Have you ever googled “what’s the best diet?”
I did and this is what happened:
You’re seeing that correctly.
Eight Hundred Sixty-Four Million(!) results in less than one second.
I’m not a math guy, but, that’s a lot.
It’s no wonder that weight loss can be so confusing.
What diet is best?
How many calories should I eat?
Should I keto or nah?
Will fat make me fat?
There’s a taco diet? I love tacos. Let’s try that one.
Can I workout and lose weight while eating whatever I want?
At the core of every diet, though, is the same underlying principle:
You must consume fewer calories than you burn consistently to lose weight.
This is called a calorie deficit.
There are a ton of methods when it comes to finding your “maintenance” calories (the calories you could consume to maintain your current weight) and even more fancy formulas to figure your “perfect” calorie number to lose weight.
No formula is going to be perfect and every single body is different, so it’s important to remember that this is all trial and error to an extent.
I want to share my version of finding your calories for fat loss. It’s not the simplest method, but definitely not the most complex way you’ll see either.
This method was popularized by Renaissance Periodization.
Below you’ll find a picture of your supposed maintenance calories:
(Renaissance Diet 2.0 pg 119)
I know, I know you’re not worried about maintenance.
You’re here for fat loss!
I’m getting there. Patience my friend.
Now that we have our roundabout maintenance number we can go about setting your calorie deficit for sustainable weight loss.
As a general rule of thumb, I don’t want online coaching clients to chase a weight loss rate of more than 1% of bodyweight/week.
Rates faster than this, while they can happen and you could sustain them for a while, put you at an increased risk of muscle loss. Ain’t nobody got time for muscle loss!
Let’s look at what this may look like in an example client who weighs 150lbs.
When calculating a calorie deficit, it is widely accepted that the average deficit to lose 1lb/week would need to be around 3500 calories.
Thus we will be using the 3500 calorie marker to calculate weekly deficit rates.
A 150lb person’s non training day maintenance calories would land around 1800 calories/day. Meaning if they wanted to maintain 150lbs it’s safe to assume that if they ate around 1800 calories they’d stay there.
Now, let’s say they want to go for a healthy, but easily sustainable, weight loss of .05% of bodyweight/week.
.05% Weight Loss Rate:
150lbs x .005 = .75lbs
Maintenance Calories/Week (non training day):
1800cals x 7 = 12,600cals
Weekly Deficit to Lose .75lbs (1% of BW):
3500 x .75 = 2,625
Weekly and Daily Calorie Targets to Lose 1.5lbs (1% of BW):
12,600 – 2,625 = 9,975cals/week
9,975 / 7 = 1,425cals/day
And there you have it, for a 150lb to lose .75lbs/week (which is phenomenal btw) their average daily calories would be around 1,425/day.
You may be wondering about the chart and the non training day and training day numbers.
In this example I used a non training day.
If you plan on working out, you could stick with the non training day calories and it would be a little more aggressive rate of weight loss, but, if you don’t want to be more “hangry” than you have to be, let’s look at what calories for a “light” training day would look like using the same example and weight loss rate from above.
The only thing that will change is the maintenance calorie weight we start with to calculate our goal.
.05% Weight Loss Rate:
150lbs x .005 = .75lbs
Maintenance Calories/Week (light training day):
2000cals x 7 = 14,000cals
Weekly Deficit to Lose .75lbs (1% of BW):
3500 x .75 = 2,625
Weekly and Daily Calorie Targets to Lose 1.5lbs (1% of BW):
14,000 – 2,625 = 11,375cals/week
11,375 / 7 = 1,625cals/day
I generally operate under the premise that if you have to ask yourself if it was more than a light training day, it probably wasn’t.
If your workouts are 60 minutes or less on average and you have a little sweat on your shirt but nothing crazy go with the light day.
If you were there for an hour or and did lower body and the top half of your shirt is soaked it’s safe to say that’s a moderate workout.
Unless you’re a high level athlete and your workouts last > 90 minutes we can stay away from the “hard training day” category.
Look, I know you work out hard, but weight loss is the name of the game. Be conservative with how you rate your workouts. If the weight loss pace is too high and everything else is in check you may be able to bump up a category on workout days and that will typically give you between 200-400 extra calories for the day.
But again, be conservative.
