How To Get Sustainably Lean (The Flexible, Lifestyle-Based Nutrition Protocol)

“Dieting shouldn’t be a lifestyle.”

Ever heard anyone say this?

Basically, they're saying:

Too many people spend what seems like their entire lives dieting, and never get to the part where they actually get to enjoy their lives.

I agree. You shouldn't always be dieting. If you're always dieting, but never reach your goals the problem is likely...

Your diet structure isn’t fit to your lifestyle.

Say you follow the keto diet to lose weight. You eliminate carbs, and watch the pounds fall off.

Problem is, you love carbs, and can’t see yourself giving them up forever.

If you only know how to lose weight by eliminating carbs, but you're VERY likely to eat carbs again in the future - the odds are high you'll regain the weight.

As a carb-lover, a low-carb diet doesn't fit your lifestyle.

You'll yo-yo between being miserable but (maybe) leaner on a low-carb diet, or enjoying carbs but frustrated with your body composition until you find a diet structure that actually fits you.

This is exactly where my client Julia was when she started Online Coaching.

She had been on and off the keto bandwagon for months.

The problem?

Julia loves carbs and the rigidity of keto didn't mesh well with her crazy schedule.

So instead of continuing to try to force a square peg into a round hole with her diet, we found the approach that best fit HER. Obviously we still had to restrict calories to create fat loss, but we fed her lots of carbs to help her build lean, defined muscle (she's a badass at pull-ups now). We also created a diet structure that allowed her to lose fat while eating much more diverse food an drink.

The results speak for themselves. THIS is the power of individualized nutrition, and why I'm so passionate about what I do as a nutrition coach. When you start online coaching and for the first time have a diet fit entirely to what YOU need, it's life-changing.

If you hadn't noticed - your body changes very slowly… except during puberty.

What a confusing time. As a home-schooled kid who's parent's didn't really talk about such subjects, I had no idea what was going on.

But uhhh yeah... this is a great topic for us to never speak of again.

The original point was - unless you’re going through puberty - your body changes very slowly.

Noticeable changes come in time frames of months to years, NOT days to weeks.

If you can only stick to something for a few weeks, it'll never create lasting change. A nutrition strategy that’s individualized to YOU makes all the difference for your adherence and consistency. This, in turn creates life-changing, sustainable results.

So while your lifestyle shouldn't  be always dieting, diet and habit changes need to take place in order to actually achieve and maintain your desired result, and get off the damn diet.

In order for this to work, your diet needs to:

1. Provide adequate nutrients to optimally fuel your hormonal processes, muscle growth or maintenance, brain function, and daily tasks.

2. Allow some flexibility so you can live your life without feeling like a social outcast. You should be able to enjoy some drinks (or eat some ice cream) occasionally.

3. Have a clear structure. Any time you don't have a plan, the floor tends to fall out quickly. In my time as a nutrition coach, I've found this is especially true for diets. Clear diet parameters need to be in place to give us structure and a plan for our intake.

Sound like what you're looking for? The Lifesytle Nutrition Protocol is for you.

The Lifestyle Nutrition Protocol is a combination of what I've learned from years of trial and error on myself, along with the most effective practices I've discovered while helping hundreds of women and men achieve sustainable leanness - both in-person AND online.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Diet Structure: Tracking Macros

Of all the diet structures (your diet structure is the method we use to measure and control your calorie intake) I've used and have collaborated with online coaching clients to create, tracking macros BY FAR allows the best amount of flexibility while also allowing you to achieve GREAT results.

This makes tracking macros the perfect fit for anyone that is chasing a more flexible, maintainable diet structure.

Don't look at that 5 minutes per day that you have to spend tracking your food as restriction, look at it as a mere 5 minutes to create exponentially more freedom in the rest of your life:

→ Freedom from the pain of never feeling confident in your body.

→ Freedom from guilt associated with eating certain foods. Tracking macros teaches you how to make foods you used to consider "bad" work in your diet. Once you realize you can be lean, healthy, AND eat ice cream, guilt is replaced with happiness and more flexibility in social situations.

→ Freedom from worrying that you over-ate or under-ate. Tracking your macros allows you to make up for overdoing it, with no harm done to your progress. (More on this in a bit.)

Here are my recommendations for your macros on the Lifestyle Nutrition Protocol:

→ First, determine the appropriate calorie goal for YOU.

Regardless of if you want to...

a.) Keep getting leaner

b.) Maintain your current body composition

c.) Build a stronger body while staying lean.

...THIS GUIDE will help you establish the proper calorie goal.

→ Protein - Protein intake will be relatively high, at 1 gram/lb of body weight, daily.

As mentioned in 4 Nutrition Strategies For Faster Fat Loss (Without Cutting Calories), protein is much less likely to be stored as fat.

This 2015 study took 48 randomized, resistance-trained men and women and had them consume a minimum of 1.36g/lb of protein daily or to maintain current dietary habits for eight weeks while undergoing a standardized resistance training program designed to increase lean body mass.

