The Weight of Your Plate

My personality has always led to “all or nothing” thinking.

When the crazy, relentless work week comes to a close, I get Sunday off.  One day.  On that one day off, I want to do literally nothing.  I want to stay in bed all day.  I want to watch mindless TV all day.  I want to wear sweatpants ALL DAY.  I make it my mission to see just how lazy I can be.

When I work, I work.  I give it my all.

When I want to be lazy.  I want to give laziness my all.  I want to win an award for laziness.  On my day off, that is.

So, when it comes to food, I want to know exactly how much I get.  Otherwise I start reverting back to my “all or nothing” thinking.

I remember when I used to try and “eat clean,” I would eat next to nothing.  I would starve myself to the point of dizzy spells.  But then I would do the exact opposite once my oh so finite willpower ran out.  I’d go for month long stretches of eating crap.  I would think to myself, “Well, Kyle, you already screwed yourself by eating 4 pop tarts for breakfast.  I guess you’re having pizza for dinner!  May as well go out with a bang.  I’ll start the diet tomorrow.”

But of course I would continue eating junk.

Now, when I have the opportunity to have some “sleazy” food, I want to know exactly how much.  I don’t want to eyeball it and hope for the best, and I certainly don’t want to undercut it and eat one tiny bite of pecan pie.

I want to enjoy it, and more importantly, I don’t want to feel tons of self-defeating guilt and shame afterwards.

This is why I like knowing exactly how much food I can eat to reach my fitness related goals.  I like knowing how much I need to eat in order to maintain my weight.  It’s liberating.

I don’t have to guess.  I don’t have to starve myself.  In fact, knowing exactly how much I get to eat, allows me to eat more, then when I was guessing.


In the next section of this blog, I’m going to make some big separations via the text.  I want this to be as easy to read and understand as possible.


Determining How Many Calories You Need to Eat


Before we can determine how many grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats we must consume daily to maintain muscle mass and burn fat, we must determine how many calories we need to consume daily.


Every one of us has a magic calorie number. The caloric base line.


In order to determine our caloric base line, we need to figure out your basal metabolic rate. As we discussed earlier, your basal metabolic rate can be described as your calorie maintenance level.


Your basal metabolic rate can also be viewed as the amount of energy (in the form of calories) that your body needs to function while resting for 24 hours.


There are many ways you can find out your basal metabolic rate. There are many websites that have BMR calculators in which you will enter in your height, age, and weight, and it will give you a calorie number.


You can also use the Harris-Benedict Formula below:


Men: 66 + (6.23 X Weight) + (12.7 X Height in inches) – (6.8 X Age) = Basal Metabolic Rate


Women: 655 + (4.35 X Weight) + (4.7 X Height in inches) – (4.7 X Age) = Basal Metabolic Rate


Stay with me here! I’m about to throw some numbers at you, I apologize if math makes your head explode.  I’m right there with you.


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Let’s say hypothetically, a man weighs 200 pounds –


This man is 5’11 (71 inches) – This man is 25 years old. He is trying to determine how many calories he needs to maintain his weight.


Below, we will enter his information into the formula:


Read through this carefully, and then plug in your own numbers.


BMR: 66 + (6.23 X 200) + (12.7 X 71) – (6.8 X 25) =2,044 Calories


Now we need to factor in his activity level. Without any daily exercise, we will multiply his basal metabolic rate by 1.2


This number represents a fairly sedentary lifestyle, one with activity that consists of: daily life activities (walking around, driving, sitting at work, sleeping, etc.), bodily functions, and no exercise.


2,044 X 1.2 (Daily life activity, bodily functions, without exercising) = 2,453 Calories can be consumed – daily – to maintain weight.


As this man becomes more physically active, he will need to increase the number of calories he consumes as well. This man begins working out 3 – 5 times per week.  His activity level number will increase, along with his calorie number.


We will multiply his basal metabolic rate by 1.375


Remember: Basal Metabolic Rate = Calorie Maintenance Number


2,044 X 1.375 (Moderately active – 3 to 5 days of exercise) = 2,811 Calories can be consumed – daily – to maintain weight.


