There’s a quote that’s been circling around the internet, in various contexts and social media outlets:
“If someone tells you that calories don’t matter, they have no credibility.
But if someone tells you that calories are ALL that matters, they have even less.”
As with most fitness topics, there’s some real grey area when discussing calories. Ultimately, the equation we all should be using in order to determine our nutritional goals is………..
“Calories In – Calories Out”.
However, our bodies don’t exist in a vacuum. Assuming the composition of our macronutrient intake and the times in which we eat those macronutrients don’t matter would be failing to see a very large contingent of anecdotal evidence.
Has it been closely studied AND PROVEN that eating certain macronutrients at certain times has favorable body recomposition outcomes? Not entirely.
But the fact of the matter remains:
It makes more sense to ingest certain macronutrients at certain times,
ESPECIALLY when incorporating fasting into your daily routines and weight training.
Before we get into the actual percentage recommendations and preferences, here’s a couple recommendations on how to best view intermittent fasting as a whole. Simple is always better.
1. Forget the “8-Hour Window”.
Just eat a lunch and a dinner. Keep it very simple.
Don’t be a slave to the clock. Wake up and wait a bit before eating.
If you work a normal job, this equates to “skip breakfast, eat lunch and dinner”. If you train early in the morning, you *can* make your meals breakfast and lunch if you prefer – but that would make it abnormally difficult to go from lunch -> breakfast the next day without food. Especially when we start talking about recommendations ->
The post-workout meals need to be your largest 3 meals of the week, bar none.
But too many individuals make the mistake of stressing about this magical 8-hour window. Just eat two meals and forget the clock. Go with coffee right when you wake up.
Most people, over time, begin to prefer skipping breakfast. Regardless of what the mainstream media says
(and the Kellogg’s marketers….),
No one meal is more important than any other.
If you’re hungry and it’s only been 15.23 hours, eat already. Waiting just to wait is stupid. You really think 32 extra minutes waited will result in a full 8-pack instead of a blurry 4?
Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
2. If dinner is too large for you, eat it in shifts.
While I’ll be calling “dinner” the meal you eat after you work/workout/whateverthehellyoudoallday, keep in mind that this meal tends to be big. Especially after working out.
These recommendations are going to optimize things – but they aren’t set in stone, and you’ve gotta be ready to get after it at the dinner table. Even in a cut, calories need to be overloaded into this time frame to minimize muscle loss/maximize muscle growth.
A common problem with this sort of a set up is the ravenous appetite it requires in order to polish off your entire meal. What an awesome problem to have while actively trying to lose weight………..but if you can’t do it, then eat half your dinner, wait 2-3 hours and eat the other half.
Personally, I’m not sure what that’s like, though. My post-workout meals are never smaller than 2,500 calories and have been known to skyrocket upwards of 4-5K.
I’ve got a black hole for a stomach.
3. These recommendations hold true regardless of your goals – cutting, bulking, or maintaining.
You never want to use “recomp macros“ – unless you’re at your maximum, genetic muscular potential and at a level of leanness you are satisfied with. Which you’re probably not.
Either bulk or cut – and be on point when you do it.
When cutting, your deficit needs to be solid and consistently achieved. Track your progress and ensure fat loss is occurring.
When maintaining, you simply make sure you aren’t gaining any inches over time. You might gain weight, albeit slowly, from training. Track your progress and ensure fat gain is not occurring.
When bulking, your surplus should be large enough for you to grow and low enough to hinder any substantial, unsightly fat gain. Track your progress. Once you gain some appreciable body fat, cut for a few weeks to bring you back to the healthy range of body fat levels. (<15%).
But no matter your goals, these recommendations hold true.
In many cases, lunch need not be adjusted – dinner is the only meal that needs to be adjusted. Which makes sense, especially when looking at the psychology of dieting.
When you diet, you are in a deficit. You’re gonna be hungry. If your lunch is always constant, with the same macronutrient breakdown, the only varied meal is dinner. It can be smaller (cutting), mid-sized (maintenance), or a feast (bulking).
But even a “smaller” meal consumed when actively cutting can be rather large when your lunch is constant and modest in size.