As long as you’re hitting your daily protein goal the extra calories you *might* have missed out on shouldn’t matter too much.
In the following section of the guide I want to tell you:
Why having a food scale is important, 3 steps to reading food labels, what macros/macronutrients are and a super simple rule I call the “3 Minute Food Rule” I have coaching clients use when they are wanting to eat something “bad” or that won’t necessarily get them closer to their goals.
Look, you can choose whatever diet you want. And, in theory, it could really be the “best” diet for you.
But, if your goal is weight loss, I don’t care how great the plan is if you’re not in a calorie deficit you won’t lose weight.
At the root of every single diet in the common denominator is a calorie deficit.
There are two common themes I’ve found in my 10+ years of coaching:
1. Underestimating calories eaten
2. Overestimating calories burned in the gym
That’s where the food scale comes in, I like to have online coaching clients get the one in the pic as it breaks down the macronutrient content for exactly what you’re weighing!)
I don’t care if you’re a beginner or a dieting veteran.
Using a food scale for the first time or after a long layoff is a humbling, but necessary experience.
You don’t have to weigh your food permanently.
But stretches of 2-4 weeks at a time will go a long way towards being able to gauge and eyeball portion sizes.
An example that is sure to make you shed a tear is what a tablespoon of peanut butter actually is when weighed versus the “heaping” tablespoon you’ve been counting as a serving for the last 15 years.
Another tip I saw from a facebook group I’m in was talking about the need to weigh/measure your protein scoops.
I had never thought of this but when I tried it myself, I realized that most proteins say that one scoop is 30-31 grams when the actual scoop when level holds upwards of 40-45 grams.
In short, weigh your whey people!
Of course this is minor, but, think of the implications if you are off by even that much on everything you ate.
That could mean that you’re off by 20-25%!
Being off that much is sure to kick you out of the calorie deficit you’ve been going for, or at minimum, slow your weight loss rate way down.
Weigh your food for 2-4 weeks (or more if you’re not getting the hang of it) when you’re just starting out or to brush up on the eyeball test for portion sizes.
Reading food labels can be a pain.
But, it is a necessary evil.
Bust out your reading glasses and let’s take a look at 3 steps to reading a food label that can lead to more conscious food choices.
1. Check the serving size and servings per container.
This can be a calorie killer! Many foods are much more calorie dense than we ever give them credit for, not to mention the products that are packaged like a single serving but have 4(!).
2. Check the calories/serving.
Not calories per package — but calories per serving. Something that helps me is when a package is open, if possible, I go ahead and split the servings into containers or baggies that way I only have to measure everything once and it is ready to go the next time I want to use it.
A little leg work can save your waistline. Unless all you wear is stretchy pants, in that case continue as you were.
3. Check the length of the ingredient list.
*Most* of the time you can make decisions quickly by looking at how many ingredients are in the product.
A simple rule of thumb to follow when buying groceries is that fewer ingredients are better and are generally more healthy for you. If the list is longer than your iPhone and includes names you can’t pronounce that sound like they were made in a lab… well, they probably were made in a lab which is ok sometimes but isn’t always optimal when it comes to our health.
Of course these 3 steps are not the only important things on a food label. But they are a good place to start and cover the big hitters.
There are 3 macros (macronutrients): proteins, carbohydrates, fats.
Let’s take a look at the role of each when talking about fat loss.
Protein is the building block of muscle. Without enough your body won’t be able to repair the muscle breakdown that happens in the gym. And if it can’t repair the muscle you have, it definitely won’t be able to build new muscle.
Bonus: it typically makes you feel fuller longer (satiety).
As you know, if you’re dieting, being able to feel full is a major key.
Min. recs during a fat loss phase: 1g/lb
Put simply, carbs are fuel. Fuel for important bodily functions, but also fuel to help us perform at a high level during workouts.
When you’re losing fat, carbs will be the first to go once you’re at min. daily fat intake, so, it will be super important to do a couple of things:
1. Eat high volume carbs to help you stay fuller longer.
2. Stack the majority of your carbs around the pre/post workout window. This will help you have the energy needed to crush your workout and the fuel your body needs to repair and recover.
Min. recs during a fat loss phase: .5g/lb for non training days and 1-1.5g/lb on workout days.
