Disclaimer: I am an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer and not a registered dietician. As such, I am not certified to offer individualised meal planning, conduct nutritional assessments, or offer recommendations for nutritional supplements. If you're searching for these services, I recommend you engage the services of a healthcare professional or registered dietician.
(OK, now that's out of the way, let's crack on.)
If you want to improve your health, fitness, or appearance, nutrition is a key factor. Whether you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight, you must have a clear goal and a plan to achieve it.
As a personal trainer, clients’ expectations of what I can and should provide for them regarding dietary programming is a tricky subject—I'm helping them get fitter, so shouldn't I help with nutrition too? Sadly, it's rarely a lack of knowledge that prohibits me from offering advice, but the Code of Ethics I'm bound to as an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer.
However, I'm not prohibited from helping to educate you on proper nutrition guidelines and sharing tips and resources that can help you. So, that's exactly what I'll do in this blog post. I'll share a step-by-step guide on how to kickstart your nutrition, from establishing your goals and calculating your macros to useful tips to help you sustain the good habits you'll foster.
1. Establish your goal
The first step is to define your goal and why you want to achieve it. Ask yourself questions that help you form realistic goals, this will help you stay motivated and focused.
Do I want to lose or gain weight?
How much weight do I want to lose or gain?
How will this affect my physical and mental health?
Am I working towards a performance goal or do I just want to feel better?
A good goal is to aim for 0.5–1% body weight change per week, depending on your starting point and goal. This means that if you weigh 68 kg (150 lbs) and want to lose 4.5 kg (10 lbs), you should aim for 0.3–0.7 kg (0.75-1.5 lbs) of weight change per week, which would take you about 7–13 weeks. This rate of change is sustainable, achievable, and healthy.
2. Have a plan
Once you have your goal, you need to have a plan on how to reach it. You must ask yourself very specific questions.
How long will I diet for?
How often will I monitor my progress, and how will I adjust my strategy if needed?
How will the diet impact my lifestyle and how severe are the adjustments I must make?
What other habits must I foster to safeguard success, such as proper sleep, stress management, and good hydration?
3. Work out your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
While tracking your progress is the most important aspect of any diet, establishing a baseline of how many daily calories you need to maintain your weight is imperative, this is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is influenced by your age, gender, height, weight, and muscle mass. There are a variety of ways you can establish your RMR.
Get it measured
Various gyms and clinics offer health screenings or packages that establish your RMR through a series of tests using specially designed equipment. This can be expensive, however, it's undeniably the most accurate.
Use an app
Various apps like MyFitnessPal and websites provide tools to establish your RMR through a series of questions. Access to their full set of features is often behind a paywall, however, it's commonly inexpensive and gives you access to several other useful tools, such as ways to track what you eat and drink each day.
Use an equation
You can use the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation to calculate your RMR:
For women, RMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) + 5.
For men, RMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) - 161.
While not perfectly accurate, this is a highly accessible way to calculate your RMR for free.
4. Establish a deficit or surplus
To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you burn (a calorie deficit). To gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn (a calorie surplus). A safe and effective range for a calorie deficit or surplus is 10–20% of your maintenance calories.
It's important to note that establishing an accurate calorie deficit or surplus is an activity you must do more than once. You must regularly reassess if your calculations are correct by monitoring your weight fluctuations and amending them accordingly. A fitness tracker can help you track your daily activity level.
To work out your maintenance calories, multiply your RMR by a factor that reflects your level of physical activity:
Sedentary (little to no activity, desk-bound): BMR x 1.2
Lightly active (some days spent standing and walking): BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (most days spent standing and walking with some days training): BMR x 1.55
Very active (most days training): BMR x 1.725
Extremely active (Hard daily activities and training): BMR x 1.9
Now you know your maintenance calories, you can calculate your 10–20% deficit or surplus.
5. Calculate your macros
Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and muscles and provides 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the brain and muscles and provide 4 calories per gram. Fat is important for hormone production and energy storage and provides 9 calories per gram.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each macronutrient is:
Protein: 10–35% of total calories
Carbohydrates: 45–65% of total calories
Fat: 20–35% of total calories
You can use these percentages to calculate how many grams of each macronutrient you need per day.
6. Choose whether to cook at home or purchase meal plans
One of the biggest challenges of following a nutrition plan is finding the time and resources to prepare healthy and tasty meals. Cooking at home can be cheaper, more flexible, and often more satisfying, but it also requires planning, shopping, and cooking skills.
Purchasing meal plans can be more convenient, consistent, and professional, but it's also generally more expensive and can lead to less diversity.
The best option for you depends on your personal preferences, budget, lifestyle, and goals. You can also combine both methods and cook some meals at home and purchase others. The most important thing is to choose a method that works for you and helps you stick to your plan.
Useful tips and resources
Here are some additional tips and resources that can help you achieve your nutrition goals:
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and regulate your appetite.
Get an adequate amount of sleep each night.
Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy (depending on your dietary restrictions).
Eat more fibre-rich foods to improve your digestion, lower your cholesterol, and keep you fuller for longer.
Limit your intake of added sugars, refined grains, processed foods, alcohol, and trans fats.
Track your calories and macros using an app or a journal to monitor your intake and progress.
Be patient and consistent with your plan and don't expect overnight results.
If your goal is to lose weight, perform cardio that targets fat loss.
I hope this has given you some useful information on how to kickstart your nutrition for any goal. Remember that nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all approach, ultimately, you must find out what works best for you.
If you're kickstarting your nutrition and want to combine it with fat-loss cardio or building lean muscle mass, get in touch, I can help you. Book a free 30-minute consultation with me where we can discuss your fitness journey to date and collaborate on clear and effective goals. If you'd just like to receive a steady stream of free weekly advice, tips, and guides about fitness, consider subscribing to Root Fitness and following me on Instagram.