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I’m going to make a couple assumptions as to why you’re here.

Sure, I know you want to learn about meal planning, but I’d wager a cheat meal that you’re looking to achieve something very specific.

Namely, weight loss or muscle growth or, God willing, a little bit of both

If I’m right, this might be the most important meal planning piece you ever hear.

I know I know…but seriously. That’s not hyperbole.

By the end of this podcast, you’ll know a lot more than “how to make a meal plan.”

You’ll know how to have the body want eating the foods you love…for the rest of your life.


  • No more fad diets.
  • No more forcing down joyless, tasteless meals.
  • No more battling hunger and cravings.
  • No more struggling to lose or gain weight.

What if you could confidently soar above all of the mainstream diet hysteria and gimmicks?

What if you could use your diet to feel completely in control of your body composition and health?

And what if you could do it without having to follow a bunch of restrictive rules or give up everything you actually like to eat?

Well, all those things are possible. Easy, even, when you know what you’re doing.

So have I got your attention?

Good. Let’s get to work.

Time Stamps:

4:42 – Is clean eating the key to getting and staying lean?

8:26 – Will you gain weight if you eat certain foods?

10:47 – Is low carb dieting the best way to lose fat?

15:30 – Is low calorie dieting the best way to drop pounds quickly?

18:04 – Do you have to eat frequently to speed up your metabolism?

20:12 – How can meal planning save you from dieting?

28:07 – Which foods are good and bad for weight loss and weight gain?

33:20 – How do you create meal plans for losing weight?

39:45 – How do you create meal plans for building muscle?

43:23 – Which apps help with meal planning?

Mentioned on the Show:

Legion Protein Bar

How to Make Meal Plans That Work For Any Diet

How to Successfully Clean Bulk In 6 Simple Steps

How to Use Calorie Cycling to Build Muscle and Lose Fat

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:02] Hello, hello, and welcome to another episode of the Muscle For Life podcast. I am Mike Matthews and this one is all about meal planning. Now, I am going to make a couple of assumptions as to why you are here listening to me talk. Sure, I know you want to learn about meal planning, but I would also wager a cheat meal or two that you are looking to achieve something very specific.

Namely weight loss or muscle growth or, gods willing, a little bit of both. And if I’m right, this might be the most important meal planning piece you have ever listened to. And I know, I know. But seriously, that is actually not hyperbole, because, by the end of this podcast, you are going to know a lot more than just how to make a meal plan.

You are going to know how to get the body you want eating the foods that you love for the rest of your life. So imagine for a minute, no more fad diets, no more forcing down joyless, tasteless meals, no more battling hunger and cravings, no more struggling to lose or gain weight. What if you could confidently soar above all the mainstream diet hysteria and gimmicks?

What if you could use your diet to feel completely in control of your body composition and health? And what if you could do those things without having to follow a bunch of restrictive rules or give up all the foods you actually like to eat? Well, I’m here to tell you that those things are possible and are actually pretty easy, really, once you know what you’re doing. So I hope I’ve got your attention.


[00:04:23] All right, so let’s start with some myth debunking. Let’s talk about six meal planning myths that need to die. Because if you have ever had trouble understanding how to create effective meal plans, you have probably fallen prey to at least one of these myths, if not multiple.


[00:04:44] So here’s the first one: clean eating is the key to getting and staying lean. The cult of clean eating has won very wide acceptance these days. And while it does have its heart in the right place, it really misses the forest for the trees as far as body composition goes. And specifically, what most clean eaters do not realize is the nutritional value of the food that you eat has very little to do with your body composition.

Sure, eating plenty of nutritious foods is important for overall health and longevity. And I definitely do recommend getting at least 80 percent of your daily calories from relatively unprocessed, nutritious foods, but there are no individual foods that directly cause weight loss or weight gain. Sugar, for example, is not your enemy, and “healthy fats” are not your savior. And the key to understanding these “shocking statements” is understanding the concept of energy balance, which is the relationship between the amount of energy you are eating and the amount of energy you are burning.


