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TheoFit Q&A #1: Fast Food, Deficit Numbers, And Getting Protein
QUESTION 1. How do I meal plan in real life? I get meal planning, but how how do I eat healthy when I don't know where all my meals are going to be?
ANSWER: This answer has two parts. First, it’s not a totally necessary component of fitness. Meal planning is good for Type A personalities who like to write everything out. And if you want to do that, I recommend this little journal called the Fitlosophy Fitbook (Which I link in the show notes — at theo.fit/podcast/Question1). But I rely more on meal prep to enable me to eat healthy. And what I do is I buy 4-5 pounds of chicken breast (not chicken thighs — they’re cheaper, but have a lot more calories) and a couple bags of frozen broccoli, and I just bake them on Sunday night, or whenever I have the time. I also cook a bunch of rice. Then, I put them in a bunch of tupperware and put them in the fridge. (I use these — they have compartments, made of glass, and pretty cheap, but very high quality). That part is simple, but it’s a great Pre-Habit than enables you to make healthy diet decisions throughout the week. I use these pre-cooked meals as my “foundation,” and if I want to supplement with some other stuff to keep me sane, I’ll have some Pistachio Halo Top Ice Cream (which is like, this amazing high-protein Ice Cream) or even some Pizza Rolls that I can pop in the over.
Second, there are a lot of times you’ll be out and about and won’t be able to get to your prepared food. That’s fine. That’s why I don’t teach you some specific “TheoFit Diet” that you have to eat, but just TheoFit principles that you can adapt to any situation you’re in. The tough part about eating out isn’t eating healthy, but reflecting on your invisible psychological scripts running in the background that tell you that you have to eat unhealthy if you’re eating out. For example, let’s say you’re out at McDonald’s with friends. Get their Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich and substitute the fries for a side salad — and get a water or diet soda. That’s less than 400 calories, and you get get 40 grams of protein. And they have the same options at Wendy’s, or even Taco Bell has a protein bowl and salads that you can get that are very filling, but keep you in the 4-500 calorie range, rather than pushing you into the 1200 calorie range.
The important thing to realize is that if you’re eating fast food, you don’t have to get the unhealthy thing. Even if you’re at a Pizza Hut, get a salad or something.
And one more point on this — and I want to make this point about free food. You don’t have to eat free food. You just don’t. Someone brought a really nice french toast casserole to church or to work? You don’t have to eat it. In fact, you should especially refrain from eating that. Same thing with free pizza. Or free ice ice cream. You don’t have to. Or, and this is even harder, if you’re in a position where it would be truly rude to refuse food or drink that’s being offered to you, take a small serving, just take a little bite, or a small sip. You don’t have to gorge yourself or go for seconds. Just taste it and say that you’re full. If people judge you for not stuffing your face with their food, then they’re the ones being rude, not you.
But the bigger point here is this: You can’t plan all of your meals. Life happens, and nobody can perfectly plan out everything they eat. Nor do they need to. In each meal that you find yourself, remember that you’re trying to eat high protein, moderate carb, low fat — that will optimize your fullness and minimize your caloric intake. And you never, ever have to eat unhealthy food. When you realize that most of your eating habits are more a matter of psychological habit than real need, you can start rewiring your instincts. Human beings can go days without food without suffering any nutritional deficit. You can go a few hours until your next meal without “cheating.”
QUESTION 2. Hello Paul, First of all thank you for this challenge and all the valuable info you've put out. I'm excited to get started. Forgive me for bringing this up again because you've explained it in great details on the podcast and the core series article. Coming up with my TDEE has been more confusing than ever. I used both the calculators on TheoFit and the one Nate posted in the Facebook group and arrived at significantly different numbers. I'm not sure which number to go with. Your recommendation from the podcast is around 2450 (20~25% deficit) for my weight (262 lbs.). With the calculator on theo.fit my TDEE was 2620 calories which puts me at ~2000 to maintain a deficit
Does my body fat % have to be factored into the calculating my TDEE? Does it even matter? With my prior attempt at this it was needed to get a more accurate TDEE. I could be completely wrong. Also for the sake of counting my calories and tracking things on MyfitnessPal is it important to know the other macros(fat and carbs)?. In other words does it matter how much carbs, and fats I'm eating as long as I hit my 20% calorie deficit, lift weights and consume enough protein?