4. Make 3 “lunches” out of your favorite foods – a training day lunch, a rest day lunch, and a weekend lunch. Eat them accordingly.
This way, during the week you won’t ever have to eat the same thing for lunch two days in a row, and on the weekends you can have some extra time to have some fun.
Some recommendations of possible meals:
-Training day lunch: 8 ounces of lean meat and an apple/banana OR two slices of bread
-Rest day lunch: 8 ounces of lean meat with an avacado OR some mayo/cheese
-Weekend lunch: Bacon and eggs. Come on now, was there ever any doubt?
But whatever your choices are, if you create a few meals and eat them consistently, look what it does to the overall “effort” required to count your macros ->
You already know what these lunchtime macros are since you’ll be eating them consistently. Subtract them from your daily total. Now you only need to plan for one meal, dinner………..
It simplifies things and make life easier.
Now, the truly hardcore? They literally have two “meal plans”: training and resting.
And they eat exactly the same thing in exactly the same quantities every day.
My guess is those people don’t have a wife or kids to make dinner for, though. They’re probably twenty somethings who can get away with such rigidity.
But if you want to try it, it’s a surefire way to get good results.
Alright, enough talk. Here’s how you should break your meals down when planning for sustained progress and results with various training schedules:
A) Early morning, fasted training (***optimal meal set up for cutting***)
Lunch: 50% of daily protein macros / 75% of daily carbohydrate macros / 0% of daily fat macros
Dinner: 50% of daily protein macros / 25% of daily carbohydrate macros / 100% of daily fat macros
When training early in the morning, it’s a good idea to take some BCAA powder 5-10 minutes before you workout. Training in a completely fasted state is seldom a good idea.
We want some aminos floating around our blood stream. Plus, a large coffee on top of those BCAAs gives you a nice little workout pump/buzz. Some prefer to “pulse” (aka – chug) another round of BCAAs about 2 hours after the first one. If that interests you, go for it.
But the research increasingly shows the “anabolic window” post-workout is much larger than previously anticipated. It seems redundant and an unnecessary waste of funds.
As far as our meal composition goes, the reasoning goes as such:
After training, we want to get a good, solid chunk of protein in along with most of our daily carbs.
Make your protein sources whole foods and your carbohydrate sources starchy.
This is a great time for chicken and potatoes. Or a turkey sandwich with rice and a piece of fruit. Something along those lines.
We will be “overfeeding” at this meal – we want to keep our fat low. Studies suggest overfeeding on carbs and protein after a training session don’t result in appreciable fat gain – as long as fat consumption is kept low.
A few trace fat macros are fine, but save those nuts for dinner.
As a rule of thumb, you should never eat any less than half of your protein for dinner.
You’re about to fast for a relatively substantial amount of time. You want to have all three macros present (this is called a “mixed meal”), you want to eat lots of fibrous veggies and you want to take your fish oil at this time.
Doing this will ensure a nice, slow digestion, sustained energy and protein synthesis throughout the night and morning hours, and optimal recovery from working out.
We eat our daily fat allotment almost entirely at this time as well. This provides extended satiety and some variety as well. Ain’t nobody wanna eat no chicken at every meal…………
This sort of a meal plan and training schedule seems to be optimal for a cut.
It tends to be a little more difficult, psychologically. Probably due to lunch being larger than dinner. It’s a tough thing to not have a completely full belly in the evening hours. But if it can be utilized, it’s rather effective for weight loss.
B) Training between lunch and dinner (***optimal meal set up for bulking***)
Lunch: 20% of daily protein macros / 15-20% of daily carb macros / 0% of daily fat macros
Dinner: 80% of daily protein macros / 80-85% of daily carb macros / 100% of daily fat macros
When you’re training after lunch and before dinner (which seems to be “traditional” in nature), there are some general philosophies to follow.
Firstly, the protein and carb numbers can vary slightly. You want to be sure you are eating enough to fuel your workouts. It’s recommended to eat your lunch somewhere between 1-3 hours prior to training -> which can vary individual to individual, mostly based on digestion preferences.
aka – Do you feel like yakking during your workout?
Here’s an awesome article by Jordan Syatt (who is quickly becoming my favorite fitness author for lifting and nutritional advice) about the “perfect pre-workout meal”.