Remember, though, that these recs may be violated in times of high pressure fat loss phases to help you get as lean as possible. Carbs will be the first cut you make once you’re at the min. fat intake goal.
Fats help with the absorption and transportation of vitamins and nutrients throughout the body, promote brain and heart health and at times can be used as an energy source.
Hopefully by now you’ve come to grips with the fact that dietary fats aren’t bad for you at all, and, they definitely do not make you “fat”.
Min. recs during a fat loss phase: 30% of your current bw in grams.
I struggle with eating.
It’s a battle for me every day to make the right choices.
Sometimes I can have an entire bag of Reese’s down before I even knew what hit me. It’s impressive really. I can damn near unknowingly drown in a wasteland of candy wrappers before I even realize I just consumed 2000 calories in individually wrapped chocolate flavor bombs.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with sweets, and, it would be crazy to say otherwise.
And tbh if the diet you’re on says you need to cut out sweets altogether forever…it’s time for a new diet.
What I’m offering here, though, is a simple rule to use when you’re wanting to eat something sweet or something that may not be considered “good”.
The rule is this:
Any time you want to eat something that will move you further away from your goals set a timer for 3 minutes.
If you still want to eat it after 3 minutes?
Go for it.
But, once the timer runs out if the pull to eat it isn’t near as strong or isn’t there at all?
Put it away.
This has been huge not only for myself but for my online clients as well. It helps coaching clients out who may have binge like tendencies like I do.
It can help cut back on stress eating and snacking because you’re bored.
I like it because it’s not telling you to cut out sweets or whatever your guilty pleasure may be. It’s simply making you be patient and allow yourself time to think on it.
It wont work every time, and it’s not meant to.
But, every time you say no gets you closer to your goals and empowers you more and more.
It lets you know and feel like you are in control of your eating.
You have the power when it comes to the food choices you make.
The 3 Minute Rule just allows your brain a little more time to process it and come to a rational decision rather than something spur of the moment.
Now, let’s talk grocery shopping. It can be intimidating trying to figure out which foods to buy when you’re trying to lose fat so check out this graphic I made to help you stress less about shopping so you can get in and out in no time:
The Lean Person’s Guide to Grocery Shopping
Maybe you haven’t had to grab groceries in a while (or ever). Here are some things to know along with a graphic below with the Newbies Guide To Grocery Shopping:
Grocery shopping can be a pain when you’re just starting to move to healthier options. I wanted to put together a little guide that’ll save you some time, money and possibly a couple of holes on the belt.
As much as possible, try sticking to the perimeter of the store. Why? This is typically where the “perishable” items are, or you know, the stuff that gets old and doesn’t last for 17 years. The inner aisles will typically be your heavily processed foods that we are trying to avoid. Will you shop on those aisles sometimes? Sure, we just want the bulk to be spent on the outer aisles.
Try as often as possible to make a complete grocery list before heading to the store. This helps with meal planning and helping you stay on task instead of wandering aimlessly which typically leads to bad decisions. It also helps make sure you have all the ingredients you need for the homemade meals you’ll probably be making.
NEVER go shopping when you’re hungry. Trust me. Every single time i do, i end up spending probably $30-40 more than i as planning on and let me just tell you, it’s not on spinach and carrots yanno what i mean?
IF you do go into the inner aisles where then processed goods are, take a look at the ingredient list and see how long it is. Typically, if it’s long it’s not going to be awesome for you. And if you can’t pronounce some of them — you sure as hell probably don’t want to eat it, either.
If you want to avoid it all together because you’re busy or want to avoid the temptation grocery pickup has been a lifesaver for my wife since we have a newborn!
How do you know when to make adjustments to your nutrition plan?
Typically I want a minimum of 1 week on the current plan before making any changes but 10-14 days is better in my opinion. Each coaching client is looked at on a case by case basis, though, so every situation will be different.
An important piece of knowing when to adjust is what your scale weight is doing. Not based on a single weigh in, though.
Let me explain the method I use with online coaching clients below.
Tracking Scale Weight: A Better Way
It’s true that the scale can be an unhealthy way to measure progress. But, maybe we just haven’t been using it correctly.
When I’m chatting with online clients, a typical weigh in “schedule” consists of random days, random times and very loose (if any) tracking of ther weights each time.