[00:05:54] And many, many studies over the last century have shown that the very boring physiological reality is that meaningful weight loss requires eating less energy than you burn over time and “meaningful” meaning “significant” weight gain requires the opposite. It requires eating significantly more energy than you burn over time.

When you eat less energy than you burn, you are in what’s known as a negative energy balance or a calorie deficit, and this results in weight loss. And when you eat more than you burn, you are in a positive energy balance or a calorie surplus and this results in weight gain. So in this way, a calorie is very much a calorie and calories in versus calories out very much matters.

And in case you’re not familiar with the technical definition of a calorie, it is simply the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water, one degree Celsius. That’s all a calorie is, it’s just a measurement of energy, or you could say energy potential, that is in food and there’s also the energy that your body burns. And just for the sake of simplicity, we express both of those energy amounts, the energy and food, and the energy we burn, in calories.

So that’s why we can then say, “okay, how many calories am I eating? How much energy is stored in food? Am I putting into my body, which my body processes and does things with? Versus how much energy my burning through just staying alive, moving around, and so forth.” And what this means then is: if you eat too much of the cleanest foods in the world, you will gain weight.

If you do that often enough, you do that for long enough. One day maybe you’ll gain a little bit away and then you’ll probably just go back to normal. But if you do it enough over time, you will gain weight. And on the flip side, if you maintain a calorie deficit while following a gas station diet of the most nutritionally bankrupt crap you can find, you will lose weight if you maintain that calorie deficit over time.


[00:07:54] And this, for example, is why Professor Mark Haub was able to lose 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks. He simply ate fewer crappy calories than his body burned over time. And as the first law of thermodynamics dictates, this resulted in a reduction in total fat mass. And if you want to read about that, simply Google “Mark Haub weight loss” and you’ll find a number of mainstream news articles on it.


[00:08:27] Okay, the next myth is: if you eat certain foods, you will gain weight. Now, this one is a natural extension of the previous myth, but it does deserve its own treatment.


[00:08:38] If someone tells you that there are weight gain and weight loss foods, do yourself a favor and ignore everything else they have to say. Do not take any advice from them, at least as regards to nutrition and probably exercise and maybe life as well. No, seriously, though, at least nutrition.

Do not take any diet advice or nutrition advice from somebody who thinks that certain foods just make you gain weight and certain foods just make you lose weight because foods do not have any special properties that cause you to gain or lose weight. They cannot clog your hormones, they cannot magically transform into body fat or do anything else to sabotage your fitness goals.


[00:09:19] What foods can do, however, is provide calories as well as macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate, and fat primarily. And these are the only two factors that matter when we are talking about body fat and lean mass when we’re talking about body composition. In other words, the total amount of energy contained in the food, the calories, and how that energy breaks down into the major nutrients our body needs to survive, protein, carbohydrate, and fat – macronutrients is the technical term for that, or macros, as people call them – calories and macros determine what happens when you eat the food.

It’s just the calories and the macros. Not the nutrients. And again, I’m talking about body fat, which means gaining or losing and muscle gaining or losing. And we’re going to dove into all the details here soon on the podcast. But for now, here’s what you need to know: certain foods do not make you fat, overeating does.

Sugar does not make you fat, overeating does. Carbohydrates do not make you fat, overeating does. And even hormones, like insulin and cortisol, do not make you fat. Overeating does. Controlling your weight does not require eating certain foods and avoiding others or combining foods in specific ways or any other type of quackery. As you will soon learn, all it requires is smart manipulation of calorie and macronutrient intake.


[00:12:21] All right, moving along to the next myth, which is low carb dieting is the best way to lose fat.


[00:12:26] Now, a couple of decades ago, low-fat dieting – low fat, not low carb – was all the rage. Unfortunately, it did not stop us here in the West from just getting fatter and fatter. And now the mob has turned its ire to a new entity, the carbohydrate. This is the little bastard that is responsible for all of our waistline woes, we are told. And if we just banish it forever, we can live long, lean, healthy lives dreaming about pizza and ice cream.


