Simple Rules, Dramatic Results

Have you read the Propane Protocol? If you have, you know that it’s possible to build muscle and lose fat by following simple rules. But what if you could make it even simpler? Here’s how you can forget about calories and still get shredded. If you’ve ever desperately searched through your bin to find the nutritional information on the back of a packet, this article is definitely for you! (If you’ve ever desperately searched through your bin to find that last bit of cake that you threw out, we can’t help you.)

Why Calories are Important!

If you want to lose fat, you have to eat fewer calories than you require to maintain your weight. That’s simple, isn’t it? If you’re convinced that low-carb diets are magic, and that calories are a hopelessly outdated concept, you should read this fantastic article by Matt Perryman. Here’s what you need to know:

In ideal models, calorie balance — the balance of energy after energy expended is subtracted from energy ingested — is always the globally permissive variable: if the balance is a net positive, you’re gaining weight. If it’s not, you aren’t. All other factors aside, there must be energy to put in the adipose tissue. If there’s no calories to store, then you aren’t getting fatter. Your insulin can be spiked every hour of every day and you will still never store air as fat.

Calories are calories. A unit of energy can’t be anything but a unit of energy. How accurate we are at estimating the calorie content of any given food, and what our body does with those calories, is up for debate. Both the energy-in and energy-out variables are dependent on the interplay between our biological tendencies, how the food’s nutrient content affects the energy available to our bodies, and our psychological and behavioral relationship with food.

Whoever told you calories don't matter, they lied.

I’m about to suggest you don’t count calories directly, how does that work then? You’re just going to perform a simple calculation and then forget about them. You will be counting your macros instead. The caloric defecit will be implicit, but it will still dictate whether or not you lose fat.

How Do I Count Macros?

There are three main classes of macros (macronutrients): protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Your body uses them for different things, and your requirements will depend on your many factors, including body composition and activity levels. This guide will give you a set of macro targets to hit every day.

Calculate Your Calorie Requirements

Use a BMR calculator, or the simple estimate of 33kcal/kg, to establish your maintenance calories. You will be following the Propane Protocol guidelines, of course, and eating 20% below that amount. For example, if you weighed 90kg your maintenance calories would be roughly 2970kcals, and you would fix your calorie intake each day at 80% of that, which is 2376kcals.

Protein

Aim for a minimum of 2g/kg while you diet. A higher intake of 2.5-3g/kg is probably better for retention of lean mass.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Heoo4bXw8Tk

Fat

Fat will be consumed before training, and kept low after training. Aim for 0.5g/kg fat on training days. On rest days, you will only be eating protein and fat. That means that with your protein intake fixed, the rest of your calories will be entirely fat. On rest days your calories from fat will be:

Fat (kcals) = 0.8 * Maintenance calories – Protein (g) * 4kcals

Divide that by 9kcals/g to get the amount of fat in grams.

Carbs

On rest days you don’t eat carbs. After training you will eat carbs, consuming the rest of your calories that aren’t accounted for by protein and fat.

Carbs (kcals) = 0.8 * Maintenance calories – Protein (g) *4kcals – Fat (g) * 9kcals

Divide the result by 4kcals/g to get the amount of carbs in grams. Typically this will be about 2-3g/kg.

Example Training Day

Continuing with the example of a 90kg person, let’s set protein intake at 2.5g/kg. That’s 225g of protein. Fat intake is fixed at 0.5g/kg, which is 45g. The remaining calories from carbs are:

2376kcals – 225  *4kcals – 45 * 9kcals = 1071kcals.

That gives 267g of carbs.

Example Rest Day

Again, for a 90kg person, setting protein intake at 2.5g/kg, that gives 225g of protein. The remaining calories from fat are:

2376kcals – 225 *4kcals = 1476kcals.

That gives 164g of fat.

(More) Simple Rules

How to Construct a Meal

What type of meal is this? Protein and fat?

Choose a fatty cut of meat to hit your protein target, and then add a source of fat as necessary to hit your fat target. Or you can choose a lean cut of meat and add more additional fat, but typically the fatty cuts are cheaper and tastier!

