George looked like an accountant. When I was
eight years old, he was in his late teens and
was dating my friend’s sister. Even then, he acted
like an accountant. So it was little surprise to any of
us that he eventually became an accountant.
As is the way in small towns, you drive out of
your way to give your business to someone you
know, so he became my accountant. He also did my
older brother’s accounting.
My brother Mike ran his own drywall contracting
company. While he did very well because of his
high quality craftsmanship and rep for being a fair
businessman, bookkeeping wasn’t his forte. I recall
once, during tax season, passing him in our mutual
accountant George’s office as he was arriving for
his appointment. I had just dropped off my itemized
receipts in an accordion folder. My brother was arriving
with his year’s paperwork in a crumpled Mc-
Donald’s bag, a scattered selection of receipts and
some notations made on napkins or post-it notes.
Thinking back, it dawns on me how many of us
slop haphazardly through our nutrition programs. Is
your eating plan something you jotted down on the
back of a McDonald’s bag? Worse yet, does your
eating plan contain items from a McDonald’s bag?
Chances are, that’s not the case or you wouldn’t be
reading this magazine. For a lot of you though, I suspect
you are following a loosely organized, jotteddown
“wish list” of a nutrition strategy.
If you are a regular reader of the No Nonsense
Newsletter and BodyMuscle Journal you probably
have a much better than average diet. Even by
loosely modeling your eating after the successful
athletes featured in these publications, will put you
in the top echelon of nutritional proficiency. But do
you know how to structure your diet to meet your
personal needs? This article will spell out the basics
to putting it all together into a comprehensive
The easiest way to do it
I suggest that you get a pencil, calculator and some paper (put that crumpled McDonald’s bag to good use) and follow along. Even if you have someone else create an eating program for you, this will give you a clear understanding of the hows and whys behind a proper lean muscle promoting diet.
It all starts with...
Calories have been over-emphasized by nutritionists
from day one. Traditionally, they would
dogmatically clutch their guidelines and genuflect
before their Recommended Daily Allowances.
From them, the answers were simple, “calories are
calories; anything above your basic energy needs will cause you to gain
weight, anything below it will cause you to lose.”
Experience working with athletes, who eat quite differently and ask
more of their bodies than average people, proves that not all calories
are created equal. As our knowledge of the human metabolism has progressed,
in particular, how various proportions of macronutrients (protein,
carbs and fat) affect glucose disposal, our thinking has evolved.
In general, your calorie level is the addition of three measurements: basal
metabolic rate (the minimal amount of energy needed to carry on vital bodily
functions), activity level (calories used to perform day to day activities)
and the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Some factors which affect basal energy levels include, body composition,
body condition, gender, hormone secretions, thyroid function,
sleep, age, pregnancy, body temperature and environmental temperature.
As you can see many of these factors are profoundly affected by
weight training. Activity level of course varies depending on what we
do for a living (most masonry workers burn more calories than office
workers), what we do in the gym and what we do for recreation. Thermic
effect of food is strongly affected by a bodybuilding diet (as we will
Regardless, calorie level is still, out of necessity, the starting point for
any diet. In this case, we will choose calorie levels with an assumption
that the calories will be derived from the healthy muscle-promoting and
bodyfat-discouraging guidelines that will be discussed later. You can see
now why the cookie-cutter RDAs designed for the average sedentary
couch potato fall short when applied to fitness competitors, bodybuilders
or other serious athletes.
Determining Your Calorie Level
There are a number of different formulas for determining caloric
levels (such as the Harris-Benedict Formula which calculates based on
bodyweight, height, gender and age). However one of the best methods
involves simply recording everything you eat for three to five days
(preferably five), figuring out the caloric total of each day and calculating
an average. If your bodyweight has not changed over the course of
your count, you can feel confident that you have a fairly accurate count.
Here's an example:
The problems with taking a three to five-day averaged caloric count
to determine your caloric level is; 1) it’s a pain recording everything and
doing all that math, 2) you may find yourself eating differently since
you are more conscious of your intake, 3) sometimes weight gain or loss
comes in spurts, so a five-day calorie level may not show a bodyweight
change even though it may be slightly above or below your normal
level, and 4) activity levels may be unusually high or low in that time
Your caloric range will vary from ten to twenty-five calories per
pound of bodyweight a day. Obviously, that is a huge range. To narrow
down your starting point we must look at:
Your physical condition greatly affects daily energy requirements.