You may have to tinker with the protein and carbs a bit to fit your preferences.
A simple meal suggestion for a training day lunch was mentioned earlier in this article. Some lean meat and a piece of fruit or a bit of bread. The fat should be kept low on training day lunches.
Although the previous suggestion was to keep fat low post-workout to minimize fat gain, this is more of a function of the “lesser of two evils”. You’ve got two choices: post-workout or pre-workout.
And since it’s a training day, and we’re calorie/macro-cycling anyways, our fat should be on the lower side to begin with, so no need to worry. You almost always want to include a good amount of fat in dinner – for the slowness in digestion it provides.
For dinner? Make sure your carb choices, especially, are at least half “starchy”.
Potatoes, rice, pasta, that sort of thing. If you can save room for a sugary treat (sorbet, cereal, Rice Krispie Treats, etc) then go for it. But in order to optimize recovery, you need some whole food sources.
This set up seems to be optimal for bulking. Train hard, go home, eat a shit-ton of food, pass out. You only grow when you sleep. Get your 8 hours. Combine these variables to optimize your muscle growth potential.
And when you’re bulking? Get ready. You’ll get to see how much you really want “dem gainzzzzz”. There’s nothing fun about eating 7 cups of white rice and 2 pounds of chicken.
Well, maybe it’s a LITTLE bit fun…….
C) Training post-lunch and dinner (***suboptimal -> use only if absolutely necessary***)
Lunch: 25% of daily protein macros / 20% of daily carb macros / 0% of daily fat macros
Dinner: 25% of daily protein macros / 20% of daily carb macros / 0% of daily fat macros
Post-Workout: 50% of daily protein macros / 60% of daily carb macros / 100% of daily fat macros
This is the only scenario where you should break from a 2-meal plan and go with 3. And the general idea still holds true ->in your meals (especially your pre-workout meal), you want to eat just enough to give you fuel for your workout, but no more.
Training post-lunch and dinner is suboptimal.
We want to consume as many calories post-workout as we can, and this simply doesn’t allow us to do that. However, sometimes life happens and this is all that will work.
If you’ve got a job where you have to work until 6,
and you’ve got 3 kids at home,
this might be your only option.
Here’s a suggestion to make this easier: Eat lunch.
Make your training day dinner.
Eat a bit of it ->mainly some protein and a touch of carbs. Save the rest until after your workout.
That way, technically you can follow “Plan B” and still get your training session in at your leisure.
But as always, you need to eat 50% or more of protein, most of your carbs, and all of your fat after your workout.
It will benefit you in the long run.
D) Rest days
Lunch: 25-50% of daily protein macros / **no carbs** / 25-50% of daily fat macros
Dinner: The rest of your protein / **no carbs** / The rest of your fat
Rest days can vary a bit, as long as you’re intelligent and you make sure your final meal is of good size. We set our carb numbers at “zero” on rest days, save the loads of veggies we will be consuming (and not counting).
This meal has a good amount of personal preference in it. Some like an even 50/50 split of protein and fat, which is fine. Some prefer to overload the calories into dinner. This is also fine. Eating large dinners is fun.
There are two rules to follow:
1. Be sure your dinner has at least 50% of your daily protein. We need to be sure our bodies have enough protein to make it through the impending fast.
2. Be sure your lunch has at least 25% of your daily protein. By the time lunch comes around, it’s been awhile without food for your body. Feed it the good stuff.
One other thought:
If you have a “dud” in the weight room,
it’s often associated with how
on point your nutrition was the previous day.
It has less to do with your pre-workout shake, your BCAA powder, or your caffeine intake.
Don’t do anything silly like go ultra-low calorie or low-fat on rest days.
We want a deficit if trying to lose weight.
But we don’t want to be stupid.
And that, in a nutshell, is how you should set things up. But again, this is the “icing on the cake”, or the “cherry on the sundae”, or the…………okay, you get the idea.
This stuff only works if you’ve got your set up, your macro numbers, your training, and your consistency on point. So, master those variables first.
Questions and comments are welcome – put ’em in the box below!
Happy IF’ing, everyone!