Weight Management: How to Create Your Nutrition Budget


Imagine for a moment, the feeling of running with a 20 pound backpack.  Then imagine, you slip the pack off and run free from the extra load.  Can you feel the lightness?  The ease and freedom of movement?  I'll bet you can.

This is the same sensation of running with or without an extra 10, 20, 30 or more pounds of body weight to carry with you.  Increased body mass, specifically fat, as it is 'non-functional weight',  increases the workload of locomotion.  It is harder for the muscles to propel you forward, harder for the blood to circulate to greater areas and harder for the body to thermoregulate during exercise when you are carrying a significant amount of extra weight.  All of this increased effort, results in a higher energy and oxygen requirement and the result is a feeling of greater fatigue at any given pace (movement is harder).  This is most evident during running, as there are no toys to assist in forward motion (skii's, boat, bike etc) but is still noticible in all activities.  Those extra 20 pounds above a healthy body weight increase your effort while decreasing your pace...but...I'm sure you already knew that;)  

So how to lose those 20 pounds?  More on that in a moment. 

It is important to remember that there are just as many health risks and performance impacts associated with being underweight, as there are with being overweight.  Pushing your body weight and body fat percentages too low is not only detrimental to performance but it increases the risk of many health issues including decreased bone density (increased risk of stress fractures), decreased iron (increased risk of anemia), decreased immune function, disruption of menstruation and the hormonal system, decreased absorption of fat soluble vitamins (ADE &K) and more.  And the big one- restricting calories too greatly will decrease your glycogen stores and limit your ability to train hard and recover quickly!  If you are too tired to hit those PRs and too weak to rebuild your muscles then really defeats the purpose.  There is a line between healthy body composition and unhealthy and the risks of pushing that line are not worth any negligible improvement in performance.  Please keep things in perspective.  

So what is the 'optimal weight'? for a runner/biker etc?  
The answer is: There isn't one!  Please don't believe the hype.  You are an experiment of one.  What works for you may not work for your training partner.  Your body may perform best at a higher body fat percentage then your buddy.  Ultimately, the best weight for you is the one that allows you to train hard, recover quickly and perform at your best, feeling healthy, strong and happy.  Next time you rock a race and feel light on your feet, note your body mass and composition.  But, don't be stuck on this because one thing is for certain, nothing ever stays the same;).  

Start here: Aim to reach a healthy body weight (see the BMI chart) and a healthy body composition percentage (get your body composition tested by a pro).  Already in these zones?  Great!  You can experiment with your training and racing performance at the higher and lower levels of these healthy ranges.  But keep things in perspective: one or two pounds in either direction is not going to have as much impact on your performance as following an effective training program will.  The priorities are progressing your program, improving your economy and fueling optimally so that you can rock those training sessions and races.  Keep your focus there.

How do I lose those 20 pounds, tho? 

Start here: Eat a healthy diet, filled with real food on a consistent basis, over the long term.  Yup.  It really can be that simple!  Often times, we just need to make healthy swaps to our current diet and clean up some slack habits.  Aim to master the Nutrition Keys before worrying too much about numbers and details.  Once you have these down, you can move on to the details of creating your own calorie and macronutrient budget.


  1. Eat REAL food in it's natural form as often as possible. Pick it, hunt it, shoot it, catch it, dig it etc!   Aim for real food 80-90% of the time. Shop the perimeter at the grocery store and focus on 'whole' foods. Avoid processed foods and food in packages as often as possible (limit to 10-20%).

  2. Eat breakfast within 60 minutes of waking up and avoid skipping meals. Eat 3 main meals or break your meals into 5 smaller meals. Eating more in the morning will fuel your day and prevent over eating in the evening.

  3. Variety: Ensure your meals contain a variety of food groups. Include one serving of protein and fill half of your plate with vegetables or fruits.

  4. Protein: 20-30 grams of protein per main meal and 10 grams of protein per snack. Cooked protein serving size=of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.

  5. Limit liquid calories if you are trying to maintain or lose weight – juice, alcohol, sugared beverages, etc. Include healthy liquids if you are trying to gain weight.

  6. Drink plenty of fresh water and fluids (non alcoholic) every day.

  7. Eat 5-10 servings of brightly coloured veggies and fruit every day-fill half your plate and choose fruits and veggies for snacks.

  8. Limit added sugar and processed oils when cooking.

  9. Complete a food log and track your nutrition intake to ensure you stay on budget and are meeting your nutrient needs.

  10. Practice moderation! There is no such thing as a forbidden food. Moderation, not deprivation, is the key to long term weight management. Have your cake and eat it too- by learning to choose smaller portions, tracking and staying on ‘budget’;)


  • Plan ahead. Look at your week ahead and make a meal plan based on your weekly schedule.

  • Cook once, eat twice. Choose large batch meals that can be eaten twice as lunch or dinner left overs or to freeze for future meals. Cook large batches of protein (chicken, fish etc) and freeze in portions for easy lunches or quick dinners. Crock pot meals are great for long days and the large batches make left overs or freezer meals.

  • You are what you buy. Buy only what you want to eat! Buy the foods you need for your meal plan- don’t buy the foods you don’t want to eat! Your cart should reflect the above Nutrition Keys- 80-90% real, wholesome food.

  • Make your life easy! Buy pre-cut veggies and fruit, portioned cheeses, roasted chicken, canned fish, healthy bean dips. Boil a dozen eggs at a time, choose fast fruits and veggies (bananas, mandarin oranges, baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes), make smoothies for breakfast or lunch for on the go days (frozen fruit, spinach and greek yogurt). Do a freezer meal swap with a group of friends!