I am so grateful for all your help, and for taking the time to answers these questions. Thank you!
ANSWER: Great questions! Two points. First, So in short, yes, you do need to take body fat percentage into account when calculating your TDEE and calorie deficit. However, I’d say that if you’re doing weight lifting and cardio 4-5 times per week at 262 pounds, then 2450 is a safe number. That calculator in the CORE SERIES gives numbers a bit on the low end, because I think it’s better to underestimate your caloric deficit, then overshoot it and think you’re in a caloric deficit when you’re really not. As you lose weight, you should decrease that number. For example, when you drop 10 pounds, move that goal from 2450 to 2350. And continue to decrease it as you lose weight in order to continue losing fat. Sorry about the confusion — there’s a bit of an art to it since people’s bodies are so different. But 2450 is a good number for you.
Second, aside from getting your protein in, it does not matter what your carb/fat intake is, as long as you hit your caloric deficit. But carbohydrates, especially unprocessed carbohydrates, are much more filling than fat. And carbs also are a much better source of energy. So, since you’re in a deficit, in order to get as much energy as possible, I would recommend getting as many carbs as you can to fuel your workouts, while hitting your deficit. If you overeat fat and undereat carbs while in a caloric deficit, you’ll feel very sluggish.
Also, one point for you on protein — since you’re a female and you have over 60-70 pounds of fat to lose, I’d say you’ll be fine shooting for 150g of protein a day. No need to shoot for more than that. Great questions.
QUESTION 3. Hey Paul, excited to see this launch! Looking forward to delving into all the stuff you've got here. I recently got my first ring muscle-up, but for about 4 or 5 days I had a bit of discomfort/pain in my left elbow. I haven't attempted any muscle-ups since as I don't want to injure myself—what's your recommendation for getting my elbows nice and injury-resistant?
ANSWER: Great question! So, for those who don’t know, a muscle-up is basically a pull-up that you turn into a dip. So, you begin hanging from a bar, and you pull yourself up so high that you’re on top of the bar and you push yourself up vertically.
My advice to you: Stop doing muscle-ups. Especially if you’re injuring your elbows. It’s purely a vanity a movement, meaning — it looks really cool, but it doesn’t work anything particularly well. If you want to work your arms and back, just do pull-ups. If you want to work your chest and triceps, just do dips. But that strain on your elbows comes from transitioning from the pull to the push movement with your full bodyweight adding a ridiculous amount of torque on your joints. So, if you’re trying to get a date with the kind of girl who is impressed by muscle-ups, by all means, keep doing them. But if you’re pursuing fitness and wanting to work your muscles, just give up on muscle-ups. They’re not adding anything to your fitness level.
QUESTION 4. My calorie counter tracks my cardio and subtracts calories from my total goal. Does that mean I can eat more than my calorie goal? For example, my calorie tracker says I burn about 350 calories during cardio, and my calorie goal is 2000. Does that mean I can eat 2350 calories?
ANSWER: No. If your calorie counter app subtracts calories burned from steps you take throughout the day, ignore that subtraction. Your caloric goal is based on your TDEE, which already takes into account your activity level. Hit your caloric goal, no matter what. Don’t add extra calories because you did extra work for the day. That’s a very bad habit, and you can easily negate your caloric deficit for weeks on end, thinking you’re in a caloric deficit, when you’re really not.
QUESTION 5. Why are fast food restaurants trying to kill us? Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell...maybe the answer's no, but are there "healthy" fast foods that won't destroy your day and your calorie deficit?
ANSWER: Another good one. I dealt with this a bit above, but you can get lots of good, healthy food at fast food restaurants. Yes, 99% of their food will absolutely kill you if it’s a staple of your diet. But eating healthy food is much more about how much you eat than what you eat. So, for example, people say that it’s expensive to eat healthy. Not if your goal is fat loss. I talk about this more in the CORE SERIES article “How To Eat To Get Fit,” but remember: It doesn’t cost more to eat less. So wherever you go, you can make opportunities to eat healthy if you rewrite the invisible psychological programming in your brain associated with fast food. It just takes intentional reflection when you’re in those situations.