[00:13:02] Well, I am delighted to give you some good news. If you are physically active and you aren’t diabetic or prediabetic, you have no reason to follow a low carb diet unless I guess you just really enjoy it. In fact, it is much more likely that a high carb diet is an all-around better choice for you, and especially if you train your muscles regularly. And yes, that’s true even when you want to lose weight.


[00:13:29] But let’s back up for a minute, let’s talk about why low carb diet research out there is very misleading. Because I know that there are many low carb evangelists that have studies that they offer as irrefutable proof that low carb dieting is better for weight loss, among other things. Some people even say it’s better for muscle gain. And it often sounds very scientific and it sounds convincing and understandably wins many new converts every day.

But there is a big gaping hole in the research and it relates to protein intake. Namely, every single low carb weight loss trial I have seen that is used to sell the ideology of low carb dieting has a major flaw, and that is that the low carb diets contain more protein than the low fat, high carb ones. And yes, that’s one for one without fail. And the reason this presents a serious problem is it means that we are not looking at a true apples to apples comparison of dieting methodologies. Instead, we are looking at how a high protein and low carb diet fares against a low protein and high-fat diet. And yes, the former wins every time.


[00:14:49] But is it because of the low carb component or is it because of the high protein? Anti-carbers will, of course, say it’s the magic of low carb eating, but are they right? Well, to know that we would need to look at weight loss trials that kept protein intake high in both the low and high carb groups. And fortunately, there are quite a few of those studies out there. There are probably six or seven now. And their findings are summarized well by the following that I’m to share with you from a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University. “Reduced calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss, regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.” In other words, so long as you maintain a calorie deficit, raising or lowering carbohydrate intake does not significantly impact fat loss.


[00:15:43] I think it’s also worth reviewing a recent and rather extensive meta-analysis conducted by researchers from several universities that involved the review of 19 different weight loss trials. And I quote, “trials show weight loss in the short term, irrespective of whether the diet is a low carbohydrate or balanced. There is probably little or no difference in weight loss and changes in cardiovascular risk factors up to two years of follow up when overweight and obese adults with or without type two diabetes are randomized to low carbohydrate diets and isoenergetic, balanced weight-loss diets.”


[00:16:19] And last but not least, I should mention that I myself have worked directly with thousands of people, helping them lose thousands, tens of thousands, who knows, maybe hundreds of thousands of pounds at this point collectively, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that you can get the body of your dreams eating the carbs that you love.

So long as you keep your protein intake high, you are not going to lose fat faster on a low carb diet. And you actually are probably going to have more problems than with a high carb diet. You’re probably going to be generally hungrier. You’re probably in a struggle more with cravings. Your workouts are going to be worse. There are significant downsides to low carb dieting in the context of weight loss in particular.


[00:17:04] Okay, the next myth: very low-calorie dieting is the best way to drop pounds quickly. And it’s true, actually, if you starve yourself, yes, you are going to lose weight quickly. If that’s how we are defining best, then sure it is the best way. But if we want to consider the qualitative aspect of the pounds that you’re losing, are you losing muscle, or are you losing fat, as well as the qualitative aspect of the experience: is it miserable? Yes, starvation dieting is always miserable.

Then no, it is not the best way to drop pounds quickly. Because while watching the scale go down quickly and feeling your pants loosen more and more every other day is encouraging, there is a major problem here. Losing weight quickly is not the goal. Instead, we want to lose fat quickly and not muscle.

That’s the key because preserving muscle when you’re dieting is the number one priority, because if you don’t, then it’s only a matter of time until you wind up skinny fat, which is very confusing for people. I understand. I hear from people often who have a skinny fat body and they have no idea what to do because they’ve done all this dieting, they’ve actually brought their body fat levels down to normal, but they don’t look anything like how they want to look. And the primary reason for this is they don’t have enough muscle.


[00:18:34] You see the look that most men and women are after, that athletic, lean defined look requires a lower body fat percentage, somewhere around 10 percent for guys, 20 percent for women, as well as quite a bit of lean mass, quite a bit more than the average person. For guys, it’s probably somewhere around 35 pounds or so, more than average.