From the study:

"Compared to the control group, the high-protein group consumed significantly more calories (+ 490 kcal) and protein (3.4 vs. 2.3 g/kg) from primarily whey protein shakes, leading to a diet that was 39% protein, 27% fat, and 34% carbohydrate. Both groups significantly increased FFM (muscle mass) and significantly reduced FM (body fat) compared to baseline, but the reduction in FM (body fat) was significantly greater in the high-protein group compared to the control group (−1.6 vs. −0.3 kg). Accordingly, body weight gain was also significantly less in the high-protein group compared to the control group."

The high-protein group ate ~490 calories MORE than the lower protein group, and lost MORE fat.

Protein also has the highest thermic effect - meaning many of the calories you consume via protein are actually burned off during digestion (20-35%).

Finally, lean protein is the most satiating food - it fills you up more than any other food. Focusing on eating lots of high-satiety foods makes getting and staying lean much easier. This makes lots of protein a must.

→  Fat - Fat intake will be relatively low, at .3-.4 grams/lb of body weight, daily.

Fat is essential. You need a certain amount of fat to maintain proper hormonal function, and prevent fatty-acid deficiencies. Most need .2g/lb+ to be safe.

Past this point, there aren't a lot of added benefits to adding fat.

Fat isn't as satiating as lean protein or fibrous carbs.

It's also the most calorie-dense macro, coming in at 9 calories per gram. (protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram.)

None of this is to demonize fat AT ALL - it's nothing to be afraid of. It's essential. You'll feel awful if you don't eat it.

From my years of experience as a nutrition coach, eating lots of high-fat foods simply makes it a lot easier for clients to rack up the calories without ever feeling full. This is why the Lifestyle Nutrition Protocol has relatively lower fat.

→ Carbs - Carb intake will be as high as possible while maintaining the necessary protein and fat macros.

Now, simply fill your remaining macros with carbs. Carbs from whole-food sources will help satiate you, improve your performance in the gym, give you more energy, and speed up your recovery from your training.

Food Choices: 80-90% Paleo-ish / 10-20% If It Fits Your Macros

FOOD CHOICES: 80-90% Paleo-ish

The reality of the society we live in is - it’s way too easy to overeat.

There's a reason you don't see thousands of people walking around with lean, strong bodies every day. Most of the highly-processed food we eat is designed to be hyper-palatable. It's engineered in a lab to make us crave more.

Pair this with the fact that most highly-processed foods are also very calorie-dense and low on nutrients, and you have a combination that makes stay lean quite a challenge.

This is why you’ll be following a paleo-ish approach with 80-90% of your food.

In the simplest terms, 80-90% of your food should have either:

a.) Grown from the earth

b.) Had a face at one point

Basically, you're eating mostly foods that a caveman would have eaten in the Paleolithic Era (with a few exceptions like white rice).

These paleo-ish foods are packed with nutrients that will make your body feel amazing, and aid your training performance and recovery. They'll also keep you full much longer than their highly-processed counterparts.

Essentially, eating 80-90% paleo-ish foods makes building and maintaining a lean, strong body MUCH easier.

People make dieting A LOT harder by choosing foods that do very little to fight hunger. My online clients focus on chasing more satiating, higher volume foods, and it makes a big difference for getting and staying lean.

A few guidelines to consider when selecting your foods:

→ To make your sticking to your plan, understand the most satiating foods.

1. Lean proteins

2. Fiber-dense carbs

3. Fat

This really ties in well with how your macros are already set up. Lean proteins and fibrous carbs especially have a lot of volume and are very satiating per calorie. Make these a big focus of your diet.

→ Don't drink your calories.

Liquids will digest much quicker, meaning you’re hungry again sooner. If you’re using milk as a protein source, swap it for cottage cheese or greek yogurt. 

Use a whole food protein source instead of protein powder. Protein powder DOES make hitting your protein goal much easier. It also digests VERY quickly, and doesn’t do near as much to keep you full. 50g of whole-food protein (e.g. 8oz chicken) is MUCH more filling than two scoops of protein powder.

→ Eat protein at every meal.

Since you know that protein is the most satiating food, it makes sense to try to spread it fairly evenly across your day to keep yourself full. Eat ~25-40g protein at every meal.

Try to avoid foods that are high in multiple macronutrients.

Example: you could eat...

a.) 6oz ribeye for 493 calories (36 pro/39 fat)


b.) 8oz sirloin (51 pro/9 fat) + 1 large avocado (10 carb/24 fat) for the same amount of calories, but more protein.

Generally avoiding foods high in multiple macros will make eating lots of food volume on your diet much easier.

→ Find lower calorie versions of oils, dressings, and condiments.

- Swap olive oil for calorie-free cooking spray.

- Find a lower-calorie BBQ sauce or use steak sauce.

- Swap salad dressing for fat-free vinaigrette's.

Often a few easy swaps here (that you won’t even notice) can give online clients hundreds of extra calories to work with in a day.

→ Meal Prep

Being prepped ahead nearly guarantees you'll be successful at sticking to this style of eating 80-90% of the time. You'll never "not have the right food available" or "run out of time".

All my online clients that get the best fat loss results meal prep ahead. I can't emphasize enough what a difference maker is.