This is a great question, and a difficult decision to make in the moment — but it is very possible to choose the healthy option at the fast food restaurant.
QUESTION 6. I’m on day three of my taking my overall healthy seriously. TheoFit has been exactly what I needed–not simple how-to instruction, but motivation and mindset development. Thanks, Paul! My questions: What are your thoughts and recommendations for increasing protein? While staying on a low-calorie diet. If you have covered this elsewhere and I haven’t read or remembered that please forgive me.
ANSWER: That’s a great question! I haven’t covered it yet, and it can get really tricky trying to lower calories and increase protein at the same time. First, get a protein powder and supplement with a protein shake. You might think, “I can’t afford a protein powder!” But actually, you get about 20g of protein per scoop, and most protein powders cost about $1 per scoop. Even if you were to buy chicken or ground beef, you’re not going to get that amount of protein in real food for that cheap. So, I highly recommend picking up a cheap protein powder supplement at your local target (I use a protein called IsoPure Zero Carb, which is very low-calorie and extremely high quality protein, and I absolutely love it). But you can get almost the exact same thing for half the price per scoop — about .50 cents per 20g of protein — with Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Protein, which they sell at Costco or here at Amazon.
Also, this is just a little diet trick — most things we think have a lot of protein don’t. So, for example, General Tso’s Chicken, which has “Chicken” in the title, so we think it’s full of protein, is composed of about 80% fats and carbs. So, unless you’re eating pure chicken or cold cuts or steak or fish, most of its caloric value will come from fats and carbs. Deep-fried fish or deep-fried chicken can be especially deceptive in this way — we think it’s a protein-based snack, but we’re spending 200-300 calories per meal just on taste.
One little way to cut these calories out while keeping some flavor in our diets is learning how to use spices in our food. For beginners, I recommend this little 4-pack called Legion of Spice that combines some spices into little packs that you can use on meats, veggies, whatever. That’s a great way to keep flavor in your food without adding a ton of calories with butter, oil, or carbs.
QUESTION 7. How do I mentally prepare to go into the gym for the first time and/or the first week? Personally I imagine it feeling really awkward and embarrassing and probably pretty humiliating, so maybe my preparation is to just come to terms that it will suck for a short period.
ANSWER: Another good one. I cover this in the album One More Try: Why You Always Fail At Fitness, And How To Finally Succeed in the track called “When I Don’t Want To Go To The Gym.” I highly recommend going that album, which you get for free as a TheoFit member (become one here), before embarking on a fitness journey — especially if you’re just getting started. Just remember: When you’re weighing the decision about whether to follow through on your commitment to work out, you’re not just deciding for today. You’re deciding for forever.
If you don’t go to the gym today, you’re more likely not to go tomorrow, and the next day. Skipping one day most of the time turns into skipping the next day. A day turns into a week, which turns into a life time, and all of a sudden one decision of laziness just rolls into a whole sedentary lifestyle, which is the very thing you’re trying to escape. So we often choose not to go to the gym because we think, “Well, I can miss one day and it’s not a big deal.” No. Today, you’re deciding your destiny. The moment of decision about the gym is the very real fork in the road for you. It’s a lie that you can skip one day and it’s not a big deal. No. Skipping is like rust. It’s like cancer. It spreads.
So here’s how to make it easier. Run through your workout one more time. Write the whole thing down in your journal before you even walk into the gym. Go to the TheoFit workout page with your workout and watch the videos of the exercises you’re about to do. Think to yourself, “I can do this. I can do that.” And go into the gym with htis mindset: “The faster I complete these, the sooner I’ll be done.” Think of it as a debt to be payed.
Fitness is not something that you own, like a house. When you work out, you’re not building physical equity. Fitness is something you rent from the universe. And payment is due in the form of difficult exercise and healthy diet. There’s no skating by on yesterday’s work. There’s no paying late. There’s just today, and you either seize this moment and start walking down the path of fitness, or you skip, adn you spend the rest of the day, and probably the rest of your life, trying to forget what could have been if you just tried. And let me tell you: When you try, life gets really good. It’s really hard in all the same ways. But you win every day, even if you lose. Because you’re mastering your body. But when you don’t try, you feel like a loser. And to some degree, the rest of your life is spent trying to forget that.