And for women, it’s somewhere around 15 pounds, maybe 20. Of course, in the right places on their bodies. And there are several things that you have to do to accomplish that. And we are going to go over them later in this podcast. But one of the things you must never do is just starve yourself, is eat a very low-calorie diet, a 500 calorie per day diet, or an 800 calorie per day diet to try to drop weight quickly. Because if you eat too little, you will lose muscle regardless of what you do in the gym, it will happen. And the more muscle you lose, the further you are going to be from your ideal physique, regardless of how much fat you might lose in the process.


[00:19:38] Okay, next myth: you have to eat frequently to speed up your metabolism. Now, if you go find some generic fitness magazine or generic fitness blog and poke around, you’re probably gonna come across some version of this one. The idea is that by increasing meal frequency, you can stoke the metabolic fire and accelerate fat loss.

And while it’s true that breaking down and processing the food that you eat does cause a metabolic boost or bump – this is known as the thermic effect of food, that’s the technical term – it actually can be quite significant. Research shows that the thermic effect of food accounts for 10 to 20 percent of our daily energy expenditure, depending on the macronutrient composition of our diets, because certain macronutrients require more energy to process than others.

For example, protein requires more energy at processing carbohydrates, which requires more energy to process than dietary fat. So theoretically then, the idea is if you eat frequently enough, you could harness the thermic effect of food and keep your metabolism revved up all day. Right? And it sounds plausible, but research shows it does not play out like that.


[00:20:49] For example, a study conducted by the scientists at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research involved the analysis of scores of studies with a variety of eating patterns ranging from 1 to 17 meals per day. And what the researchers found is that there was no difference in the 24-hour energy expenditure between low and high-frequency eating.

What they found instead is that small meals cause small, fleeting increases in metabolic rate and larger meals result in larger, longer-lasting boosts and that it all just balances out in terms of total energy expenditure by the end of the day. So the bottom line here is there is no metabolic advantage to eating three, six, or nine meals per day and you should do what fits your preferences and schedule.


[00:21:40] Okay, so those are the myths that I wanted to debunk, and let’s now start talking about meal planning. And let’s start with how meal planning can save you from, “dieting”. Because fad diets all have one thing in common. They have this assertion that theirs is the one true way. The paleo hordes say that you must follow the calls of your ancient cave-dwelling ancestors.

And the antique carb crusaders insist that you subject yourself to trial by ketogenic dieting. And the quacks out there swear by cleanses and detoxes and biohacking and other nonsense. And unfortunately, this can result in your squandering months and even years of time wandering in this swamp, defecting from one school of dieting to another with not much to show for it in the end.

In terms of what you see in the mirror and what you’ve gotten in the gym. On you’ll go, though, certain that the one true diet is out there somewhere, patiently waiting for your arrival or the next new fad is going to be the one, the scientists have finally cracked the code. And I have good news and bad news regarding this. 


[00:23:00] Let’s start with the bad. The bad is there is no one true diet. There never will be. There are no real shortcuts to losing fat and building muscle. The secret they’re not telling you about dieting is that it’s pretty boring, actually. It lacks the sizzled that’s needed to sell pills, powders, PDF’s, and the rest.


[00:23:24] But there’s good news, too. And it is this, it is that the truth is very simple and it’s very workable. It works for everyone. It works every time. It’s like the quote that is often attributed to Thomas Edison, but I don’t think we know who said it, it is that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Yeah, dieting is like that. The suckers want glitz and they want glamor. But the real opportunity to build the body of your dreams is frayed denim and a rust bittern tool kit.


[00:23:59] Now here’s how it breaks down in terms of importance. The most important aspect is the energy balance that we spoke about then macronutrient balance, which is how the calories break down into protein, carbs, and fats, and then we have food choices, and then we have nutrient timing. So nutrient timing when you eat is the least important. Food choices is not as important as macronutrients and energy balance. So let’s look at each of these layers in detail.


[00:24:24] So let’s start with energy balance. We’ve already touched on this, but it bears repeating because it alone dictates weight gain and weight loss more than anything else.


[00:24:33] So, as you know, energy balance is the relationship between the energy contained in the food that you eat and the energy that you burn through living. And for meaningful weight loss to occur, there must be an imbalance in this equation. In other words, the output must exceed the input. The calorie deficit must be there for weight loss to occur. And if you want to gain weight, there must be a calorie surplus, must be an energy surplus.

