The fitness industry is brimming with lies! Most of what you've been told by magazines and "fitness gurus" is wrong. To build muscle, burn fat, and optimise your health, you don't have to starve yourself, follow a bizarre and restrictive diet, or kiss your favourite foods goodbye. Dieting isn’t nearly as torturous as that!
In fact, if you set up your diet plan right, you can reach your ideal body by eating foods you love at every meal. And that’s exactly what you will learn in the nutrition set-up guide below. We’ll look at what science really says about the best way to eat depending on whether you want to gain muscle, lose fat, or just feel more comfortable with your body in general.
What’s more, you'll find out how to tailor your diet to your needs, goals, situation, and preferences. (This is where most diet plans go wrong.) Whether you’re a student, a stay-at-home mum, or a jet-setting entrepreneur that’s always on the go, you’ll learn how to make your diet work for your situation.
But that’s not all! As a side effect of following the advice below, you’ll also experience fewer cravings, enjoy great energy levels, and perform better at the gym - that’s our promise to you!
How to Use This Guide
The nutrition set-up blueprint below is outlined in order of importance. Look at it as a pyramid: at the bottom, we have your calorie intake (part 1). This provides the foundation of every effective nutrition plan. Starting from there, we’ll proceed in order of importance, looking at macros (part 2), food quality (part 3), meal frequency (part 4), nutrient timing (part 5), and refeeds (part 6).
When adjusting your diet, focus first on the two bottom layers of the pyramid – your calorie and macronutrient intake. Those are the main determinants of the success of your diet. Once you’ve nailed them down, focus on food quality and meal frequency. When you have those in check, start bringing awareness to your nutrient timing and implement refeeds.
There is much controversy surrounding calories. Some claim losing and gaining weight is all about calories. Others say calories are irrelevant and believe that food quality and macro ratios are all that matter. The truth? Calories are crucial – they are the primary influence when it comes to the number on your scale.
If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.
As a real-life example, consider the experiment by Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University. For ten weeks, he ate foods like Doritos, Oreos, Twinkies, and protein shakes while maintaining an average daily calorie deficit of 800 kcal. The results? In just two months, Professor Haub lost 27 pounds and reduced his body fat from 33.4% to 24.9%.
Sure, that’s not a healthy weight loss approach. Besides, if you do the math, you’ll find that he lost not only a fair share of fat but also a significant amount of muscle mass - something that must be avoided when slimming down. But the fact remains that energy balance ultimately determines whether you lose or gain weight.
For that reason, your calorie intake must align with your fitness goals. That’s the foundation of every effective nutrition plan, whether you aim to lose fat, build muscle, improve your performance, or achieve some other fitness goal.
The answer is a resounding yes! If you’re serious about hitting your weight targets, you must keep track of your food and calorie intake.
When it comes to shedding pounds, research shows that those who count calories lose more weight and fat than those who don't. One review even found that weight loss programmes which use calorie counting lead to 3.3 kilo (7 pounds) more weight loss on average. Another review established that those who count calories have an easier time keeping the weight off.
Why do plans that use calorie counting lead to more weight loss? The reason is that it makes you conscious of how much energy you put into your body. Most people ingest more calories than they are aware of.
In case you want to gain weight, you should also track calories as it lets you know if you consume enough of them. This is crucial because when you don’t, muscle growth is significantly impaired (if it happens at all). To build muscle optimally, you must consume more calories than you burn. We call this being in a calorie surplus.
Not only does tracking help you consume enough calories, but it also prevents you from overeating. You see, while a calorie surplus is required to optimise muscle growth, more isn’t necessarily better. There comes a point of no return: any consumption above that threshold does not speed up muscle growth. Instead, the energy will be stored as body fat. This is a common problem among those who want to gain weight – they consume too many calories and thus put on unnecessary fat. Keeping track of your calorie intake helps you avoid that.