How are you doing?

Already rockin the Keys 80-90% of the time?  No?  Get this part down first and you will likely see the body composition changes you seek!  Yes? You are ready to personalize your nutrition plan to make it more effective.  Create a calorie and macronutrient budget that is specific for you and your body composition goals!  

Macro- what?  Macronutrients are just the nutrients that give us calories - Protein (building blocks of the machine-all tissues), Carbohydrates (construction workers to build the machine-energy), Fat (so many important services- day to day energy source, absorption of fat soluble vitamins, nervous system structure, thermoregulation and much much more!).  How much of each of these do we need?  The million dollar weight loss industry question!  HA!  There are actually a range of percentages that will help us reach our goals and there is no perfect ratio...again...you are an experiment of one!  You may thrive on a higher fat percentage and your buddy may wilt.  Start with the recommended guidelines, stick to your budget for a couple of weeks and observe how your body performs/changes/responds so that you can adapt and modify the budget to work best for you.  

Use my Nutrition Budget worksheet to create your own calorie and macro budget (or let me help you;)

The only way to find out the best balance for you, is to experiment consistently and track in detail for a period of time.  And the numbers are only a starting point- you are an experiment of one!  Be sure to check in with your budget every time that your lifestyle changes- new goals, new training plan/schedule, new job/lifestyle change (retiring, injury etc) because your budget needs to change with you! 



Current Weight lbs:

Maintain Weight

Multiply current weight by daily activity level:

  • 12-14 Sedentary-seated

  • 14-16 Moderately Active-standing

  • 16-18 Very Active-labour

Gain/Lose 1/2lb /week

Add/subtract 250 calories

Gain/ Lose 1lb /week*

Add/subtract 500 calories

Protein grams/day

Recreational athlete, adult .75g/lb body weight

Competitive athlete, adult .6-.9g/lb body weight

Growing teenage athlete, .8-.9g/lb body weight

Adult building muscle mass .7-.9g/lb body weight

Athlete restricting calories .8-.9g/lb body weight

Protein calories/day


Fat grams/day

Weight in lbs*.3-.5g/day

Fat calories/day


Carbohydrates calories/day

Remaining calories from budget

Carbohydrate grams/day

Carbohydrate budget divided by 4

Calories per meal

1/5 – 1/3 total calorie budget

Minimum 350 calories/meal

Calories per snack

150 cals or more

Protein per meal

20-30g minimum

Protein per snack

10g minimum

Vigorous Exercise

Add 200-300 cals/60 mins or use an activity chart.

*Safe lower limit for women: 1200 calories/day. Men: 1800 calories/day.

**Resource: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Quick Calorie Budget Calculation: To Maintain: Current weight in lbs * 14. To Lose: Current weight in lbs * 11-12


Can you make me a menu plan?  NO.  I get this question all the time and the answer is always the same- NO!  The idea behind a calorie and macronutrient budget is that you have FLEXIBILITY to eat the foods you enjoy, that work for you and your family, preferences while still reaching your body composition goals.  Learning how to choose portions that fit within your 'budget' is the secret to long term success.  Eating a rigid 'diet' week after week is not the way to reach your goals long term.  Healthy weight management is not complicated and does not require any special potions, products or guru's.  It is really quite simple.  Figure out the budget that works for you and choose to spend it how ever you like. 

The only way to know if you are actually on budget, however, is to track what you are spending and bringing in.  Just like our financial health, we need to know the details on a daily and weekly basis in order to make sure we are on track to reach our goals.  We wouldn't go shopping without reading price tags and knowing that we had enough cash in our account to use our debit card at the til.  So why do we feel like we should be able to budget our nutrition and reach our weight goals just by guessing??  That is way too much pressure!  

Stop guessing and start logging your nutrition!  

"But I don't want to log.  It takes too much time.  It's annoying."  LOL!  I've heard it all! But guess what?  It works!  The key to logging is doing it consistently and throughout the day, so that you can stay 'on track' in real time.  Over time you will learn so much about the nutrient value of the foods you eat, your habits and how you can make choices that will fit within your budget.  The long term goal is, of course, to learn to eat intuitively so that you can make choices that will help you reach your goal without logging.  But, really, if you have to log your food to maintain a health weight, I think that is a pretty small price to pay over the long term!  There are so many great online logging platforms now, and easy to use apps, that keep things simple and make logging a snap.  Check out loseit.com,  myfitnesspal.com, sparkpeople.com etc.  Find one that works best for you.

Tips to make logging easier: Log real time, throughout the day, log your 'snacks' at the time of day (breakfast, lunch or dinner) rather than in 'snacks' category so that you get a better idea of your intake timing, make a menu for meals you eat frequently and don't stress if the choices don't jive perfectly with what you are eating.  Make it as close as you can and understand that it won't be perfect- but it WILL be more effective than not logging at all.  The goal is to make sure you aren't WAY off your budget day by day.  And remember, once you learn how to choose foods and portions that are within your budget, you don't have to keep logging- motivation to learn!

So, here we go...let's get started!

1.  Nail the Nutrition Keys
2.  Create your Nutrition Budget
3.  Log and learn!  See how your body and training respond and adapt your budget to make it work for you and your needs.

Let me know if you have any questions or if you need support with your nutrition and weight management goals:).