IT'S SIMPLE MATHEMATICS: Nutrition Planning by Shane Robert

October 19, 2023 5 min read


Want to lose weight? Eat less.

For some reason this simple concept has gotten lost in the quagmire that is training and nutrition media. Everyone wants to focus on the minutiae of eating strategies without accepting the reality that, whatever they want to accomplish, it takes nutritional effort to achieve their goals (make no mistake, eating to gain weight can be FAR more work than losing).

That’s not to say that there aren’t useful strategies to assist in gaining or losing weight. Of course there are. However, the key is to focus on the word assist. They can’t be the whole show.

Low carb diets are a great example of this. No one is arguing that they don’t work for many people. However, they work for the simple reason that people eat less when they go on low carb diets. Research has confirmed this many times over. Most people will struggle to overeat when eating the high fat and protein of a low carb meal plan if they aren’t eating highly palatable and processed foods that combine high fat with high sugar like ice cream, pastries, etc. Until very recently when the addition of “keto snacks” came on the market, there were no highly processed low carb foods.  

The same holds true for the incredibly popular Semaglutide based drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. This peptide acts to block the ghrelin receptor in the brain. Ghrelin is the main hormone responsible for making us feel hungry when its receptors are not blocked by other hormones. Since Semaglutide blocks ghrelin, you feel less hungry throughout the day. When you feel less hungry you eat less. It should go without saying that when you eat less, you are also eating fewer calories and, thus, lose weight.

All dietary outcomes start with the simple idea from the beginning:

   Want to lose weight? Eat less.
   Want to gain weight? Eat more.

To quote Dan John, “Simple. Not easy.” But let’s break down the basic math of this whole discussion and try to make it as easy as possible to set up a meal plan.


All food we consume contains CALORIES, which are defined as a unit of energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1°C. It is the consumption of more, or fewer calories, than our body needs day to day that dictates weight gain or loss, respectively. These calories are made of macronutrients called protein, carbohydrate, and/or fat. Each contains a specific amount of calories per gram.
  • PROTEIN has 4 calories per gram. Examples include meat, eggs and dairy products 
  • CARBOHYDRATES have 4 calories per gram. Examples include grains, sugars and fruits 
  • FAT contains 9 calories per gram. Examples include oils, nuts and seeds 
With this knowledge, we can now start to create the meal plan. The first step is to determine your total daily calorie needs. There are many great calculators online (such as this one), or you can use a simple multiplier: 
  • Maintenance (neither gaining nor losing): 15 calories per pound of bodyweight (7 calories per kg)
  • Weight loss: 10-12 calories per pound bodyweight (4.5-5.5 calories per kg)
  • Weight Gain: 17-20 calories per pound bodyweight (7.5-9 calories per kg)

Using this number as your target, you just eat food until you hit the calories called for. For general weight loss or gain, this really is the most important consideration and what type of food you eat is far, far less important than total daily calories.

We can get more specific with the macronutrient numbers to achieve better physique outcomes, and this is generally my preference for the people I work with.


Once calories are established, I set protein at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight and hold it static throughout. This is very likely overkill for daily protein needs. However, it ensures that all protein needs are covered and there are really no downsides to eating a little extra protein (as long as it doesn’t exceed daily calories). Multiply the grams of protein by 4 and subtract from your previously established calories. The remaining calories are then split between carbohydrates and fats. This can be evenly distributed (remember that these numbers won’t be the same since fat has 2.25 more calories than carbohydrates), or have a specific distribution based on lifestyle and goals. 

For mostly sedentary people, I prefer to make the majority of their remaining calories come from fat, as they don’t need high amounts of carbohydrates to fuel activity. Somewhere around 60/40 or 70/30 ratio of fat to carbs, with those carbs coming from “slow” carb sources like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fibrous whole grains & tubers.

If someone has a very active lifestyle or is a competitive strength/physique athlete, I opt for much higher carbs. To do this, I like to set fat in a similar way to protein, where it will hold static and any calorie fluctuation comes from carbs. In general, for health and optimization reasons, I don’t want to see anyone drop much lower than 0.3 grams per pound of body weight and generally start around 0.4-0.5 grams per pound, depending on available calories. 

Here is an example of putting this all together for a fairly active person who weight trains 3 days per week and does cardio twice per week while walking around 12,000 steps every day:

  • Goal - 10 pound weight loss
  • Weight - 165 pounds
  • Calories - 1980 (165x12)
  • Protein - 165 grams (660 calories) *1320 calories remaining*
  • Fat - 65 grams (0.4 grams per pound 585 calories) *735 calories remain*
  • Carbohydrates - 180 grams

This is your starting point. Keep a close eye on your weight, weighing yourself at least once a week and adjusting your intake accordingly.


If you are trying to lose weight and you didn’t, then adjust in the following manner:

  • No weight loss - drop 500 calories per day (keep protein at 1 gram/pound and fat no lower than .4 grams/pound)
  • Slower weight loss than expected - drop 250 calories per day
  • One to two pounds - no change 
  • More than two pounds - add 125 calories per day 

These numbers assume an average of 1-2 pounds weight loss per week, which is what I advise most people to shoot for, unless they are quite overweight to begin with, to make it more sustainable and minimize muscle loss.

To gain weight, I usually encourage clients to shoot for an average of 0.25-0.5 pounds per week. Anything other than that risks excess fat gain:

  • No weight gain - Add 500 calories per day
  • Less than expected weight gain - add 250 calories
  • Right on target - No change
  • More than planned - subtract 250 calories per day


We are fortunate to live at a time when there are many great apps that can help us in tracking our food as well as figuring all of this out. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but three good options are:

  1. Cronometer
  2. MyFitnessPal (but be careful about user generated food labels)
  3. MacroFactor
  4. Carbon Diet Coach 

The first two are free, while the second two have a slight cost associated with them.


Increasing activity is a great addition to eating less. In theory, one could achieve the needed calorie deficit by simply moving more to burn calories instead of eating less. The issue with this strategy is two fold:

  1. Most energy expenditure tracking is WILDLY inaccurate and overestimates the energetic cost of movement
  2. Increasing energy expenditure also tends to increase hunger. Unless you can ignore that hunger, you’ll find your wheels spinning. 
If fat loss is your goal, most people are better served simply eating less than they currently do because, frankly, the other option is too unreliable. Definitely move and exercise, but do it for the health and strength benefit.


Want to lose weight? Eat less.

Want to gain weight? Eat more.


Photo credit: thesomegirl

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