Nutritional Priorities

By: Jeremy Partl, RD

You have your perfect nutrition plan.

You know your macronutrient targets, not only for the day, but for each meal.

And, you have 5 alarms set on the dot when you are going to either eat your meal or drink your shake. No second wasted.

Don’t forget about making your post workout shake with a load of ingredients, because we all know that will double the progress you are making.

But, you forgot one thing….your goal is to gain muscle mass, and you are only eating 2200 calories. That is not near enough for your 6 foot, 180 lb. frame.

As Homer Simpson would say…    

5 Elements of the Nutritional Hierarchy

With so many conflicting reports and studies coming out every day it’s hard to keep up to date and know what is true.

Nutrition seems complicated, but it actually much simpler than made out to be. Too often we focus on the “small rocks” and minor details, putting those in front of the “big rocks” or what actually really matters.

This article will highlight what you should be prioritizing for body composition, performance and health

This is not a new idea by any means, as it was originally popularized by Eric Helms and his Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid. However, it is an idea that should be shared.

Energy Balance:

Whatever your goal, the most important factor and the one that gets overlooked the most is controlling energy balance.

Simply, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will be in a calorie surplus and will be gaining weight. On the opposite end, if you burn more calories than you eat you will be in calorie deficit and will be losing weight.

Even more, proper calorie balance will keep energy levels high and support performance and overall quality of life.

If you control energy balance then you are in charge of the most important variable when it comes to either gaining muscle, losing fat, performing to the best of your potential, and living the highest quality life.

Macronutrients Micronutrients

Next on the scale of importance is what those calories are made up of.

Every food is composed of a combination of three macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (alcohol is one, but we don’t worry about it too much).

There are tons of macronutrient splits and distributions out there to follow. Some people go low fat, high carb and vice versa. What is best?

The best way to approach this is to find what works for you, and is sustainable for you

How do you feel after certain meals? How are your energy levels throughout the day? Are you eating the foods you enjoy?

For example, if you put yourself on a really restrictive macronutrient split one that dramatically cuts your calories how long can you see yourself staying on this sort of plan?

Protein intake is generally set first, usually between 1.4 – 2.0 grams per kilo of bodyweight depending on activity levels and training demands.

After that, fat intake usually falls between 15-30% of calories depending on individual preferences.

Once these two have been set, the rest of your calorie intake can come from carbohydrates.

This is a good place to start and you can tweak the numbers as you go.


Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that we only need in tiny amounts. They can make a big difference in general health, gym performance, hunger levels, mental state, and overall ability to put on muscle if we happen to have deficiencies in them.

Making sure you have good food variety (especially when dieting), and making sure that you consume enough fruits and vegetables will help you to get sufficient micronutrients. Additionally, a well-formulated multi-vitamin supplement can be included to make sure no deficiencies pop up.

Nutrient Timing and Meal Frequency

Much ado is made about the timing of when we consume our macronutrients.

How many meals should I eat? Should I save my carbs for later in the day, or eat them in the morning? Do I need to slug a protein shake immediately after my last rep?

Honestly, unless you’re competing in a sport or looking to get real low levels of body fat then it really doesn’t matter for most people. The difference in results with specific strategies is likely to be small and account for only a couple percent of results. Much more of an impact will be made by focusing on calorie balance, macronutrients, etc. on a daily context.

For a good review of nutrient timing, check out the review by Schoenfeld and colleagues from the ISSN, or an excellent article put together by Precision Nutrition.


Dietary supplements are substances produced with the intentions of providing nutrients to your body that it would not otherwise get from your current diet.

Sometimes they are ingested to achieve a recommended healthy baseline of certain nutrients, and other times they are used to reach higher levels of certain nutrients that could not be normally attained by most diets to provide additional benefits.

They are specifically manufactured with the goals of benefiting your health, performance, or recovery through various mechanisms.

Supplements are not necessary for success, barring that you do not have some type of nutritional deficiency or condition that requires them. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of supplements on the market don’t do anything except take cash out of your bank account

That said, some are based on sound science and are therefore worth discussing as they can provide a small benefit. These supplements include whey protein, Creatine, fish oil, vitamin D, and a multivitamin.


The purpose of this article was to highlight how important it is to get your nutritional priorities right. We always worry over the smallest detail that can make the smallest difference.

Trust me, we have been there before.

Why not switch that on its head and start worrying about the points that can make a HUGE difference!?