Lean muscle tissue requires energy (calories) to maintain itself, while
bodyfat is merely stored energy. A 280-pound genetically-gifted male
bodybuilder with single-digit bodyfat levels would require far more energy
to support his musculature than a 280-pound fat couch potato, since
the obese person’s bodyfat is actually stored energy. Like a camel, this
guy can live off that energy-rich blubber for weeks, if need be.
Goals also have an obvious effect on where we will start your calorie
levels. Those who wish to gain weight (almost exclusively teenage and
college-aged men) have a tendency to have stubbornly fast metabolisms,
so require higher calorie intake. Those looking to lose bodyfat (while
maintaining their current muscle tissue) will need lower calorie levels
since they will be trying to “burn off” stored bodyfat as fuel. These obviously
diametrically opposed conditions require different nutritional
Gender also has a strong influence on our daily caloric needs. The
simple added stress of having to deal with women is extremely taxing
to men, requiring more calories per pound of bodyweight. (Okay, I was
just seeing if you were still paying attention there.) In fact, in addition
to having a tendency for more muscle
tissue, the general hormonal landscape
of men seems to kick everything up a
notch as far as caloric needs goes.
It should come as little surprise that
activity level has a huge impact on your
calorie needs. Anyone that remembers
the first week of intense high school
sports (like summer football camp) can
clearly recall the ravenous appetite that
accompanies even a few hours of real exertion. Now contrast the ninehour
workday of a person laying bricks or shoveling tar to patch potholes
with that of someone sitting at a desk crunching numbers and the
differences can be quite dramatic.
To calculate calories we will multiply your bodyweight by how many
calories per pound of bodyweight you need. This should be determined
by your goal. Experience working with thousands of athletes at the
Beverly International Nutrition Center shows that the starting ranges
Now where within that range should you start? Not so surprisingly,
in the middle. But, human metabolism can be remarkably diverse, as are
individual living conditions. If you work an extremely strenuous job and
have a fast metabolism that almost never puts on bodyfat, you may want
to select a variable on the higher side of the range. If you are overweight
with a slow metabolism and the most difficult part of your workday is
tapping the speed-dial on your phone, you may want to go on the lower
end of the scale.
Say you are a 170-pound man in average condition, wanting to increase
your lean muscle weight while reducing your bodyfat. You would
choose the middle of the muscle-gaining range (or a variable of 16).
Multiplying 170 by 16 gives you an average daily calorie intake of 2,720
Keep in mind these are just starting points. After two weeks, assess
your bodyweight and body composition changes (or lack thereof) and
make a two-point adjustment up or down in intake as you feel is required
(unless, of, course you nailed it the first time). In the above instance,
if the person notices that they are gaining some bodyfat, they
can lower the variable to 14 for a calorie intake of 2,380 — or, if they
feel they aren’t getting enough to maintain their muscle tissue, they can
bump it up two to 18 for a caloric level of 3,060. Two weeks later at the
new intake level, reaccess and adjust again as needed.
Once you have targeted your caloric level you are NOT done though.
The number is going to change over time. As a hard-working, goal-oriented
athlete you will be carrying more lean muscle tissue a year from
now, which will require about fifty calories more for you to just maintain
each added pound. This is why those carrying lots of lean tissue can often
get away with sloppy eating without immediate repercussions and
why you will, over time, find that it becomes easier to stay lean.
Calories obviously are derived from your intake of protein, carbs and
dietary fats (the three macronutrients). Much has been written about
various theories of properly proportioning these three. While some earlier
(and still annoyingly prevalent) theories existed which espoused a
very low-fat, high carb, low-calorie approach to dieting, this approach is
a difficult one, with limited effectiveness for most whom have tried it.
This is perhaps the most heated debate among the various diet philosophies,
with each fatloss guru arguing the merits of his method (and
encouraging you to buy his signature line of frozen dinners and breakfast
bars). While a low-carb Atkins (or South Beach) Diet approach is
a very effective method for weight loss, it does not meet the needs of
those engaging in intense bodybuilding exercise. A heavy leg or back
workout seriously will deplete muscle glycogen levels and, without some
carbohydrate intake, those reserves will not be adequately replenished,
limiting your strength and muscle gains. The trick is to provide enough
carbs, at the right times, to assist with proper recuperation without extra
calories “spilling-over” and being stored as bodyfat.
Through a great deal of tweaking and adjusting over time, a “50%
Protein, 20% carb, 30% dietary fats” eating program has been shown
to be an excellent basic eating plan for the promotion of lean muscle
without adding bodyfat for most lifters. First off, the high protein level
ensures that the body is provided with adequate amounts of amino acids
for the repair, recuperation and rebuilding of muscle tissue. Training
hard without adequate protein intake is like trying to play the accordion
with one hand.
Secondly, the lower quantity of carbs keeps you from having huge insulin
fluctuations. As you might suspect, we won’t be recommending that
you guzzle maple syrup or eat raw honeycomb for your carb calories, so
you will be eating items from quality sources that break down slowly.
These often tend to include fibrous carbs, such as found in steamed vegetables
Thirdly, this diet allows you to include
plenty of healthy fats into your diet. When
you avoid saturated and trans fats in favor
of the essential fatty acids (EFAs — such
as you’d find in fish oils, olive, flaxseed and
borage oils), you cause a dramatic shift
towards muscle-building, bodyfat loss and
improved health. As a nice side effect the
combination of a fairly high level of fat and
the aforementioned fiber, makes adoptees
of the Beverly 50/20/30 eating plan, notice
a level of satiety, even when in the fat-burning
lower calorie aspects of the plan.
My personal favorite aspect of Beverly’s 50/20/30 style diet is its
effect on TEF. If you recall from the brief reference to it earlier, TEF
stands for thermic effect of food. Thermic effect of food can be defined
as the stimulation of the metabolism from the digestion of food. Ever
eaten a high protein meal and feel a noticeable increase in your body
temperature one to three hours afterwards? This is TEF cranking up
the furnace. So why does the Beverly style of eating have a strong effect
on TEF? It has been shown that high protein diets have a stronger
thermic effect than their chock full o’ carbs counterparts. It’s kind of
like those credit cards which offer “cash-back” incentives for their use.
You get free calories for growth without having to worry about putting
them on as fat.
While we are on the subject, here’s a term you can use to impress the
guys around the squat rack. Luxus consumption is a theory that when
one’s intake of calories exceeds what is needed, there is an automatic
increase in the person’s metabolism in an attempt to keep them from
getting fat. Isn’t it nice to know that not every metabolic process seems
to be working to turn us into pudgy couch potatoes?
Working the Numbers
You’ve figured out your daily calorie level and read the rationale
behind the 50/20/30 split; so now what? Once again some simple math
needs to enter the equation. We will stick with the example of the 170-
pound man. As you may recall he chose 16 as his starting calorie level
for building lean muscle. Multiplying 170 by 16 gives him an
average daily calorie intake of 2,720 calories.
From this, we see that of that daily consumption of 2,720 calories,
1360 will come from protein, 544 will come from carbs, and 816 will
come from dietary fats. We’re not done, of course, since we want to find
out how many grams of protein, carb and fat we need to consume each
day. Since protein and carbs provide 4 calories per gram, we will be dividing
each of those sums by four. As fat contains 9 calories per
gram, we will be dividing our calories from fat by 9 (as
The Final Breakdown
Starting to feel like one of those physicists in a sci-fi movie with a
chalkboard full of complex scribblings, detailed variables and confusing
symbols? Worry not, for we are almost done. The last step is to divide your
grams of protein, carbs and fat into individual serving sizes. This will vary
from 4-7 meals depending on your schedule and goals. In order to encourage
both muscle gain and fat loss, we need to eat frequently. This means
no less than four times a day, preferably five or six. This isn’t that difficult
with a little preparation and protein shakes are a life-saver here.
For our 170-pounder, this might break down to a daily
consumption that looks something like this:
This is simply a guideline and should be adjusted as necessary. If
an emergency pops up and you miss Meal Four, either double up on
your protein on one of your later meals or just split it up over your last
two remaining meals of the day. The important part is that you get in
adequate nutrients. Don’t let this scientific minutiae
Now you have both the basic guidelines of setting
up a proper diet and a thorough understanding
of the principles behind them. Hopefully, you
plugged in your numbers as we went along so that
you can apply these principles to help you reach
your goals. By looking at some of the sample diets
by the successful members of Beverly’s extended family, you should get
plenty of ideas about what specific foods can be plugged in to meet these
nutrient needs, as well as which supplements can help you push things to an
even higher level. You have the tools. Make it happen!