How To Set Up Your Diet: The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth

Andy MorganKey Set-up, Nutritional Pyramid of Importance88 Comments

The Pyramid Of Nutrition Priorities v1.1

Credit to to Eric Helms for idea of organising things as a pyramid and his permission to use it here.

#1 Calorie Setting, #2 Macro Setting, #3 Micros & Water, #4 Nutrient Timing, #5 Supplements

There is a very clear order of priority when setting up your diet. If you don’t understand it, at best you’ll just be wasting money, at worst your time and effort as well.

Unfortunately there is a large amount of confusion and misconceptions over what is important. I see this a lot with the one-on-one nutritional coaching also, and I’m sure you see it around the internet too. Given the misinformation that the industry peddles you’d think that the pyramid of importance above were inverted. When struggling to make a change we’re taught focus on the things that matter least, namely supplements and timing, rather than double-check that the foundations are solid.

What this means is that you can’t eat just ‘clean foods’ and ignore calories, you can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet, and you can’t use some special timing tricks to enable you to binge eat on the evenings.

The typical British teenager getting their priorities wrong.

Calorie Balance > Macros > Micros > Meal Timing > Supplements

This is a six-part series. It’s my sincere hope that by learning the principles here you’ll feel free and in control of your nutrition and physique goals.

Golden rule: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.

This is series is lists the order of importance. You want to add in the least amount of complication that you can to progress. So, if you’re completely new to this, consider focusing on calories first, then macros, and forget the other points for now.

Here’s a quick rundown of what this guide covers:

#1 Calorie Setting

Energy balance pretty much determines whether weight will be gained or lost. Sadly, this is one of the most frequently ignored pieces of the puzzle. I’ll give guidelines on:

  • How to calculate energy balance for weight loss or gain,
  • How to adjust for activity,
  • How to make adjustments to calorie intake if things don’t proceed as planned.

#2 Macros, Fibre & Alcohol

You may have heard it said that while energy balance determines whether weight is gained or lost, macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) determine whether that change is fat or muscle mass.

Though that is a gross oversimplification, macros play an important role and need consideration. Simply put, get them right and you’ll reach your physique goals quicker and more painlessly than if you ignore them.

#3 Micronutrient Considerations & Water

The topic of micronutrition may sound boring but you can’t afford to ignore it. Long-term micronutrient deficiencies will impact your health and torpedo your training efforts. Fortunately it’s doesn’t have to be complicated. By observing a few simple rules of thumb regarding your daily fruit and vegetable intake you can safeguard against deficiencies.
Andy 10 Week Comparison BW

This is me, finally getting the nutritional order of importance right.

#4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

Industry thinking used to be as simple as, eat big, lift big, get big.

The pendulum then swung too far to the right of moderation towards excessive attention to detail. The new standard became ‘eat many small meals throughout the day’, sometimes known as a typical bodybuilder diet.

Unfortunately I now think it has swung too far in the other direction, where we have the (only slightly less annoying) myth that ‘meal frequency and timing doesn’t matter’, or even that ‘calories don’t count as long you eat within an 8 hour window’ – a natural consequence of people jumping on the intermittent fasting bandwagon without understanding (or caring about) the science.

As is the case with most of these things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll discuss where this happy line of moderation may lie for you, as well as the hypotheticals for those wanting to be more pedantic.

#5 Supplements

Supplements are the smallest part of the puzzle. However, they can be useful so we’ll cover them in two sections: 1. General health, 2. Physique & performance.

↓ Let’s begin ↓

• Prefer to read it as a single web page? Here you go.

Questions? Clarifications? Hit me up in the comments on any of individual guide sections. – Andy.

#1 Calorie Setting, #2 Macro Setting, #3 Micros & Water, #4 Nutrient Timing, #5 Supplements

About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

88 Comments on “How To Set Up Your Diet: The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth”

  1. Pingback: Dreambulkeritis |

  2. Great article. Normally try to avoid on-line articles on sports science as the amount of bullshit gets too much for me, so I like how this is just talking about the basics, but how to do it right. Great stuff. Now just need to find the time to read all the other articles!