And no, this isn’t just theory. It is at this point an immutable, indisputable scientific fact. This is why every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last hundred years, including countless meta-analysis and systematic reviews, have concluded that meaningful weight loss requires energy expenditure to exceed energy intake.

This is also why bodybuilder’s dating back just as far from Sandow to Reeves and all the way up the line, have been using and continue to use this knowledge to systematically and routinely reduce and increase their body fat levels. And this is also why new brands of calorie denying come and go every year, failing to gain acceptance in the weight loss literature. Just like gravity, death, and taxes, you cannot escape energy balance.


[00:25:55] All right. Let’s move on to macronutrient balance. Once you grasp energy balance, the next part of effective meal planning is how those calories break down into macronutrients. And just to give a proper definition, a macronutrient is any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts to survive. And they are protein, carbohydrate, fat, as well as minerals, which are also often called macro minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.


[00:26:29] Now, when we look at food intake solely through the lens of energy balance and weight change, a calorie is a calorie. If you eat too many calories for long enough, you will gain weight. If you eat fewer calories that you’re burning, if you restrict your calories for long enough, you will lose weight, period. There is more to consider though because as I mentioned earlier, we do not want to manipulate our weight so much as our body composition and particularly our body fat percentage.

In other words, we want to lose fat and not muscle. And when we are lean bulking, we want to gain as much muscle as possible and as little fat as possible. And when those are the goals we have to consider more than just calories, because if we eat too little protein, we will forever struggle to gain and preserve muscle. If we eat too little carbohydrate, we are going to make it harder to gain muscle and strength and to make progress in our workouts. And if we eat too much fat, we’re going to have to dramatically reduce protein or carbon intake to compensate.


[00:27:28] Now, if we get our macronutrient balance right, though, everything comes together. Then we can gain muscle and lose fat with ease. We will have high energy workouts. We won’t have any major issues with hunger or cravings. It really makes a huge difference. It makes the experience of getting and staying fit much more enjoyable and much easier, really. It really is the closest thing you can find to dietary magic.


[00:27:58] All right. So now let’s move on to the next tier on our little pyramid here, which is food choices. And this is the tier that is worshiped by most mainstream diet experts as the be-all and end-all of dieting. The quantitative stuff that we just talked about is not very popular. People don’t want to bother planning or tracking numbers or paying attention to calories or macros.

They’d rather just follow simple rules about what they can and can’t eat. And there are many marketers out there who are very anxious to oblige them and sell them all kinds of things they do not need. And as we’ve discussed earlier in the clean eating myth, eating nutritious foods is important. Yes, definitely.

You want to be healthy, you want to have high energy levels, you want to live a long disease-free life, then you’re going to want to eat a lot of nutritious foods. It matters. But as far as losing fat and gaining muscle goes, the nutritional aspect of eating forever lives in the shadows of energy and macronutrient balance.

Because the truth is, you can be the cleanest eater in the world and still just be weak and skinny fat. And as Professor Haub showed us earlier and as the “if it fits your macros”, IIFYM crowd, won’t stop babbling about, you can build muscle news, fat eating more or less whatever you want.


[00:29:29] That said, it is true that certain foods make it easier or harder to lose and gain weight due to their volume, calorie density, and macronutrient breakdowns. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about foods that are good and bad for weight loss and weight gain.


[00:29:44] So generally speaking, foods that are good for weight loss are those that are relatively low in calories but high in volume, which makes them very filling. So examples of these types of foods are lean meats, whole grains, many different fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. These types of foods also provide an abundance of micronutrients, which is especially important when your calories are restricted because if you eat too much junk food on a calorie-restricted diet, you can develop micronutrient deficiencies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can just make your life less enjoyable.


[00:30:23] Now, foods that are conducive to weight gain are the opposite. These are foods that are high in calories and low in volume and satiety, which refers to how filling a food is. So these foods include obvious things like caloric beverages, candy, and other sugar-laden goodies. But quite a few “healthy foods” fall into this category as well, like oils, bacon, butter, low fiber fruits, and whole fat dairy products.


