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

Credit to to Eric Helms for the idea of organizing 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.

About the Author

Andy Morgan

Hi, I'm Andy, co-author of the highly-acclaimed 'Muscle and Strength Pyramid' books and founder of RippedBody.com. This site 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 full-time, online, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation. (You can read more about Andy here.)

88 Comments

  1. […] The Nutritional Pyramid of Importance (for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth) […]

  2. Chris says:

    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. Andy Morgan says:

      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. Ati says:

    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. Andy Morgan says:

      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. Ati says:

        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

        tnx

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          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. […] The Pyramid of Importance Overview […]

  5. Ryan says:

    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. Ryan says:

        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.

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11090571

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9357807

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17784905

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Ryan, welcome.
          Sure, I’m aware of the research. Important to consider all the evidence as a whole though, not just the supportive studies. Good read for you here.
          As for the latter, yes absolutely. I’ve written about that here, updated it just this week actually:
          When is Cardio a Valid Tool for Fat Loss with Intermittent Fasting?

          1. Ryan says:

            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. Andy Morgan says:

              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.

          2. Ryan says:

            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?

            1. Andy Morgan says:

              Sure, count those as rest days but just add in some extra carbs. Check out the diet adjustments articles to see what to do on the latter.

  6. […] The Pyramid of Importance Overview […]

  7. […] The Pyramid of Importance Overview […]

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