How Much Should I Be Eating?
Now we’ve covered what we should be eating it’s time to work out how much of it we need.
The first thing to consider is – What is your goal?
If you want to gain weight then you need to be eating more than your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).
If you want to lose weight then you need to be eating less than your TDEE.
But what is your TDEE?
First, you need to work out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Your BMR will give you a good idea of how many calories your body needs everyday just to maintain homeostasis, how many calories you would burn if you were to stay completely still all day and do nothing except breathe and let your body get on with all the stuff it does without you even thinking about it.
To help you work this out here is a table of formulas:
To explain – If you are a 27 year old female with a bodyweight of 60kg, you will need to work out (14.8 x 60) + 487. This gives you 1,375. This is your BMR.
But as long as you’re not lying completely still all day then you’ll obviously burn more calories than this. Here is where you need to add in your PAL (Physical Activity Level).
Just multiply your BMR by your PAL as below:
So if the 27 year old female with a BMR of 1,375 lives a moderately active lifestyle, cycling to work and going to the gym a few times a week then we would multiply 1,375 by her PAL – 1.6. This gives us 2,200. This is her TDEE.
Of course this will vary from person to person but this is a great place to start. From here you can work out your ‘maintenance’ calories – your exact TDEE - by consuming 2,200 kcals per day for a week or two and seeing if there are any changes in body weight.
What to Eat?
Again, it depends on your goals and if fat loss is the main goal then you may need to manipulate carb/fat intake depending on how you handle either in your diet. Also, it’s worth considering that the different food types have varying energy by weight:
1 gram of protein will give you 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates will give you 4 calories
1 gram of fat will give you 9 calories
A good place to start, however, is protein intake. Whether building muscle or losing fat is the main goal, you need an adequate supply of dietary protein to give you all the essential amino acids required for not only growing new muscle but also for maintaining muscle. Because these amino acids are essential, if you’re not providing the body with them through diet, it will find them elsewhere in the form of lean body mass aka muscle.
A good rule of thumb is to start with 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or 2 grams per kilo. So in this case your starting base would be roughly 120g protein. Divided over 6 meals a day you should therefore aim to consume 20g protein per meal.
Carbohydrates – everyone’s carb requirements will vary so this may take some experimenting with but for the sake of developing a starting base we will start carbs off at the same quantity as protein, giving you 120g carbs per day or 20g per meal if 6 meals are consumed daily.
Fats – Again, highly individual but we will start at half the amount of carbs and protein, giving you 60g Fats per day, or 10g per meal based on a 6-meal-a-day diet.
All added together this will give you:
1500 kcals total for the day.
From her PAL we know this will be below maintenance calories so we can tweak things a bit from here. We’ll change:
By doing this we’re still maintaining the even 40/40/20 distribution of calories but on a larger scale:
This should give you a good idea of how to arrive at a good starting base for a well balanced, structured diet.
Once the true maintenance calories have been established it is a case of adding or taking away calories to meet your goal requirements. All other things accounted for, to lose 1lb per week you will need to consume 500 kcals less than your maintenance per day, that’s 3,500 per week.
To add weight, you should gain 1lb per week adding 500 kcals per day to your diet.
As always, this is highly individual and you will need to consider where these extra calories are coming from and how they are distributed but developing a diet plan can be a daunting process from scratch and hopefully this has provided you with the tools to get started.