The Physique Wise Guide to Dieting For Body Composition Part I

Welcome to the Physique Wise Guide to Dieting for body composition.

Who is this for?

  • Beginners to training looking to improve their results
  • Novices who have been training for a while and have dieted unsuccessfully or hit a plateau
  • Advanced trainees looking for the extra 10%

Hope you enjoy!


Getting the basics right first

First and foremost, let's gain an understanding of some of the terms I'll be using throughout this article: -

  • What is a calorie?

    A calorie is simply a way of measuring energy and is defined as “the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celcius at the pressure of one atmosphere”. All food contains energy, and the calorie content is simply a way of measuring how much energy there is in food. 

  • What is Adherence?

“Attachment or commitment to a person, cause or belief” - In this case a commitment to your training and nutrition plan.

  • What is energy balance?:

Energy Balance describes the difference between energy coming in to the body in the form of food (calories) and energy being burned by the body. Energy is burned by the body in 3 main ways: -

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): The energy required to sustain bodily process and organs. Accounts for around 60-70% of total energy expenditure.
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Relates to the increased energy expenditure associated with the digestion, absorption and storage of food and accounts for between 10-25% of total daily energy expenditure. Protein is the most energy costly macronutrient to process, followed by carbohydrates, then fat.
  3. Exercise Activity: Can be divided into structured exercise, such as your training sessions, and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). Any movement in the body outside of planned and structured exercise. can include fidgeting, getting up from your desk to get a drink, walking up stairs etc.
  • What are the 3 macronutrients? 

1) Protein: The main dietary sources of protein come from: -

  • Animal Sources: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products 
  • Plant Sources: Grains, legumes, vegetables

Generally-speaking, animal sources are viewed as ‘high-quality’ or ‘complete’ sources of protein as they contain all the essential amino acids needed by humans. Most plant sources of protein are known as ‘low quality’ or ‘incomplete’ proteins as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. This is why vegetarian and vegan diets need to be carefully planned to ensure that all essential amino acids are derived from the diet. For example, legumes are often consumed with grains as their amino acid combinations are complementary.

Benefits of Higher Protein Intakes: -

  • Enhanced Muscle Building: An insufficient protein intake will impair someone’s ability to build muscle. This is bad news whether your goals are to build muscle or lose fat because having more lean muscle mass is important to both processes.
  • Higher Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The thermic effect of food relates to the amount of energy required to digest and absorb food. Of the 3 macronutrients, protein has the highest TEF. In practical terms this means that your body will expend more energy digesting and absorbing a high protein diet than a low protein diet, aiding in fat loss.
  • Satiety: Protein is also the most satiating of the 3 macronutrients. This is excellent news for anyone wanting to lose fat, as having a high protein diet will keep them feeling fuller for longer, reducing the chance of snacking and over-eating.
  • Reduced Chance of Sarcopenia: Sarcopenia is the involuntary loss of muscle mass with age, and affects up to 25% of older adults (Gregorio, et al, 2014). Women in this study who protein intakes below 1.1g/kg had higher body fat and fat-to-lean ratios than those who consumed a higher protein intake. Higher protein intakes can offset the loss of muscle mass with ageing, which is vital to health and well-being in the older populations.

Protein Distribution

Now we know how much protein we should be consuming, it is important to consider how the protein should be distributed across the day. Traditional dietary patterns generally has protein intakes skewed towards the end of the day, with a small intake at breakfast (which is usually more carb-heavy), a moderate amount at lunch, and a larger, bolus dose of protein with the evening meal. However, for the stimulation of muscle growth, a more even distribution across all meals is more effective (Mamerow, et al, 2014). This is because the body has a limited capacity to store excess protein from a single meal and acutely stimulate muscle growth at a later time, it is better to take more of an even distribution across meals throughout the day. For example, a 90g serving of protein has no greater effect on muscle protein synthesis than a more modest 30g serving.

