives us nothing but trouble.
Fats often get a bad reputation, but in truth, some are beneficial for maintaining hormone levels and good overall health. The good fats are the unsaturated ones, specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats come from many plant and animal foods, such as salmon, avocados, vegetable oils, and different nuts and seeds. When these are eaten in moderation and used to replace the bad fats (saturated or trans fats) they can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
One of the most beneficial types of healthy fats is Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s have crazy amounts of benefits and luckily, they make up a large portion of the polyunsaturated fats. They lower your risk for heart disease by lowering triglyceride levels, ease joint stiffness/pain, help our brains function better, and help asthmatics by improving lung function. Some research suggests that Omega 3s also prevent gradual memory loss from dementia. These are just a few of the benefits that come from Omega 3 fatty acids.
The FDA recommends that you eat 2-3 fish or shellfish meals weekly. These can include but are not limited to, salmon, catfish, tilapia, lobster, scallops, and tuna. The recommended amount of total fats per day is 0.25-0.50 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Sample Calculations and Meals
These sample meals are based on calorie recommendations for a 185 lb moderately active male. In general, we recommend your starting calorie maintenance estimate should be about 14-16 calories per pound of weight.
If the goal is to be in a surplus or deficit, you would go slightly outside of this range. This is how you could initially plan out your calorie and macronutrient maintenance goals.
Calorie estimate: 185 lbs x 15 cals = 2,775 cals
Protein: 185 lbs x 1 gram/lb = 185 grams x 4 calories = 740 Calories from protein
Fats: 185 lbs x .40 grams/lb = 74 grams x 9 calories = 666 Calories from fat
Carbs: Daily calorie goal – estimated calories from (Protein + Fats)
2,775 cals – (740 cals + 666 cals) = 1,369 Calories from Carbs/4 = 342 grams of Carbs
These calorie calculations are only ESTIMATES to get you started. You need to eat at this calorie goal for a few weeks and monitor how your body reacts, both how you look, feel, and weigh together. If there is an indication your body is losing fat, you know you are below your maintenance calories. This can help you determine how many calories you need to hit whatever goal you are going for.
Breakfast is a great time to pack in a ton of calories without overfilling. This can be done by making a protein and calorie-packed smoothie. Your body can handle way more calories at once if they are liquid rather than solid causing you to not feel as full compared to the same intake in solid form. Also, it’s nice to make smoothies because you can put whatever you want in them!
Your lunch should be a good balance of protein and plenty of carbs to fuel your workout later in the day – if you’re one of those people who work out in the afternoon or at night. For those of you who work out before lunch, lunch can be a good opportunity to get some quality nutrients to help recover the muscles you worked on earlier in the day.
There are 8-9 different essential amino acids that make up protein and choosing the correct ones creates balance. Quinoa is a good source of protein because it has a complete amino acid profile. This will allow you to benefit because you are getting every type of protein, not just protein from the chicken. This is also beneficial for vegetarians to know!
Pre-Workout (About 1 hr before workout)
You may find this combo kind of weird, but you will benefit while in the gym. Studies show that consuming adequate protein and carbs pre-exercise massively increases muscle protein synthesis during recovery and helps your performance in the gym. Simpler carbs like fruit are preferred to boost your performance during your workout. This is to ensure you can digest it fast enough to use.
This is a good meal because it includes a source of lean protein and plenty of complex carbs. Sweet potatoes are good for replenishing the glycogen lost during the workout. Potatoes are very satiating (filling) so this will help keep you feeling full. The mixed veggies also add fiber and micronutrients. They too will satiate you while improving your general health functions.
When trying to figure out how to set up your diet can be confusing and frustrating if you don't understand some basic nutrition concepts. I hope this blog provided some value to you, so you can get started in planning your own diet. These types of concepts are what make up my nutritional guidance when you are my client. If you want to learn more, please schedule an online consultation to talk about nutrition programming.