The most extensive and comprehensive diet guide for improving body composition that you’ll find anywhere.
Why I Wrote This Guide
Improving body composition is at the forefront of most fitness interested people’s minds.
Heck, it goes even further than so, everyone wants to look and feel great, it’s a basic human need.
And that’s why I wrote this guide – to empower you with the knowledge to achieve the body that you’ve always wanted, whether it’s for competing or looking better in general.
There are plenty of diet guides on how to improve body composition, from textbooks to online video tutorials, you can really choose whichever you like.
But, I’ve felt that something was missing – a free guide that really goes in-depth and breaks the information down into actionable pieces and in the correct order of importance.
The Complete Dieting Guide for Improving Body Composition closes that gap.
Who This Guide Is For
I wrote this dieting guide for physique/bodybuilding competitors, fitness enthusiasts and every day gym goers looking to step up their game and achieve a better body composition – meaning more muscle and less fat.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything from measuring your body composition, counting calories and macros, to nutrient timing and which supplements can be useful, whether your goal is cutting, bulking or maintaining weight.
You’ll also learn how to stay as healthy as possible while working towards your ultimate physique goals.
The guide will be set up in the order of most important to least important when it comes to improving body composition.
Why the Pyramid?
Through the guide, I’ll use the famous nutrition pyramid created by Eric Helms to demonstrate how to set up your diet.
The pyramid is almost exclusively based on science and is, therefore, a highly reliable source.
The pyramid displays through hierarchy what’s most important when it comes to improving body composition.
Where calories at the bottom are the most important factor and supplements at the top are the least important.
The pyramid looks like this:
Pyramid created by Eric Helms, author of the amazing muscle and strength pyramids books. Books which I can’t recommend enough!
As you can see, the order of importance to successfully lose fat, build muscle or maintain a certain body composition is as the pyramid shows.
Here’s a quick example:
Let’s say your goal is to lose fat.
If the first thing you do is look at meal frequency or supplements (at the top of the pyramid) to help you achieve the goal of fat loss, chances are high that you won’t be successful.
Because you miss out on the larger, more important factors for fat loss.
On the other hand, if you were to focus on calories and macronutrients first, you would successfully account for 80 % of the factors resulting in fat loss.
So, are the upper factors important at all?
Yes, but only if the foundation is in place.
Now that you understand how the pyramid is built up, here are all the parts of the guide:
Part 1: Tracking and Measuring Body Composition
Tracking and measuring body compostition is important if you’re looking to improve it. If you don’t measure and track your body, you won’t know if you’re making progress towards your goal.
That’s why in the first part you’ll learn how to track and measure your body composition effectively.
This part will cover:
- How to measure body fat percentage.
- How to track changes in body compostition.
Part 2: How to Set Up Your Calorie Intake
To successfully change anything when it comes to your body weight, whether that’s gaining or losing weight, calorie intake is the most important part to set up correctly when it comes to your diet.
Calorie intake and it’s effect in the body falls under the law of thermodynamics making it number 1 in the hierarchy.
This guide will cover:
- How to calculate calorie intake to lose or gain weight.
- How to adjust the calorie intake after activity.
- How to make changes with the calorie intake in case things doesn’t go as planned.
Part 3: How to Set Up Your Macronutrients
Calorie intake is what decides weight loss or weight gain. Macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) on the other hand, partly decides whether it’s fat or muscle you’ll lose or gain.
In other words, macronutrients plays a huge role in deciding your body composition. That’s why they’re number two in the hierarchy and just as calories important to set up correctly!
This part will cover:
- Why each of the macronutrients are important.
- How to set up your macros depending on your goal.
Part 4: Micronutrients and Fiber Intake
The subject of micronutrients and fiber can sound a bit boring, but it’s very important that you don’t ignore it. Long-term deficiencies in either one will affect your health and training performance negatively.
Luckily, it’s easy to take control over these nutrients.
By following a few simple rules regarding daily fruit and vegetable intake, you can make sure you’re not creating deficiencies.
This part also includes water intake guidelines.
Part 5: Meal Frequency & Nutrient Timing
These two phenomena have been tossed around crazily in the fitness industry during the last decade.
Earlier, a food intake every three hours was standard, it was even a must to avoid a “crashed metabolism.” You also had to eat the perfect amount of protein and carbs after your workouts to make sure you retained all your muscles…
Two notions that have little to no truth about them.
Today, some people take it to extremes in the other direction, especially with intermittent fasting that has taken a strong grip on the fitness industry.
So, at place four in the hierarchy:
How important are frequency and timing really for improving body composition?
