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

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 seven 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.