May 31, 2021

How to Eat, Get Lean and Stay Lean

How to Eat, Get Lean and Stay Lean

Ok, so about … ummm… 500 times a week I get a DM that reads something like this:

“Olivia, I don’t really want to count calories or macros, or be super rigid with my diet, but I want to get lean (or in some situations they say they want to ‘stay lean’) … what should I eat?”

I honestly get this question so much that I thought it would be good to just post it here.

It turns out, if you’re not focused on a VERY specific goal, such as a transformational amount of weight loss, or training to compete, etc.  There’s a basic blueprint that most people can use to dial in their personal nutrition needs.

And, I want you to know… this is general information, and may not specific to your health needs.  If you have health issues such as diabetes etc. talk to your doctor.  This probably isn’t for you.  Seriously.

Know Your Numbers

How much everyone needs to eat in a day is based on a couple of factors: how much you weigh, your height, sex, age, and activity level.  Even if you don’t want to count calories or macros, it’s a pretty good idea to calculate 2 numbers just so you know them: your BMR (or your Basal Metabolic Rate) – this is basically the number of calories you need every day just to keep you alive – and your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).

Rather than go into the science and math just use these two online calculators:



Do your best to try to eat within +/- 10% of your total TDEE every day, and NEVER NEVER NEVER cut more than 25% off your TDEE.

I know it seems counter intuitive, but drastically under eating doesn’t speed up your results, it’s much more likely harm your progress than help it.  Seriously.  

How This Plan Works

Most people eat carbs at every meal ALL DAY LONG.  That’s not great if you’re trying to get lean or stay lean.  Eating carbs at every meal spikes your insulin multiple times per day, and insulin causes cells to absorb blood sugar for energy storage (a.k.a. fat).

Ok, well, that’s simple enough then… don’t eat carbs… right?

Not so fast… you need carbs.  Your body is built to run on carbs, cutting them out has its own set of problems and challenges.

Hmmm… so that sounds like a Catch-22.  What’s the solution?

The trick is WHEN to eat your carbs, and how much.

Eating to Get and Stay Lean

This is an eating philosophy more than a nutrition plan, and it’s really pretty simple:

Eat Quality Foods:

Proteins should be high quality, skinless chicken breasts, many types of fish, egg whites, whey protein, those are all good protein sources.  (i.e. bacon isn’t a protein. ;)).  I’ll get to carb choices as we go along…

Eat small meals:

Eating enough of anything will spike your insulin.  So, eat smaller more frequent meals.  3 small meals with 2 significant snacks is how I like to structure my day.

Try to focus most of your carbs into only 2 meals:

(your first meal of the day, and your post workout meal) every other meal or snack should try to hold your carbs as low as you can.

Here is an example of how I might apply this approach to a day where I am training in the late afternoon or early evening…

Meal 1: Breakfast.

Since you are coming off of a long fast it’s ok to start your day with some protein and carbs.  Protein powder and oatmeal is a good combo.  Egg whites and oatmeal are good.  Protein pancakes are even ok (provided they aren’t loaded with sugars).  You can experiment, but when choosing carbs for your morning meal, make sure the glycemic index is low.

Snack 1: A protein heavy snack.

Tuna mixed with some diced green pepper and a little onion is good.   If you like, add in a few celery sticks.  Any protein-based snack will work.  A chicken breast with some sugar free salsa is a good choice too.

Meal 2: (probably lunch):

A grilled chicken breast and as many (non-starchy) green veggies as you like.  A good choice here would be a big salad with chicken – lettuce, peppers, onion, a few cherry tomatoes (but don’t overdo it on the tomatoes), and instead of dressing use a light sprinkling of balsamic vinegar or some lemon juice.   Any protein and veggie combo can work.  Again, you just want to keep your carbs at this meal as low as possible.

Snack 2:

A high quality 25-30g protein shake mixed with unsweetened almond milk.  Again, the aim is to keep your carbs low.  If you need something else add ½ a grapefruit or ½ an apple.  While fruit is higher in carbs these are both low GI choices and have other benefits as well.  (Grapefruit has actually been linked with fat loss).

Meal 3:

(probably dinner)… In this example this is actually the POST WORKOUT meal this is the meal you want to eat immediately after your workout. (VERY IMPORTANT).

If your workout is at another time of the day, just shift your other meals around so this is the post workout meal.

Here’s where you get to eat the bulk of your daily carbs.

During a workout your body burns stored sugar in your muscles, and when you eat carbs now, you replenish that sugar without causing your body to send the blood sugar spike to fat storage.  This is the one time per day when you (mostly) get a free pass on your carb intake.  Nifty, right?

In fact, this is the meal where it’s actually ok to eat higher GI (glycemic index) carbs.

Here would be a couple choices for you: a small lean steak, air fried brussels sprouts and a medium size bake potato or sweet potato.

Or how about a nice size orange roughy fillet with some wild rice and asparagus…

Or if you MUST eat from a restaurant, a Chipotle salad with, rice, veggies, steak, and pico is a good post workout choice (skip the beans, sour cream, cheese and guac).

Snack 3:

And, if you’re craving an evening snack – maybe something a little sweet – no sweat, grab some low carb options.  A handful of strawberries, blackberries or raspberries or a rice cake or two makes a great snack.  These are all ok in moderation.

Try this plan for a few weeks and see how it works for you!

If you find you’re gaining a little, just roll back on the portion sizes, if you feel hungry and depleted add a little more to your daily intake.  In a few weeks you can get it dialed in without too much trouble and you can have a “diet plan” that doesn’t require much maintenance beyond a few simple rules.

I’d love to hear how it works for you!