If he were to increase his daily physical activity and start working out 6 -7 times per week (which is a hell of a lot of physical activity), his daily calories will need to increase again. He has also taken on a fairly active job; this will affect his basal metabolic rate too.


2,044 X 1.55 (Very Active – 6 to 7 days of exercise + active job) = 3,168 Calories can be consumed – daily – to maintain weight.


Now, these numbers indicate how many calories he can consume, in order to maintain his weight – meaning his weight never goes up or down. But let’s say his goal is to get lean. The goal is to keep the muscle he will acquire working out, while getting rid of his body fat. In order for him to get a leaner and more defined physique, he’s going to have to lose weight. So in order to lose weight he needs to create a caloric deficit – he must subtract some calories from his maintenance number.


This is very important – In order to lose weight (fat) and sustain lean muscle mass, you want to be fairly conservative with your subtraction of calories.


It is recommended to have a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day. If you subtract more than 500 calories from your daily calorie maintenance level, you will start to lose muscle and slow down your metabolism. Your body will begin eating your muscle and it will go into starvation mode.


3500 calories = pound of fat


A caloric deficit of 500 calories per day = 3500 calories a week


When this hypothetical man subtracts 500 calories from his daily calorie maintenance/intake level, he will begin losing roughly 1-1.5 pounds of fat per week.


It’s possible for some people to lose more than 1-1.5 pounds of fat per week in the beginning of this process if they have an excessive amount of body fat to lose. By implementing this caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, this hypothetical man will maintain all of his lean body muscle mass in the process.


Be aware of the fact that this is a process, and it should be a slow one. You don’t want to lose weight or lean down too fast, because you’ll get rid of a lot of muscle in the process. Your body will get rid of muscle before it gets rid of fat if you dramatically cut your caloric intake – AND THIS IS WHAT EVERYONE DOES.


You don’t want to be in a caloric deficit indefinitely, either. In fact, you only want to be in a caloric deficit for 12 – 16 weeks max. After a certain amount of time, your body will enter a catabolic state, and it will start ridding itself of muscle mass, regardless of how conservative the caloric deficit is. Depending on your goals, you may want to eat at a caloric deficit for 12 weeks and then maintenance for 12 weeks.  If you’re trying to put on size, you may eat at a caloric surplus of 500 calories a day for 12 weeks.


This is how we can determine how many calories we need to eat.


If this hypothetical man were going to be working out 3-5 times a week, while implementing a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, he would be consuming 2,311 calories a day (2,811 – 500 = 2,311 calories per day).


Enter your information into the Harris-Benedict Formula, and determine how many calories you will need to maintain your weight, and then create a deficit of 500 calories. You’ll be ecstatic when you begin to see the change in your body composition.


Macronutrient Split


We’ve discussed the three main macronutrients that we consume every day (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats). Now we must discuss where we will be finding these macronutrients in the food we eat.


Below is a comprehensive food list that will include healthy sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats:



Determining Protein, Fats, and Carb Numbers


Now we must determine how much of our daily calories should be protein, fats, and carbohydrates.


There are many factors that play a role when determining this macronutrient split. We must first take into account the amount of calories in each macronutrient:


Protein: 4 calories per gram

Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram

Fats: 9 calories per gram


You want to make sure that your diet has a balanced macronutrient ratio. Because fats are 9 calories per gram, and protein and carbs only have 4 calories per gram, we’re going to be consuming fewer fats to maintain a balanced ratio.


Your goal is to build muscle so that your body will efficiently burn fat.


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A good macronutrient ratio for gaining lean muscle mass is going to be a 35/45/20 split daily:


35% of calories from proteins 45% of calories from carbohydrates 20% of calories from fats


Food ratios are going to be a bit of an experiment at first. Everyone is different. There are many factors that play a role in how we utilize, absorb, and digest food. These factors include: sleep, hydration, stress levels, hormone levels, physical activity, supplementation, meal frequency, etc.