Leucine Threshold

Leucine is one of the 9 essential amino acids, and is particularly important for us to consider as it stimulates mTor, which is highly important for muscle growth (Norton & Layman, 2006). To optimise muscle growth the total daily intake of protein is vital, but so too is the optimal intake of leucine. It is fairly easy to ensure you consume enough leucine if you follow the recommended intakes in this article and you consume a complete source protein with each meal. To ensure you meet your leucine requirements, you should consume 3g/kg of protein from a complete source in each meal. So for an 80kg individual this equates to 24g per meal. Reaching the leucine threshold in every meal is another reason why a more even distribution of protein is better than a skewed distribution, as the meals with only small amounts of protein may not reach the leucine threshold and as a result won’t stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Potatoes are a starchy carbohydrate

Potatoes are a starchy carbohydrate

2) Carbohydrate: Carbohydrates can be generally divided into ‘simple’ and ‘complex’: Simple carbohydrates refer to monosaccharides (glucose) and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose). Complex carbohydrates refer to oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (starch). Carbohydrates provide 4kcal per gram, making it less energy dense than fat (9kcal per gram).  

Unlike protein and fat, there are no ‘essential’ carbohydrates. The body can function optimally with very low carbohydrate intakes, as evidenced by ketogenic diets, where carbohydrate intake is generally restricted below 100g per day (often lower). The body is able to survive with very few carbohydrates in the diet as the body is able to convert energy from fatty acids into ketones, which can supply the brain and nervous system with energy.

However, unless being in ketosis is desirable, it is recommended that carbohydrate intake is kept above 100g per day. The optimal amount of carbohydrate in a person’s diet will vary greatly depending on activity levels. The ratio of carbohydrate and fat in the diet doesn’t matter too much on a broad level, and often comes down to individual preference. Part of the decision-making process should revolve around how well someone tolerates carbohydrates. Normal carbohydrate tolerance is associated with an appropriate insulin release given the individual’s insulin sensitivity.

So, for someone eating 4 times per day, and training at 5pm with the goal of losing body fat, a typical day may look something like this: -

7.00am: Breakfast - Protein & Fats: 2 whole eggs, 2 egg whites with 50g smoked salmon & spinach.

11.00am: Lunch - Protein & Fats: 120g Grilled Chicken Breast, Avocado, Capsicum & broccoli

3.00pm: Mid-Afternoon - Protein & Fats: Salmon Fillet and Asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil

7.00pm: Post-Workout/Dinner - Protein & Carbohydrate: Grilled Barramundi with Sweet Potato, Green salad and a banana.

Fibre intake is extremely important for optimal health, and most dietary fibre can be found in carbohydrate-containing foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes etc. 

Recommended daily fibre intakes for men are 38g and women 25g (Gropper & Smith, 2012).

So when deciding an appropriate level of carbohydrate intake for a client, the following factors will need to be considered: -

  • Body Fat Percentage: Generally speaking, the higher a person’s body fat percentage, the lower their carbohydrate needs. Nutrient partitioning is much poorer in overweight and obese clients so I generally keep carbohydrate intake to a minimum until more healthy body fat levels are reached.
  • Goal: The client goal is of extreme importance when setting carbohydrate intake. If someone is looking to build muscle tissue, then more energy will be required, as building muscle is a very energy-costly process.
  • Training Phase: Generally speaking, the more volume someone has in their workouts, the more total work they are performing, the greater need to replenish glycogen stores after training.
  • Activity levels/Lifestyle: Someone who is more active in day-to-day life will have a much greater need for carbohydrates than someone more sedentary. Therefore what someone does for a job, how they travel to work, what hobbies they have are all important pieces of information to know & factor in to overall intake
Nuts & nut butters are great sources of fat.

Nuts & nut butters are great sources of fat.