Or protein and carbs?

Choose a lean cut of meat, protein powder, or low-fat cheese, and add low-fat sources of carbs to hit your macro targets.

Serving Sizes

(c) CandyTX - http://www.flickr.com/photos/candyb/

A serving of 30g protein is:

  • 150g beef, venison, or bison.
  • 150g white fish, like pollock or basa.
  • 150g chicken or turkey.
  • 130g canned tuna, or a single can.
  • 40g whey protein, usually 2-2.5 scoops.
  • 300g cottage cheese, or 225g Quark cheese. This is typically a single pot.
    (c) sarae - http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarae/

A serving of 50g carbs is:

  • 70-80g uncooked white rice, roughly half a cup.
  • 80-90g uncooked rolled oats, about a cup.
  • 250-300g potatoes or sweet potatoes, approximately a large potato or a couple of small/medium potatoes.
  • 2 small bananas, or one medium and one small banana.
  • 60-70g of kids cereal, without milk. This is roughly 1.5 cups.
    (c) steffenz - http://www.flickr.com/photos/steffenz/

A serving of 10g fat is:

  • A tablespoon of olive oil, coconut oil, hemp oil, macademia nut oil.
  • Two tablespoons of double cream.
  • 20g of cashew nuts, peanuts, walnuts, macademia nuts, pistachios, or almonds. Approximately a handful.
  • Two tablespoons of nut butter (any of the nuts mentioned above).
  • 12.5g of butter, about a tablespoon.

Go and find a set of scales, or measuring cups, and forget about calories!

 

The Next Step

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19 responses to “Don’t Count Calories, Get Shredded

  1. There’s a mistake in the Fat (kcal) formula:

    Fat (kcals) = 0.8 * Maintenance calories – Protein (g)

    The corrected formula is:

    Fat (kcals) = 0.8 * Maintenance calories – Protein (g) * 4 (kcal/g)

    or

    Fat (kcals) = 0.8 * Maintenance calories – Protein (kcal)

    Cheers

  2. Great Article! If you have to be careful on carbs could you up the fats to 1g per kg on training days and have them pre workout with slightly less carbs post? What impact do you feel this would have?

    Also, I have read that we should aim for at least 1g per kg from fat sources – Is this less important due to the fact on rest days we could be having >1g per kg and in some cases 1.5-2g per kg?

    Thanks

  3. Great Article! If you have to be careful on carbs could you up the fats to 1g per kg on training days (pre workout) with slightly less carbs post? What impact do you feel this would have?

    Also, I have read that we should aim for at least 1g per kg from fat sources – Is this less important due to the fact on rest days we could be having >1g per kg and in some cases 1.5-2g per kg?
    Thanks

  4. Darren_S said:
    Great Article! If you have to be careful on carbs could you up the fats to 1g per kg on training days (pre workout) with slightly less carbs post? What impact do you feel this would have?

    Also, I have read that we should aim for at least 1g per kg from fat sources – Is this less important due to the fact on rest days we could be having >1g per kg and in some cases 1.5-2g per kg?
    Thanks

    You could indeed. It would depend on your goals. For fat loss this would be a good approach, I think it would be less useful for gaining muscle. In that case I would prefer to eat more carbs once my protein and fat requirements were met.

    I don’t know if 1g per kg is necessary, but it would certainly meet your requirements. I would focus more on getting quality fat from the right sources (coconut oil, oily fish, grass-fed butter and meat etc.)

  5. Thanks for the reply!

    What do you regard as your minimal fat requirement for optimal hormonal response I’ve seen 30% as a minimum requirement but i’m not keen on percentages. Is the 0.5 per kg on the low side because you’re getting probably closer to 1.5-2g per kg on rest days? Other than perhaps finding carbs less satiating and therefore being able to eat more and the fact that they also cost less, why do you feel going as high as 3g per kg to be beneficial when trying to lose BF?

    Love the article and the website as a whole, think the way the Propane Protocol is laid out is so simply is excellent! keep up the good work.