For example, a twelve-week study compared the rates of weight gain in resistance training athletes with various calorie intakes. The results? Those with only a small calorie surplus gained the same amount of strength and muscle but only one-fifth of the body fat compared to the group who consumed an extra 600 calories a day.
There are three steps to figuring out how many calories you should consume daily to reach your fitness goals.
Step 1: Calculate BMR
BMR (basal metabolic rate) refers to how many calories you burn each day if you do no physical activities. (This is the amount your body burns to keep all your cells alive.) Use the following formula to calculate your BMR:
BMR men: 66.5 + (13.75 × weight in kg) + (5.003 × height in cm) – (6.755 × age in years) BMR women: 655.1 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches ) - (4.7 × age in years)
Step 2: Adjust to Activity
During physical activity, your body burns calories. That's why - all other variables being the same - someone who works out multiple times per week burns more calories than a couch potato.
To calculate your daily calorie needs, you should base your intake on your activity level. Use the multiplier below on the number from the previous step.
Step 3: Customise to Fitness Goal
The final step is tailoring your calorie intake to your target weight. (If you want to maintain your current weight, consume the number of calories calculated in the previous two steps.)
Weight and Fat Loss
If you’re a male and your body fat is below 15% or you’re female and your body fat is below 23%, subtract 300 calories. If you’re a male and your body fat is between 16%-25% or you’re a female and your body fat is between 24%-31%, subtract 400 calories. If you’re a male and your body fat is above 25% or you’re a female and your body fat is above 33%, subtract 500 calories.
The reason you want to use a larger calorie deficit if you have a higher body fat percentage is because you’re less prone to muscle loss.
Weight and Muscle Gain
If you have less than one year of serious strength training experience (on a well-designed exercise plan), add 300 calories. If you have one to two-and-a-half years of serious strength training experience (on a well-designed exercise plan), add 200 calories. If you have more than two-and-a-half years of serious strength training experience (on a well-designed exercise plan), add 100 calories.
The reason you want a smaller calorie surplus when you’re more advanced is that the rate at which you can gain muscle is diminished. Therefore, any additional calories will not speed up muscle growth but lead to fat gain instead.
While the number you’ve obtained in the previous step is fairly accurate, it remains an educated guess. You may have to adjust it due to various reasons. Those include (dieting-induced) metabolic adaptations and NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
When should you make changes to your calorie intake? Adjust it only if your progress has stopped over a period of three to four weeks or if your progress has slowed down significantly.
The best way to determine that is through tracking your body weight. You do it by measuring your weight on the scale every day after you wake up – before your breakfast, but after you’ve been to the toilet if you need to – and writing down the number. When the week is over, add up your weight for each day and divide by seven. This will give you a weekly average.
If there is no decrease in body weight (or if it’s below a meaningful rate) for more than three weeks in a row, reduce your daily calorie intake by 200.
By a meaningful rate, we allude to an average loss of 0.5% to 1% of body weight per week. So, if you weigh 75 kilo, you should lose between 0.375 and 0.75 kilo per week.
If there is no increase in body weight (or if it’s below a meaningful rate) for more than three weeks in a row, raise your daily calorie intake by 200.
We consider a meaningful rate for a beginner lifter an average gain of 0.7% to 1% of body weight per week. (Beginner lifters have less than one year of serious strength training experience on a proper exercise plan.) So, if you weigh 75 kilo, you should gain between 0.53 and 0.75 kilo per week.
A meaningful rate for an intermediate lifter is an average weight gain of 0.4% to 0.7% of body weight per week. (Intermediate lifters have between one and two-and-a-half years of serious strength training experience on a proper exercise plan.) So, if you weigh 75 kilo, you should gain between 0.3 and 0.53 kilo per week.
By a meaningful rate for an advanced lifter, we envision an average weight gain of 0.2% to 0.4% of body weight per week. (Advanced lifters have more than two-and-a-half years of serious strength training experience on a proper exercise plan.) So, if you weigh 75 kilo, you should gain between 0.15 and 0.3 kilo per week.
