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by Tony Gjokaj September 06, 2020 11 min read

I've tried Intermittent Fasting, Ketogenic, and low-carb diets way before they were cool. To be honest, most of these methods were never sustainable for me in the long-term: I would eventually always stop them. Being that I grew up with a family whose meals were Mediterranean-styled, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs were always a part of my life.

Sometimes, having trouble eliminating food groups in diets is not because of willpower or discipline... it's because of adherence. To us, adherence is the most important thing in a diet, as it eventually breeds discipline and consistency.

It was not until I incorporated Flexible Dieting that my entire lifestyle changed for the better. 

In this post, we will explore the Flexible Dieting system in its entirety. It's a system I have used through quite a few successful fat loss and muscle gain phases since 2013.

Let's explore this system!

The Introduction To Flexible Dieting

Flexible Dieting is a system that revolves around the premise: "There's no best diet, there's only the best diet that works for YOU". We all have different preferences based on the culture we grew up around, the exercise style we train in, and more. 

With Flexible Dieting, we take all of these factors into account. We do not eliminate food groups: we limit the bad ones.

And most of the time, we welcome carbohydrates in loving arms.

Flexible Dieting revolves around the following principles:

    1. Portion Control. We use various methods to understand how to properly portion control.
    2. Method of Tracking. We utilize a calorie tracker app (MyFitnessPal) or a food journal. Be aware of what you eat.
    3. Eat at least 3-5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. This will ensure you cover most of your vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
    4. Four to Six Meals a day. This is all dependent on your personal preferences, and whether or not you can adhere to them.
    5. Stay Hydrated. Drink at least a gallon of water per day.
    6. Don't eliminate food groups. Allow for indulgence - we typically allow a "free meal" once a week. While we do eliminate all junk food in our homes, indulging once a week and fitting it into your macronutrients is quite easy. Enjoy life.

Now that we have these principles out of the way, let's dive into basic tracking methods and food labels.

Food Labels

"Nutrition Facts" labels will typically contain proteins, carbs, fats, and fiber - along with the serving size.

Be sure to look at the serving size for each, as they will contain measurements and grams as serving sizes. If you're eating foods without labels (meats, fruits, or vegetables), check the general MyFitnessPal macronutrients for these.

Below is a Nutrition Facts label from the FDA's website. You can read more about Food Labels here. We don't necessarily track Daily Value (%DV) as that is an average of a 2,000 calorie diet.

 

Portion Control

Now that we understand food labels a little more, we can dive into portion control methods that we utilize. These methods consist of ways we can better track what we put into our bodies.

Awareness plays a huge part in weight gain or loss.

It's important to be aware of what you eat, as it allows us to make healthier food choices overtime.

We are going to go over two-portion control methods you can utilize. It is recommended that you use both, but you can use one or the other.

Method One: Food Scale and Meal Tracking App

Food Scale

Food Scales are used in Flexible Dieting to accurately track macronutrients (or calories) based on serving sizes. As most of nutrition fact labels contain cup measurements (or measurements in grams), we can accurately track serving sizes.

Meal Tracking App

Today, meal tracking apps are the ultimate nutrition accountability partner.

Just like tracking your monthly expenses, it’s important to track what you eat. This is because you build awareness when it comes to what you eat. This also will help you understand what nutrient-dense foods contain solid amounts of proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

When it comes to meal tracking, we would recommend a tracking app like MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal will help you track foods by searching in their database for the food you eat. I do this to track my food when I eat out at restaurants too: even if the calories aren’t exact, I have the food tracked and I’ll be more inclined to share my dessert.

With an app like MyFitnessPal, you can sometimes easily scan the product's barcode to get the food's macronutrients.

If this is not necessarily something you prefer, we can always use the portion control method in the next section.