First and foremost let’s set the weigh in standards you should abide by which are non negotiable:
Weigh first thing in the morning after you use the bathroom and before breakfast, weigh naked (or close).
Also: women should note that the week before and during your menstrual cycle your weight will typically be higher.
Our weight fluctuates daily, and sometimes drastically!
This can be for many different reasons that I’ll cover in a different post, but, it’s the reason tracking with 3 (or more) data points and taking the average of that is a much safer way to judge progress.
It also allows you to make an informed decision as to whether it’s time to make changes to your nutrition protocol.
Don’t ever make drastic changes to your nutrition or give up on a diet because you had one bad weigh in.
Trends > Single Data Points
Figure out the rate you want to lose weight. As an example, for my online/in person clients, I like to recommend no more than 1% of bodyweight per week to maximize the retention of lean mass. Any more than that and the calorie restriction could leave you in a catabolic state (not where you want to be).
Track at least 3 data points across 7 day periods to find the true rate of your weight loss and to stress less about the scale.
Speaking of weight fluctuations…
You know that they’re normal, but let me explain some common reasons behind them to help you understand them even further.
We’ve talked about a better way to track scale weight in which I talked about why I like multiple data points and a weekly average rather than using a single weigh in as your “true weight.”
Fluctuations in scale weight is a huge reason why people have such an unhealthy relationship with the scale. Not only is the scale just one of many different ways to track progress (pics, inches lost/gained, how you feel, how clothes fit etc) there are a ton of reasons why your weight can, and will fluctuate.
Let’s talk about the 4 I highlighted in the graphic:
Your body being in fight or flight mode can cause higher retentions of water and higher levels of cortisol which both can lead to bigger numbers on the scale. This can be in both the short and long term.
Beat Up From Workouts-
If you crushed your last workout or few workouts you may be more sore than normal. Soreness is fine, but, it’s important to note that when the body is trying to repair and revitalize the micro trauma in the muscles it tends to hold onto and retain more water. As the soreness subsides so will the extra “weight gain”.
You Need to Poop-
I’m pretty regular, so this one doesn’t affect me as much, but, if you’re not regular and it’s been a few days since your last poopoo you’re definitely going to be heavier.
You’re literally just full of sh!t! 😂
High Sodium Intake-
If your sodium intake was high yesterday, or over the past few days you’re going to retain water from that, too. Give your body a couple of days of regular eating and the inflammation from the high sodium should chill out.
These are just 4 reasons, of many, that can cause your scale weight to fluctuate.
Do you have to workout to lose fat?
The short answer is no.
But, when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass strength training is the way to go.
I’m a movement advocate first and foremost.
The workout style you choose is completely personal. There isn’t a “one size fits all” anything when it comes to fitness.
We all have personal preferences and biases toward one training type or another and reasons for doing what we do.
However, the way YOU choose to workout and improve your life is YOUR choice.
The thing that commonly gets lost in the fitness arena is that there is one “superior” way of doing things.
Your training may work well for you and you may get awesome results from it.
If your friend starts the same program you’re doing but absolutely hates the workouts, though? Very unlikely they’ll get the same results as you.
There’s only so many times you can do something that you don’t enjoy before you give up.
That’s not to say that you’re going to “love” every moment of your training.
At the very least you should like some of it and be able to tolerate the rest because you know that there are results at the end of the suck.
Will the programs in the graphic offer different types of results based on training goals? Of course.
The one thing that all have in common, though, is when you start they will all get you in better shape than what you were when you started the program.
Especially if the other option was doing nothing!
It’s time to realize that there is way more than “one way” to get in shape.
When I’m chatting with online clients to see what type of workouts they want to do when they’re first starting I do my best to feel out what they like and the type of training that will suit them and there skill level the best rather than immediately rubbing my preferences for training all over them.
Will I give my input when asked? Of course.
I try to tell them what I think *after* they’ve given me an idea of where they are.
At the end of the day it won’t matter if the program is “perfect” if they hate everything about it.
If you’re looking for a strength training program that is going to increase your lean muscle while helping you keep the fat off I’ve got a hypertrophy program for you in the section below.
But first, what is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy is simple: it’s all about increasing muscle size.