    Just as a head’s up, on page 27 of the PDF guide (alcohol section), one of the paragraphs part way down starts with “Beer Side Image” – I don’t think the text is meant to be there. On page 31 (Intro to Micros), the sentence about Popeye has a lonely quotation mark at the end! (Feel free to remove this paragraph, as I guess it doesn’t really belong as a comment, but I couldn’t see where else to let you know!)

    1. Chris, thank you. Most appreciate you pointing out the typos, will correct them today.
      Agreed about all the nonsense that’s to be found online. The sites that I recommend and read are all listed up here.

  3. Hi Andy, how are you doing/ just find your blog rippedbody. Awesome articles, not read all the articles yet, but it’s very different then others.
    Need your advice.

    I have a question about nutrition. I’m struggling to keep my weight. I don’t eat much but eat very often, and can not keep my bowels empty. My food sources are 90-95 vegetables, fruits (raw, boiled, grilled…).

    Sometimes eat eggs, and chicken meat, and also rarely use olive oil, or some sunflower seeds. I do a lot of exercises, mainly runnig, cycling and do a little workouts with weights. I feel that I’m going on the wrong way. How to maintain my weight and to reduce my exercises. Because now I spent 3-4 hours every day, and this is too much, and don’t know how to reduce it. I’m from Europe I’m about 200cm tall and have about 80kg, but can not keep my weight if I don’t do a lot of exercises.

    Want to try with ketogenic diet, but don’t know how to structure my meal plan. Would like to have 2 maybe 3 meals per day but without snacking. Also don’t know can this crazy amount of exercises screw my hormones, maybe it’s funny but also have problems with low libido*erectile dysfunction).

    Can ketogenic approach help me with this? Sorry for this long post, but don’t know how othrewise to describe all these. Will you please when you have time just for short advice.

    Thanks Ati

    1. Hi Ati. Taking the combination of what you say together – struggling to maintain weight without a lot of exercise, plus the low libido, I think this is something you should see a doctor about.

      1. Tnx Andy

        About libido and testosteron levels.
        Do you have in your plan to write an article about it?

        How to increase testosteron levels naturally?

        ps. search on the site, but can not find something like that


        1. Hi Ati, thanks for the question.
          Do you have in your plan to write an article about it?
          I don’t as this comes into the territory of giving medical advice for which I’m not qualified. A calorie deficit will affect T levels, as will a very low fat intake combined with that – this is all mentioned in this article series – further than that I can’t really give advice other than to say that testosterone boosters out there are simply a load of crap.

  4. Pingback: Maximum Genetic Muscular Potential |

  5. Hi Andy – My apologies if you have already answered this – General rule of thumb for IF is 8 hour window. Does it affect anything (hormones, metabolism etc.) in a good or bad way if the window is shortened? I have started fasted training so now eat breakfast at noon but still eat dinner around 6 so 6 hour eating window. My calories and macros are on target in this window. any difference 6 – 8?

      1. Wow how did I miss that… answered it perfectly. thanks a lot!

        I find it interesting you are not really convinced one way or another regarding fed or fasted training. here are a few studies (very short read) you might find interesting showing that exercising in a fasted state increases both lipolysis and fat oxidation rates. Additionally and which does make sense in theory anyway and with the one study below it also shows that blood flow in the abdominal region is increased when you’re in a fasted state, which helps you burn the “stubborn” fat in this region… If you have time let me know what you think.

          1. Interesting read on the link Andy although that study was on a treadmill and focused on fasted cardio. My interest is in heavy resistance ‘big 3’ training while fasted as opposed to cardio as you and I are both not big fans… either is mufasa 😉 as per your newly updated article which is also brilliant as with most everything on this site. Here’s the kicker with me, I don’t do cardio but I train Monday, Wednesday, Friday. On my ‘rest’ days from the gym I am the vast majority of time driving range at lunch with Tennis after work (tuesday, Thursday). Saturday I play 2 hours of soccer with my old team so its a quite competitive game and Sundays I aim to play a round of golf. So in reality no rest days… With all that random activity should I be adding calories in addition to extra carbs on those days? i am at a loss lately as I’m done to ~12% so slightly above stubborn range but yet cant seem to dent it and I’ve done a recent diet break, and I’ve tried re-feeds. My genetics seem very stubborn to go lower and I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do to make the next breakthrough as being 8 weeks now on the diet with steady progress and then coming to halt is wearing thin on my patience as you can imagine. Any suggestions?