[00:30:53] So think of it this way: you can only afford so many calories every day, whether you are dieting to lose fat or dieting to gain muscle or just trying to maintain your current weight and body composition, and you got to watch how you spend these calories. So when you’re dieting for fat loss, you want to spend the majority of your calories on foods that allow you to hit your daily macronutrient and micronutrient needs without over-drafting your energy balance account. I know I’m getting a little carried away at the financial metaphor, but bear with me. 


[00:31:28] When you’re dieting for muscle growth, on the other hand, you have quite a few more calories to spend every day and that makes it easy to hit both your macronutrient and micronutrient targets with some calories to spare, which then you can spend on whatever you want.


[00:31:43] Now, don’t mistake this part of the podcast as me railing against healthy foods. I am not a fan of the people trying to prove that you can eat junk and get shredded. Long term health matters more than getting super lean while eating boxes of pop tarts every week.

Now I mentioned this earlier, but a good rule of thumb is if you get the majority, say, 80 percent or more of your calories from a relatively unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, you can fill the remaining 20 or less percent with your favorite dietary sins and be perfectly healthy, muscular, and lean.


[00:32:20] All right. Moving on to the final and least important tier, and that is nutrient timing.


[00:32:25] Generally speaking, when you eat, your food does not really matter so long as you are managing your energy and macronutrient balances properly, meal timing and meal frequency are not going to help or hinder your results to any significant degree.


[00:32:42] The only reason why I’m hedging there is some research that shows that eating some protein every few hours, which for most people comes out to like five times a day, is probably better for long term muscle gain than eating larger amounts of protein more infrequently. So let’s say eating maybe only two servings of protein per day with a number of hours in between them.

So more frequent protein feedings is probably better for long term muscle gain. But even that is not a major effect. And what that means then is you can eat three meals a day or seven meals a day. You can eat a huge breakfast or you could just skip it if you don’t like breakfast and you could start eating at lunch.

That’s the easiest way to do intermittent fasting is basically skip breakfast. You can eat carbs in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, whenever you want. But if you are into lifting weights and you are trying to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, I do recommend eating several servings of protein per day, not just one or two.

There may not be a big difference between three and five, but I would say three would be the minimum and you can increase it to as many as you’d like. But practically speaking, it’s like three to six servings a day is how most people like to break it down.


[00:33:53] I should also mention that there’s a fair amount of evidence that eating protein after workouts can help you build muscle and strength over a longer period of time. And also, if you have not eaten protein within the two hours or so preceding your workout, it’s probably a good idea to have some protein before.

So you have some protein before with at least within a couple hours of training and then some protein within, let’s say, an hour or so of finishing a workout. And that is one of those things that also makes a slight difference over time. But as a natural weight lifter, we really need all the help we can get.

So if we can get a slight advantage by eating protein more frequently throughout the day and having some protein before and after we train, then we should do that. Creatine is similar. A supplement like creatine. By itself, it’s not a game-changer, but it does help you gain muscle and strength faster, and so throw it in. Because while the effects of each individual strategy may not be that impressive, the cumulative effects can be fairly significant.


[00:34:53] All right. So now let’s talk about how to create meal plans for losing weight because you now have the basic theory under your belt. It’s time to put some rubber on the road. And I want to start with weight loss because that is on more people’s minds than weight gain.


[00:35:12] So, as you know, the key to losing fat is maintaining a calorie deficit over time. So the first step is working out how many calories you should be eating. And that first means that you need to workout approximately how many calories you are burning every day. Now, I did recently record a podcast on this.

So if you want to dive into the details of how to determine this, then listen to that podcast. If you want to just go straight to a calculator, that’ll just do the math for you, make it nice and easy, Google “Legion Athletics diet meal plans” and you’ll find an article that this podcast is based on. And in that article, there is a calculator that does the math for you. And the resulting number from the calculator is a fairly accurate measurement of the total amount of energy your body is burning every day.

