So you have been tracking your daily calories and have been deducting 200-300 calories a day from your ‘maintenance’ calories to put yourself in a calorie deficit. Remember, creating a consistent calorie deficit (consuming LESS calories than you are burning each day) is how we lose fat.
We have one more target that we need to add in addition to your calorie deficit target. Let’s get into it.
We consume all of our calories (calorie = unit of energy) from food.
All food is divided into three (technically four) main groups called macronutrients. The groups are protein, carbohydrates and fat (alcohol is the technical fourth). Each of these food groups hold different amounts of energy (calories):-
1 gram of protein = 4 calories (4 units of energy)
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories (4 units of energy)
1 gram of fat = 9 calories (9 units of energy)
1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories (7 units of energy)
This means that you could have 100g of fat and 100g carbohydrates for example, but the fat would have more calories (energy) in it (100g x 9 calories = 900 calories total) than the carbohydrate (100g x 4 calories = 400 calories total).
Our focus is protein
Out of the three (four counting alcohol) macronutrients, protein is the best. You heard it here first. Protein is the best macronutrient.
Why? Amongst other things, protein:
Burns more calories while you are digesting it
Our bodies take longer and require more effort to digest protein compared to carbohydrates and fat. This means that we burn more calories during this digestion process. This is called the Thermic Effect of Food which we will go into more detail on in Step 5.
Keeps you full for longer
Because the digestion process takes longer, this means that we feel full while this process is happening. Digesting carbohydrates doesn’t take as long so we find ourselves hungry again much quicker.
Repairs and grows your muscle
Protein is ultimately what our muscles are composed of; when we exercise, we intentionally damage these muscles so that our body will repair itself and then overcompensate to be better prepared next time. This overcompensation is the adaptation and therefore progress from exercise, however it requires sufficient protein to happen optimally.
Prevents muscle loss if combined with proper resistance training
Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning that it requires additional energy (calories) each day to maintain itself. But when you put your body into a caloric deficit, you are telling it there’s not enough food around and that it needs to make up the difference from it’s stores.
So if you don’t resistance train AND take in sufficient protein, your body will break down some of this muscle tissue (instead of just fat) in order to get the calories it needs and reduce your overall calorie requirements. Hence protein + resistance training + a calorie deficit is vastly superior to a calorie deficit alone. More on resistance training in Step 6.
Calculate your daily target
All these benefits mean that protein is the most important, so we are going to set a daily protein target. This is the grams of protein you should aim to consume each day. Every person will have a different protein target in the same way that every person has a different calorie deficit target.
There are two different methods to work yours out:-
1.5-2 x your bodyweight (kg) = your daily protein target (in grams)
If you have more body fat, stick closer to the 1.5x end. If you have less body fat then go closer to the 2x end.
E.g. Someone who is 80kg with around 10kg body fat to lose would be 1.5 x 80(kgs) = 120g of protein to aim for each day.
Alternatively, you can calculate protein as 30% of your total calories (which we calculated in Step 3).
(Total calories x 0.3) divided by 4 = your daily protein target (in grams)
E.g. Someone who is having 1,800 calories a day would be (1800 x 0.3) divided by 4 = 135g of protein to aim for each day.
Put your target into MyFitnessPal
Once you have done your calculation, input it into MyFitnessPal so you can visually see how far away you are each day from hitting your target. Do this by going into ‘Goals’ and choosing ‘Calorie, carbs, protein and fat goals’. Then once you’ve specified your calorie target, adjust the protein percentage to 30% or whatever percentage matches the number of grams you’re aiming for.
Aim to roughly divide your total daily protein by the number of meals you’re having, which then gives you a ballpark protein intake per meal to aim for and means protein is optimally spaced throughout the day.
Divide the rest of your calories between carbohydrates and fat
Once you have your protein sorted, the rest of your calories will be made up of carbohydrates and fat.
First off, work out how many calories you have left after you have deducted your protein. Calculate this by:
Your total calories minus your calories from protein (grams of protein multiplied by 4)
E.g. 1,800 calories - (120g protein x 4) = 1,320 calories remaining
So 1,320 calories left to be divided between carbohydrates and fat. The ratio of carbs to fat doesn’t actually matter and there’s no right or wrong way to come up with your ratio. It should simply exist on a sliding scale. If fat goes up, carbohydrates may have to come down a little. They could both be similar, or one could be higher and the other lower.