Even if you plan everything in advance and you’re fully dedicated to reaching your goals, there will be days when it is impossible – or plain impractical – to stick to your calorie intake rules. Maybe you indulged in a few hundred extra calories because your niece baked cookies and you didn’t have the heart to reject her offer for sampling some. Perhaps you accidentally miscalculated your calorie intake. Or maybe you went out and had one drink too many. Whatever the reason, it happens to us all. But don’t panic. As long as you don’t make a habit out of it, it’s fine to eat a bit more or less on certain days. Just make sure you hit your weekly calorie goals.
OK, let’s say you exceeded your limit by 200 calories on Monday. What you do is reduce your intake by 200 calories on Tuesday. It’s important to note, however, that you should “borrow” no more than 20% of your total calorie intake. So, if you usually eat 2,500 calories, your daily intake should neither fall below 2,000 calories nor exceed 3,000 calories.
Please, keep in mind that the concept of borrowing is not an excuse to be inconsistent with your diet. It should only be used when everyday situations make it impossible or impractical to maintain your diet.
While energy balance dictates whether you gain or lose weight, it is often claimed that macronutrients determine whether that change in weight comes from fat or muscle mass. Though that is a gross over-simplification, macros play a crucial role when it comes to your body shape.
The three main macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fat. (The fourth one is alcohol.) The ratio between these macronutrients is important. When you optimise your macros, you will build muscle faster, be less prone to muscle loss while dieting, experience fewer food cravings, and set yourself up for numerous other benefits. Here’s how many calories you can find in one gram of each macronutrient:
Let’s take a closer look.
Of the three main macronutrients, protein is the most important one when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Getting enough protein can help you both lose fat and gain muscle. Besides, it helps you recover from your workout, so you can hit the gym frequently and with full intensity.
Protein supports fat loss in various ways. First off, your food reward system has a strong appetite for protein. This is because protein raises various satiety hormones – including GLP-1, Peptide YY, and cholecystokinin – while reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin. Therefore, a high-protein diet automatically decreases your total energy intake.
One study found that when participants bumped their protein intake from 15% to 30% of their daily calorie consumption, they ate on average 441 fewer calories a day. This led to the subjects losing a significant amount of weight – 11 pounds in 12 weeks – just by eating more protein.
What’s more, getting enough protein while dieting also prevents muscle loss. This not only helps you maintain your sex appeal but also makes it easier to keep the weight off in the long run. Why? Because the amount of muscle mass you carry significantly influences your metabolic rate. Simply put, the more muscle mass you carry, the higher your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn more calories a day.
When it comes to building muscle, protein is also crucial because it is the primary building block for muscles. In fact, that’s what building muscle is all about: if the total amount of protein build-up (synthesis) in a tissue exceeds the total amount of protein breakdown, muscle growth happens. That’s why getting enough protein supports muscle growth.
Fat Loss: Get between 1.8 to 2.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight 0.8 to 1.2 gram per pound). So, if you weigh 75 kilo, get between 135 and 203 grams of protein per day. Since one gram of protein equals four calories, this means you need to consume between 540 and 812 calories from protein a day.
Weight Gain: Get between 1.8 to 2.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.8-1.0 gram per pound). This means that if you’re 75 kilos, you should get between 135 and 165 grams of protein per day. (You can go higher if you like but it’s unnecessary.) Since one gram of protein equals four calories, this means you need to consume between 512 and 640 calories from protein a day.
Once you’ve set your protein intake, the rest of your calories should come from fat and carbs. We’ve grouped them because, due to individual differences, there is no best ratio between carbs and fats. Some do better on consuming more carbs and less fat while others thrive on the opposite combination. Most, however, do best on a relatively balanced ratio.
The main purpose of carbs in your diet plan is to fuel your workouts. While you’re strength training, your body uses mainly glucose, which is carbs in stored form. Getting enough carbs will therefore help you maximise your gym performance.
Fats, on the other hand, play a role in nearly every bodily function. Many of them are involved in your body composition. For example, fats are crucial for the production of hormones (including testosterone and human growth hormone) and for optimal insulin function.