I highly recommend you check out The Meal Prep Guide.

FOOD CHOICES: 10-20% If It Fits Your Macros

Eating like a caveman most of the time is a good idea to build a lean, strong, healthy body.

But even cavemen need to enjoy their lives sometimes.

As long as you're eating mostly whole-foods, you won't have a problem with insane cravings or constant overeating. Your fat loss will come much easier, and you'll feel great.

This means you can use an if it fits your macros (IIFYM) approach the other 10-20% of your diet, without hurting your results, or your health.

10-20% IIFYM means that you can use these calories and macros to eat and drink whatever you want. Beer, ice cream, chips and queso... seriously, whatever.

As long as you still make these foods work in your calorie and macro goals, your results and health won't be affected. Getting and staying lean doesn't come down to "eating clean foods". It's all about ENERGY BALANCE.

This is a big part of what I do within nutrition coaching to help my clients create a sustainable lifestyle for the first time ever, instead of temporary results. Multiple times, I've actually assigned online clients homework of eating ice cream.

One of the coolest things ever is helping clients realize they can still enjoy the foods they want AND be lean. It rids people of a huge amount of food-associated guilt.

Lifestyle Adherence Tools: Flex Days, Intermittent Fasting, Pulling Calories, And Macro-Planning

Now that you understand the basic premise of what to eat, let's break down how you make it work in a flexible, sustainable lifestyle.

→ Flex Days

The reality is, your % of carbs and fats don't make a huge difference for your fat loss. As long as overall calories and protein intake are on point, your results won't be hugely affected by the ratio of carbs/fats.

Now, for the reasons we discussed earlier, you're likely going to do well focusing on the macro prescription from earlier in blog.

That said, 1-2x/week, you can take a flex day to give you more freedom to eat or drink what you want.

Your objectives here:

1. Stay at your overall calorie goal for the day

2. Hit your protein goal

3. Let carbs and fats fall where they may

Flex days allow a lot more room to enjoy your life, without ruining your progress.

→ Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting isn't fat loss magic.It is however a great way to save up some calories to spend later in the day.

On days you know you'll be going out and/or eating a high-calorie meal later in the day, offset this a bit by fasting until noon-2pm-ish.

A lot of my online nutrition clients always fast on Saturdays to allow for more flexibility in the evenings.

→ Eat a meal of protein + high fiber carbs before drinking

The enemy here isn't alcohol itself. The enemy is drunk you who wants to eat an absurd amount of Taco Bell at 2am.

The best strategy to prevent this is to drink on a full stomach.

We already talked about how protein is the macro that keeps you full, longest. Fibrous carbs are the second most satiating these + lean protein is a solid pairing to keep you full for a long time. The carbs will also "soak up the alcohol", making your hangover less terrible.

Easy go-to's for higher fiber carbs: Oatmeal, fruit, sweet potatoes. 

Don't try to fast and then drink. As you drink, inhibition lowers and you'll be much more likely to eat lots of calories later. Think of this pre-drinking meal as damage control.

→ Low-calorie drinks

You can easily drink thousands of calories without realizing it.

The easiest thing to do - get liquor with diet soda or water. Crown and diet is my personal favorite. By switching to diet soda, you're saving yourself ~100 calories per drink. A beer is also only ~100 calories, but you can drink A LOT more beer... so I'd stick with liquor.

→ Pulling Calories

Ever eat too many calories on a Saturday and think…⠀“Well, my diet screwed"?

I know I have.

This usually leads eating TONS of extra calories the next few days with the “F it” mindset.

In reality, what you do with your calories and macros on a daily basis makes very little difference. What you do on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis makes MUCH more difference.

A single day of over eating is EASILY correctable.

If your weekly intake is on point, you have a lot more room to play with your daily intake. As long as your the weekly deficit is the same and you’re hitting your protein goal daily, you should get VERY similar results.

I like to call this pulling or pushing calories.

Basically, you’re saving up calories ahead of time OR eating less in following days to allow your calories on point.

This approach is amazing for online clients, because it gives them a lot more flexibility within their diets. For many clients, I simply build higher calorie intake on the weekend into their nutrition protocol for more sustainability and adherence.

Understanding this concept allows clients to FINALLY be free from the “F it” mindset we easily fall into when falling off track with our diets. Personally, understanding this concept has made staying lean much easier for me.⠀

→ Macro Planning

Again, planning ahead is ALWAYS the key to staying on track with your nutrition.

This is why I encourage all my online clients to plan their days out in MyFitnessPal the night before.

Weekday or weekend - when you go into the day with a good idea of how you need to eat to enjoy your life AND hit your goals, you'll be much more likely to succeed than. Don't try to wing it with your macros as the day goes. Plan your day out ahead of time.

This is the strategy that will help you build and sustain a lean, strong body.

It doesn't require avoiding certain foods, or starvation diets.

It's all about educating you on how to make smart choices with your nutrition, and empowering you to be able to eat, drink, and enjoy your life guilt-free.

About The Author

Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the Online Coaching Business Bairfit. His Instagram is noticeably missing any calf pictures.

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