Want to know how to prep your meals so you can lose weight and build muscle eating foods you love? Read this article.

Which of the following statements do you think is true?

  • “You have to eat 100% clean to get lean.”
  • “If you eat too many carbs (and starchy carbs in particular), you won’t lose weight.”
  • “Certain foods ‘clog’ your hormones and keep you fat.”
  • “Calories in vs. calories out is bull and calorie counting doesn’t work.”
  • you should never eat before bed! you will store it as a fat!

If you answered “none,” then you may not need to read this article.

If you’re surprised to see me say that, though, then you definitely do.


  • No more fad diets.
  • No more battling hunger and cravings.
  • No more struggling to lose or gain weight.

what if you didn’t have to follow a litany of nonsensical rules and restrictions or forsake everything you actually like to eat?

Well, as you’ll soon see, you can have those things.

Meal Planning Tip #1:

Calculate Your Daily Calorie Intake Correctly


When someone who wants to gain or lose weight says that he doesn’t want or have to pay attention to caloric intake, he’s being just as stupid.

It’s possible to lose or gain weight without counting calories…to a degree.

It’s not likely to work well over the long term, though.

The bottom line is calorie (meal) planing and/or tracking is the most reliable and effective way to lose fat and build muscle.


The reason for this is if you get caloric intake wrong, nothing else matters. You will not lose weight or build muscle effectively.


Energy Balance and Weight Loss

Well, when it comes to losing fat, here’s the most basic of the fundamentals:

If you want to lose fat, you must feed your body less energy than it burns. 

This is known is creating a “calorie deficit,” and when in this state, your body will slowly whittle down its fat stores to obtain the energy it needs.

A century of metabolic research has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that energy balance, operating according to the first law of thermodynamics, is the basic mechanism that regulates fat storage and reduction.

Maintaining a calorie deficit will, over time, result in an overall reduction of body fat percentage, and is the only way to do this.


How Large Should Your Calorie Deficit Be?


you want to put your body in an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.

Specifically, I recommend that you feed your body 20 to 25% fewer calories than it burns every day.

This will allow you to lose anywhere from 0.5 to 2 pounds per week while also preserving your metabolic health, energy levels, hormone production, mood, and general well-being.

It’s based on research conducted by scientists at the University of Jyväskylä and my experience working with thousands of people of all ages and circumstances.

Just how much you can push your body depends on many things, including age, genetics, training history, diet, and sleep hygiene, but I can tell you this:

If you’re a relatively healthy adult, you can do very well with a setup like this:

  • 3 to 6 hours of heavy weightlifting per week (3 to 5 workouts)
  • 1 to 2.5 hours of cardio per week (depending on your goals)
  • 20 to 25% calorie deficit with a high-protein and high-carb macro split


Calculating Your Daily Calorie Intake for Weight Loss


1. Use the following calculator to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).


Your TDEE is exactly what it sounds like–an approximation of how much energy your body is burning every day.

This is calculated using an equation known as the “Katch McArdle” equation, which first determines your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body burns at rest), which is then multiplied based on your activity level (the more active you are, the larger the multiplier).

2. Multiply your TDEE 0.75 to determine your target caloric intake.

This will create a 25% calorie deficit, which will allow you to rapidly (and healthily) lose fat.

Energy Balance and Muscle Building


Muscle growth is strongly affected by how much food you eat.

Not just protein (which matters too, of course)…but food (calories).

so if you don’t eat enough calories every day, you’re going to always struggle with gaining muscle.

When you’re in a calorie deficit, fat loss is only one of the physiological ramifications. Several others aren’t desirable:

  • It impairs workout performance.

This, in turn, impairs progression in your workouts, which impairs muscle growth.

So If you want to build muscle effectively, you need to make sure you’re not in a calorie deficit.

Instead, you want to do the opposite: feed your body slightly more energy than its needs.

This is known as placing it in a “positive energy balance” or “calorie surplus.”


If you’re in a calorie deficit several days per week, you will gain less muscle than if you weren’t.


How Large Should Your Calorie Surplus Be?

You don’t want to just gain weight, though. You want to gain muscle.

And that’s why you want to maintain a slight calorie surplus when bulking.

This allows you to build muscle efficiently without gaining large amounts of fat. 

Specifically, I recommend that you maintain a 5 to 10% calorie surplus when bulking.

That is, eat around 105 to 110% of your total daily energy expenditure (and balance your macros properly) and you’ll be in the “sweet spot” for gaining “lean muscle.”

You know you have to right when you’re gaining 0.5 to 1 pound per week (and about half that for women).

And in terms of the ratio muscle to fat gain, 1:1 seems to be pretty standard (for every 1 pound of muscle gain, 1 pound of fat is gained too).

If you’re gaining more fat than muscle, you’re probably eating more than you should (whether you realize it or not). And if you’re gaining more muscle than fat, you probably have good genetics.


