With all these different diets out there from low carb to paleo to intermittent fasting, it’s no wonder many beginners get confused when trying to set up their own diet and meal plan.
Unfortunately, this confusion often makes them misunderstand things. They decide on a new meal plan before understanding the fundamentals of proper dieting and healthy eating.
In my posts and courses, I often emphasize the importance of focusing on the most important aspects of correct meal planning first – calories, macronutrients and foods sources – before committing to an overly complicated diet.
The number one determinant of your diet success will always be your calorie balance, but once you have that in place, the next step will be defining your macronutrient intakes, so how much protein, carbs and fat you need to consume.
Macronutrients are the types of nutrients our body needs in large amounts to function properly, so it can build tissue, create energy, and of course survive.
Like I said before there are three main ones: protein, carbohydrates and fats. You could theoretically count alcohol as a macronutrient, but it should be obvious why alcohol shouldn’t play a big role in your diet.
Now, of those three what is the most important macronutrient for your meal plan?
The Role Of Protein In The Body
Most people think protein is just necessary for muscle building, but in fact it actually has dozens of other essential roles in the body, including:
– Producing antibodies for the immune system
– Manufacturing hormones and enzymes
– Aiding in the digestion and absorption of food
– Maximizing the transport of oxygen to tissues
– Providing structure for muscles, tendons, ligaments and organs
Think of it this way. If your body is a car, then protein is the metal out of which the parts are built. Protein not only provides the building blocks for muscle growth, it also supplies the amino acids needed to reduce muscle breakdown.
In essence, protein both builds new muscle and saves existing muscle from being lost; both functions are very important in maximizing muscle and minimizing fat.
But why is a strong focus on protein even more important than one on fat or carbs, for example?
Protein vs. Other Macronutrients
While it is true that a balanced diet needs all three macronutrients, pretty much any normal meal plan will get you all the fats you need and probably also a good amount of carbohydrates.
This is not automatically the case for protein. If you want to build muscle you really need to make sure to follow a high protein diet and get around 0.8 to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
If you want to lose weight protein becomes even more important because it helps prevent muscle loss while in a calorie deficit. In this case, 0.8 to 1 gram is still a good guideline but studies on very lean athletes have indicated that optimal intake might even be as high as 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight.
What does all this mean if you are beginner wanting to set up a healthy and fitness-oriented diet?
It doesn’t mean that you should neglect fat or carb intakes, but that you always pay close attention to your protein intake.
For example, if for some reasons you can only track a few things in your diet, go with total calories and total protein intake. These two figures will be the most important values. This is especially helpful if when traveling or when you have a busy week.