Part 6: Supplements Worth Taking
Supplements are the smallest piece of the puzzle, as they seem to provide less than 5 % of the total results when it comes to improving body composition.
With that said though, some of them can still be useful in certain cases. So, we’ll take a closer look at them as well.
Improving body composition is the main goal of the majority of people interested in fitness.
Constantly trying to be leaner and more muscular is the name of the game.
But how can we be sure that we’re making progress as quickly as possible?
That we’re not just spinning our wheels in the gym and kitchen?
That’s what you’ll learn throughout this guide. You’ll be a master of creating and maintaining an incredible body composition.
But, before we look at how to improve body composition through the diet. Let’s make it crystal clear what body composition is and how to track and measure it.
What is Body Composition?
Body composition is often mistaken for Body Mass Index (BMI) or fat percentage, but they’re completely different.
BMI is showing total weight relative to height, which means it doesn’t take what someone’s total weight is made up of into consideration.
And fat percentage only shows the amount of fat you have on your body, not what you’re actual body composition are.
Top-level physique athletes that are incredibly lean with low body fat, while being muscular usually have very high BMI’s and are considered overweight by the BMI standard.
Take Jeff Nippard for example, who’s an incredibly talented and gifted natural bodybuilder. He’s 5’5″ (165 cm) tall and weighs 160 lbs. (72 kg) in this picture.
This is he’s BMI calculation:
- 160 (pounds) x 0.45 = 72 (kilograms)
- 5’5 (inches) x 0.025 = 1.65 (meters)
- 65 x 1.65 = 2.7225
- 72 / 2.7225= 26.44 (BMI)
His BMI is 26.44 which puts him at overweight status according to BMI standard.
As you can see, body mass index (BMI) is useful for analyzing population but not so useful when it comes to analyzing individuals. Especially not individuals who are more muscular than normal.
You Should Look For Body Composition Changes
If you’re looking to get fitter, you shouldn’t pay attention to BMI, you should look at body composition instead. By doing so, you’ll see what your body is actually made of.
When you just step on the scale, your weight will reflect the amount of skeletal muscle, fat, bones, blood, water, organs and other minor components in your body.
As individuals, we all have different amounts of these things.
Now, there are different models of determining body composition, but for us interested in fitness, we should narrow it down to these two:
- Fat mass: This is all the fat in your body.
- Fat-free mass: This is everything that isn’t fat: muscle, bone, blood, organs, water, glycogen, and so on. Often shortened FFM.
These two components allow you to better analyze what happens to your body when you diet or exercise. The obvious and ultimate goal is to have high fat-free mass and low fat mass.
- If you gain weight but your fat mass remains the same, you’ve gained muscle but not fat.
- And contrarily, if you lose weight but your fat free mass stays the same, then you’ve lost fat but maintained muscle mass.
These two scenarios are ideal, but often not possible in the real world.
However, people commonly make the mistake of stuffing their face when bulking to gain muscle, just to end up getting fat in the process.
And this is what you’ll learn how to set up correctly in the coming parts.
But first, let’s look at how to measure body composition, so you can keep track of your diet and training, making sure you progress towards the results that you want!
Measuring Body Composition
The easiest way to measure body composition is to first measure body fat percentage.
Sounds easy enough, but can be tricky because there is so much inaccuracy with the methods used to measure body fat.
For that reason, body fat percentage measurements are estimations at best, this is true for even the most advanced methods.
How to Estimate Body Fat Percentage
Here’s a list of the most accurate to least accurate methods you can use to estimate body fat percentage. I’ve based the list on each one’s standard error deviations:
- DEXA scan: ~1-2%
- US Navy’s mathematical equation: ~3%
- BodPod/Undervattensvägning: ~3%
- Calipers and skinfold tools: experienced user ~3%, inexperienced user ~5%
- Visual appearance combined with waist measurement: experienced user ~3%, inexperienced user ~5%
- BIA (electrical scales): 5-8% (best avoided)
Let’s look at these one by one:
DEXA is the most accurate method that exists when it comes to estimating body fat percentage.
DEXA stands for Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry and it’s an x-ray machine that scans the whole body. Through a computer, the machine receives the amount of bones, muscle mass and fat mass you carry.
With a standard deviation of ~1-2%, DEXA is the preferred method to use if available.
DEXA used to be a bit expensive and rather difficult to get an appointment for. But luckily a company called DexaFit has made the whole process of getting a DEXA scan easier than ever before.
US Navy’s Mathematical Equation
This is a neat equation that gives an astoundingly accurate measurement, it has a standard error deviation of only ~3% which is amazing for an equation based method.
To use the equation, you must know your: height, weight, waist circumference (at naval) and neck circumference (at narrowest). Females need hip circumference as well (at widest.)
