Along with discovering what your goals are, and tailoring your eating pattern (protocol) to accomplish those goals; we need to figure out exactly how many calories and how many meals per day YOU need to get there. The easiest way to visualize how this works is to imagine your body as a car engine, with your varying daily drives representing your lifestyle. Follow these three easy steps to see how much fuel you need to accommodate your basic needs and lifestyle. This is how you OPTIMIZE your nutrition and make sure your engine never stalls out!
Step 1: Establish Your Standard Caloric Need
First things first, we need to establish a caloric baseline to build on. Think of this marker like the minimum number of calories your body needs to keep your engine running. This is a pretty simple calculation telling you how much "gas" your engine needs to start and run during your daily drives WITHOUT going to the race track (exercise). You simply multiply your current body weight by 10 to get the number for this value.
Standard Caloric Need (SCN) = Body Weight x 10
Again, this is the MINIMUM amount of calories needed to run the body's engine on a daily basis. If you figure out you aren’t eating AT LEAST this amount per day, then you should hit the brakes! You'll first want to increase your calorie consumption in small weekly increments to build up a reserve. Think of it like you are out driving and your engine is sputtering along on fumes...you don't just slam on the gas pedal to resolve this issue; you have to gently push the pedal so you don't flood the engine. You do this nutritionally by adding 200 calories every 1-2 weeks until you have built up to your SCN.
Ex: If my SCN is 1900 and I’m only eating 1500 calories a day, then it could take me two weeks (1900-1500 = 400, 400/200 = 2 weeks) until I’m eating my SCN every day if I increased 200 calories every week.
If/once you are eating your SCN, then you can proceed to the next step.
Step 2: Choose Your Goal
When we add precise goals and exercise on top of your Standard Caloric Need, it lends your ACTUAL Daily Caloric Need or "DCN" for short. You do this by using a specific Goal Multiplier (GM) comprised of your objective and exercise volume. Just select your objective from the options below and use the formula to calculate your Daily Caloric Need (DCN).
First up is the Weight Loss group. Most people who need to lose significant weight are going to be new to proper nutrition, and oftentimes exercise as well. They should start by achieving their SCN and hitting 10,000 steps per day on a regular basis prior to considering true "exercise". Once they are consistently accomplishing those basics, they can add an hour of exercise 2-4 days a week (mostly light to moderate intensity cardio) and adjust their dietary intake accordingly. The goal multiplier for this group is between 12-14 (for 2-4 exercise hours/week) respectively. Just starting out, two days a week of exercise will be a safe amount to push the gas in this case. Four or more hours per week should be under the direction of a coach to ensure they aren't overdoing it for their goals.
Weight Loss (DCN = Bodyweight x 12-14)
Beyond four exercise hours per week should be under supervision
The second group is those looking for Weight Gain. These people are typically already lifting weights to build muscle, but their intake/absorption or programming just aren't cutting it. They should start with lifting weights for an hour, three days a week (evenly distributed for proper recovery), while gradually building to a max of 6 days (with body part splits we will address in a later article). The goal multiplier, in this case, would be 19-22 respectively. Again, just starting out, they'd want to begin at the lower end with only exercising an hour three days per week until their caloric needs are being met. Once those are accomplished regularly, THEN they could consider increasing both calories and exercise gradually towards the six days limit. For those who have built up to the six days mark, and STILL aren't getting the results they want; undereating or how they exercise is likely holding them back.
Maintaining an adequate surplus of calories and rest in this group is imperative because tissue repair takes ENERGY. Without excess caloric energy while they rest, the body can’t rebuild or fuel the supercharger (exercise) for performance like Weight Gainers need. This can lead to the body becoming stressed and damaging both the engine (regular body tissues) and performance parts (new muscle) that they’re trying to build up. A knowledgeable coach will be able to recognize this in their tracking data and adjust the exercise program accordingly, if that happens.
Weight Gain (DCN= Bodyweight x 19-22)
Beyond six hours of exercise with no progress should consult a knowledgeable coach
Lastly, we have those looking to Maintain Weight or generally Improve Health. This goal is for people that aren’t trying to greatly alter their physique and are more concerned with optimizingtheir overall health. This group would want to prioritize achieving their 10,000 steps per day (just like the Weight Loss group) to keep their engine running smoothly. The assumption for this goal is that they have built up to (and are maintaining) a balanced routine of both resistance and cardio training 3-4 days a week.
The goal multiplier to use here would be 14-16 respectively. This is also the standard goal multiplier for someone who is moderately active and trying to fix a physiological problem like gut health or fatigue.
Weight Maintenance/Health (DCN= Bodyweight x 14-16)
Step 3: How Many Meals You Need
Now that you have selected your goal and calculated your DCN, we have to determine the appropriate number of meals you'll require to refuel throughout the day. Too few and you end up causing digestive stress and inflammation...too many and you unnecessarily lose too much time to eating. Our guts can normally handle meals up to 600 calories without much distress. This means that you’ll want to keep your meals under this amount by using the guideline below. When you eat over this limit on a regular basis, the gut distress can jeopardize your goals by hindering your digestive and absorptive capabilities. In terms of our automobile analogy so far, this would be like trying to put gas in a tank that's already full and simultaneously flooring the pedal. Instead, you should find your DCN (previously calculated) in the chart below and determine the optimal number of meals for your situation.
Number of Meals by DCN
DCN <1500= 3 meals
DCN 1500-2000= 4 meals
DCN 2000-2500= 5 meals
DCN 2500-3000= 6 meals
DCN >3000= 7-8 meals
Step 1 is about establishing your Standard Caloric Need (SCN). This is the MINIMUM number of calories you've calculated to turn your engine over and be ready for your day. Step 2 makes sure you account for your goals and exercise via your Daily Caloric Need (DCN).Using your chosen Goal Multiplier (GM) will ensure you are never prematurely pumping the gas. Your DCN tells you how many calories you need in a day to accommodate your lifestyle. Step 3 is about your meal schedule, which ensures that all of the "trips" (errands, exercise, etc) are preempted by the correct amount of refueling throughout the day.
These three crucial steps for calculating your dietary needs are why this article is absolutely ESSENTIAL to understand. It teaches you how to make sure your engine will run efficiently from time you leave the garage (wake up) until the time you pull back in (go to bed). Gas tank full (SCN calculated) to start the day?...CHECK! Fill up times (meals) scheduled to make sure you don't run out of fuel along the way?...CHECK! No more stalling out. With these three steps, your engine will be primed and ready to take on whatever your days should bring.
The calories that you track will never be exact, but the more precise that you are about your needs, the closer to being in alignment with your needs you will become. You should now be empowered to set up your tracker and start eating in alignment with your goals no matter where you are on your journey! Keep using your new calculated DCN until your body changes 5-10 lbs. or refine the process even further by working with a coach to dial in on your individual needs.
Stay tuned for the next article where we dive into activity vs. exercise! Our articles address individual points of your health; so if you haven't already, check out Setting Up MyFitnesspPal for Success. By using your new DCN and the macro breakdowns/percentages found there you’ll be all set to start eating that pesky fat away!