When I initially transformed my body from a skinny 107 pound, insecure weakling, to a jacked and strong fitness authority, this was the approach I followed. In fact, this is the method I’d recommend for any skinny guy who’s first starting out. Not because it’s inherently better—it’s not—but because it’s going to require the least amount of obsession over nutrition, thus making it much easier to adhere to.
Although not as accurate as tracking each individual macronutrient, it requires the least amount of work and preparation—and, ultimately, will get the job done just as well. With this tracking strategy there will be no weighing food or plugging meals into an app—you’ll be eating intuitively while being mindful of your daily calories. It’s going to be much easier to track calories in your head (or a small sticky pad) when you’re not worried about an exact number of protein, fats, and carbs.
Note: this strategy is going to work best for the inexperienced novice lifter who’s been training, consistently, for less than 6 months. If you’re a bit more experienced and the rate of muscle gain has slowed, a more calculated approach may be warranted.
Finding Your Intake
For most people, finding your maintenance calories takes a couple of weeks. First you find your starting point—typically somewhere around 16x bodyweight in pounds—track your weight, daily, for two weeks, and then adjust your intake according to changes in average weight.
For the skinny newb who’s just getting into fitness, however, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, you probably don’t want to waste two weeks trying to figure out how much you should eat, am I right?
That’s why I’ve devised The Ballpark Method; to not only reduce the overwhelm that comes from starting a new training program and adhering to very specific macronutrients, but to get you making progress, quickly.
Here’s how it works: instead of finding a starting point and breaking that down into a specific macronutrient split, you’ll just multiply your bodyweight (in lbs) by 20 and, viola, you’ve got your target intake.
For example, if you’re 125 pounds, you’d simply multiply that (125) by 20.
125 x 20 = 2,500kcal
Simple enough, right?
How to Count Calories
Say your goal for the day is 2500 calories; every time you sit down to eat a meal, you’ll go over the total calories on the nutrition label and add those together (assuming you’re having more than one food source). For example, if you’re having 2 whole eggs, 2 slices of toast, and 1 packet of oatmeal, then look at the total calories for each item—keep in mind serving sizes—and add them up. Let’s say your breakfast meal came out to be, roughly, 600 calories; this means you’ve got 1900 calories left for the day. Each time you sit down to have a meal, repeat the process of adding up the nutrition labels, and continue subtracting from the remaining calories until you’ve reached 0.
In the event that you’re faced with consuming foods that don’t have a nutrition label—or where the serving sizes require some measuring—guesstimate! That’s why we call this The Ballpark Method.
Why The Ballpark Method Works
Besides the fact that it’s easy to follow and adhere to, this diet strategy works for a few reasons. First, if you’re new to weight training, you have a very special window of opportunity where you’re able to gain a lot of muscle, quickly; something that more experienced lifters can’t do. That said, you’re can afford to eat in a much larger surplus—and gain weight faster—without having to worry about getting fat in the process.
Another reason the strategy works is due to the high number of calories you’ll be consuming. You see, when you’re eating 20x your bodyweight in calories, getting enough fats and carbs is not an issue. In fact, it’s practically guaranteed when you’re eating that much on a daily basis.
Lastly, it’s not restrictive at all. When you’re not fretting about getting x amount of carbs or fats in the day, eating enough to grow becomes a breeze.
This tracking strategy, without certain stipulations or limitations, can become a huge disaster. That said, it’s imperative that, if following The Ballpark Method, you stay within the guidelines listed below.
1. To be safe, aim to get 90% of your calories from whole, minimally processed foods like grains, dairy, meat, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. The more nutritious your diet, the more likely you’ll be to reach your fiber intake.
2. Include a solid protein source at every sitting. Without enough protein, the muscle-building process can be impaired. That said, keep a mindful eye of your protein intake—this is critical.
3. Eat your fruits and vegetables, damn it!
The Wrap Up
As I’ve said before, the best diet approach is the one you can stick to. When it comes to deciding whether you should track your macros, follow a meal plan, or take a more lenient approach like this once, don’t over-think it. Choose the one that fits your lifestyle best and get on with it.
If you enjoy the structure of a meal plan but occasionally want to do your own thing, do this: create a meal plan and track macros on the days where you’d rather be more flexible. If you’d rather track calories, but be a bit more accurate, then feel free to follow some of the flexible diet tracking principles along with your Ballpark Method.
The options are endless; however, if you’re experiencing analysis paralysis—over-analyzing the situation and not taking action—here’s what I’d recommend: start with the Ballpark Method since it’s the least overwhelming, get into the habit of eating big, training regularly, and then, once you’ve gotten into the swing of things, make the transition into a more calculated approach like flexible dieting—that’s what I did.