Tailor your Nutrition to your Goals

Most people want to gain muscle, maximize strength, while simultaneously burning fat. This is the ideal state for anyone following a strength training program and nutrition program. There’s only one issue…it’s not really feasible, except in a few situations. Here’s why:

  • To burn fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit. This means you are in a negative energy balance—you are burning more calories than you are eating, this deficit then will lead to weight loss.

  • To gain muscle, you should be in a caloric surplus. This means you are in a positive energy balance—you are consuming more calories than you are burning. Ultimately, you are providing your body the extra energy it needs to properly repair the muscle that gets damaged from lifting weights. Taking in extra calories aims to support recovery and anabolic (muscle-building) processes.

How can I preserve muscle?

If you’re on a quest to burn fat and lose weight, you will probably be losing some lean muscle mass as well. That is completely normal and is often times what we see during Dexa Scans and other measuring tools. However, the goal is to lose fat while preserving as much muscle as you can. How can this be done?

  1. Prioritize your protein intake. The general guideline is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

  • If you weigh 155 lbs, you should aim to consume 150-160 grams of protein per day.

  • An example of 150 grams of protein per day can look like:

    • 1 protein shake (20 grams)

    • 2 chicken breasts (60 grams)

    • 1 Cup Greek yogurt (20 grams)

    • 1 Cup Broccoli (5 grams)

    • 2 Tablespoon Peanut Butter (7-10 grams)

    • 1 cup egg whites (25-30 grams)

    • Other (veggies, fruits, bread, sauces, etc)

2. Do NOT crash diet. Do not take drastic changes in your food/calorie intake.

  • As we always say: make small sustainable changes! The bigger the calorie deficit is, the harder it is for the body to preserve muscle mass.

  • Studies have shown that a deficit of ~500 calories per day fully prevented any lean mass gains. Further, when calories were cut beyond 500 calories per day, the estimated changes in lean mass became negative and lean mass was actually lost!

  • There is also a psychological portion to this suggestion too. If you make too much of a change, it won’t be sustainable. Eventually, you will feel exhausted (mentally and physically) and will want to revert back to normal eating habits, which may actually end up leading to overeating, bingeing, and other unhealthy habits.

Your next steps

Your next steps are dependent on your specific goals and you as an individual. There is a list of factors to consider when discussing nutrition, which is why we highly recommend nutrition coaching. Nutrition is a very specific, individualized area however there are general guidelines to follow for certain goals:

  • Strength goals:

    • Aim to reach an optimal level of body fat that will allow you to focus on hypertrophy (muscle building), hypertrophy, training capacity, and recovery.

    • Minimize time in an energy deficit. This will impair performance and energy levels and prevent one from having effective training sessions, therefore decrease potential for strength gains.

  • Muscle building goals:

    • Those with experience should gain about 0.1% of their body mass per week

    • Those with less experience/less muscle mass should aim to gain around 0.25% of their body mass per week

    • The more body mass you gain, the more fat gain you will experience. Because of this, you want to be conservative with your weight gain (to minimize unnecessary fat gain) but also want to gain enough muscle at the same time. The goal is to find that “sweet spot”, which is individual to every person.

  • Losing fat goals:

    • Although many people want to lose weight fast, the focus should be on a slow rate of fat loss versus a fast one. This will preserve lean muscle mass, muscle recovery, prevent mental fatigue, and conserve energy levels.

    • Make sure the calorie deficit is not above 500 calories per day. Any deficit beyond this limit will probably lead to muscle loss.

      • Note: the calorie deficit is the amount of calories below your maintenance level of calories. Not many people know this number exactly, especially if they don’t track macros, but it can be estimated by using the plate method!

    • The suggested rate of weight loss will be about 0.5% of body mass per week

      • If you weigh 150 lbs, then the suggested rate of fat loss should be about 0.75 lbs/week. This is about 3 lbs/month…it’s not a lot but in the long run, it leads to a sustainable weight loss that will minimize chances of “rebound”.

      • It’s important to note that you are relatively new to training and/or have previously had low intakes of protein, you may experience some lean muscle gain along the way! How exciting!

The rare exceptions

“Body recomposition” is a term used to describe the simultaneous act of losing body fat and gaining muscle. It is the ideal, desired state for most people however not really feasible for everyone. But as we mentioned in the first paragraph, it is possible for some people.

The set of people who can experience this are those with higher levels of body-fat and are untrained. They have the most potential for muscle gain while experiencing fat loss because they are being exposed to a new stimulus. Someone who is at a lower body-fat level and has experience training will not experience this recomposition as easily because they are closer to their muscular and strength “genetic potential” so they have to be more specific with their dietary approach.

What does this mean? If you are new to strength training and have higher levels of body fat, you do not need to be as specific with your nutrition. Instead, focus on getting in the necessary protein and prioritizing whole foods (remember the plate method!). Eventually, when you have reached a plateau in your goals and have gained experience with strength training, then the next step is to re-evaluate your nutrition and tailor it to be more specific.


  • There is a different approach for each goal. Make sure to focus on your goal and tailor your approach appropriately.

    • Muscle building: Caloric surplus (weight gain is natural)

    • Strength building: Can be minimal caloric surplus or deficit, but goal is to optimize recovery, performance, and energy levels.

    • Fat loss: Caloric deficit (make sure to minimize lean muscle loss).

  • Nutrition is highly individualized! What works for one person will not work for another. Be smart in your approach and if possible, work with a nutrition coach to develop an individualized plan.

  • Recomposition is the ideal state, however not possible for everyone. If you are new to training, nutrition, and/or have higher body fat levels, you may experience body recomposition at a higher level than someone who has lower body fat and experience training.

  • Do not crash diet or rush the process.

Telos Nutrition Coaching

Want some help with your nutrition and improving your relationship with food? Schedule your free intro with us below!