As already mentioned, there is no best carb and fat intake. The optimal ratio depends on various factors. Those include genetic differences, insulin sensitivity, activity level, and fitness goals.
A higher carb intake can be particularly beneficial for athletes and physically active people. The reason is that glucose, the stored form of carb, is the primary energy source during most physical activities.
On the other hand, people with impaired insulin sensitivity do better – from a health and well-being perspective – on a higher fat-lower carb intake. A decrease in insulin resistance can be attributed to various reasons. These include aging, carrying excess body fat, being diabetic or having a family history of diabetes. If you’re a woman, reasons could include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or oligomenorrhea (a less frequent menstrual cycle).
So, what should you do? Well, most people don’t have to worry about the ratio between carbs and fat. What’s important is that you hit your daily calorie and protein goal. If you have that nailed down, simply eat in such a way that best fits your situation and preferences and don’t worry too much about the ratio between fat and carbs.
But if you’re a competitive athlete or want to fully optimise your diet, you ought to experiment with different ratios. Try a high-fat, low-carb approach for four weeks, then shift to a low-fat, high-carb mix for the same length of time, and experiment for another four weeks with a balanced ratio. Evaluate the effects of the different diets on your body composition, gym performance, sleep quality, and general well-being. Go with the ratio you perform, progress, and feel best on.
Alcohol is best avoided if you’re serious about realising your fitness dreams. It promotes fat gain by decreasing your body’s ability to burn fat while increasing the likelihood of dietary fat being stored in your fat cells. Besides, alcohol also accelerates nitrogen excretion. This means you’re more prone to muscle loss (dieting) and your ability to build muscle is also impaired (bulking).
That said, fitness is a way to enhance your life, not take away from it. If you find great pleasure in having a drink now and then, that’s fine. As long as you keep your alcohol intake under control, it’s alright to imbibe in moderation once or twice a week.
You should, however, keep track of the calories in your alcoholic drinks. A standard drink in Australia contains 10 grams of alcohol. Since one gram of alcohol equals seven calories, this means there are typically 70 calories in one alcoholic drink. Most alcoholic beverages also contain carbs, so you must add those to your calorie intake as well.
Nowadays, IIFYM (if it fits your macros) is a popular nutrition approach. Believers claim that optimising your physical appearance is all about hitting your daily calorie and macronutrient intake. And while those are the main influencers when it comes to your body composition, there are other important factors to consider. One of them is the type and quality of foods you eat. If you want the best results, food quality is crucial. There are various reasons why, the following being just two of them.
First off, certain foods are more satiating than others, which is especially important for people who want to lose fat. For example, researchers have found that boiled potatoes are seven times more satiating than the same amount of croissants.
Therefore, it is much easier to keep your food intake under control if you eat mostly satiating foods (such as boiled potatoes) than if you consume mainly non-satiating foods (such as croissants). Besides, boiled potatoes contain far fewer calories, which means you can eat more and still remain within your daily calorie intake.
Secondly, certain foods contain more vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. This is important not only for your health, but also for your body shape. Why? Because certain nutrient deficiencies can impair your metabolic rate, throw your hormonal system out of whack, and hamper the ability of your body to burn fat.
For example, both a zinc and a calcium deficiency significantly lower your metabolic rate, meaning you'll burn fewer calories per day. In one case study, a subject increased his resting metabolic rate by 527 calories in just two months by reversing a zinc deficiency. That’s 3,689 calories a week, which exceeds the energy from a pound (0.45kg) of pure body fat.
Make sure your diet comprises at least 80% of non-processed, whole, and nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, fish, eggs, and healthy fats.
Consume at least two servings of fruits and two of vegetables a day. This not only supplies you with vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds, but it also helps with keeping your calorie intake under control. The reason is that fruits and vegetables are very satiating for the low number of calories they provide. This is mainly due to their high fibre and water content.