And this is generally known as your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. And what that means is if you eat that amount of calories every day, your weight would more or less remain the same. Sure, it would fluctuate slowly up and down over time, but more or less, the average would remain the same. And that means then to reduce your weight, you’re going to have to eat less than that number.


[00:36:17] How much less, though? Well, I recommend a moderately aggressive calorie deficit of about 20 percent, maybe as high as 25 percent. Anything larger than that can cause unwanted side effects associated with starvation, dieting. So what this means, then, is you want to set your daily calorie intake to somewhere around 75 to 80 percent of your total daily energy expenditure. And for example, my total daily energy expenditure hovers around 3,000 calories. So and I want to lose weight, I set my intake to about 2,300 calories, that’s usually where I start. Sometimes a little bit higher, sometimes it’s 2,500. So let’s just say it’s in the range of 2,300 to 2,500.


[00:37:02] Once you have your calories worked out, the next thing is your macronutrients. It’s time to turn those calories into protein, carbs, and fat targets. And here’s an easy way to do it. I want you to eat 1 to, 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. And if you are very overweight, so if you’re a guy over, let’s say, 25 percent body fat, or a woman over 35 percent body fat, modify that to 40 percent of your daily calories.

I want 40 percent of your daily calories to come for protein. And to calculate that all you do is multiply your total daily calories that you have to eat by 0.4 and then divide that by 4. That number is your target for protein and you can just round it up or down so it’s easy. If it’s 173, you don’t have to go for 173, just go for 170. And the reason why that works is there are about four calories in a gram of protein.


[00:37:58] Okay. Next, I want you to eat about 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day. And again, if you are very overweight, you can simply modify that to about 25 percent of your daily calories should be coming from dietary fat. To calculate that, simply multiply your total daily calorie target by 0.25 And then divide it by 9.

That resulting number will be your fat target for the day in grams. And the reason why that works is a gram of fat has about 9 calories. And then get the rest of your calories from carbs. And to do that, you simply multiply your protein target in grams by 4. And then you multiply your fat target in grams by 9.

Add those numbers together, so those are the total calories coming from protein and fat, and you subtract that from your total calorie daily target, which then leaves you with however many calories are left over for carbs, and then you divide that number by 4. And that will give you your daily carbohydrate target and grams. And the reason that works is there are also about 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate.


[00:39:12] Okay. So let’s see how this plays out for me. So I weigh 200 pounds, let’s say I was cutting and I was starting at 2,500 calories. So I would eat 200 grams of protein per day, 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, that’s 800 calories (200 times 4), and I would be eating about 50 grams of fat per day (0.25 times 200), and that comes out to 450 calories (50 times 9), then I would add those two together to represent the total calories, the total daily calories that would be coming from both protein and fat.

So that’s 1,250 calories and I would subtract that from my total daily target of 2,500 for 1,250 calories. And then I would divide by 4 to determine how many carbs, how many grams of carbs those calories represent, which is 312. But we’ll go to 310. Or maybe I would just go to 300 to make it easy. And that’s it.


[00:40:05] Now once you have your numbers, it is time to turn those numbers into a meal plan that you will actually enjoy. And to do that, you can start by just making a list of foods that you would like to eat every day and then head over to Calorie King to learn their macronutrient profiles. And many people like to use Excel for this, listing the foods and their protein, carb, fat, and calorie numbers in side by side columns.

And then you just need to start piecing together meals using those foods until you’re happy with the setup. And until you’re within, let’s say, 50 calories of your daily intake target if you’re cutting, and 100 if you’re lean bulking or maintaining. And if you want to see some examples of these types of meal plans, again, just Google “Legion Athletics meal plans” or “diet meal plans”, you’ll find an article that this podcast is based on and it has some examples of meal plans.


[00:41:04] So once you’ve made your plan, you now just stick to it every day. And then if along the way you get tired of certain foods or meals, you simply replace those foods or meals with other things that you would like to eat that fit your numbers. It really is that simple.


[00:41:18] Okay. Now let’s talk about creating meal plans for building muscle. Because when you want to lose fat. We know that you need to eat less than your TDEE over time. You need to be eating less energy than you’re burning over time. When you want to maximize muscle growth, however, you want to eat a bit more.