As a general rule, know that your protein intake should not change, and should stay the same, but you can play with the carbs and fats. If 35% – 40% of your daily calories are protein sources, adding more protein will not help you gain additional muscle mass.


Some people will respond better to higher amounts of carbs in their diets, and some will respond better to more fats, and less carbs. Try not to have a “set in stone” mindset.


Use this information as a guide and experiment. Again, everyone is different, and there is not a single “best” macronutrient ratio for building lean muscle mass. You’re going to want to find a “meal plan” that works best for you.


There are a few other macronutrient ratios associated with adding lean muscle, but generally they follow the same formula, give or take 5 – 10% either way. Some people might suggest that you need to adopt a 40/40/20 macronutrient split in order to truly maximize lean muscle gain (40% protein, 40% carbs, 20% fats).


Some people might suggest that you need to adopt a 40/30/30 macronutrient split in order to truly maximize lean muscle gain (40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fats).


Over time, you will know how your body is effected by the food you eat.


If you have more carbs in your diet, but you feel bloated and sluggish, you might try eating less carbs and replacing the calories with more fat. If you’re experiencing days where you have zero energy while on your meal plan, you might increase the carbs.


In order to lose weight, you must be in a negative energy balance. This means that you must burn more calories than you consume.


Remember, the type of calories that you are consuming daily is very important.


If you are plateauing and not losing any weight – re-evaluate your meal plan, because you may be consuming too many calories. You may not be exercising enough, or you may be eating too little. Your metabolism will compensate accordingly. You want your metabolism to work for you, and not against you.


How to Determine Your Macronutrient Ratio


Let’s assume you have decided that in order to lose 1-1.5 pounds (burning fat specifically, and sustaining lean muscle mass) you need to eat 2,500 calories per day.


So, out of 2,500 calories, 35% of your daily calories will be protein sources, 45% of your daily calories will be carbohydrates, and 20% of your daily calories will be fats. You must determine how many calories of each you’ll need to eat each day. With these numbers you can determine what food to eat and when.


2,500 calories X 35% (0.35) = 875 calories – Now we must determine how many grams of protein we’ll need to consume


Remember, 4 calories = 1 gram of protein


So our next step is to divide our calorie # by 4, because there are 4 calories in each gram of protein


875 calories ÷ 4 calories per gram of protein = 219 grams of protein


2,500 cal X 35% (0.35) = 875 cal ÷ 4 cal = 219 grams of protein


We will do this for carbohydrates and fats as well.


2,500 calories X 45% carbs (0.45) = 1,125 calories – Now we must determine how many grams of carbohydrates we’ll need to consume


4 calories = 1 gram of carbohydrates


So our next step is to divide our calorie number by 4, because there are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrates


1,125 calories ÷ 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates = 281 grams of carbohydrates


2,500 cal X 45% (0.45) = 1,125 cal ÷ 4 cal = 281 grams of carbohydrates


2,500 calories X 20% fats (0.20) = 500 calories – Now we must determine how many grams of fat we’ll need to consume


9 calories = 1 gram of fat


So our next step is to divide our calorie number by 9, because there are 9 calories in each gram of fat


500 calories ÷ 9 calories per gram of fat = 56 grams of fat


2,500 cal X 20% (0.2) = 500 cal ÷ 9 cal = 56 grams of fat


This is a simpler version of the macronutrient split:


Protein: 35% of 2500

875 calories ÷ 4 = 219g per day


Carbs: 45% of 2500

1125 calories ÷ 4 = 281g per day


Fat: 20% of 2500

500 calories ÷ 9 = 56g per day


So there you have it! 219 grams of protein – 281 grams of carbs – 56 grams of fat


Phew… I hope your head didn’t explode.  I hope this was helpful.  If you read all of this carefully, I want to thank you.  If you’re confused, email me @


In the next blog, I’ll show you some tricks to developing and implementing your own customized meal plan.


Stay tuned!

by Kyle Devlin

My name is Kyle Devlin, and I'm a certified personal trainer based in Kansas City, Missouri. My approach is simple - Consistent hard work and dedication equals success.

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