I’ll have this calculator ready for you at the end of this section.
Averagely, the US Navy’s Mathematical Equation is a great tool to use, but it comes with one big drawback:
Thatit doesn’t work well for all people.
The equation doesn’t take into consideration where on the body you distribute your fat.
Some people distribute most of their fat on their legs and arms, other do so on their back, and most commonly, on the stomach, hips and butt.
The fact that most people place their fat on the stomach, hips and butt is why this method works so well on average. Because it’s the standard the equation is created after.
But, if you store your fat in other places, you will get a reading that’s completely off.
The BodPod is an egg formed air compressed chamber that measures your bodyweight using a very precise scale, while simultaneously measuring your body volume via pressure and vacuum.
When the whole-body density has been measured, the relative proportion of fat mass and fat-free mass can be calculated with the help of weight, height, density, age and sex.
The BodPod works extremely well to measure the average on a group of people (why it generates such exact results in studies) but not as well for individuals.
Lean and muscular people tend to get a number that is 3-5% higher or lower than what their body fat percentage really is.
Here’s a perfect example of Greg O’Gallagher’s experiment with the BodPod. He got a result of only 4.8 % body fat (pretty much stage ready,) when in reality he’s more like ~8 %
Underwater weighing works basically the same way, just with water instead of air compression.
And just as with the DEXA, both BodPod and Water weighing is somewhat expensive and difficult to get an appointment for.
Calipers and Skinfold Tools
Skinfold testing using calipers to measure the thickness of your skin can yield rather exact measurements of body fat percentage.
The biggest problem with skinfold measurement is that most people don’t know how to use the tools.
You must get the exact correct amount of skin in between the tool each time you measure – not too much, not too little and always measure at the same spot.
This can be learned of course and with practice, you can get measures that are just 2-3% off the correct fat percentage.
Believe it or not, how you look in the mirror can be a great method for estimating body fat percentage.
Each body fat percentage has a certain look which can give you a good indicator of how much body fat you carry just by looking in the mirror.
But there’s one thing to take into consideration.
The look of different body fat percentages varies widely depending on how much muscle mass someone has.
For instance, a 150-pound guy at 10% body fat has 15 pounds of fat, and a 180-pound guy at 10% has only 3 pounds more fat but 27 pounds more fat-free mass.
These are two dramatically different looks. And here’s a perfect visualization of this:
Both are around 10% body fat but the guy on the right has far less muscle mass, giving him a completely different look.
With that said though, you can still guesstimate your body fat percentage pretty accurately by just comparing your body to the following images made by Marc Perry, founder and CEO of BUILTLEAN.
What’s interesting about waist circumference is that it goes up or down with body fat percentage.
For most people (not everyone), each body fat percentage has a corresponding waist circumference.
I’ve discovered that you can predict somewhat precisely the amount of fat you carry by checking your waist circumference.
However, as I discussed earlier, waist circumference doesn’t take into consideration if you store your fat on your arms, legs, chest or upper back.
But on average, waist circumference works well, that’s why it’s also used in the US Navy formula mentioned above.
Here’s a chart showing you the corresponding waist measurement to body fat percentage (sorry ladies, I only found numbers for males):
Visual Appearance Combined with Waist Measurement
By combining the two methods of visual appearance and waist circumference, you get an amazing combination that’s usually very accurate.
With some experience, you should be able to estimate your body fat percentage with error margins of only a couple of percentages.
And here’s what’s cool about this:
Once you get to your desired level of leanness, you’ll know what your own numbers should be to have a specific look.
So, for future cutting phases, you’ll know the exact number that you must get your waist back to, to achieve the same level of leanness, or even better because of muscular gains in the core section.
BIA (electrical scales)
These scales are the most commonly used method to measure body fat percentage with these days.
It’s one of those scales with metal surfaces that you place your feet on, or in some cases hold in your hands.
While you’re doing this an electrical current flow through your body and gives you a measurement.
The problem with these scales is that they don’t scan your whole body.
As you know, electricity always takes the path of least resistance. So, if you’re standing on a scale with two metal plates, the current will go into one of your legs, then to your hips, and back down through your other leg.
The current won’t go through your upper body at all:
And since we all store fat in various places, the BIA scales will come up with very inaccurate measurements on a whole-body level.
Furthermore, because electrical current always chooses the path of least resistance, it tends to skip fat tissue anyways.
Water is the most effective conductor of electricity, and guess which bodily tissue includes most water?
Yes, that’s correct, muscle does. Muscle contains around 70 % water to be precise, while fat contains nearly no water at all.
So, it’s rather obvious that the current will go through muscles and not fat.