As we will explore further below, approaches like the ketogenic diet simply manipulate this ratio and will have you believe that the amount of carbohydrates you eat or the amount of fat you eat makes a huge difference and is the biggest thing you should be focusing on. Research has proven that this is simply not the case.
As we already know, protein should be your main focus. Not carbs or fat. It is simply a personal choice as to whether you want to have more carbs or more fat, and if you have your protein and calories sorted then you really don’t need to think very much about it at all, as the food you choose to eat will make the decision for you.
‘Keto’ and a calorie deficit
For most people, around 40-50% of their daily calories are coming from carbohydrates. What happens when you remove 40% of someone's calorie intake? A deficit of calories. Even though more fats are consumed, it's rarely as many calories as you have removed from carbohydrates. So you end up with a net lower calorie intake, and therefore weight loss.
Regarding the WEIGHT loss on low carbing; most of the initial scale weight drop isn't fat. We can store on average around 500g of carbohydrate in our muscle and liver, so there's 500g gone when you stop eating carbs and therefore this gets depleted.
In addition, for each of those 500g, we also store around 4g of water. So 4g x 500 = 2000g + the 500g itself = 2.5kg potential weight fluctuation from carbs and water. So that initial 'rapid fat loss' on keto is all smoke and mirrors.
Keto works through a simple (and often restrictive) means of creating a calorie deficit. The problem lies in making low carb dieting a permanent lifestyle change. Because are you realistically going to tell me your 'Keto ice cream' tastes as good as Ben and Jerrys? And that you're happy substituting all those delicious things for the rest of your life? For 9/10 people the answer is no, and therein lies the problem.
If you love high fat/low carb eating then it’s an excellent choice for you - because of its suitability to your preferences and therefore increased likelihood you’ll follow it consistently and sustainably. Not because it is inherently superior to any other form of caloric control.
High vs. low sources of protein
An important concept to understand is that there is a huge difference in foods that are high in protein vs. foods that you may think are high in protein but actually aren’t.
A general rule is foods that contain over 30% protein are considered as ‘high protein’, over 20% are ‘medium protein’ and under 10% are ‘low protein.
A simple equation to calculate the percentage of that food that is protein is;
(grams of protein per 100g x 4) divided by calories per 100g = percentage protein
E.g. (27g protein x 4) divided by 425 calories = 0.25, so this food is 25% protein
Remember from Step 3, if you need to convert kilojoules to calories, divide kilojoules by 4.182 (or just 4.2).
Try to always do this calculation to work out the percentage protein, rather than just looking at the protein per serve or the protein per 100g as they can both be misleading.
High protein foods (over 30% protein)
High protein Greek yoghurt
Sunfed chicken / bacon / beef
Textured vegetable protein
High protein soy milk
Protein powder and bars
Medium protein foods (between 20-30% protein)
Most meat substitutes
Low protein foods (under 20% protein)
Any nut butter
A note on meat based protein sources - the leaner the meat, the better the protein:calorie ratio e.g. chicken breast and mince are both high protein foods, however chicken breast is much leaner and therefore lower in calories overall. The same goes for crumbed meats or fish.
Protein should be your first consideration when planning your meals. Aim to base each main meal around a protein source e.g. one high protein source or a mix of two medium protein sources.
Bulk cook protein each week
So we have our protein target. Now we have to meet it consistently every day. This requires thought and planning.
An easy way to make sure you hit your target is to do a bulk cook of your main sources of protein then store it in the fridge. This makes eating during the week so much easier. It is quite easy to quickly steam some veggies or boil some pasta, but it is a bit more of a mission to cook up some protein.
For example one of our favourite protein sources to bulk cook is a big veggie chilli. We can simmer a big pot of onions, mushrooms, spices, TVP (textured vegetable protein which is soy), beans, lentils, grated carrot and canned tomatoes and there is our chilli. During the week there are so many meal options to easily add this to - pasta, baked potato, nachos, rice, even just on toast - steam some veggies and there is a protein and veggie packed meal.
It is going to be much easier to meet your protein target (which remember is your main focus) if you can quickly reheat some protein whenever you need it.
Chuck a packet of chicken tenders in the oven with some salt + pepper and herbs / spices
Boil a bunch of eggs
Make a batch of egg muffins (see in our Recipe tab)
Put a large slow roast cut of beef, lamb or pork in the slow cooker overnight then shred it the next day
Bake some salmon fillets
Do some baked tofu strips
Fry some tofu sausages
Put a mixed bean chilli mix into the slow cooker overnight
Have pre cooked Sunfed chicken / shredded chicken / any pre cooked protein ready in the fridge
An easy way to incorporate this into your week is just cooking heaps of extra protein at the same time as you make your dinner e.g. if Monday night is roast chicken and potatoes, cook a heap of extra chicken at the same time to then pop it in the fridge. Too easy.
What about supplements
While we are on the topic of protein, let’s have a brief look at supplements.
Do NOT get caught up on supplements. Unless you are doing all of the previous Steps 1, 2 and 3 consistently most days, looking at supplementation is the last thing to be added.
If you are smashing 10 spirulina tablets a day, but sleeping 5 hours a night, having takeaways several times a week and doing 3,000 steps a day, that spirulina is wasted money.
Supplements are the cherry on top of the cake, the cake being the basics of water, sleep, stress (Step 2), calorie deficit (Step 3), protein (this step), general movement (to come in Step 5) and weights (to come in Step 6). You don’t need to rush out and start with the cherry.
Once you get to the cherry, here is a short summary of the supplements you could look at:-
Protein powder / protein bars
Great low calorie, quality protein source especially for plant based eaters
It's a good snack to keep you full
Can be a time-poor breakfast or lunch option (e.g with some fruit & nuts)
Easy to add to meals for increasing protein content (e.g oats, smoothies, chia pudding)
Iron + B12
Essential for anyone that is plant based
Also a good investment for most women (who are more likely to be iron deficient)
Most people are vitamin D deficient, especially in the winter months
This is something that you can’t rectify with food
Supplementation is cheap easy and a no brainer especially if you don't get enough sunlight
Fish oil for meat eaters
Algae oil for plant based eaters
Unless you eat a lot of fatty fish (e.g. salmon or sardines) if can be difficult to get sufficient omega 3s through diet alone
Taking an omega 3 capsule (either fish oil or algae oil) is a good investment to help manage your inflammation, particularly if you are doing regular and intense training
Spirulina / multivitamin / greens powder
Nothing magic about these, they are simply a harmless insurance policy against deficiency across a wide range of micronutrients
You don't need to take them and they do not compensate for a poor quality diet
However they are worth considering as a shotgun approach to adding some extra quick and easy micronutrients into your diet
If you are trying to improve your sleep quality, a pre bed magnesium supplement can aid with this
Again not essential but something to consider if you are struggling with sleep (and are already consistent with all the sleep basics)
A very cheap and effective supplement for those looking to maximise muscle and/or strength gains with proper resistance training
Probably not worth taking if you are just doing group classes or cardio
But one of the few things that works alongside effective resistance training
Can be beneficial situationally e.g. after a round of antibiotics or having a stomach bug / food poisoning
With fixing overall digestion however, they are further down the priority list and are not a silver bullet
A few things that are not worth your money (without going into lots of detail)
Fat burners - they don’t work
BCAA’s - 95% of the time sufficient protein intake makes these irrelevant
Pre workout - expensive caffeine, the best pre workout is a good meal
Meal replacement powders - just make a quality smoothie instead
STEP 4 CHECKLIST
🗹 Have you calculated your daily protein target and put it into MyFitnessPal?
🗹 Are you basing every main meal around a high protein source?
🗹 Have you done a bulk cook of protein to keep in the fridge during the week?
🗹 Are you consistently hitting your protein target each day?
Well done for getting this far. A mere four more steps to go. This concludes the calorie IN side of the equation e.g. what we are consuming.
Next we are moving onto the calorie OUT side of the equation e.g. what we are burning. Stay tuned.