Sometimes women don’t like to talk about increasing muscle size – because it’ll make them “bulky”.
You know that “toning” buzz word?
All “toning” is, is hypertrophy.
A lot of us end up here for most of our training careers. We are in a constant pursuit to achieve muscle growth. Hypertrophy training fits well for those who are looking to lose fat because the training will be high enough in volume and will manipulate the heart rate enough to help you lose fat faster, but also maintain/build muscle mass.
Hypertrophy training is also good for those wanting to gain weight, especially those who want to gain weight and keep their body fat relatively low.
[FREE Download] Full Body Hypertrophy
If you’re interested in other types of training programs check out my article called, “Where Are You On the Fitness Continuum?”, HERE.
If you’re in between plans or lifting at another gym for the day, check out this template I send online coaching clients so they can quickly throw a full body workout together on the fly:
Having this as a backup to your standard program can help a ton and could be the difference in a great workout or one of those workouts where you’re wandering around the gym trying to figure out what to do.
The template works from left to right, also notice that the sets and reps change from block to block.
Another thing to note is that there are pretty wide ranges for sets and reps within each block.
If you’re going for fat loss/toning up you’ll stick to the higher side with fewer sets. If you’re looking to get stronger/build muscle you’ll be on the low side of reps with more sets.
I normally have a more explosive movement to start off the session (think olympic lifts or explosive MB moves) and I pair it with a stretch of some kind.
For example if you have tight hamstrings you could perform 5-8 reps of the Sumo Squat to Stand stretch. This will double as the bulk of your rest period in between your explosive movement.
These are the “meat” of your workout and should consist of compound lifts.
These will be lower reps compared to the accessory block, strength is critical regardless of goals. Period.
With accessory work you’re going to get more reps in with less weight than what you do with “main moves” this is also where you’ll find smaller isolated muscle groups being used (main moves are compound, multi joint movements).
Don’t think that because they aren’t as heavy that they aren’t important, though.
Accessory work used in the right way will complement your main moves and allow you to progress faster.
Possibilities are endless here. The examples given are SUPER vanilla.
Effective to be sure, but there are a million more ways to do it. 🙂
Just like nutrition, it can be frustrating at times. Especially when your weights on exercises don’t seem to be increasing. I made this post outlining 5 things to keep in mind to know you’re making progress that don’t include increasing weight:
Increasing the weights you use during workouts should always be a goal. Heck, when you first start lifting you should have a pretty linear increase in weights you use.
The gains you get from that beginner phase won’t last forever, though.
A lot of the increases in weight early on are due to the neuromuscular side of things as much as they are muscle gains.
Once your movement patterns become efficient and you gain that crazy amount of muscle from the “newb gainz” everything will slow down considerably.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to other metrics to judge if you’re making progress.
Once my online coaching clients are 6-8months in I’m always sure to remind them of 5 of my favorites:
1. Better Technique-
This is a big one. There’s almost always something you can do to improve technique. While this may be easier to do with a coach, anecdotally you know when something “feels” right.
2. Slower Reps-
Maybe your reps are typically pretty fast, if that’s the case try to use your normal weight and slow the reps down considerably. Specifically slowing down the lowering portion of your lifts (eccentric) and having a pause at the bottom of reps to avoid being able to use your bodies natural stretch reflex.
3. More Reps-
If you did 3×8 of working sets last week but you were able to do 3 sets of 10,9,11 reps this week respectively, you’re getting stronger my friend.
4. More Sets-
Using the same example from last week, if you did working sets of 3×8 but this week you were able to get 4 or 5 sets of the same weight you’re stronger. No doubt about it.
5. You “Feel” the Muscles You’re Working Better-
This isn’t “chasing the pump” like bodybuilders do, but you’ll probably get one. Theres a lot to be said for being able to activate and really squeeze muscles that you want/should be focusing on during certain exercises. The Mind Muscle Connection is real. I’ll link to an article I wrote about using the link in my profile.
Strength is more than increasing weight. Remember that as you move through your workouts.
Allow yourself to “win” more by keeping these in mind.
Hopefully this guide is something that you can refer back to whenever you have any questions about fat loss and what it looks like in practice.
If you have any questions about the guide or want to talk about the benefits a coach can provide while you’re on this journey let me know! Just shoot an email to [email protected]