So try. Choose the gym. Pay your rent. Pay your debt to the universe and take what’s yours. Take your health. Take your fitness. Take your strength. Take it for yourself. Don’t even think about it anymore. You’re going to the gym. Consider your decision made.
QUESTION 8. What are some warm up ideas routines or stretching? Should you stretch? Personally, I know some good stuff here, but would love to hear your thoughts.
ANSWER: Two things. The best stretching you can do is a little light jogging or elliptical or a short, brief walk before your workout. Then, do a couple sets of each exercise with lighter weight before you hit the exercises really hard. This will remind your body what the exercise should feel like and kind of gets you into the “mode” of the workout. It feels like it rewires your nervous system to be in “bench mode” or “deadlift mode.” After you’ve done those lighter warm up exercises, then you can do any relevant stretches to push your muscles to the extent of their flexibility. This can be helpful, again, just to strengthen that psychosomatic link between the mind and the muscle. When you feel your fibers straining in the warmup and stretching in the stretch, it heightens your internal sense of control and authority over that particular muscle. That sounds a little tacky, but I’ll tell you what — it works.
QUESTION 10. I’m wondering how to divide up my allotted calories each day. How many do I give to breakfast, to lunch, to snack, to dinner. Do I include a protein/post workout shake. Again, so many options. I'm more open to trying things and seeing how it goes. Seems like, based on knowing myself, I'd like the most food at Dinner, so I can go to bed full, but if I don't eat something within 2 hours of waking up, I'm gonna have a headache all day. So, idk where I'm going with that. Would love to hear your thoughts in general.
ANSWER: Just try different stuff out, man. Do a day where you have a pre-workout meal, and a post-workout meal, and maybe you have 5 or 6 meals that day. Try another day where you fast all day and have a big meal at night. Make note of how they make you feel during the day, and at night. What’s your experience? Do you find it easier knowing you’ll be able to eat in a few hours, or do you feel better experiencing the hunger of not eating all day, knowing you’ll get to indulge in a large meal at night?
It’s very individual, and no particular meal timing schedule gives you any sort of advantage in muscle gain or fat loss. One thing, just out of habit — and I think there is a little science behind this — I sometimes drink a protein shake after I work out, even if I’m fasting all day until dinner. There’s some science that indicates that it’s good to drink protein right after a workout, because your body is primed to use a higher percentage of it for muscle-building — almost like the muscle is a protein sponge right after your workout. But other science says that it’s better to fast after a heavy workout, because your body is pumping human growth hormone throughout your body — especially if you worked out in a fasted state. So, either way, I don’t think it matters that much. It’s just important that in the 24-hour period, you hit your protein goal, you work out, and you hit your calorie deficit.
QUESTION 11. Hey Paul, what are some good items to purchase that will help one go deeper into fitness. I feel like I have a good arsenal of things already? For instance, I have some nice Nike Metcons Series 2 work out shoes, a jump-rope that is fit to my height, a nice workout bag, a protein shake bottle with mixer ball, a food scale, a foam roller, etc. But I’m curious what else you might thing to be good. Just curious about anything and everything related to purchasing something that will make the discipline of fitness easier.
ANSWER: Great question. I’m going to do a future podcast on this. Sorry to leave you hanging — it’s a great question. More info to come.
QUESTION 12. Are there workout apps that are good for tracking workouts?
ANSWER: Yes! For weightlifting, I recommend two apps — one is called Strong, and the other is called Stacked. I prefer Strong, because Stacked can give you some advertisements for other products at times, but they’re basically the same. Those are linked in the Show Notes.
QUESTION 13. Do you recommend any workout supplements? I'd love a podcast devoted to this. Personally, I've never taken Pre-workout, but it sounds awesome. and a great way to ensure I actually go hard in a work out. But part of me wonders, would my 300+ lb body have a heart attack if it were under that kind of stress? Would protein shakes and other supplements be a good idea if fat loss is the goal?
ANSWER: Also on this, I’m going to do a whole podcast on supplements — it might even be the next podcast. Great question. I even want to wait to answer your question about how to use supplements for different goals in that supplement podcast. But that’s great stuff.