If you want a lean, strong and well-defined physique at any age, the food you eat is going to be the most important element in how successful you are.
There is no getting away from this fact.
You can train as much as you want and as hard, as you want but if you don´t follow the right nutrition plan it will be difficult to see and achieve the results you are after.
But what is the right diet plan you ask?
With so many nutrition ideologies claiming to be the best way to eat for health and weight loss it can get really confusing about which way to turn.
Our recommended approach of course is the Paleo diet.
However my suggestion is just to use this as a framework and then tweak it to your own requirements.
Because if there is one thing I have learned it is there is no one diet fits all approach.
This rule also applies when trying to lose weight.
But that still doesn’t stop us from searching for the magic diet where all it takes is just follow a few simple rules and in a matter of days the weight just drops off never to return.
Nope, like all things in life worth having a lean, healthy body that looks great in and out of clothes requires hard work, self belief and lots of persistence.
That said there is I believe a set of rules, commandments if you like that when applied give results every time regardless of what approach you follow.
They work for the young, the old, the fit and the fat and if you apply them to your diet plan, they will work for you.
Therefore, if you’re ready to get off the diet merry-go-round and start seeing real and lasting results here are the four commandments of meal planning for weight loss you need to follow in order of importance.
Commandment 1 – Thou shall be in a negative energy balance
image source – http://www.precisionnutrition.com/
This is the X factor for fat loss diet planning
You can forget the other three rules and still lose weight if you follow this one.
This is why a professor at Kansas University was able to lose 27 pounds of weight in 10 weeks living on a variety of sweets and processed foods because he maintained a strict negative energy balance for the whole duration of the study.
As you may or may not know energy balance refers to the relationship between how much energy you consume in the form of foods and how much energy you burn off through activity and natural processes in the body.
If you are to lose significant levels of weigh then there needs to a be a consistent negative balance whereby you consume less than your body needs therefore forcing it to use its own reserves of energy from your fat stores.
To achieve this involves many more elements than simply eating less food but this should be your starting point when starting any diet plan for weight loss.
Ask any fitness model, bodybuilder or athlete who needs to get to low levels of body fat for their work, profession or sport and they will all tell you that they monitor their daily energy balance through calorie intake.
You don´t get a stomach like this without being in complete control of your diet
Yes, food choices in the battle of the bulge do matter and that that is coming later but whether you like it or not calories do count.
Commandment 2 – Thou shall eat the right macronutrient balance
You are what you eat we are told and if you want to look your absolute best then eating the right balance of macro-nutrients is important.
According to the dictionary a macronutrient is any of the “nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts: protein, carbohydrate, fat and the macrominerals“
If weight loss were the goal then how much of each macronutrient we ate would not be an issue so long as we were in a negative energy balance.
However, successful weight loss is not just about numbers on the scale although that is what most people focus on.
Seeing the numbers fall every week is great for motivation but eventually they stall and even if you do reach your target weight you may not happy with the look you have.
This is because the best body transformations , the ones that make you go wow I want to look like that are not based just on body weight but more on body composition.
Composition is all about the percentage of body fat and muscle we have. The more muscle and less fat you have the more amazing you will look.
Eating enough protein will ensure you can build and maintain lean muscle and prevent you looking soft and less defined.
Cut back on your fat intake you can cause a whole host of issues including imbalances in your hormones and struggle with cravings.
But, when you get the balance right with the correct daily calorie allowance, you will find that everything seems to come together.
You can lose body fat, maintain or even gain muscle, enjoy good energy and not feel tired, hungry and de-motivated.
It might not happen straight away and it does require a bit of tweaking to discover the right balance for you but once you hit the sweet spot the process becomes a whole lot easier.
Commandment 3: Thou shall make the right food choices
If you don’t like counting calories (me included) the good news is that if you fill most of your diet with balanced variety of whole natural foods as the Paleo diet recommends, only eat when your hungry and keep your portions to normal levels you will be able to lose weight without even thinking about your calorie intake.
Natural Foods that fall into this category are mainly meat, fish, fruits, vegetables plus seeds and nuts.
If not going completely Paleo you could add some whole grain and dairy options but the amount of these needs to depend on well your body deals with them.
Not only do these foods allow you to eat well and stay satisfied even on restricted calories totals they deliver essential vitamins and minerals that keep you functioning well even in an energy deficit.
The point here I think is more critical for women because let’s face it women have a much harder time dieting then men.
With smaller frames and less muscle mass women have a lot less calories to play with when trying to lose weight compared to men.
Because of the low calorie levels some women have to stick with to lose weight it is very easy to exceed these limits with the odd diet slip here and there.
If your food choices are mainly from the so called “clean category” you will find it a lot easier to stay consistent then if you are eating more processed type foods that tend to be far more calorie dense.
Of course, you can fit in the odd treat here and there but staying controlled is vital to keep your results on track.
A regular fitness mantra of food choices you may have seen states following the 80:20 rule. Eat 80% of calories from clean natural foods and the other from processed treat foods.
While that works once you, hit good levels of fitness and muscle mass I would start with a more conservative 90:10 rule and then slowly work down from there.
Commandment 4 – Thou shall eat your nutrients at the optimal time
Food timing has been hot topic for years now with many camps divided on when is the best time to eat.
Some go with the tried and tested small meals and often strategy while others stay with the more traditional three a day.
Some people will say don´t eat late in the evening while others won´t eat anything until lunch.
What I can gather from years of testing and research is that you can eat pretty much when you want so long as the first two rules are in place.
All you have to do is follow what works for you and your daily schedule.
But and there is always a but, if you want to optimize body composition in terms of muscle meal timing does have some importance.
Studies have shown that eating protein around your workouts will benefit your muscle building efforts.