  6. Darren_S said:
    Thanks for the reply!

    Love the article and the website as a whole, think the way the Propane Protocol is laid out is so simply is excellent! keep up the good work.

    Thanks!

    Darren_S said:
    What do you regard as your minimal fat requirement for optimal hormonal response I’ve seen 30% as a minimum requirement but i’m not keen on percentages.

    I believe that the fat sources are more important than the amounts (for example, red meat and dairy fat consumption is beneficial for thyroid hormone levels), assuming that your minimum requirements are met. But what is the minimum? And what is optimal? I don’t think anyone really knows; but according to most studies, 15% of total calories seems to be a minimum for testosterone production, with 30% giving an increase in serum testosterone levels. I think experimentation is the only way to determine what works for you, ideally with hormone panels to fully determine what your response is.

    Darren_S said:
    Is the 0.5 per kg on the low side because you’re getting probably closer to 1.5-2g per kg on rest days?

    Essentially yes. And because we like higher carbs on training days.

    Darren_S said:
    Other than perhaps finding carbs less satiating and therefore being able to eat more and the fact that they also cost less, why do you feel going as high as 3g per kg to be beneficial when trying to lose BF?

    Assuming you’re in a caloric defecit then carbs are protein sparing, and if you time them optimally then you will reap the benefits of insulin without hindering fat loss. In my own experience 3g/kg is not particularly high. Some people can get into stage condition without ever dropping carbs as low as that, and many natural competitors use a moderate/high carb prep diet with great results.

  7. Hey guys…I notice here that the entire week is run in a calorie deficit. Am I reading that correctly? So the only change is the elimination of carbohydrates totally on rest days.

    I think I’m just used to seeing Berkhan cycling both carbs and calories. I actually like the idea of a straight deficit and cycling carbs/fats. I just find it easier to stick to.

    Do you see a straight deficit being significantly inferior to a +20/-20 calorie cycle? Or is it more a matter of preference?

    Cheers!

    1. Adam – this is Yusef, so I can’t answer for Ben, but I favour 2-3 days of the week in a surplus on a training day, where you earn your carbs

  8. Hi i am only just discovering your website, and am seriously considering your protocol.
    If i am reading this article correctly, (on workout days) for me weighing 89.7kgs to meet the protein requirements, of 224g protein, am supposed to eat over two meals 1.120kgs of meat?
    i.e
    30g Protein = 150g meat
    30g Protein X 7.5 = 225 Protein
    7.5 X 150g meat = 1125g meat
    lunch time eat 225g meat
    after workout eat 900g meat then eat equivalent of uncooked 427.2g rice (about 8 cups of cooked rice)

    or am i totally missing the point,

    I live in Australia, do you have a representative\member here in Brisbane, Queensland

    1. Hi Laurens. I would advise getting some of your protein from whey and other sources, otherwise that much meat is going to be expensive!

      Otherwise you’ve got that right – assuming you’re aiming for muscle gain?

  9. I’ve never been a calorie counter – sometimes I check the calorie content in certain foods but rarely.I focus on eating healthy, whole foods.However,this article is great
    And I want to ask,what about pregnant women?

    1. Pregnant women should seek professional medical advice, a lot of the advice we give on this website is not safe or applicable for pregnant women

  10. Great article bro!
    A couple of questions..
    What about veggies? Should I count them?
    And what about trace proteins/carbs? I mean protein in starch sources or carbs in cottage cheese (2-3g/100g), should i count them?

    1. Hi Fabio – yep, count veggies + trace macros in all foods, best thing is to use myfitnesspal which accounts for all of these. That way you have more comparability :)

  11. Hi guys, love the content I’ve been reading on this site and all the amazing things you get up to with comps etc… Posted on your fb Page.
    I’m keen on strapping down and really giving this a go but I just wanted to clarify if this style of eating is really only designed for a 3 day training program? I.e. It would be 3 days protein/carbs then 4 days protein/fats?
    If it is, will this be as effective or can this be adapted for a 5 day training program?

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the comments Jenny :).
      You can certainly do this on a 5 day training program although we’d recommend using the Propane Protocol calculator above. Let me know if you have any questions
      Yusef

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