Limit your intake of refined sugars (especially high-fructose corn syrup) and vegetable oils. Both cause inflammation in your body and provide a lot of calories without supplying beneficial nutrients.
Use coconut, olive oil, grass-fed butter, or ghee when cooking. These fats remain stable even when used in high-temperature cooking and contain nutrients that benefit your health.
The conflicting trends of fasting and eating frequently to "stoke your metabolic fire" can lead to confusion. Some believe that eating more often has the upper hand when it comes to shaping your ideal body. Others look at the issue from an evolutionary perspective: since access to food was sometimes limited in ancient hunter-gatherer societies, they believe that alternating between fasting and overeating is the natural and thereby superior way to eat. Who’s right?
If you have your calorie intake, macros, and food quality worked out, meal frequency isn’t nearly as important as often touted. In fact, researchers have found that when calorie intake is matched, meal frequency does not influence body weight.
The same holds true for your metabolic rate. It makes absolutely no difference to your metabolic rate if you wolf down all your daily calories in one meal or nibble on the same amount of food throughout the day. The energy required to digest and metabolise a certain amount of food remains the same, no matter when or at what intervals you eat it.
Regarding your muscles, meal frequency has minimal to no impact on muscle growth unless you go either extremely high or low on the spectrum.
Unless you have a very low eating frequency (two or fewer meal per day) or a very high eating frequency (more than eight meals per day), don’t worry about how you spread your food throughout the day. Just settle for a frequency that you deem enjoyable and sustainable.
If you find it easiest to maintain your macro intake by eating only three meals daily, go for it. But if you’ll have more success staying on track by spreading your meals over six eating periods, more power to you.
Most people, however, do best by consuming between three and six meals per day. If you eat fewer than three, the time between meals becomes so extended that you might experience more hunger pangs. Plus, it might interfere with the retention of lean mass when you’re on a diet.
On the other hand, if you eat more than six times a day, the meals might become too small to be satiating, especially when you’re slashing your calorie intake. In addition, most people find it unsustainable to prepare 6 to 8 meals for the day and carry them around in Tupperware containers.
While meal frequency has minimal to no effect on your physical shape, it is best from a health perspective to maintain a regular pattern throughout the week. This enables your body to adapt, leads to better blood lipid profile levels, and improves insulin sensitivity. In other words, avoid a pattern such as eating three meals on Monday, six on Tuesday, and four on Thursday.
If you open a fitness magazine, you’ll get bombarded with supplements that you need to take at a specific time: whey protein and fast-acting carbs pre-workout, ten pills of BCAAs during your workout, and another whey protein shake plus fast-acting carbs as soon as you’re finished. These magazines keep harping on about how you must take advantage of the “anabolic window.”
But is nutrient timing really that important? Well, contrary to popular belief, nutrient timing isn’t nearly as crucial as often claimed. A review study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that "alterations in nutrient timing and frequency appear to have little effect on fat loss or lean mass retention."
That said, properly timing your nutrient intake can give you some edge when pursuing your fitness goals, especially if you come closer to your genetic potential. Here’s how.
Protein: If you had a protein-rich meal a few hours earlier, you don’t need to consume protein pre-workout. The reason is that when you eat, it takes several hours before your body fully absorbs the nutrients from the food – around two to six hours for most meals. Therefore, you’ll still have sufficient amino acids in your bloodstream.
There are, however, two scenarios where it is beneficial to consume protein pre-workout. The first one is if you train in a fasted state. (For example, if you work out first thing in the morning after an overnight fast). The second scenario involves doing a strenuous workout that lasts longer than one hour, especially if it approaches the two-hour mark. In those cases, consume 25-30 grams of protein pre-workout. It supports muscle growth or, in the event of a weight loss plan, prevent muscle loss. You can get this protein either through a meal or a (whey protein) supplement.
Carbs: Consuming carbs before your workout improves performance. So you can load your muscles more intensively in the gym and make optimal progress. Therefore, if your daily calorie and macro intake allow it, consume 25 to 50 grams of carbs 30 minutes before your workout. Those carbs can come either from food or a sports drink.