Carbohydrates taken after exercise also show proof of helping with building muscle and recovery.
Therefore if you are weight training (please tell me you are) make sure to plan your meals so that adequate levels of protein and carbs are consumed before and after training.
There are no set figures here but I think for most women 20-30g protein before and after your workouts is sufficient.
For carbs 50-70g after a workout is a good starting point
How to create simple diet plans for weight loss.
If all that made sense and you want to apply these four laws then let’s get going and put all of this together.
First thing to determine is how many calories you need to be eating that puts you in a moderate negative energy deficit.
You can search online for a calculator that works out your total daily energy expenditure. This figure often referred to as TDEE takes into account your body composition and how much energy you burn off on average through daily activity.
If you fancy doing some quick math, examine the following formula and add in your own figures.
If you know your body fat levels then the equation is this.
BMR (men and women) = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)
If you don´t know your body fat levels then use this equation
655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
What both these formulas give us our basal metabolic rate or simply the amount of calories naturally burn when at rest i.e. watching box sets on Netflix.
Here is a quick example using the first equation.
Female weighs 179lbs ( 81kilos)
Body fat percentage is 24% (42.9lbs fat, 136.1 lbs lean)
Lean mass is 136.1 lbs (61.8 kilos)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 X 61.8) = 1704 calories
Once you have your BMR number then multiply it by the following, weekly activity level ratings to give you total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
By 1.2 if you exercise 1-3 hours per week.
By 1.35 if you exercise 4-6 hours per week.
By 1.5 if you exercise 6+ hours per week.
Therefore, with our example if the woman in question was exercising 5 hours per week then here TDEE would be 2300 calories.
This is figure will never be completely accurate but it is a good enough measurement from which to base your daily calorie intake depending on your goals.
TDEE is roughly the amount of calories you would be eating to maintain your current weight and body fat levels. Therefore, if we want to lose weight we need to reduce this figure.
The temptation at this point is too drastically reduce this figure in the hope that the bigger the deficit the quicker you will lose weight.
However the bigger the deficit the harder it is too maintain both physically and mentally and if even if you are able to commit to eating a lot less calories you run the risk of causing metabolic damage that may slow down or even halt your progress in the future.
That said you won´t to create a deficit so small that progress is so slow that you may become demotivated.
Therefore, the approach I generally recommend is to start with a 20-25% reduction in calories to kick-start your fat loss. At this point you can enjoy a pretty full diet without feeling restricted and experience noticeable results that will keep you focused and motivated.
If we return to my example, I would be recommending this woman to start her diet plan eating around 1840 calories per day, a 20% reduction.
This figure is where we want to be losing a moderate amount of body fat of 1-2 pounds per week but without losing muscle mass. We also want energy and strength levels to remain consistent without experiencing big dips in both.If you’re not losing body fat at this point but feel good then reduce calories by another 5-10%.
If you feel tired, blown out and weight loss has stalled then think about adding in more calories.
Next on the list is working out your macronutrient levels
Once we have a calorie target for weight loss figured out, then the next step is to translate that figure into a macronutrient balance for optimal results.
The baseline ratio to start with I recommend is 40% Protein, 40% Carbs and 20% fats.
If your body fat level is over 30% and you are just starting or getting back into exercise I would slightly alter this figure to 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fats.
Again with my example and using the first ratio here is how that would look.
Calorie target – 1840
Protein – 736 Calories = 184g (for protein levels divide your calorie total by 4)
Carbohydrate – 736 Calories = 184g (for carb levels divide by 4)
Fats – 368 Calories = 40g (for fat levels divide total by 9)
Great now we know how many calories and our nutrient balance all that remains is to create a meal plan that reflects these totals.
My advice is to take a pen and paper and write down the foods you like to eat including all drinks, snacks and other things such as condiments. When you have the lists go to a site like this one http://www.myfitnesspal.com/, enter all your daily foods, and create a meal plan around your schedule.
Trying to match your totals exactly is difficult. Aim to get your plan as close as possible with no more than 50-75 calories difference.
Once you are happy with everything and are confident you can organize and stick with it then it’s just a matter of getting started and being consistent.
Finally,manage your calories on a weekly basis.
Eating the same foods and hitting your daily calorie targets everyday is great in theory but unfortunately life is not like that.
If you are able to eat consistently on a daily basis then great but if you find that, due to your schedule, this is not always possible then I suggest switching to tracking your calories on a weekly level.
To explain this better let´s take the lady from the example above. We know she needs 1840 calories a day to maintain a negative energy balance and burn fat so across a week she should consume 12880 calories.
Across the week, it may look like this.
Monday – 1500 calories
Tuesday – 1500 calories
Wednesday – 1800
Thursday – 1400
Friday – 1800
Saturday – 2400
Sunday – 2400
This is the same less calories eaten across the week, but it takes into account days when fitting all your food in is difficult and days when you might want to eat a little more.
Once you understand this concept then you can literally plan your nutrition to suit your lifestyle.
For example, if you want to dine out with friends then you can set up the days before and after your to make sure you stay on track and within your allowance.
This flexibility and understanding of meal planning and calorie control makes the process far easier and more consistent which is critical if you want to reach your goals.
Summing up meal planning for weight loss
Managing your diet is the difference between getting results and just hoping they will happen. How well you manage the process will reflect the level of results you achieve.
You can still lose fat and build muscle just by having an idea of how your diet should look but for quick and effective results, you need to take the guesswork out of the process.
No matter what diet you follow the rules laid out in this article will work for you if your goal is to lose weight and change your body composition.
If you need help getting started then why not download our free 7 day fat loss plan. In this report you will find done for you meal plans and 3 workouts to follow that I promise will have you feeling leaner, stronger and fitter in just 7 days.