Calculating Your Daily Calorie Intake for Building Muscle

In this case, though, we’re going to multiply it by 1.1 to create a slight (~10%) calorie surplus (about 110% of TDEE).



Meal Planning Tip #2:

Calculate Your Macronutrients Correctly


Professor Haub wanted to give the scientifically indisputable realities of energy balance a boost in popularity, so he lost 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks.

His point wasn’t that you should eat junk food–he just wanted to demonstrate how little the quality of the food you eat matters in terms of weight loss.

That said, our goals are more specific than just weight loss:

We want to gain more muscle than fat and we want to lose fat, not muscle.

And when viewed in that context, a calorie is not a calorie because some calories are more conducive to those goals than others.


What Are Macronutrients?


A high-protein diet is extremely effective for maintaining muscle while in a calorie deficit and maximizing muscle growth while in a calorie surplus.

Carbs don’t make or keep you fat and they help you preserve and build muscle.

When protein intake is high, restricting carbs doesn’t speed up fat loss. 

In other words, when protein intake is high and matched among low-carb and high-carb dieters, there is no significant difference in fat loss.


If you don’t eat enough protein when dieting to lose weight, you can lose quite a bit of muscle, and this in turn hampers your weight loss in several ways:

  1. It causes your basal metabolic rate to drop
  2. It reduces the amount of calories you burn in your workouts
  3. It impairs the metabolism of glucose and lipids

Protein has other weight loss benefits too, including a high thermic effect, increased satiety, favorable nutrient partitioning, and more.

So that’s carbs and fat loss. What about muscle and strength gains?

Well, carbs aren’t just neutral in this regard–they directly help you build muscle and get strong faster.


There are two primary reasons for this:

1. Weightlifting rapidly drains your muscles’ glycogen stores and fully replenishing these stores improves performance and reduces exercise-induced muscle breakdown.

Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored primarily in the liver and muscles.

2. Carbs elevate insulin levels, which doesn’t stimulate protein synthesis like amino acids but does exert anti-catabolic effects.

What that means is insulin decreases the rate of protein breakdown in your body, which creates a more anabolic environment in which muscle can grow faster.

If you’re healthy and physically active, and especially if you lift weights regularly, you’re probably going to do best with more carbs, not less.


Eat enough dietary fat.

Your body needs a certain amount of dietary fat to support vital physiological processes related to cell maintenance, hormone production, insulin sensitivity, and more.

This is why, according to the Institute of Medicine, adults should get 20 to 35% of their daily calories from dietary fat.

There’s a problem, though:

These recommendations are based on the calorie needs of the average sedentary person (about 2,000 calories per day).

This is significant because people that exercise frequently and have higher amounts of muscle burn far more energy than the average person and thus require far more calories.

Just because their bodies need more calories due to activity doesn’t mean they need more fat, though.

And in terms of an actual amount, research shows that around 0.3 grams of dietary fat per pound of fat-free mass per day is adequate for maintaining health.

This comprises 15 to 20% of daily calories for most people.

What types of fat you eat is also important.

  • Limit your saturated fat intake (<= 10% of daily calories).
  • Avoid artificial trans fats (as close to zero as possible).
  • Favor monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Pay particular attention to your omega-3 intake (500 milligrams to 2 grams of EPA/DHA per day).
  • This dietary approach to weight loss is ideal for both health and body composition   


So, with that now under our belts, let’s look at what you’re losing when you increase fat intake to 30%+ of your daily calories:


You have to reduce your carb intake to make room for the calories contained in the additional fat.

For example, if you’re eating 2,500 calories per day with 30% of calories from protein, 50% from carbohydrate, and 20% from fat, that looks like this (approximately):

  • 190 grams of protein
  • 310 grams of carbohydrate
  • 55 grams of fat

If you switched to 30% of calories from protein, 40% from fat, and 30% from carbohydrate, it would look like this:

  • 190 grams of protein
  • 190 grams of carbohydrate
  • 110 grams of fat

I can guarantee you that you will feel stronger in and have more energy in your workouts on the first, higher-carb diet.

So, now that you understand the roles of each of the macronutrients, let’s look at how to figure out your macros.


How to Calculate Your Macros for Losing Fat

My recommendations are very simple:

  • Set your protein intake to 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.
  • If you exercise regularly and don’t have any medical conditions, set your fat intake to 0.2 to 0.25 grams per pound of body weight.
  • Allow the rest of your calories to be from carbs.

Keeping your carb intake high is going to help you in many ways: better workouts, better meal plans, better mood and energy levels, and more.

Experience it for yourself and you’ll never look back.

  • If you’re sedentary or have a medical condition like diabetes, then you’ll probably do better with fewer carbs.

If you’re sedentary, about 25% of daily calories from carbohydrate should be plenty.

And here’s a handy macro calculation tool that makes it easy:

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How to Calculate Your Macros for Gaining Muscle

Before we get to that, though, you should also know that you only want to “bulk” if your body fat percentage is in the right range.

