How To Dominate Your Diet

How To Dominate Your Diet

By Mackennon Klink, BS, CSCS, PN1

            As I personal trainer, the majority of my clients either fall into one of two categories: the desire the shred that unwanted body fat or add stabs of muscle.  While these goals are perfectly obtainable, most clients go overboard in their diet creation and adherence. 

              “Diet” has such a negative stigma attached, as if the only thing you can eat are salads, avoid pizzas or burgers, and cannot have a beer.  That you have to stop living life and avoid social gathering.  This is not the case.

              In fact, a “diet” should help you build muscle and lose body fat.  A “diet” should improve your health and provide boundless energy without overly consuming your life. A “diet” should consist of plenty of nutrient-dense foods. While there are literally hundreds of thousands of diets out there (Click here to learn more) creating your own personalized diet isn't as hard as you think.  In fact, I want to give you the tools and knowledge so you can own your nutritional approach.  

Here's how....


1) Determine your Primary Goal - Fat Loss or Build Muscle?

               Do you want to lose body fat or do you want to build stabs of muscle?  While both goals are obtainable, you have to choose one. 

              Confucius once said, “person who chases two rabbits catches neither.”  Before determining your diet, you’ll need to know what you want to achieve.  Knowing the answer to this question is critical to determining the rest of your diet. 

              As a general rule of thumb, men over 15% body fat and women over 21% body fat should focus on losing body fat first. Muscle gains are slower for those with more body fat, so our first priority is to decrease your fat percentage into the optimal percentage range.

              So, what’s a good amount of body fat to have?  Below is the generally accepted body fat chart for both men and women. 

Body Fat Category


  • Essential Fat: 2 - 5%
  • Athlete: 6 - 13%
  • Fitness: 14 - 17%
  • Average: 18 - 24%
  • Obese: 25% or higher


  • Essential Fat: 10 -13%
  • Athlete:  14 - 20%
  • Fitness: 21 - 24%
  • Average:  25 - 31%
  • Obese:  32% or higher

              So, you might be asking yourself what these percentages look like in real life?  You can visually estimate your current body fat percentage without the use of a body fat measuring tool.. All you need to do is take off your shirt (first find a private spot to do so), look at yourself in the mirror and compared yourself to the models below.  



2) Set your Daily Caloric Intake

              To trigger fat loss, you must restrict caloric intake.  To build muscle, you must be in a caloric surplus.  These basic, fundamental rules are governed by energy balance.  Energy balance is the relationship between energy in/consumed (Food and drinks) and the energy burned (metabolism and physical activity).  This is why it’s critical to know if you want to shred body fat or build muscle.  Remember, if you chase two rabbits, you’ll catch neither.

              While there are numerous methods to determine your caloric intake, I like to adhere to the K.I.S.S. principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.  For this method, all you’d need is your bodyweight.

              If your goal is to lose fat, you must be in a caloric deficit.  To determine your daily caloric intake, multiple your bodyweight by 12 and round that number up to the nearest whole number.

o   For example: a 200lb person would be 200x12= 2400 calories

              I prefer to keep caloric intake a bit higher at the start, then drop it as a plateau nears.  Also, you’re more likely to adhere to a diet with a “slight” caloric deficit rather than a huge drop. 

              If your goal is to build muscle, then you must be in a caloric surplus. To determine your daily caloric intake, multiple your bodyweight by 16 and round that number up to the nearest whole number

o   For example: a 200lb person would be 200x16 = 3,200 calories. 

              I prefer to keep caloric intake a bit smaller at the start, then increase as a plateau nears.  This will help prevent one of the most common problems I see when people try to build muscle; they go on the “see-food” diet, also known as a “dirty bulk.”  While “dirty bulking” can work, your body fat percentage will increase as well so you’ll won’t see those stabs of muscle.  A classic tale of one step forward, two steps back.

3) Set your Protein Intake

              Out of the four macronutrients (alcohol included {yes it is a macronutrient}), protein is the more important macronutrient to consistently focus on.   Of all the macronutrients, protein has repeatedly shown to have the highest thermic effect, most satiating macronutrient and most metabolically expense macronutrient. So, if you’re going to overeat one macronutrient, then make it protein.

 In addition, it has numerous other benefits, such as:

  • Prevents muscle wasting: Muscle tissues are the most metabolically active tissue.  Consistently hitting your protein intake (with resistance training) helps you retain your muscle while carving away fats to finally show off your muscular definition.
  • Protein keeps you full:  When caloric intake is low and all you want to do is inhale that Costco Family Size Supreme  pizza, protein is your BFF 😊
  • Protein burns more calories during the digestion process:  Protein has shown to be up to 30% more metabolically expensive than carbs or fats.  This means if you had 100 grams of protein, then your body will burn 30 calories simply by breaking the protein down into usable amino acids. 

