Whether your goal is to burn fat and build muscle tone or bulk up, your nutrition plan is the most important piece of the puzzle! Without it, most people see minimal progress, at best, and get frustrated when they cannot reach the goals they’ve set. But it doesn’t have to be that way… Why guess? You may as well be slinging darts with your teeth at the worlds largest target blindfolded while spinning in circles. No matter how hard you work, hitting that bulls eye is highly unlikely!
The world’s best physiques don’t happen because they wake up each day and eat whatever falls out of the fridge. Sure- genetics, age, and experience play a big role, but even they had to learn what eating correctly looks like. When I finally realized that my diet was the major obstacle holding me back, after a year or more of busting my butt in the gym and getting nowhere, I made it my mission to learn what I was doing wrong and fix it.
Not only was I not eating a good clean diet, I wasn’t eating nearly enough to gain the weight I wanted to build muscle mass. Many guys ask me why they can’t gain weight, saying they “Eat so much” and just have a “ridiculous metabolism”. But EVERYONE, with the exception of rare few, is capable of gaining weight (or losing). Its all in your diet.
Calorie Calculation Basics
Our bodies operate at a specific internal pace every day, and it requires a certain amount of calories or energy each day to sustain its regular at-rest functions from breathing to digestion. This energy consumption is known as our Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. (It is a calculation created by the Harris-Benedict equation and used to determine how many calories we need to consume based on weight, age and height.) It doesn’t account, however, for individual body composition (the more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your natural BMR will be and the more efficiently your body will burn calories). So for that reason, I only recommend this method for those who are low in body fat.
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )
This BMR model also doesn’t account for the extended activities you may be doing in the gym, at work or outdoors in general. In order to calculate calorie requirements with consideration of your daily activity levels as well as body composition, we look to a different equation that uses lean body mass as its base rather than overall weight. It is called TDEE or total daily energy expenditure. This gives us a much more accurate picture of your body’s real caloric needs and I use it in assessing all of my clients.
You can have your body fat percentage checked in a number of ways by a local fitness or nutrition professional. Typically the quickest and most accurate method is a 4 to 7 point skin fold caliper reading.
- Body fat % X weight = Fat Mass
- Weight – Fat Mass = Lean Body Mass (convert to kilograms dividing LBM by 2.2)
- BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in Kilograms)
- Choose and Activity Level factor:
Sedentary – Little or no Exercise/ desk job — TDEE = 1.2 x BMR
Lightly active – Light exercise/ sports 1 – 3 days/ week — TDEE = 1.375 x BMR
Moderately active – Moderate Exercise, sports 3 – 5 days/ week — TDEE = 1.55 x BMR
Very active – Heavy Exercise/ sports 6 – 7 days/ week — TDEE = 1.725 x BMR
Extremely active – Very heavy exercise/ physical job/ training 2 x/ day — TDEE = 1.9 x BMR
Once you’ve calculated your TDEE, the resulting number is the amount of calories your body should require to maintain its current state. Reaching your goal of losing or gaining weight is then a matter of adding to (calorie surplus) or subtracting from (calorie deficit) that number, usually in 250-500 calorie increments.
Its important to remember, though, that this calculation is really a tool for getting as close to your body’s real number as possible. Observing the results and adjusting the numbers is an ongoing process as your body changes. If your body isn’t changing, the diet probably isn’t either.
Next time, I’ll discuss how these calories break down and what our bodies need (and don’t need) in order to grow muscle and burn fat.