Fat: Consuming fat before your workout carries no additional benefit for your performance or your physical shape. That said, feel free to consume small amounts of fat with your pre-workout meal or shake.
There is no need to consume nutrients during your training. If you get enough protein before your workout – optionally combined with some carbs – you needn’t worry about intra-workout nutrition as it has no additional benefits. One exception is if you train hard for longer than two hours. In that case, some people experience low blood sugar levels. Consuming a sports drink will help.
If you’ve consumed protein before your workout – optionally alongside carbs – there is no need to get post-workout nutrients as fast as possible. Provided that you eat a protein-rich meal within a few hours after completing your workout, you’re good to go. An exception is if you do a strenuous workout that lasts longer than one hour, especially if it approaches the two-hour mark. In that case, consume 25-30 grams of fast-acting protein such as whey alongside a small amount (25-50 grams) of fast-acting carbs such as fruit or a sports drink.
While nutrient timing outside your workout window is mostly irrelevant, getting nutrients before you hit the slack is a good thing. By providing your body with protein before sleep, protein synthesis increases. This helps you build muscle and recover faster between workouts. Additionally, consuming fast-acting carbs before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster by increasing serotonin levels in your brain. And consuming a small amount of healthy fats along with it helps stabilise your blood sugar levels, making you less likely to wake up in the middle of the night. So, consume a balanced meal 30 minutes to two hours before going bed.
Calorie cycling is an eating style in which you alternate between periods of higher and lower calorie intake. The most common approach is increasing the calorie count on your workout days and decreasing it on other days. The theory is that you give your body extra nutrients on the days you’re most primed for muscle gain and reduce the intake on recovery days to optimise fat loss. So, this approach is often used to gain muscle while losing fat.
The truth? Unless you’re an advanced and lean athlete, your body won’t benefit from this approach. And even if you’re close to your genetic potential, the approach remains questionable since no scientific evidence supports it. Therefore, it is of no worth starting to use calorie cycling unless you prefer the eating style. If you find it helps you stick to your diet, by all means, go for it. Just make sure that you hit your daily average calorie goal at the end of the week. And avoid making the difference between days too pronounced – limit it to an increase and decrease of maximum 20% from your baseline calorie level.
With carb cycling, you boost your carb intake and lower fat consumption on workout days; conversely, you reduce carb consumption and up fat intake on the remaining days. It’s based on manipulating insulin for maximum fat loss and muscle growth. Since insulin is antilipolytic (prevents fat burning), you keep carb intake low for most of the day so your body uses mainly fat for fuel. After your workout - preferably a workout that depletes your glycogen stores - you spike insulin by consuming lots of carbs. The idea behind this is that insulin acts as an anabolic agent and thereby increases muscle growth.
Sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t work like that in real life. Why not? Well, when it comes to the higher carb intake after your workouts, 30 grams is all that’s needed to maximise protein synthesis. Increasing this amount does not fuel protein synthesis further, meaning it does not lead to faster muscle growth. It is even questionable whether post-workout carbs aid muscle growth at all.
As for the decreased carb and increased fat intake on non-workout days, this does not stimulate fat loss either. Once again, calorie balance is what matters here, not the ratio between fat and carbs.
In the final analysis, carb cycling will not help you reach your fitness goals faster. But if you prefer this style of eating and it helps you manage your daily calorie and macro needs, you should go for it. However, don’t expect any benefits from it.
Intermittent fasting has gained much popularity in recent years within the health and fitness community. It is based on a pattern where you abstain from eating for most of the day and consume all your calories in a smaller “feeding window”. A common approach is fasting for 16 hours a day and eating all calories in an 8-hour window.
