There is so much information out there and new studies are coming out all the time when it comes to nutrition. All this is great but sometimes it can get a little overwhelming and people spend way to much time reading instead of just starting. Knowledge is great so I definitely recommend reading what you can and learning from the people who have been there and done that but the best advice I can give you is just get started and make adjustments as you go.
First things first let’s cover the most important part of every diet, calorie consumption. Simply put if you want to lose weight than you need to eat less calories than you are burning. So basically you need to be in a calorie deficit, there are two ways to do this. You can either exercise more to burn off calories or eat less. If you combine the two, exercise and a proper diet, the results will be that much better, but that doesn’t mean you jump out the gates with a ton of cardio and a huge drop in food. I would always suggest get the most out of the least and to start with simply increasing your activity level will yield a ton of positive results without having to drop food just yet. So first you need to figure out how many calories you need to consume to maintain weight. This is called your resting metabolic rate and to calculate that you need to multiply your bodyweight by 12. Now this is just a very general rule of thumb if you have a physically active job than you multiply it by 15. Everyone is different but this will give you a decent base plan to follow. If you want more info on how to set up your diet check out this article I wrote a while back. https://tmnutrition.net/2014/09/diet-guidelines-to-get-you-started
You can also just track food for 3 days and take the average calories for the 3 days and see if you are losing, gaining, or maintaining weight and that can give you a very good idea on where to start.
Most if not all nutritionist will echo these sentiments, the thing that causes confusion is a calorie just a calorie. Meaning as long as you are in a deficit you will lose weight so if your diet consist of milk and pop tarts you will still lose weight just the same if it was rice and chicken. Science will say yes that is an accurate statement and I will have to tend to agree with this, you will lose weight but you will be missing out on some vital nutrients and also if your calories aren’t very high you want to find foods that create more volume and that will keep you fuller for longer. A calorie is just a calorie is great guide for the general population of people who are looking for an easier route to lose some weight, but for athletes our serious fitness enthusiast a calorie is not just a calorie and the ones you consume do make a huge difference. Focus on how your body feels and how it digest the foods you consume if you feel great and perform at a high level with the food selection then keep that in. There are no good or bad foods it is just being mindful of what makes up the majority of your calories and make sure they have some nutritional value to them.
Calories are derived from foods of our three macros that give our bodies fuel for our everyday lives. This includes brain function, awareness, body performance, and just all of our every day occurrences. So with that being said I will have to say common sense will tell you the better you eat the better everything else will perform. We’ve all heard the car analogy and it rings true, our bodies as athletes are high performance machines like a Ferrari and if you want your Ferrari to perform with all cylinders? Yes of course you do so you don’t put cheap oil and cheap gas in it you put the expensive stuff in it. Our bodies are the same way, the more nutrient dense food you feed it the better it performs. Foods that are more than just processed sugars, foods with vitamins and minerals in them, foods that have more complex carbs and better nutrient profiles. So yes a calorie is a calories but if you fuel your body with the best food it will perform day to day at a higher level. If you’re performing at a high level you will burn more calories throughout the workout, you will increase muscle size and endurance, and increase strength. Good calories will also help with recovery so you can workout harder and more often throughout the week. You want to emphasis good quality food to get good quality muscle size and weight loss.
Just a basic overview into calories for weight loss and weight gain. Key take aways are eat whole quality foods over processed food for the majority of your food selection, calories are calories but to take your body to the next level you need to pay attention to the foods you eat, be consistent week to week and make small adjustments in calories when you hit a plateau.
The next step to creating a diet that works for you is to figure out how to breakdown the macro’s for your diet and to learn exactly what they do for you. We already laid down the ground work to a successful diet with the importance of calories and how to find the right amount for your goals. Now we plug in the macro’s per meal to get you to your desired goals, but before we do that you need to know exactly the benefits of each macro and how to incorporate them into your day.
