My philosophy towards dietary changes is to implement the least amount of work to get someone towards the goals they are after. Diet “success” comes from consistency in the long-term. Implementing too many drastic changes generally means it won’t be sustainable and therefore, we won’t see (or keep) the results.
This is some of the reason behind the rules of the #800gChallenge® (800-gram challenge). By not requiring people to eliminate any foods, we get better adherence in the long-term. In addition, the rules provide for user autonomy in making choices and flexibility day-to-day to make it a real, livable dietary intervention.
And I consider it the first step in someone’s diet. While I appreciate no single number or diet approach can be perfect for everyone, the #800gChallenge® comes in at only 500-600 calories when someone eats mixed fruits and veggies. That is significantly less than what most people are eating (particularly those that are exercising). And, there is almost universal agreement fruits and veggies are good for our health. So when people aren’t doing it, I have to ask, what are they eating?
Particularly for the active population, the next step from the #800gChallenge® is to add sufficient protein. I have dubbed this #800gChallenge® + Protein approach “Lazy Macros.”
I think the Macros Diet (where you weigh and measure everything you eat to hit certain protein, carbohydrate, and fat gram totals) is a great educational tool and is also great for those who love it and thrive with it. It certainly takes out the guesswork of how much to eat, it gets results, and it allows for any foods in the diet (hello, sustainability!). However, I don’t believe that most people (myself included), want to weigh and measure food … forever.
Yet in our modern and busy lives, processed and convenient food is everywhere pushing our diets to (generally) be high in carbohydrate and fat. It is useful to have some daily checkpoints to keep us on track. The #800gChallenge® serves that purpose, but it is lacking any protein guidance. And protein has some pretty important uses: it is a necessary part of a diet for athletes looking to maximize strength and performance, and it helps with satiety.
So How Much Protein?
A range of 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day (g pro/lb bw*d) is a good general recommendation to build lean muscle mass, as well as prevent sarcopenia. (If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, you can use your target weight).
But how do you know if you should be 0.7 versus 1.0? Generally, people that are smaller, less-muscled, and less active would be closer to 0.7 and those larger, more-muscled and more active would be closer to 1.0. But, it’s better to start at the level that best approximates your current protein intake and increase as necessary.
Suppose someone was 150 pounds; their protein intake could be one of the following:
• 0.7 – 105 grams of protein/day (g pro/d)
• 0.8 – 120 g pro/d
• 0.9 – 135 g pro/d
• 1.0 – 150 g pro/d
Generally, the 0.8-0.9 multiplier works well for those weightlifting and training at high-intensity regularly. Even for those looking to put on mass, it is not recommended to eat much above the 1 g pro/lb bw*d. Why? When you are eating that much protein, the rest of the diet generally suffers. And as protein intake climbs, plant matter intake (fiber) should also increase to attenuate the potential negative effects of protein putrifying in the colon (putrefaction).
How to Implement
A simple strategy to hit your Lazy Macros is to split the total quantity across three main meals. This means ~270 grams of fruits and veggies per meal + ? of your protein quantity (~35-50 g/meal for most people).
While you can space it however you want, the more “routine” your meals are, the less tracking you have to do. What may be considered a “boring” diet by some actually is a way to reduce decision fatigue and the overall work to track on every single number.
I don’t know if I’d call them recipes; it’s more like food combining. Super simple combinations with minimal prep to get you a day of Lazy Macro success. I’ll start posting them more regularly on my Instagram channel. But, here’s one meal that comes in at 296 grams of fruits and veggies and 35 grams of protein: deconstructed tacos (lettuce – 56g, tomatoes – 130g, onions – 50g, avocado – 60g, and 5 oz. cooked ground beef).
You can scale up or down depending on your needs: 1) increase your #gramhaul by replacing the rice with cauliflower rice or some other starchy vegetable, 2) increase your serving size of any #800gChallenge item, and 3) change your protein serving.
The beef was browned in a pan with taco seasoning (2 tbsp per pound of beef). The pickled onions were made from the amazing and simple recipe at The Real Food Dietitians.
In the Lazy Macro approach, we are targeting the two underrepresented items in most modern diets: 1) fruits and veggies (#800gChallenge®), and 2) protein. By focusing on adding these two types of food, we simultaneously reduce the number of processed foods. There is only so much food and space you have in your stomach — these more healthy items fill it up before you have too much of the calorically dense stuff. And, you don’t need to weigh and measure everything; daily tracking is possible on a post-it note. That is as complicated as I want to make a dietary intervention.
See my Part 2 blog post on Lazy Macros.