3) Fats: Unlike protein intake, which is usually set around 1.8g/kg for most of my clients, intake of fat can be highly variable. Every client will be given a minimal amount of essential fat, but their requirements beyond this amount depend on a number of factors: -

  • Total Calorie intake: This will vary on a client’s goal, current body fat levels, and training level. For example, a male, beginner with 30% body fat looking to lose body fat would need a larger caloric deficit than someone more advanced and leaner at the same body weight. Given that protein requirements usually stays fixed, this leaves far fewer calories to assign to the other macronutrients.
  • Carbohydrate requirements: A clients’ carbohydrate requirements are largely dictated by their activity levels. More active individuals will have a greater requirement for carbohydrate than more sedentary individuals. So again, once protein has been assigned, and you determine your carbohydrate requirements, then you are left with how much of your diet can be made up of fats.
  • Body Fat %: Generally speaking, the leaner an individual is, the more insulin sensitive they are. This means that carbohydrates are generally much better tolerated by leaner individuals. This means there is less of a requirement for fat in these individuals. The converse is true for individuals with more body fat. 

The minimum fat intake for an individual should be no less than 40% of basal metabolic rate (BMR). Going below this threshold will likely result in negative health outcomes in the long term. One of the main reasons fat intake is so important for strength trainees in particular is the fact that fat intake is positively correlated with testosterone levels (Volek, et al, 1997). Given that there is a dose-response effect of testosterone on muscle strength and size (the more testosterone you have, the bigger and stronger you get), the importance of keeping levels higher in strength trainees cannot be over-stated.

4) Fibre - ‘The Forgotten Macronutrient’ - There are 2 distinct types of fibre: dietary fibre and functional fibre. Dietary fibre refers to non-digestible (to humans) carbohydrates and lignin that are intact and intrinsic in plants. Functional fibre consists of non-digestible carbohydrates that have been isolated, extracted, or manufactured and have been shown to have beneficial physiological effects in humans (Gropper & Smith, 2012). ‘Fibre’ is a very broad term that encompasses a lot of different characteristics.

Another distinction to be made is whether fibre dissolves in water (soluble) or not (insoluble). Foods typically rich in soluble fibre include legumes, oats, barley, some fruit (berries, bananas, apples, pears) and some vegetables (carrots, broccoli, artichoke and onions). Foods typically rich in insoluble fibre include whole-grain products, wheat bran, nuts, seeds and some vegetables.

Water soluble fibres tend to have a large capacity to hold water (you can think of fibre as a dry sponge that soaks up water and digestive juices as it moves through the digestive tract.

Soluble fibres tend to be degraded/fermented in the colon. The process of fermentation provides energy for microbial growth in the gut and produce short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids are important as they provide energy for the body, help boost the immune system, helps to lower cholesterol and improves blood flow in the colon (Gropper & Smith, 2012).

Those fibres that cannot be fermented are also extremely valuable to the health of your gut and digestive system. Non-fermentable fibres are important in detoxification and increasing fecal bulk

What are the Benefits of Fibre?

Diets rich in fibre are beneficial in the prevention and/or management of numerous health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity/weight management, gastrointestinal disorders, and Type II Diabetes.

Particularly pertinent to us are the benefits of fibre on weight management. Fibre-rich foods tend to have a low energy-density, and a high volume, which can promote satiety. Foods rich in fibre also delay gastric-emptying (increases the time it takes food to pass through the gut), having the effect of keeping you feeling fuller for longer and reducing hunger. This is one of the reasons I recommend diets high in fibre, consisting of whole, minimally-processed foods.

How Much Fibre Should we be Consuming?

Recommended daily fibre intakes are 38g for men and 31g for women. There is no suggested upper-limit to fibre intake, but anything above 50g per day is generally not recommended in Western countries. Common complaints with ‘over’-consumption include abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas, and altered stool output.

To obtain enough fibre through the diet, food sources of fibre need to be varied. Focusing on eating whole foods, with plenty of fruit and vegetables is absolutely crucial & is a message we like to promote here at Physique Wise.

Fruit: Not only is it highly nutritious but packed full of fibre :-)

Fruit: Not only is it highly nutritious but packed full of fibre :-)

Applying Pareto's Principle to Nutrition - Where Should I Be Focusing my Attention?

Vilfredo Pareto is the father of the 80/20 principle. Pareto noticed that across time and space 80% of a given nation’s wealth would be owned by 20% of the population. Pareto’s principle can also be applied to business, where it can be found that 80% of a businesses income is derived from only 20% of it’s clients.

So let’s expand Pareto’s principle to nutrition and training. “If you can identify the 20% - the crucial 20% necessary to maximise your results - and apply yourself fully to that particular 20%, you free up 80% of your effort cache for other important things” (Zielonka).


The Nutritional Pyramid's by Helms et al neatly & clearly show where you should prioritise your attention: Energy Balance, Macronutrients & your Lifestyle & Behaviours that allow you to maintain your diet for the long term,

The Nutritional Pyramid's by Helms et al neatly & clearly show where you should prioritise your attention: Energy Balance, Macronutrients & your Lifestyle & Behaviours that allow you to maintain your diet for the long term,

You can see the most important factors form the base of the pyramid. They form a strong foundation from which everything else is supported. So, in terms of nutrition, where should you be focusing on for maximum progress?

  • Consistency/adherence
  • Energy Balance
  • Macronutrients

What does this mean in real terms?

It means that to make any meaningful changes to your body composition, be it losing fat or gaining muscle, you must: -

  • Be patient & know that changes will likely occur over a number of months, not just days or even weeks. Therefore setting yourself up with a sustainable plan is likely to be the best option to maintain consistency over the long-term.
  • Ensure that you are getting your calorie targets right. The sure-fire way to know this is if you are counting/tracking calories and making adjustments based on feedback from your bodyweight, measurements, body fat, or any other means of tracking progress (I suggest using 2-3 different forms of tracking progress).
  • Ensure that you are consuming enough protein. This is the most important of the 3 macronutrients to get right. Basic guidelines around protein intake indicate a daily intake of anywhere from 1.6-2.2g per kg of bodyweight per day to suffice for healthy, strength training individuals. Erring on the higher side may be prudent if in a calorie deficit and seeking to lose body fat. Lowering your intake slightly may be beneficial for more advanced trainees, or those eating at maintenance or a caloric surplus.

By doubling down on those 3 points alone, you will ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck. Sweating the trivialities before getting the above right is pointless. Sure, there are other factors to consider beyond these, but these will reap 80% of the results you will ever likely see.

How many Calories Should I Be Consuming?

  1. Find your baseline: -

Weight (lbs) x 13-16 (13 for inactive females, 16 for very active males)

***CALORIE REQUIREMENTS ARE DIFFERENT ON TRAINING VS NON-TRAINING DAYS*** - Therefore your calorie intake on these days should reflect that.

2) If fat loss is the goal, create an energy deficit: -

Now a deficit can be created by either increasing energy expenditure (exercise & Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis), or decreasing energy intake (diet), or with a combination of both. I would recommend trying to incorporate both, but if I had to pick one method then decreasing energy intake is FAR more effective. People tend to grossly over-estimate how many calories can be burned exercising, and oftentimes, people will end up simply consuming more food in response to their increased activity levels.

I believe that tracking your calorie intake, at least for a short period of time, can be an extremely valuable tool for people to assess their intake and to check they are eating the correct quantities of food for their goals. Fortunately we now have apps such as ‘MyFitnesssPal’ that make tracking calories a far less laborious process for clients & ensures staying on track is far easier.

The bottom line is, any weight loss diet in existence is trying to make you eat less, whether they tell you this or not. They may do this by limiting food choices (low carb, paleo, low fat, Atkins, Ketogenic etc) or by restricting the times of day you can eat certain foods or by any number of methods.

3) If Increase Muscle is the Goal, create an Energy Surplus

An energy surplus is a situation where we take in more calories than we are burning on a consistent basis (otherwise referred to as a 'positive energy balance'). Surpluses generally shouldn't be set too much higher than 10-15% above maintenance calories as the goal should be to minimise fat gain. However, a little fat gain is inevitable if purposely eating in a calorie surplus with the goal of building muscle tissue.

Vegetables & Fruit are full of micronutrients

Vegetables & Fruit are full of micronutrients

That's enough to digest (pardon the pun) for part I - see you next time for Part II!