          2. Ok great – I read the articles again and my conclusion is I might have pulled a milder version of a bone head Bob. I think I cut calories away too quickly and my body has caught up with me. I’m down to 1700 a day and not seeing any more fat losses. I tried a two week diet break and gained only 3 pounds which was water as when I started the diet back up at 1700 it came off in the first couple days. Now I’m stalled again. Do you think I should cut even more calories and go down to 1500-1600 or should I try a reset and add calories for a few weeks again. With the amount of sports I play on ‘rest days’ from the gym I don’t know about preserving lean mass and having any energy at 1500 calories. Which play would you suggest? (Macros have also been calculated with your guide)

            1. Hi Ryan. If you’ve given it a few weeks after your diet break, and things aren’t still moving, you have to either make a cut or increase energy expenditure. Muscle will be spared as long as protein is kept at the levels recommended (~2g/kgLBM) and you aren’t losing weight too fast for your body-fat percentage (which you aren’t). – More on that last point in the next article.

  6. Pingback: How to Calculate your Leangains Macros |

  7. Pingback: Progressing from 'The Big 3' to a Split Routine |

  8. Pingback: Cardio Necessary for Fat Loss? | Intermittent Fasting |

  9. Pingback: How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk |

  10. Pingback: Intermittent Fasting & Leangains Guide |

  11. Pingback: A Full Guide to Progressing Your Chin-ups |

  12. Hallo Andy,
    Thanks for next great article I’ve just read.
    I would have a question. I have search in interent but answers are so various and you an authority for me!
    What do you think about dairy products?
    I have heard thay are only half digested and they slow fat burn. Is it a myth in your opinion? or irrelevant and best to pay no attention on it.
    Do you recommend to eat diary?
    And one more question that pesers me 🙂 Can I build muscel mass when I don’t eat meat or very seldom?

    1. Hi Robert. 1. It’s a myth. 2. What matters is that you eat enough protein. You’ll see recommendations for protein intake in the macros section. The sources you choose are up to you.

  13. Pingback: A Hierarquia de Importância NutricionalDieta & Malhação

  14. Pingback: Aeróbicos para quem foca a musculação - Dieta & MalhaçãoDieta & Malhação

  15. Pingback: Physique Goal Setting (Part 1) |

  16. Hi Andy! Ive spent the last few days reading most of the posts and guides on this site, and I’m excited to get started, but I’m not sure if I should be starting with a body recomp or a cut. I’m female, 5’3, 130lbs. I’ve been training for the past couple of months with a trainer, but I’d still label myself as a beginner/novice, so (from what I’m understanding) you’d have me start with a recomp. I do have some muscle definition because I’ve been lifting with a trainer for the past few months, so I was wondering if I should instead start with a cut? Thanks in advance!

    1. As a beginner you will likely be able to make muscle gains while being in a slight calorie deficit (i.e. where your weight is gradually decreasing) which sounds like it could be the best move for you.

  17. Hi Andy, what are your views on Garcinia Cambogia? Do you think that it’s true that the claim that has been made about this product is the HCA-Hydroxycitric Acid that it prevents excess carbs from being stored as fat?

  18. Pingback: Cardio for the Physique Focused Trainee | RippedBody.jpRipped Body

  19. Hi Andy, I read the comments and answers on the articles here on a daily basis. Is there a way that I can subscribe to all articles? If not, maybe this could be an option for your site…?

    1. I think when you first started commenting there was an option (checkbox) to subscribe. Try logging our and then in again. If that doesn’t work then I don’t know bud. I did have a look around though.