For guys, this is about 10%. For girls, about 20%.

With that in place, here’s how I recommend you set up your bulking diet:

  • Set your protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight.
  • Set your fat to 0.3 to 0.4 grams per pound of body weight.
  • Get the rest of your calories from carbs.


Meal Planning Tip #3:

Eat Foods You Like

There’s no such thing as “weight loss” or “weight gain” foods. 

You see, foods don’t have any special properties that cause you to lose or gain weight.

What they do have, however, are varying amounts of calories and varying types of macronutrient profiles.

These two factors are what make certain foods more suitable for losing or gaining weight than others.

That said, certain foods make it easier or harder to lose or gain weight due to their volume, calorie density, and macronutrient breakdown.

Generally speaking, foods that are “good” for weight loss are those that are relatively low in calories but high in volume (and thus satiating). 

Examples of such foods are lean meats, whole grains, many fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy.

Foods conducive to weight gain are the opposite: relatively high in calories and relatively low in volume and satiety.

These foods include the obvious like caloric beverages, candy, and other sugar-laden goodies, but quite a few “normal” foods fall into this category as well: oils, refined grains, bacon, butter, low-fiber fruits, and whole fat dairy products, for example.

Think of it this way:

You can only “afford” so many calories every day and you have to watch how you “spend” them.

As a rule of thumb, if you get the majority (~80%) of your calories from relatively unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, you can fill the remaining 20% with your favorite dietary sins and be healthy, muscular, and lean.


Meal Planning Tip #4:

Meal Scheduling

Generally speaking, when you eat your food doesn’t matter.

So long as you’re managing your energy and macronutrient balances properly and getting the majority of your calories from nutritious foods, meal timing and frequency aren’t going to help your hinder your results.

You can eat three or seven meals per day. You can eat a huge breakfast or skip it and start eating at lunch. You can eat carbs whenever you like (yes, even at night).

That said, if you’re serious about weightlifting, there are a few caveats:

  • There’s a fair amount of evidence that eating protein before and after weightlifting workouts can help you build muscle and strength faster.
  • There’s an also evidence that post-workout carb intake can help as well, mainly due to insulin’s anti-catabolic effects.

So, if you’re lifting weights regularly, I do recommend you have 30 to 40 grams of protein before and after your workouts.

30 to 50 grams of carbohydrate before a workout is great for boosting performance and 0.5 to 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight is enough for post-workout needs.


Meal Planning Tip #5:

Adjust Based on Your Results


You should expect results from what I’m teaching you in this article and you should be able to enjoy the process.

To be specific, here is what you want to see:

  • If you’re dieting to lose weight, you want to lose 0.5 to 2 pounds per week.

If you’re lean and looking to get really lean (~10% body fat for men and ~20% for women), you should see something closer to 0.5 pounds lost per week.

(If you’re losing much more than this, you’re probably losing muscle as well.)

On the other hand, if you’re overweight (20%+ body fat for men and 30%+ for women), you should have no problem losing 1 to  2 pounds per week.

As you get leaner, this number will come down.

  • If you’re dieting to build muscle, you want to gain 0.25 to 1.5 pounds per week.

Your training experience and current body composition are the major factors in play here.

If you’re new to weightlifting, gaining 1.5 pounds per week (for the first couple of months, at least) is realistic.

If you have several years of heavy weightlifting under your belt, you can’t gain muscle nearly as quickly as the newbie, so 1.5 pounds per week would simply mean you’re gaining too much fat.


You should also know that while weight change can be an indicator of progress, it can also be unreliable.

One reason for this is water retention, which can fluctuate quite dramatically day by day and week by week (thus causing significant changes in weight).

If your body is responding well and changing as desired, you keep doing what you’re doing.

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken and all that.

If, however, your weight is stuck or going up too quickly, you need to make a change.

If you’re losing weight faster than you expected, this may or may not be a problem.

Some people lose weight, and fat, faster than others.

That’s why I gave a range of expectations earlier and not set, one-size-fits-all numbers.

Rapid weight loss is great, but we want to make sure it’s rapid fat loss and not rapid fat and muscle loss.

The easiest way to know what’s happening is to look to your workouts.

  • If you’re losing weight faster than you expected but aren’t losing strength in the gym, you’re not losing muscle to any degree that matters.

That is, if you’re still able to handle your normal weights and get your reps, you have nothing to worry about.

  • If you see a slight reduction in strength (5% or less reduction in 1RM), this too isn’t a cause for concern.
  • If you see a large reduction in strength (10%+ reduction in 1RM) that’s getting progressively worse, it’s time to make an adjustment.

It’s safe to assume you’re losing muscle and you’d want to either eat more and/or exercise less to reduce the size of the calorie deficit and the amount of stress on your body.

if you simply follow my diet and training advice, you’re not going to lose any amount of muscle to speak of.



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