Intermittent fasting is most often used for losing weight. While many people have had amazing results with it, this way of eating has no weight loss benefits to it. After all, whether you gain or lose weight is down to energy balance. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
That said, intermittent fasting can be an effective approach to losing weight because it makes it easier to stay in a negative energy balance. While that doesn’t apply to everyone, most people who start with intermittent fasting automatically ingest fewer calories. Researchers have found that skipping breakfast can reduce total daily food intake by up to 400 calories. One study even established that requiring of non-breakfast eaters to have breakfast results in a higher total calorie intake and therefore causes weight gain.
If you want to gain weight, intermittent fasting might not be the most effective strategy because it can make it harder to reach your daily calorie surplus. That said, if you prefer to skip your breakfast and can get enough energy on a daily basis, feel free to engage in intermittent fasting. It will neither benefit nor hurt your progress.
Refeeds are a meal or a time frame in which you spike your calorie intake above what you normally consume, often by eating “cheat foods”. So, let’s say your usual calorie intake is 2,400 per day. On a refeed, your calorie intake can be something like 3,000 calories. When you’re on a weight gain plan, meaning you consume more calories than you burn on a daily basis, refeeds are not recommended. But when you’re dieting and thus slashing your calorie intake, refeeds can be beneficial.
On a weight loss plan, refeeds have both physical and physiological benefits. To begin with, a refeed gives you a temporary break from your diet, making it easier to stay on track in the long term. Because let’s be honest here: even those most dedicated to hitting their fat loss targets feel tempted once in a while to indulge in their favourite foods, be it stuffed-crust pizza or a cheese platter. When done right, a refeed helps keep in check the impulse to overeat by thousands of calories and so undo all your hard work of the last days, maybe even weeks.
Second, refeeds increase the “starvation hormone” leptin. When you’re on a diet, leptin naturally decreases. By raising your leptin levels, you curb your appetite and cravings while enhancing your motivation and libido.
Besides, refeeds help you replenish your muscle glycogen stores, which naturally decline when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet. This helps your performance in the gym. Refeeds might prevent some of the dieting-induced drops in metabolic rate. They also support hormones that are important for your body (including boosting testosterone).
The optimal refeed frequency depends on your body fat percentage. If you’re a male with above 15% or a female with above 23%, refeed once every 14 days. If you’re a male with a body fat percentage below 15% or a female with below 23%, do it once every 7 days.
Why refeed more often when you get leaner? Because you’re more susceptible to dieting-induced metabolic adaptation and lethargy.
You must plan your refeeds in advance, which includes both the day and the time. If you have a social gathering with food coming up, you might want to plan your refeed then.
On your refeed day, consume 30% more calories than your regular daily target. So, if your usual energy intake is 2,000 calories per day, consume 2,600 calories on your refeed. Whether you spread those extra calories through the day or eat them all in one meal is up to you. The majority of people find it most satiating to consume them in one go.
Once you’ve planned your refeed time and set your calorie goal, the next step is planning your macros. Here’s how you set them up.
Protein: Remains the same as on your other days. So, get 1.8-2.7 gram per pound of body weight. (Going higher is fine as well.)
Fat: Keep your intake on the day of your refeed below 80 grams (720 calories). Going lower is even better. The reason is that fat isn’t effective at raising leptin levels. Besides, when you’re dieting and doing a refeed, dietary fat is more likely to be stored as body fat than protein and carbs.
Carbs: Get the remainder of your calories from carbs. Carbs are the best macro for increasing leptin. Besides, when you’ve been dieting for a while, carbs are unlikely to be stored as fat. The reason is that when you restrict calories, glycogen stores progressively decline. So, the carbs that you consume get stored in your muscle and liver glycogen cells rather than getting converted to fat.
Alcohol: Best avoid on a refeed because it inhibits leptin. If you do want to consume alcohol, limit your intake to two standard-sized drinks. You must add the calories in those beverages to your total energy intake.
Throughout this guide we've looked at the optimal way to set up your diet. To help you tie everything together, here are the key takeaways.
That ends up being quite a list. Now you’ve read this guide, you’ll know exactly how to set up your diet to succeed at your fitness goals. All that’s left is taking action. Good luck