Creating a diet plan is super simple but it’s extremely important to realise the limitations of calculating calorie and macronutrient targets.
The ultimate goal is not to kill yourself calculating calories to perfection, but to have a good base of calorie knowledge. The goal is to create long term, healthy habits so that you no longer have to guess, you’ll just know.
However, as with all formulas, you need to find something that works for you, if it doesn’t, scrap it immediately and find something else.
How to start your diet plan: Calorie Counting
Here’s a little maths to get you started…
Step 1: Estimate your total calorie requirements
There are four main formulas that can be used for estimating calorie requirements. My preferred method of choice is the Mifflin-St Jeor Formula. There was a systematic review by Frankenfield et al who compared all four of the most commonly used equations and found Mifflin-St Jeor to be the most accurate. I have used this formula on myself and various clients throughout my 10 years as a personal trainer and so far, it hasn’t let me down.
● Male: (10 x weight kg) + (6.25 x height cm) – (5 x age) + 5
● Female: (10 x weight kg) + (6.25 x height cm) – (5 x age) – 161
Alex is a 30-year-old 80kg male at 180cm in height: (10×80) + (6.25 x 180) – (5×30) + 5 = 1,780
Step 2: Multiply the above figure by your activity level
The above number is calculated for the version of yourself that does not exercise at all, zero. This is why you now need to factor in the calories you burn, for someone that is more active they will need more calories each day and vice versa for someone who is less active.
Multiply your total calorie requirements (Step 1 total) by one of the below points that best align with your everyday activity level.
● Sedentary (little or no exercise, desk job) x 1.2
● Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) x 1.3-1.4
● Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) x 1.5-1.6
● Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days per/week) x 1.7-1.8
● Extremely active (very hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or twice a day training) x 1.9-2.0
Alex trains 4 times per week (moderately active) so to calculate his daily calories we need to multiply his required calorie count 1,780 by 1.5-1.6.
For this example, we will choose 1.6 because Alex sometimes trains a little more than 4 times per week:
1,780 x 1.6 = 2,848 calories (this would be our approximate maintenance calories)
Step 3: Setting macronutrient targets to meet these calories
Now you know how many calories you need each day if you stick to the same activity level throughout. The next step is to set up mini targets (protein, carbohydrates and fat) in your total calorie target.
Protein rich food:
● Standard requirement: 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
● Muscle growth requirement: 2-2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
● Fat loss requirement: 2.5-3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
There are 4 calories per 1 gram of protein so when calculating your calorie intake you will need to multiply your total grams of protein by 4.
Alex wants to lose fat and grow muscle so the equation we would use for him is:
2.5 x 80 (bodyweight) = 200 grams of protein (x4 = 800 calories)
If you are on a journey to getting to a specific weight, make sure you calculate your protein based on your goal weight, not your current weight.
(Or, see my Creating a diet plan for weight loss article here link).
There are 9 calories per 1g of fat so when calculating your calorie intake you will need to multiply your total grams of fat by 9. Standard requirement: 0.7- 1.1g of fat per kilogram of body weight.
Based on the foods Alex enjoys eating (e.g. avocado’s, nuts, trimmed bacon) he is closer to a diet that is higher in fat which is why we’ll choose the higher amount (1g) to calculate his calories: 1 x 80 = 80g of fat (720 calories).
Fill in the rest of the calories remaining with carbohydrates. There are 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrates so when calculating your calorie intake you will need to multiply your total grams of carbohydrates by 4.
Alex has a total of 2,848 calories. He’s used up 800 on protein and 720 on fat so he has 1,328 calories left. Divide the remaining calories by 4 to find out how many grams of carbohydrates you can include in your diet: 1,328 divided by 4 = 332 grams of carbohydrates
Putting it into action: Tracking your calories
Alex now has the following maintenance calories and macronutrient targets:
● A total of 2,848 calories
● Protein 200g (800 calories)
● Fat 80g (720 calories)
● Carbohydrates 332g (1,328 calories)
How to count and track your calories
What you will find is there are hundreds of calorie counting apps, I like to stick to one that’s simple, easy to use, and free because who doesn’t love free things. After trying many apps, I found that myfitnesspal was the most accurate, met my calorie counting needs and it works on any smartphone.
How I use myfitnesspal:
- Choose your custom goals
- Place everything on zero
- Keep a note of your calorie and macronutrient targets
- Enter the foods that meet your calorie and macronutrient targets (this will add up your calories for the day instead of having to add it up yourself)
Note: Make sure you do not consume the targets that myfitnesspal has put together, the protein is substantially low along with total calories.
The more you follow this process, the more familiar you become to the number of calories in certain foods which means you’re building your foundation for accurate calorie knowledge. When it comes to sticking to a diet plan I like to follow one of Albert Einstein’s quotes “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
In other words, make it easy for yourself so that you know you will stick to it for the long haul but don’t make it so easy that you won’t see any results. Nutrition is 60% of the work done on your journey to becoming a healthier version of yourself so stay consistent and trust the process.