Method Two: PFFT (Portion Control)

If you don’t want to track your foods, portion them. This is where the Palm-Fist-Fist-Thumb strategy comes in! Here’s how to do it:

  • Palm = Protein: The palm is used for portioning Protein sources like Chicken, Fish, etc. Two palm servings for men, One palm serving for women.
  • Fist = Carbohydrates: The fist is used for portioning Carb sources like Rice, Potatoes, and/or Oatmeal. Two fist servings for men, One fist serving for women.
  • Fist = Veggies: The fist is also used for portioning veggies like Broccoli, Asparagus, and Green Beans. Two fist servings for men, One fist serving for women.
  • Thumb = Fat: The thumb is used for portions of fat-dense foods like Peanuts or Almonds. Two thumb servings for men, One thumb serving for women.
  • Adding a Fruit for dessert and/or post-workout is the perfect way to feel satiated/fuller.

By default, these portions should put you around your “maintenance calories” (if you include physical activity).

If you find that after a few weeks you are struggling to drop weight, take out 1/2 portion of carbohydrates out of one-two meals and assess.

Eating Out

Flexible Dieting has helped me master the ability to eat healthy at restaurants and fast-food chains. Obviously, I prefer to choose healthier options for their vitamins, minerals, and fiber, however, Flexible Dieting allows me to indulge from time to time.

Here's a strategy I would utilize when eating at restaurants:

      • Plan ahead.Check what items are on the menu and see if there are on food tracking apps. Most of the time, they are and they're nearly accurate.
      • Guesstimation: If they aren't on food tracking apps, that's where guesstimation comes in. If you're fat loss dieting, overshoot calories and macros. If you're gaining weight, undershoot calories and macros.
      • Comps. Find comparables from other restaurants that have macronutrients and calories on their food tracking apps. For example, if you are getting sub sandwiches, use a restaurant like Jimmie John's. 

      Now that we have some of the foundational Flexible Dieting stuff out of the way, let's dive into calorie and macronutrient calculations.

      Calorie and Macro Calculations

      To start this section off, here are a few things to keep in mind:

      • Calories determine the rate of weight gain or loss. This is all dependent on your goals.
      • Macronutrients provide you the nutrients needed for overall health.If executed properly, you will hit your micronutrient (Vitamins, Minerals & Fiber) intake as well.
      • If using food labels, macronutrients are a more accurate representation of total calories in the meal. More on this later.

      Understanding these two, we can ultimately set up calculations to track your progress and goals.

      Calorie Calculations

      The following steps are one method that we use in getting a more accurate estimation of calories based on our goals. While there are various ways to calculate calories, this has always been one of the more accurate to start with.

      First Step: Get your “Base Calories”. Take your body weight and multiply it by 10. This will give you a base calorie intake. The base calorie intake is what you technically burn through daily without activity.

      Second Step: “Activity Multiplier”. The activity multiplier is a generic estimation; you might need to adjust depending on how much energy you expend. This is determined by the following:

      • Very low activity (light cardio): 1.3-1.4
      • Active (weight training 3-5 days weekly): 1.5-1.8
      • Super Active (high intensity; genetic outlier): 1.8-2.2

      Third Step: Take your base calories and multiply them by your multiplier to get your “Maintenance Calories”. This will determine the calories you can POSSIBLY eat to maintain your current physique.

      • Example: Me at 175. 175 x 10 = 1750 (base calories). I am active (1.5), so 1750 x 1.5 = 2625 (maintenance calories)

      Fourth Step: Determine your phase (whether fat loss or gaining), then add/subtract from “maintenance calories”.

      • If Fat Loss is the goal:
        • Your goal is to lose 0.5-1% per week of bodyweight.
        • The sweet spot would be 300-500 calories subtracted from maintenance.
        • My example: My maintenance calories are 2625. For fat loss, I will subtract 400 calories. 2625-400 = 2225 calories for fat loss
      • If Weight Gain is the goal:
        • This is determined by training experience.
        • If a Beginner (first year of training): add 300 calories to maintenance.
        • If Intermediate (2-5 consistent years of training): add 150-300 calories to maintenance.
        • If Advanced (5+ consistent years): add 60-100 calories to maintenance.

      Macronutrient Calculations

      Macronutrients are the nutrients that contain calories: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Flexible Dieting tracks macronutrients over everything, as they supply the necessary nutrients based on our goals.

      In this section, we are going to go over macronutrient recommendations to set up your Flexible Dieting goals. In following these recommendations, you should be able to ultimately build a well-rounded system that helps you optimize your nutrients.

      Protein

      Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps repair and develop new cells. These cells consist of our skin, muscles, nails, and physique.

      Protein helps repair broken down muscles as a result of exercise. It also helps fight fatigue, which is especially important when it comes to dieting for fat loss.

      The recommended daily amount for protein for someone who regularly exercises is around 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of body weight. 

      If we are using the maintenance calorie example above:

      • 1g of Protein = 4 calories.
      • Example: 1g x 175lbs = 175g (175 x 4 = 700 total calories in protein)

      Fats

      Fats are an essential macronutrient that helps regulate our health, hormones, creating new cells, and aiding in nutrient absorption.

      There are four types of fats: saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated and trans fats are typically deemed as "bad" fats, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the "good" fats.

      Here are a few guidelines when it comes to fats:

      • 1g of Fats = 9 calories.
      • 20-30% of your total calories come from fats to optimize your fat intake. 
      • Saturated Fats: Eat in moderation.
      • Trans Fats: Try to avoid at all times.
      • Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats: Focus on these for your overall health.
      • There is a higher correlation to health problems in individuals who consume more saturated and trans fats than monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

      If we are using the calorie example above (maintenance): 25% x 2625 calories = ~656 calories. Since 1g of fat = 9 calories, 656/9 = ~72g of Fats.

      Carbohydrates

      Carbs are our body's main source of energy. If we do weight training and cardiovascular exercise, carbohydrates are beneficial for energy replenishment.

      Carbohydrates are the last area we track, so we typically put the remainder of their calories into carbohydrates after handling proteins and fats.

      Here's how we would calculate it based on the maintenance calorie calculation example:

      • 1g of Carbohydrates = 4 calories.
      • calories - protein calories - fat calories = remainder calories.
      • Remainder calories/4 = carbohydrates in grams
      • Example: 2625 total calories - 700 protein calories - 656 fat calories = 1269 remainder calories. 1269/4 = ~317g carbohydrates.

      Total Macronutrients

      As my maintenance goal is 2625 calories, I focus on accomplishing these goals by getting 175g of Protein, 72g of Fat, and 317g of Carbohydrates.

      Now that I have the numbers, it's easy for me to make the necessary adjustments based on my goals. For example: If I was dieting, I would decrease the calories from carbohydrates, and add a little bit more to protein.

      Having a plan like this makes losing fat, gaining weight, or maintenance a lot less stressful.

      Dietary Fiber

      Dietary Fiber is another thing that should be considered when tracking macronutrients.  A low fiber diet is with various issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and more.

      Fiber is important for various things:

      • Gut Health.
      • Insulin.
      • Bowel Movements.

      You should aim around 25-45g of fiber per day. Women should stay on the lower end, whereas men should be on the higher end. Usually, if you consume at least 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (alongside complex carbohydrates), you should get an adequate fiber intake.

      Why We Track Macronutrients Over Calories

      Now we get asked often: "can we track calories only?"

      While this is ok, you're going to be better optimizing your overall health and physique with macronutrients.

      Here are a few reasons why we track macronutrients over calories:

      • Macronutrients are a more accurate representation of calories. Food labels tend to over or underestimate calories. Since we know how many calories are in fats, carbs, and protein, we can accurately count them from our macros.
      • Macronutrients are better for tracking overall health. If you follow the macronutrient guidelines, you should be able to get a proper intake of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This is SUPER IMPORTANT, especially while dieting.

      Now understand that sometimes we can't always be 100% accurate with our macronutrients, so then we allow for some leeway ("underbudgeting" or "overbudgeting").

      Here is how we would budget our proteins, fats, and carbs:

      1. Protein: +/- 10g
      2. Fats: +/- 5g
      3. Carbs: +/- 20g
      4. Calories: +/- 50-150

      Know that when fat loss dieting, it's better to go over on calories (on the lower end) than under calories. Your goal is to eat as much as you can while still losing weight.

        Simple On-The-Go Strategies

        Now that we have most of the Flexible Dieting system down, we can dive into some practical on-the-go strategies that will help you enjoy your flexible lifestyle.

        Traveling Strategies

        When tracking macronutrients, traveling is not necessarily an issue as many foods contain nutrition facts today.

        For convenience, here are some strategies I utilize when traveling:

        • If on-the-go, get some protein bars with you. You should eat 2 at max (due to their high fiber).
        • Whey protein powder or shakes are great options to have while traveling or on the go.
        • Keep some trail mix with you that has a higher protein mix in them. It keeps you satiated (or full).

        Restaurant Strategies

        As I have progressively gotten better at eating out at restaurants, I don't usually have to rely on a food scale for my goals. When your diet and training tend to be very consistent, macronutrient goals are only modified when necessary.

        Once you get the hang of Flexible Dieting, portion control, labels, and food scales, here are some simple strategies I utilize when eating fasting food or dining at a restaurant.

        • If going out to eat, prioritize chicken meals. If you need plenty of fats, you can focus on eating some meat. Remember that most fast food places prioritize fats for flavor, but as a chicken is leaner, they have more room to add flavor to a low-calorie meal.
        • Look at the "low-calorie" menu options and find which ones sound great for you.
        • If you decide to drink, you can track alcohol into your calories. I typically focus on hard liquor as it is quick with the calories. For example, one shot of whiskey can range from 70-120 calories. I then divide this up and deduct from a combination of fat and carb macronutrients. Limit drinking to once per week if you do this.

        Extra Tips

        These tips consist of things you can consider when dieting flexibly:

        • If you track macronutrients, you'll realize that calories on labels are never 100% accurate. Macronutrients are typically the most accurate in calorie counting.
        • Prioritize your protein goal always.
        • Find how many meals a day you prefer. I usually eat 4 meals a day, as they are easier for me to manage. What I do is have two protein shakes in the morning, a big lunch, a small pre-workout meal, and a large post-workout meal.
        • If you find yourself sleepy after eating many carbs, prioritize higher carb meals in the evening. If you find yourself energized after eating carbs, focus on your carbs at the beginning of your day.
        • Your pre-workout and post-workout meals should typically contain more carbohydrates (for workout energy purposes).
        • If you find yourself skipping breakfast and typically don't overeat at the end of the day, skipping breakfast is ok (as long as you're tracking macronutrients).

        With all of these tips, flexibility is the most important part. If some of these tips don't work for you, tweak them. Make them your own.

        The Flexible Lifestyle

        There it is - one big in-depth guide to Flexible Dieting!

        In closing, I wanted to go over the Flexible Dieting Principles one more time:

        1. Portion Control. We use portioning or MyFitnessPal to track our nutrients and what we eat.
        2. Method of Tracking. MyFitnessPal is utilized to bring awareness to the food you eat.
        3. Eat at least 3-5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. This will help you get most of your vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
        4. Four to Six Meals a day. This is all dependent on your personal preferences!
        5. Stay Hydrated. Drink at least a gallon of water per day!
        6. Don't eliminate food groups. Allow for indulgence - we don't eliminate bad foods, we LIMIT them. It's ok to indulge sometimes!

        Thank you for reading this post today. It is my hope that once you utilize this dieting system, you will live a lifestyle with healthiness, happiness, and all kinds of flexibility!

        Any additional questions or comments? Throw them below, or email me at tony@reforgedperformance.com.

        Until next time, Reforged Legion.

        Go out there and seize your best life.

        Carpe Fatum!

          Tony Gjokaj
          Tony Gjokaj

          Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He has been in the fitness space for over a decade, previously coaching individuals in body recomposition and strength training. His goal is to connect others with the knowledge they need to reach their greatest potential.



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