Whether you're looking to gain muscle or lose fat, there are certain rules that everyone must adhere to to get the physique of their dreams. Follow these nutrition guidlines in conjuction with our 2017 Starter's Guide Workout Plan to be on your way to building the ultimate figure.

1. Calculate energy burn

Figure out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight, aka your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), using an online calculator. Or, estimate your TDEE by taking your current weight and multiplying by 16. Add about 300 to 500 calories above that to gain more weight, but knock it down by around the same amount if you’re looking to shed some fat.

2. Count calories

Track your calorie intake and school yourself on hidden calories in foods. “If you are not weighing and measuring every ingredient or food and you are eating out often, your numbers can be way off,” says Jim White, R.D., spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Smartphone apps like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal make tracking nearly effortless. Use the table below to adjust your daily macronutrient breakdown depending on your physique goals.

3. Eat well

Eat whole foods whenever possible. “It’s a lifestyle approach to food that helps to eliminate added sugars, sodium, and fat,” says White. Include food from all food groups, with extra attention to vegetables, and ignore anything that is in a box, or has more than four or five ingredients in it. Stick with lean meats like chicken or turkey, pork tenderloin, or fatty cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel. Consume unprocessed carbohydrates from potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, fruits, and vegetables. Get your fats from fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds—avoid reduced-fat products because when companies take out fat, they add more sugar to maintain the flavor.

4. Match macros

The three nutrients your body needs to function, aka macronutrients, are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. When starting an intense workout regimen, getting the right amount is key for building mounds of muscle. Shoot for protein at 10 to 35% of your total calories, with carbs accounting for 40 to 60% of total calories. Fat, which should not be limited as it is vitally important for absorbing vitamins and keeping cells working properly, should consist of 20 to 30% of your total daily calories. Check out the Nutrition Facts graphics (page 104, 106) to see the requirements for a 180-pound man looking to gain muscle, or lean out.

5. Feed frequently

Eating small frequent meals— breakfast, lunch, and dinner with small snacks in between—is important when trying to pack on muscle, but the timing is also a critical part of seeing gains. Eating about 20 grams of protein and carbohydrates one hour before and after a workout will help with the bioavailability of protein for muscle hypertrophy,” says White. “The timing of your meals can depend on your individual lifestyle, but always make sure you are fueled for a workout and for the recovery.”

Macro guidelines

To build muscle*

  • 14-18 calories
  • 0.4g fat
  • 1-1.5g protein
  • 2g carbs

To lose fat*

  • 10-12 calories
  • 0.4g fat
  • 1-1.5g protein
  • 1g carbs

*All numbers expressed indicate amount per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 180-pound athlete wanting to gain muscle would aim for 2,520 to 3,240 calories per day, depending on his goal.

Spices 101

Intense exercise creates stress in your body that produces inflammation. It helps build muscle and increase your aerobic capacity but requires management by eating healthy, whole foods packed with antioxidants. Those are your leafy greens, fruits and berries, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. But certain spices are excellent sources of phenolic compounds that work as antioxidants and actually have more free radical destroying power per gram than most foods. What’s more, they spice up bland fare. Here are four to consider.

Ginger

This aromatic and spicy stir-fry ingredient contains compounds called gingerols, which are active anti-inflammatories that studies have shown can significantly reduce the substances that promote inflammation in the joints, cartilage, and immune system. Gingerol has been found to inhibit the production of a powerful oxidant derived from nitric oxide that’s implicated in chronic inflammatory diseases, heart failure, diabetes, and stroke. Studies have also linked ginger with anti-tumor effects.

AMOUNT: 1g daily of dried powdered root
ADD TO: Stir-fry, soups, steamed vegetables, salads

Turmeric

This spice comes from the orange-colored rhizome, or root, of a plant related to ginger, and is a component of the popular Indian curry spice. One of the most studied polyphenols in turmeric is curcumin, which is tied to helping regulate inflammation, reduce oxidation, and balance blood sugar levels. Turmeric as a whole, though, has been found to decrease the production of proteins that promote inflammation.

AMOUNT: 1–3g daily of dried, powdered root or 400– 600mg, 3x per day of curcumin
ADD TO: Meat marinades, salad dressings, tea, smoothies, milk

Cayenne

Capsaicin, found in hot chilli peppers, helps combat inflammation, lower cholesterol, inhibit blood clot formation, and prevent free radicals from damaging blood fats. Capsaicin also boosts thermogenesis, which can lead to enhanced weight loss.

AMOUNT: 30–120mg of cayenne pepper in capsule form up to 3x per day
ADD TO: Meat marinades and rubs, soups, smoothies, protein bowls

Cinnamon

These flavorful brown pieces of tree bark contain active compounds that can inhibit inflammatory compounds from forming and help reduce the rate in which blood sugar rises after eating a high-carb meal. Cinnamon’s antioxidant power has been shown to be more potent than almost any other spice.

AMOUNT: 1–6g daily of powder, taken with carbs
ADD TO: Oatmeal, smoothies, tea, coffee

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