So, with a standard error deviation of 5-8%, I wouldn’t recommend the use of BIA scales, the estimated number is just too far off.
Optimal way of Measuring Body Fat Percentage and Total Body Composition
The most optimal way of measuring body composition would be by dying and going through a full body autopsy…
Where you would have your tissues, bones and organs etc. all separated from each other and measured one by one.
Now, it’s good to be resourceful, but that’s a bit extreme, right?
The next best method would be with the 4-compartment body-composition model that involves using several different techniques to separate the body into four “buckets”:
- Muscle Tissue
- Fat Mass
- Bone Mass
BodPod/Underwater weighing is used to measure body density, total body water is measured through deuterium delusion, and total bone mass is determined by DEXA scan. All this data is equated which gives a consistent accurate measurement of body composition.
The problem with this method is that you need access to a team of scientists.
Luckily, you don’t have to be 100 % accurate with your measurments, because it’s not possible.
So, do we have a method that’s accurate enough and easy to use?
The winner for measuring body fat percentage with a standard error deviation of only ~3% while also being very user-friendly is,
The US Navy’s Mathematical Equation!
And here’s the promised calculator:
The US Navy Body Fat Formula
Just take the measurements displayed in the calculator, and insert them to calculate your body fat percentage.
Body fat Percentage
Just multiply your bodyweight with your fat percentage to get your Fat Free Mass (FFM.)
Here’s an example:
A person that weighs 160 lbs (72 kg) at 10 % body fat have a FFM of: 160 (bw) x 0.9 (bf%) = 144 lbs (65 kg).
Using this calculator gives you decently accurate numbers of fat free mass and fat mass. Numbers you will use to:
- Keep track on to make sure you’re making progress towards your goals.
- Base your calorie and macronutrient intake after in the upcoming parts.
Tracking Changes in Body Composition
Use the following tools to track changes in body composition:
- A scale
- A measuring tape
- A mirror
- The US Navy calculator
Weigh and Take Measurements of Yourself Daily and Calculate an Average Every Week
Your weight and measurements can fluctuate a lot from day to day duo to things like water and glycogen storage, what you’re eating, and bowel movement etc.
So watching and getting upset over daily weigh ins can quickly become a neurosis.
Dick Talens did a great post explaining the scale, why you bloat, and how to adjust weight loss.
To avoid this problem, some people weigh themselves only once every 2 to 4 weeks, which is perfectly fine.
But if you want to be more in control, I definitively recommend weekly averages.
And setting it up is easy, here’s what to do:
- First thing in the morning, after the bathroom and before eating or drinking, weigh yourself naked and take your measurements, not down your numbers.
- Once every week add the numbers up and divide by the numbers of measurements you took and you’ll have your weekly average.
- I recommend that you take these numbers daily, so that you get 7 numbers per week. This would be the most accurate, however 3-4 times per week is enough.
As you can see, I had days during these two weeks when I was 0.5 kg (1 lbs) heavier than my average weight. These fluctuations is usually larger when cutting as well.
The average changes over time will tell you what’s really happening with your weight outside the temporary daily fluctuations that have nothing to do with gaining or losing fat or muscle.
Track Your Strength In The Gym
Measuring your weight and body fat percentage is a great start.
But, to be certain your body composition actually improves overtime:
By losing fat and not muscle when cutting.
You should also track your strength in the gym:
- If your strength stays the same or improves while your body fat percentage goes down when cutting, you’re body composition is improving.
- If your strength improves faster than what your body fat perecntage inreases when bulking, you’re body composition is improving.
Look in the Mirror or Take Pictures
What you look like in the mirror is a reliable indicator that your body composition is improving.
Take pictures of your front, back and side in good lighting a few times per month, and over time you’ll see what’s changing (and what’s not).
And remember, if you’re getting leaner and more muscluar in the mirror you’re body composition is improving no matter what the scale or measurements tell you.
The ultimate way of tracking improvements in body composition is by using the US Navy Formula in combination with weekly weight/measurement averages, how you look and your strength in the gym.
Once you’ve gained some experience using these four, I’ve found that combined them outperforms any of the other methods, such as BodPod and skinfold measuring, even DEXA!
Conclusion – Measuring & Tracking Body Composition
As you’ve noticed, measuring your exact body fat percentage and composition can be very tricky, if not impossible. You’ll have to settle for a guesstimated range.
With that said though, tracking the changes in your body composition can be done very accurately, which is what matters most.
Okay great, you’ve just finished part 1 of this guide. You should now be well equipped with various tools to accurately track how your body composition changes overtime.
So, without further ado, let’s get started with the most important factor when it comes to improving body composition, which is: