You’ve heard it from your second-grade health teacher, meathead television doctors, your co-worker who got a shredded midsection—to lose fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit.
So you take that advice, you calculate your calorie intake, and even figure out macros. How do you then transfer all those numbers to real life? How do you build a balanced meal that hits your macros?
Well, the following four steps are what I do and think about every time I’m building a meal for myself or a client.
1. Start Building Every Meal With Lean Protein
I’ve spoken about this ad nauseam but protein should be your best friend when your calories are restricted. You don’t have to be chugging a gallon of milk a day but protein should still be a big part of your life because it:
- Protects you from losing muscle and/or helps build some (even when losing fat) if you’re a beginner trainee.1
- Controls hunger pangs because it’s the most satiating macronutrient of the three (protein, carbohydrate, fat).2
- Has the highest thermic effect of feeding. Protein has a thermic effect of 20-30 percent. This means that your metabolic rate will increase by 20-30 percent due to the energy cost of protein digestion.3
So make sure to start each meal by picking any lean protein food source. This could be turkey breast, chicken breast, lean red meat, white fish, low or nonfat cottage cheese, milk, Greek yogurt, etc.
Protein supplements such as whey or casein could help you make it easier to hit your daily protein target as well.
Now open your fridge, grab a protein shake, and let’s continue.
2. Include Nonstarchy, Fibrous Veggies and/or Fruits
Most of us know fruits and vegetables are good for us, but we file this information under “Things We Know and Choose to Ignore ‘coz Fuck That. Gimme That Snickers Bar.”
So we probably shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that fewer than a quarter of Americans consume the recommended minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.4
However, as I said in the 6 lifestyle changes to lose weight article, when calories go down food volume should go up. This means choosing high volume, lower calorie density, high fiber content, and water-rich fruits & veggies have more benefits than Cosmo has freaky sex tips.
3. Include More Carbs (if it fits your calorie budget)
Some mindless muppet keto zealot will blurt out something like:
“We can live without carbohydrates. It’s non-essential. Carbs are fast-acting poison!”
As nutrition researcher Alan Aragon noted, let’s not confuse essentiality with optimality. Just because you can survive with one kidney doesn’t mean it’s optimal.
When losing fat, your goal is to maximize gym performance to build/preserve muscle & strength, increase dietary adherence, and promote health. Cutting the body’s primary energy source from your diet is the opposite of that. It’s wacky bullshit that makes your diet a deprivation diet.
Total calories in vs calories out is what matters for fat loss—not carbs or fat. The rates of fat loss on low-carb or low-fat diets are the same when calories and protein are matched, found the 2018 meta-analysis5:
So if you like carbohydrates, go ahead and include more of them into your meal. It won’t affect fat loss if total calories are right. Life is more fun with carbs.
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4. Add In Some Fat (if it fits your calorie budget)
Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient of the three (9 calories/gram). But it also makes food friggn’ delicious and it’s crucial for normal hormone function. So if you want, you can add some seeds, nuts, avocado, oils, etc.
As long as it fits, yep you guessed it right—your daily calorie budget and/or doesn’t displace calories for protein, you’re good.
Now that all the wimps are gone, let’s see the practical recommendations for building a macro-friendly, balanced meal:
Most people have been on a diet. I assume you’ve been on one too. So what happened? Why aren’t we all shredded to the bones with so many different diets floating around?
Because we can’t stick to them. They’re too rigid. Overly restrictive. They suck the fun out of food and our lives.
Follow the above tips and you won’t be chasing some magic voodoo macro ratios. Every meal will be balanced. Enjoyable. Containing foods that you love. Foods that love you back (except for the spinach. It tastes like an ashtray & it hates you).
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