              If your goal is to lose body fat, then aim for .8g-1.0g/lb.  By doing so, this will preserve lean body mass, help control hunger, and burn a few extra calories.

              If you goal is to build muscle, aim for 1.0-1.4g/lb.  More protein is fine if it helps you get the necessary calories, but protein by itself doesn’t mean more gains….

4) Determining your Carbs and Fats

              Once you know your physique goal, caloric intake, and protein needs, the next step is to distribute your carb and fat intake.  This distribution will vary based on your goals:  As a general rule of thumb, follow this guidelines (± 1-3percentage is fine) :

o   Goal – Losing Body Fat:

  • Protein: ~35%
  • Carbs: ~25%
  • Fats: ~40%  

o   Goal – Building Muscle:

  • Protein: ~30%
  • Carbs: ~50%
  • Fats:  ~20%

              If your goal is to shred body fat, I found limiting carb intake to be the way to go.  By limiting carb intake, this forces you to make smarter nutritional decision i.e. eat more nutrient dense, minimally processed foods and veggies. 

              If your goal is to build muscle, then you carbs will be your friend.  While protein hogs all the attention, carbs are just as important.  In fact, carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy and that energy will be used to created stabs of muscle.

5) Meal Frequency and Timing

              In my option, this is probably the most overrated and overanalyzed aspect of any nutritional plan.  In the grand scheme of things, meal timing and frequency makes little difference.  If you enjoy eating smaller meals throughout the day, then do it.  If you can only find time to eat 2-3 meals in the day, then works too. Ultimately, what is important is you find a schedule that works best with your schedule and lifestyle.

              Consistency is what truly matters, not whether you ate three or six times a day. 

              That being said, I do recommend that you should have your largest carb meal post-workout, regardless if you want to shred body fat or build muscle. This will allow you to maximize your gains, while staying on track with your nutrition.  

              At the end of the day, your calories must match your goal.  You must be in caloric deficit to shred body fat or in a caloric surplus to build muscle.

6) Determining your Trigger and Buffer Foods  

              As your progress on your diet, your adherences to avoiding “unhealthly” foods will soften, and you’ll begin to crave those foods. 

              Buffer foods are foods that help keep your craving in-check and be added to your diet in small amounts.  For example, it could be the cream you add to your coffee or having a Lenny’s chocolate chip protein cookie post-workout to keep the sugar craving away.

              For me, my weakness is my sweet tooth, therefore, I use Lenny’s chocolate chip protein cookies and/or double chocolate protein shakes to treat myself and to keep my craving in check.  This is highly subjective and something you’ll learn during your journey.

              On the other hand, trigger foods are food items you’re likely to over-indulge or make you feel shitty afterwards.  For example, I have a huge sugar junkie, whether it’s cookies, candy, Reese’s Pieces, Milky Ways, and anything sweet.  If it’s in front of me, I can guarantee you it will be gone in moments.   Just like buffer foods, this is highly subjective and something you’ll learn about yourself during your journey.  Click here to learn more. 

              By restricting your nutritional choices, you’ll eventfully rebel and have that slice (or four) of pizza.  This is normal.  We are human beings, not machines.  When this occurs, ask yourself this, “what’s the next best decision I can make?”.  Too often, people want to throw in the towel and make their decision even worst.  Instead of focusing on hitting your diet 100%, focus on eating right 90% of the time, and treating yourself the other 10%. 

7) Create Several Go-To Meals

              It can be extremely overwhelming trying to figure out what to eat and how much each day.  This is where I strongly suggest you track your nutrition for 1-3 weeks.  I get it.  Tracking your nutrition sucks and the labels can be misleading or inaccurate.  However, by tracking your nutrition even for 1-3 weeks this will give you the biggest weapon in your diet: awareness. 

              Most people believe they’re doing everything right, yet cannot figure out why they aren’t making progress.  You’ll never know until you start tracking your nutritional habits. There is a saying, “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.” 

              Congratulations!  You just established your own personalized diet!  However, now comes the real work.  To achieve your physique goals, you’ll need to focus on being consistent, patience, and staying the course with your nutritional approach. The best diet is the one you enjoy and able to stick to long-term while making consistent, measurable progress.  (Click here to learn more about assessing progress) 

              At the end of the day, you must hold yourself accountable to meet your goals.  You must know why you want to do this.  Don’t just focus on the superficial level, dig deep.  You must really know why you want to do this: the emotional reason behind your decision. This is what separates those who achieve their goals and those who don’t.  Otherwise you’ll continue the cycle of yo-yo dieting and begin right back where you started.


       “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistency.”

Anthony Robbins

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