[00:41:35] Now, I don’t want to go into all the reasons why that is here, but if you want to learn more about that search for “Legion Athletics clean bulking” and you’ll find an article that I wrote called like, “How to Successfully Clean Bulk in Six Steps” or something like that. I think there’s also a podcast actually, that I recorded on the same topic, so if you’d rather listen to me explaining it, then search my podcast feed for “clean bulking”.

But for the purposes of this podcast, all you need to know really is that when you want to maximize muscle growth and strength gain, you should be eating about 10 percent more than your TDEE over time than your total daily energy expenditure over time. So you want to take that number that you’ve calculated, hopefully just using the calculator that I’ve referred you to, and you want to add 10 percent to that and just eat that number every day. That’s the easiest way to go about it.


[00:42:27] Now, if you are an intermediate or advanced weightlifter who wants to gain as little fat as possible and you’re not going to be gaining much muscle, then you might want to get a little bit more granular with your daily intake. For example, you may want to cycle your calories, which I’ve written about. If you Google “Muscle For Life calorie cycling” or if you search my podcast feed, you’ll find an episode on calorie cycling.

But for most people, for people who have, let’s say, less than two or three years of heavy proper weight lifting under their belts. This is the easiest way to do it. And the macronutrient breakdown for lean bulking like this is a little bit different. I recommend around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

You could go as low as 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day if you really don’t like eating protein. But one gram is easy, I think. And then set your fat intake at 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day. That is plenty for the purposes of maintaining health and performance. And then just get the rest of your calories from carbs.

And you do that in the same way, you calculate that in the same way as in the weight loss scenario. So you take your total grams of protein, multiply them by 4, your total grams of fat, multiply them by 9. Add those numbers together. Subtract the sum from your total calorie target, your daily target, which is going to be your TDEE plus 10 percent. And that number now is the amount of calories that you should be eating in carbohydrates every day. To turn that into grams, you divide it by 4 and voilà.


[00:44:03] So for me, for example. All right, 200 pounds. 200 grams of protein per day. 800 calories. 60 grams of fat. 0.3 times 200, which is 540 calories. Add those up. That is 1,340 calories from protein and fat. Which means now that I have 1,960 calories for carbs every day. Right? That’s 3,300 minus 1,340. And then to turn that 1,960 number into grams we divide by 4 for 490. 490 grams of carbs per day. And yes, that is a lot of carbs. And yes, that means that I would have some great workouts.


[00:44:46] All right. So that’s it for putting your numbers together for lean bulking. So then you just take those numbers, again, turn them into meal plans and just follow the plans.


[00:44:57] All right. So before we wrap up, let’s just quickly talk about apps, because if creating food menus and hitting different nutritional targets every day sounds daunting, don’t worry. It is a little bit awkward, a little bit clunky at first, but it’s pretty simple once you get into the groove and once you get a little bit of practice.

And there are a few apps that can help. One that is very, very popular is MyFitnessPal. It’s a free app for iOS Android and I think they also have a Web app too, that easily allows you to track your calorie and macro intake. Just make sure that you do set your own custom calorie and macronutrient goals. Do not go with their default recommendations.

There’s also an app called Paprika, that helps you organize your recipes, helps you make meal plans, and create grocery lists. That’s very useful. There’s another one called Pepperplate, which is similar to paprika. It’s a little bit less slick and user-friendly, but it is free. And then there’s also an app called My Macros+, which is a simple food tracking app made specifically for us fitness folk. And as you can guess, it allows you to plan and track your macros.


[00:46:06] All righty. Let’s wrap up the bottom line with all of this is: you do not necessarily have to plan or track your food intake to lose fat or build muscle or maintain your body weight and body composition. But if you want guaranteed results and you want them as quickly as possible, then meal planning is the way to go because a good meal plan takes all the guesswork out of dieting and it ensures you don’t over or under-eat.

And it also ensures that your diet meets both your macro and micro nutritional needs. So no matter what type of diet you are following, meal planning can work for you. And all the information I’ve just shared with you in this podcast is really all you need to get results.

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

+ Scientific References