  20. Pingback: Progressing from 'The Big 3' to a Split Routine | RippedBody.jpRipped Body

  21. Pingback: How To Count Macros, More Flexible Approach |

  22. Hi Andy, quick question that I couldn’t find browsing through the articles. When calculating our macros for both Training & Rest Days, do we use the BMR value or the TDEE value?

  23. Hey Andy,

    On some of my rest days, I run.

    Today I worked out I burnt around 750 calories during this run, so post run, alongside my dinner I ate an extra 700 to make up for it – is this going to make any difference (i.e. not being so calorie defict that I burn muscle) or should I eat the extra before the run? Or am I simply over complicating things!

    Many thanks,


    1. Hi Sam. This will bring your calories back in balance yes, assuming that the 700kCal estimation is correct. Whether that will disrupt the training adaptations is another story.

  24. Hi Andy,

    Not sure where to post a thank you/update, but I figure since this is the entry to the diet, it’s as good of a place as any.
    4.5 weeks since I’ve started your diet, and I’m down to 97kg from 105. I’ve had some increases on my lifts, but it’s not consistent, i.e. one week my top lift will go up, but the next week it will go down, but the next lighter lift will go up… it is increasing, but not drastically.

    Anyway, thank you again for putting out all of this great information, it has been invaluable so far in my weightloss journey. 7 more weeks until I have a weigh-in, we’ll see how successful I am..

    Once I get a good comp, then I’ll start following slow bulk, or just try to find the magic number of calories to hold even.

    BTW, do you know of any place in Japan to get an accurate body comp on the cheap? My company’s health check is pretty weak.


      1. Thanks — yeah I just wanted to get an accurate read of where I get to so I know where to go from there. I have one of those scales that also shows bf% (I know it’s garbage and always have, but it looks nice, and stores my previous weight and automatically detects if it’s me or my wife and was reasonably priced… I also have a wii fit board I can use like a withings scale)

        I should get out the tape measure!! such a simple thing I never think of it — right now I just notice that my tailored suit is loose now and my belt no longer holds my pants at the tightest notch (however my shirt buttons are getting a little tight around the chest), and my flab is receding… I have a pair of calipers I got for free, but I don’t pretend to know how to use them.

  25. Hey Andy have you ever had any clients who have had trouble with cholesterol after they begin your protocol? I recently got a blood test and it showed 200mg of chol in my blood–not something I’ve ever head to worry about, but it’s suddenly is at the higher end of the spectrum after over a year of IF training. Makes sense with all of the meat we’re eating to make our protein needs. Any experience or advice?

    1. Hi Alec. The way you’ve asked the question presupposes that a high cholesterol number is ‘bad’, which is wrong.

      “Recent work by da Luz et al examined a range of relationships between lipid levels,10 and found that the ratio of triacylglycerol to HDL-cholesterol (TG/HDL-c) was the “single most powerful predictor of extensive coronary heart disease among all the lipid variables examined.” -AARR
      – If you go have a look back to the 20th January 2013 on the Facebook page you’ll see this was discussed there. For the specific “normal” rages then see that AARR issue (you’ll need to subscribe) or ask your doctor. I’m not posting them here, I don’t want to encourage people approaching me for advice that really belongs in the realm of discussion between the person and their GP.

      I find a bigger, more important issue with the phrasing of your question – it is not the IF that will improve blood lipid profiles, but the combined effect of being leaner and more muscled. The IF is a helper of compliance, mainly. For more on that see #4 Meal Timing & Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling.

      1. Thanks for the answer. Great place to begin some more research. You are correct– my question assumes increasing cholesterol is bad, simply because that’s what I’ve been led to believe throughout my life. My research suggests (and you seem to agree) that TG plays a much bigger role than something like higher LDL, which is what I’ve always believed to be the worst.

        That blood test was taken recently toward the end of my slow bulk phase. I’ll be taking another at the end of my current cut, and compare. I expect, as you also hint, the fat loss will naturally bring down chol levels anyways.

  26. Pingback: How to Calculate your Leangains Macros |

  27. Pingback: The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance - #1 Calories |

  28. Great read, Andy –

    In your experience, if a client is on creatine monohydrate while on a bulk, how much of the “LBM” gain can be attributed to water retention via the creatine? Is there a general percentage? I’ve researched the question, but can’t seem to find a reliable answer.

