Let’s skip the unnecessary intro and get right to the thing you’re here for.
And that is, everything you need to do to successfully lose fat, build muscle, and reach whatever diet and fitness goal you have.
I’ve broken it down into 18 steps…
Step 1: Choose The Right Goal
The first step is knowing what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Assuming you want to improve the way your body looks, you only have 3 options:
- Lose Fat: this entails being in a caloric deficit and gradually losing weight. Building muscle and/or maintaining muscle would be the ideal secondary goal.
- Build Muscle: this entails being in a caloric surplus and gradually gaining weight. Minimizing gains in body fat would be the ideal secondary goal.
- Recomp: this entails being at maintenance calories and remaining at about the same weight you are now, while slowly gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously and gradually improving your body composition over time.
How do you know which goal to choose?
The simplest way is by taking off some clothes and looking in the mirror.
You’ll probably see a few different improvements your body needs, but what’s the most obvious one at the top of the list?
- If it’s losing fat, that’s your primary goal.
- If it’s building muscle, that’s your primary goal.
- If neither one is the obvious choice AND you’re at the beginner level in terms of weight training, make recomp your primary goal.
If you’re still not sure, give this one a read: Should I Bulk, Cut, Or Recomp?
And if you’re still not sure after that, consider getting my Body Fat Percentage Picture Guide. It’s the best resource you will ever find for answering this question.
Step 2: Estimate Your Calorie Maintenance Level
You need some kind of estimate of your calorie maintenance level, aka your total daily energy expenditure, aka your TDEE, aka how many calories you need to eat a day to maintain your current weight.
To get this estimate, you have 2 options:
- You can go to Google, search for “calorie calculator” or “TDEE calculator” and pick literally any one you want. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most accurate one. Accuracy isn’t important at this step. That comes later.
- You can multiply your current body weight by 14 and 16 and pick a number somewhere within that range. If you typically get a low number of steps per day, pick a number at the bottom of the range. If you typically get a high number of steps per day, pick a number at the top of the range. Not sure? Then pick a number in the middle.
Which option should you use? It doesn’t matter.
Feel free to use the scientifically proven method of eeny-meeny-miny-moe to decide.
All that matters is that you pick some method and get some kind of estimated maintenance level.
Step 3: Set Your Calories For Your Goal
Now it’s time to adjust that maintenance calorie estimate based on the primary goal you chose in Step 1. Here’s how:
- If your goal is to lose fat, subtract about 20% from this number to create your deficit. So if your estimated maintenance level was 2500, you’d eat 2000 calories per day.
- If your goal is to build muscle, add about 200 calories to this number to create your surplus. So if your estimated maintenance level was 2500, you’d eat 2700 calories a day.
- If your goal is to recomp, nothing needs to be added or subtracted, as your maintenance level is the calorie intake you want. So if your estimated maintenance level was 2500, you’d eat 2500 calories a day.
Step 4: Set Your Protein Intake
How much protein should you eat a day? Let’s make this extra simple.
Aim for a minimum of 0.7g of protein per pound of your current body weight.
If you have a lot of weight to lose (e.g. someone with obesity), aim for a minimum of 0.6g of protein per pound of your current body weight instead.
You can eat more than this if you prefer it, and doing so may be ideal in some cases. But as long as you’re at least reaching this minimum, you’re good.
Step 5: (Mostly) Forget About Carbs And Fat
If you’re hitting your calorie and protein targets, your carb and fat intake matter significantly less.
Which means, as long as neither end up excessively low, you can feel free to focus on only your calorie and protein targets and let the exact ratio of carbs/fat filling in the remaining calories be whatever the hell you want it to be on any given day.
No need to make it any more complicated than that if you don’t want to.
If you do, or if this freedom makes the “I need to obsess over every detail” part of your brain unhappy (I hear ya), you can feel free to set your fat target at 20-30% of your total calorie intake and let carbs fill in the rest.
Step 6: Set Your Target Rate Of Progress
- If your goal is to lose fat, you should aim to lose between 0.3 – 1% of your total body weight per week, with 0.5 – 0.7% usually being the sweet spot for most people.
- If your goal is to build muscle, you should aim to gain between 1 – 3lbs per month, with 1 – 2lbs usually being the sweet spot for keeping fat gains to a minimum.
- If your goal is to recomp, you should aim to stay within a few pounds of your starting body weight.
Step 7: Track Your Body Weight Correctly
- Weigh yourself every day, on the same scale, in the same spot, wearing the same amount of clothing (preferably none), first thing in the morning before eating or drinking, but after peeing.
- Do not give the slightest crap about what that daily weight is or how it compares to what you weighed on any other day. It means nothing.
- Just write it down somewhere or log it into some app or spreadsheet or whatever you’re using to track your weight. Then ignore it immediately after.
- At the end of the week, take the average.
- Do this every week, and look at the long-term trend (i.e. 4+ consecutive weeks) of what’s happening with those weekly averages.
- That 4+ week trend is the only aspect of your body weight you need to care about. Ignore everything that happens with your body weight during a period of time shorter than this.
Step 8: Adjust Your Calories When/If Needed
- If losing fat is your goal, and you’re losing weight at your target rate, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re consistently losing faster or slower than your target rate, adjust accordingly (i.e. add or subtract a few hundred calories) and see what happens over the next 4+ weeks.
- If building muscle is your goal, and you’re gaining weight at your target rate, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re consistently gaining faster or slower than your target rate, adjust accordingly (i.e. add or subtract a few hundred calories) and see what happens over the next 4+ weeks.
- If recomping is your goal, and you’re staying within a few pounds of your starting weight, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re consistently losing or gaining more than that, adjust accordingly (i.e. add or subtract a few hundred calories) and see what happens over the next 4+ weeks.
Step 9: Keep Your Diet Quality High… Most Of The Time
The majority of your calories and nutrients (80-90%) should come from higher quality, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods you enjoy.
However, the fun, lower quality stuff shouldn’t be eliminated entirely. It should simply be kept to a small yet enjoyable and sustainable minimum (10-20%).
You’ll stay saner that way, hate your diet less, and enjoy your life more.
All of which makes things more sustainable for the long-term.
Step 10: Weight Train 3-5 Days Per Week
Yes, if you are super limited on time, 2 weight training workouts per week can work as a minimum.
And yes, 6 weight training workouts per week can occasionally be warranted for someone who is truly at the advanced level (most people aren’t).
But for the vast majority of the population, 3-5 weight training workouts per week is going to be ideal.
Which workout should you use?
If you’re a beginner:
If you’re an intermediate or advanced trainee:
Step 11: Get Sufficient Sleep And Minimize Stress
These are the two biggest killers of progress that most people pay little or no attention to.
Don’t be one of those people.
For sleep, aim for 7+ hours a night.
For stress, try to reduce the causes of stress in your life as much as realistically possible, and work on better ways to manage the stress that can’t be reduced.
Step 12: Get 7,000+ Steps A Day
For mental and physical health benefits, getting a minimum of 7,000 steps a day is a solid target for most people.
The 8,000 – 10,000 range is likely “the best,” so feel free to work up to that if it’s realistically sustainable for you.
Otherwise, 7,000 is “the best” as an ideal minimum to shoot for.
Additional details here: How Many Steps Per Day?
Step 13: Do Some Cardio
Not for fat loss, because cardio sucks for fat loss, but rather for mental and physical health benefits. Consider it a nice bonus for fat loss.
How much should you do? It depends.
But as a general guideline, 90 total minutes per week (e.g. 30 mins three days a week, 45 mins twice a week, etc.) is an excellent place to start, with Zone 2 being the ideal intensity for most people.
And yes, your cardio steps count towards your daily steps.
Step 14: Get Right Back On Track When You Screw Up
And you will screw up. Many times, in fact.
Let’s define “screwing up” as going off your plan.
You know, stuff like eating more than you should have one day. Or maybe a few days. Or maybe even for an entire week.
Or perhaps missing a workout. Or two workouts. Or even a full week of workouts.
In the moment, these kinds of screw ups will make you feel like you’ve ruined everything.
Like you’ve instantly lost muscle, gained fat, lost any progress you already made, and set yourself back so far that you might as well just continue screwing up, overeating, missing workouts, and eventually just quit altogether.
Don’t do that.
Most people do that.
Don’t do that.
The truth is, these kinds of screw ups won’t have ANY remotely meaningful negative effect on your progress as long as you get back on track right after.
Incorrectly assuming otherwise, and then going down that path of “I screwed up, might as well keep screwing up” is the only way it can hurt your progress.
Don’t let that happen.
Step 15: Make Everything Else PECS
You know the various smaller details that aren’t covered here? And the various questions you may have about them?
They can almost all be answered with this…
Do whatever is most Preferable, Enjoyable, Convenient, and Sustainable for you.
And yes, it really is that simple.
Full details here: The PECS Method
Step 16: Be Careful
Over the next few days, weeks, months, years, and decades, you’re going to come across an infinite amount of information, articles, videos, programs, methods, products, services, and supplements.
Most of it will fall into one of the following categories:
- Complete garbage
You’re also going to come across an infinite amount of fitness gurus, social media influencers, coaches, trainers, and supposed experts who want you to believe they are a trustworthy source to follow, listen to, and (inevitably) buy something from.
Most of them will fall into one of the following categories:
- Secretly being paid to tell you/sell you something
- Complete idiots
Step 17: Don’t Rely On Motivation
If you think feeling motivated is the key to being consistent with all of the above, and not feeling motivated is the reason why you’ve failed in the past, I have two things to tell you.
First, you’re wrong.
Second, it’s actually the opposite of what you think it is.
Here’s why, and what you need to do instead: How To Get (And Stay) Motivated
Step 18: Stick Around, There’s More!
Hopefully you found this guide helpful.
That’s my goal here, by the way. I want to make it better, faster, and easier for you to lose fat, build muscle, and reach your diet and fitness goal(s).
With that in mind, I don’t want to leave you hanging with just this guide.
I want to continue helping you in whatever way you need it.
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