You have your three macronutrients which are fat, carbohydrates, and proteins. First let’s discuss the building blocks of muscle, protein. Proteins are the building block of muscle growth and repair so after a hard workout protein breaks down into amino acids and begin the repair process so you can make it back the next day and be fully recovered for your next workout. Protein also has the highest thermogenic effect on the body meaning it burns the most calories of all the macros when you consume it. Protein is also great at keeping you satiated/full longer. So as you can see protein is crucial for successful dieting it not only helps you keep on your muscle, but it also plays a huge role in burning calories and keeping you full all things that will help any dieter stay sane. For every gram of protein you consume it equates to 4 calories.
The next 2 macros have a bad rap to them from one extreme to the next, you have one idea that carbs will make you fat and should be avoided at all cost and on the other side you have fats are bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. Both play a huge role in the human body and neither one should be neglected in a diet.
The first one we shall talk about is fats and fats are great at regulating hormones such as testosterone, thyroid, and others, they also help suppress hunger as you diet which is crucial to staying on track. Fats are also good at keeping you fuller longer, reduces cortisol levels, provides energy, and assist in the body functioning properly. It also helps with insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health. Fats are extremely important while dieting, naturally as you go into a calorie deficit your testosterone and other hormones down regulate so the fats will keep your endocrine system healthier. It also helps with joint pain which will come as you get leaner. A good threshold to try to never go below for total fat consumption is 30g a day. For every gram of fat you consume it equates to 9 calories.
Now onto the carbs that will of course make you fat. Carbs give you energy and replenishes your used glycogen stores which help transport a lot of your protein and other micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to keep your body functioning at a high level. Carbs will help with the restoration of glycogen stores that have been depleted due to intense workouts. Carbs are also the most metabolic nutrient we eat. The are a key macro nutrient for a diet as it is protein sparing so it will help preserve size and give you energy around your workouts. Our body prefer carbs as it’s main energy source and it is available at a rapid rate so you can see why they are crucial for athletes who lift weights or do any type of anaerobic exercises. For every gram of carbohydrates you consume it equates to 4 calories.
Now obviously when you’re trying to lose weight you will have to manipulate the macros to get the calories down, but you don’t want to completely cut out an entire macronutrient for an extended period of time. An easy way to look at it is on days you train you can increase carbs and lower fats and on the days off from training you don’t need as many carbs so you cut out some carbs and raise fats a bit, but keeping in mind you still need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight.
I hope this shows you why all the macronutrients are important to body composition and performance. Try to manipulate your macros to fit your activity level and to time most of your carbs around your workout and fats further away from them. Drop carbs on days off but never drop a macro out completely for an extended period of time.
So we already discussed the importance of calories and the use of all the macronutrients in a diet in a simplistic approach. I preface these and all my articles with this is just my beliefs based on my years of training clients and the books I’ve read and coaches I’ve worked with. Take these basic concepts and start to implement them into your diet because you will never know what works for you until you try it for yourself. With that being said lets get into the last installment on nutrient timing.
Nutrient timing is simply defined as when you eat your meals and what kind of macros with that meal. A very basic approach to nutrient timing with macros per meal is quite simple. You keep fats away from carbs and vice versa. So if you have high carbs in one meal you want to lower the amounts of fat in that same meal. The reason behind this is once carbs are ate your body will create an insulin spike, insulin will help shuttle carbs to empty glycogen stores once those stores are full they transfer to fat stores. Now if fat is in the equation it will equally transport fat and carbs to fat cells. If your meal is higher in fats than you want to lower the carbs for the same reasons as stated above. Fats are needed in a diet so don’t neglect them just know when its appropriate. Which brings me to the timing of meals throughout the day.
When timing meals for the day you want to start with your workout. Pre, During, and Post workout meals should be high in carbs low in fat, the reason for this is that fat will slow down the absorption rate of the nutrients you consume. This will slow down the muscle recovery and muscle building process which is something we don’t want around a workout. After those meals depending on your goals you will start to drop the carbs and raise the fats with the mindset of keeping the calories where they need to be to reach your goals. Along with nutrient timing of meals for a day, now we will go into the timing of days throughout the week.
This is a pretty simple idea really, the days you don’t train you drop carbs substantially and raise fats. Carbs are really only needed on training days. On your training days you want to have higher carb days on lagging body parts or lagging lifts and less carbs on the other training days. Now that you have the basics down start to build your diet and be patient with the process and reap the rewards.