    Thanks for all of your continued work – Jason

    1. Some people receive greater benefits from creatine then others, so that’s why you don’t find any set percentage or equation for that Jason.

      From the guide I send to clients:

      What about creatine?
      If you have not been taking creatine then please do not start taking it. If you have been taking creatine then please continue taking it. Do not change course of action half way through.
      Creatine causes increased water uptake in the muscles. It can also cause some bloating.
      Changing half way through we will lose objectivity in the measurements and tracking process.
      It can take up to 30 days for creatine to take full effect.
      I don’t personally use it as it gives me headaches and diarrhoea.

  29. Looks very similar to a 5 part video series that Eric Helms of 3D Muscle Journey did a little while back.

      1. Skim read, which is on the increase due to smart phones, and the bane of my existence.

  30. Just wanted to say that I’m 6’3”, was 235 pounds, and over about four-six months lost about 30 pounds while gaining some muscle. I followed nothing except a very loose Intermittent Fasting not changing food, but adding exercise (basketball, running, weightlifting) and not really paying attention to what I did. I just went to the gym, and did what I wanted to do. Here’s why I lost weight: I took in less calories than I burned. Period. I like Andy’s site because it gets me excited about the refinements (including getting shredded, etc.), but I haven’t followed it yet. That’s coming.

  31. Even if this pyramid shows that meal timing and frequency are of little interest when facing caloric intake criteria, I was just wondering whether this pyramid would be the same for IF users.

    What I mean is that on training days, meal frequency and timing are important for an IF user (as opposed as non training days where it doesn’t really matter).

    I’m aware though that caloric intake / energy balance and macronutrient intake are the most important criterias, intermittent fasting or not.

    1. I’m aware though that caloric intake / energy balance and macronutrient intake are the most important criterias, intermittent fasting or not.
      Right, not sure what your question was here though. Probably best to wait for the other articles to come out and you’ll have your answers.

      1. Sorry for not being clear there. What I meant was : if meal timing and frequency are not important (as they are ranked 4 out of 5), what is the point, as an IF user, of eating 35% of my daily calorie intake prior to my workout on training days, and 65% after, since the meal frequency and timing does not matter that much.

        I ask this question as my understanding is that this pyramid seems to apply to everyone, IF user or not.

        1. Not as important. There are nutrient timing benefits to positioning meals around workouts/post workout. This will be covered in the timing article.

  32. Great article. I have one question about calories: it seems to me that I can eat more calories with IF than eating 6 meals a day. Previous I gain more fat than I do now. Is there an explanation for this?
    I’m looking forward to the rest of the articles.
    Greetings, Snits

    1. Could be that you’ve changed other factors up also like training, there is also the section on timing still to come.

  33. Timing is really appearing to matter less than thought. This study (just published Dec 2013) is on the verge of slamming the door shut on the subject:

    It’s total protein, not timing, that matters. It also supports the theory (I think it was Lyle who I read this from first) that protein needs decrease for well-trained lifters. Newbies need double the RDA; those with some experience need less.

    However, this study covers protein needs for increasing strength and hypertrophy, not for what’s needed on a diet to spare lean body mass loss.

    1. Yes that’s Brad, Alan and James’ meta-analysis. Alan was saying how excited he was to finally get it through the peer review process and on Pub Med – the most popular article in the history of the database. If you love that kind of stuff then check out his research review,

      1. Oh, I’m a big dummy. I didn’t even take notice of Alan’s name. I’m not familiar with the other two.

        They should be excited. Congrats to them!

      2. Hey, a quick question on this. What is your opinion on ditching the BCAA pre/post when training fasted? Brad Pilon always seemed to think it was unnecessary. This article seems to agree, as long as you get enough protein the rest of the day.

        1. Hi Craig
          My answer would be that you have to take care when drawing conclusions from scientific papers. What this meta analysis suggests is that there is no advantage to be had in terms of hypertrophy or strength gains from the timing of protein intake (ie the question of being in a fasted state was not considered at all). I suspect that none of the subjects trained in a fasted state although this is not commented on in the meta analysis.

          The main conclusion of the meta analysis is not the same thing as suggesting that someone training in a fasted state would not benefit from taking pre workout BCAA (ie to prevent muscle catabolism). A separate study would be required to study this very different proposition.

          Personally I would still stick with Martin’s Leangains protocol until there is something definitive to convionce me otherwise.

          Rgds John

          1. Thanks John,

            I would suspect that to some degree it depends on how fasted you are and how drained your aa pool is, as well as your goals.

            I believe Martin had stated previously that muscle catabolism wasn’t really a problem until 40 hours into a fast. That idea never seemed to jive with the pre/post stuff.

            Still, i’m not going to avoid it, just not going to stress about it, especially when cutting is the primary goal.

            1. Yes. Agreed 100%. Concentrate on the important stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    2. “protein needs decrease for well-trained lifters.” … very interesting, first I heard anyone say this but I’m experiencing this first hand myself. Recently I’ve cut back on the amount of protein I consume per day (was eating protein with every meal and multiple shakes a day). I’m in very good shape, athletic, eat healthy, etc but was feeling a bit sluggish, just not right. So I cut back on the amount of protein and increased the amount of veggies and I have to say I feel much better, more energetic … and no I’m not endorsing being a vegetarian, I’m not. But it has become obvious to me that my body doesn’t need all that protein.

  34. Hey Andy,

    If you don’t mind I will proceed in leaving a plethora of thoughts here.

    Today I attended a very interesting seminar regarding referencing and citing. The doctor concerned (he is in biology) spoke about primary, secondary, tertiary and grey literature areas.

    Basically the majority of people rely on the tertiary and grey areas which dilute the peer-reviews of primary sources and foundations as well as articles based on those articles and foundations. All the technical words which the general population does not comprehend (or want for that matter) are chucked out to leave a somewhat perverted form of the original. These tertiary and grey literature areas are full of the semi-truth.

    Unfortunately journals like Pubmed, Cell and other distinguished references, these do not make ‘exciting’ reads as ‘dull’ and ‘too technical’ do not sell sensation, which after all tertiary and grey literature’s primary aim is to do. This results in a majority of people blindly following a ‘belief’ or another without enough critical analysis to back their ‘reasoning’. The worrying thing is, several people just do not want to know better – this short-sightedness of getting something ‘done’ in the shortest amount of time is every increasing. I like to refer to Queen’s phrase which goes somewhere on the lines of ‘I want it all and I want it now’.

    An interesting read is Berkhan’s Consequence and Clarity article. There is a part called ‘Conversation with a Friend’ which ties indirectly up to what I said about the increasing degradation of critical thinking in the general population which in this day and age do have access to education (in its holistic meaning) to improve.

    (Link to article)

    I did not do enough justice to how this doctor explicitly went through it, however I tried to capture the essence in this short text. This can be applied (not always lock, stock and barrel) to various aspects/sectors (in fact it applies here as well). I’m frustrated as I was going to transcribe the lecture from an audio recording however it did not record.

    Looking forward to the next articles.


    1. I’m sure if you get in touch with the organiser they’d be able to put out to the attendees that there is someone looking for an audio recording.

      1. Unfortunately, the idea of audio/visual recording seminars/conferences/talks has not quite caught on in our university yet. Written minutes are taken but again those are just for formalities.


  35. Thanks for another great and to the point article, I look forward to the rest of the series and will check out the link you provided. I only got in to fitness and thinking about my nutrition at the start of 2013 but can totally relate to the emphasis on timing rather than calories and macros. I’m just getting my head around these issues and my main references have been Tom Venuto’s book, Leigh Peel’s articles and this site.

    I come to your website on a daily basis and several times a day to read comments, FAQ and articles. Thank you for all this.

    Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year in advance, in case I don’t comment before then.

    1. Faisal, glad you’ve found the site so useful. Now you have a base, you’d do well upgrade your reading from Tom’s book to Lyle McDonald’s

Questions welcomed

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *