Nutrition is the single biggest factor when it comes to changing your body weight. The food you eat is essential to fueling your daily activity, improving and maintaining your health, and providing energy and nutrients for your immune system. With a proper nutrition program, you will boost your progress in the gym and maximize results. However, there is no shortcut. Strong adherence to a sensible eating plan is the best way to reach your fitness and health goals.
Nutrition can be complicated, and there are many diets, false information, and fads on the market to confuse you. to make things worse, researchers are constantly learning new things about nutrition - mechanisms in the body which aid in nutrient absorption and metabolism. Basically, everything we think we know about advanced nutrition and proper eating is constantly changing. However, there are a few fundamentals which don’t change - by following these fundamentals and not relying on fads, you can make progress toward your goals and see DAILY RESULTS!
The basic rules to eating are simple: To lose weight, eat less. to gain weight, eat more. It’s really that easy. Don’t pay attention to nonsense posted in fitness magazines or supplements on the market. They’re usually a waste of time and they’re just trying to make easy money. The reason the fundamentals work is because they’re based on a simple basic mathematical property called the “Energy Balance Equation”. It goes like this:
Daily Caloric Balance = Energy Consumed - Energy Expended
If the daily caloric balance is in the positive for extended periods of time, you will gain weight. If the balance is in the negative for extended periods, you will lose weight.
One of my favorite analogies is to picture your body like a kitchen sink holding water. Water can come in from the faucet, and leave through the drain. The more water coming from the faucet, the faster the sink will fill up and overflow. The bigger the drain, the faster water will leave. For this analogy, your food is the faucet and your activity / exercise is the drain. Now keep in mind, for the energy balance equation to work requires consistent daily commitment. The key phrase is “extended periods of time”. If there’s a lot of water in the sink, it may take a long time before the changes are noticeable.
Using this analogy, it becomes clear there are several methods of which to empty the sink. The first option is to reduce the water coming from the faucet. The second option is to widen the drain at the bottom. However, the best method is to do both! Basically, the best way to lose weight (body fat) is to decrease your caloric consumption and increase your energy expenditure.
Note: For more information on Calories and how they work, check part 1 of “Exercise Essentials” here.
Getting More Specific
Now that you understand the basics of weight change, we now need to get a little more specific on your unique needs. If you look back at the Energy Balance Equation, you’ll notice there are two main factors: Energy Consumed and Energy Expended. These may not be as straightforward as you’d think, so we’ll examine them more closely.
Your body is constantly using energy. Every motion you make consumes energy. Lying completely motionless, your body still uses energy to maintain the basic functions of living. Even your brain is constantly consuming energy. This is called your base metabolic rate, or BMR for short. To add to this, every time you eat food, your BMR is increased in order to digest food. This is called the thermic effect of food or TEF for short. Finally, any additional movements you make such as walking, brushing your teeth, or exercising require additional energy. This energy is typically consumed during the activity and is equivalent to the intensity of the action. That is, running for 10 minutes consumes more energy than walking for 10 minutes.
All three factors combined make up your energy expenditure and will ultimately affect your daily energy balance.
As you might imagine, “energy consumed” is the food you eat. Most items contain energy, and depending on the type of food, may contain more energy than other things. Some items contain so little energy that the act of digesting them costs more than the food provides, such as celery. On the other hand, some items are extremely dense and can drastically increase your energy intake (and subsequently, your waistline). You can’t always tell how much energy an item provides by its shape or size. Generally speaking, most foods offer the following units of energy (Calories):
- Carbohydrates: 4 Calories per gram
- Protein: 4 Calories per gram
- Fat: 9 Calories per gram
As you can see, even though you can consume the same amount of grams of fat and carbohydrates, the amount of energy received from each item is different.
Understanding where energy is spent (the drain) and where energy is consumed (the faucet), we can begin to manipulate these amounts to match our goals. However, each person is different. Because of this, our manipulations will be different. In order to understand how much energy to consume, we must first consider how much energy we require. Remember that we consume energy even while at rest. In addition, bigger people consume more energy than smaller people.
When it comes to calculating our resting metabolic rate and calorie requirements, there are many methods. However, all of these methods only get us CLOSE to the actual number. Instead of using complicated equations, I follow a simple rule: Eat between 13-16 Calories per pound of bodyweight. Even if you use very complicated calculations, you’ll get pretty close to this number.
Women: Consume 13-14 calories per lb of bodyweight.
Men: Consume 15-16 calories per lb of bodyweight.
These two numbers make up your total resting metabolic rate (which includes BMR, TEF, and light daily activity). So take a moment and do the math. How much energy do you require?
Daily Caloric Requirements = _________________
Now it’s getting a little easier. In order to lose weight, we eat less than that amount. To gain weight, we eat more.
I’m going to ask a serious question, and I want you to pick your honest answer.
Do you want to lose weight:
Slow and Steadily Moderately Fast Really Fast
(2-4lbs per month) (5-10lbs per month) (15-20lbs per month)
(2-4lbs per month) (5-10lbs per month) (15-20lbs per month)
Each method requires a slightly different approach. The “slow and steady” plan is the most convenient and flexible, as it allows you to progress toward your goal while maintaining a social life. The “moderately fast” plan is good for active and athletic individuals who need to change their body weight while staying active and energetic. The “really fast” plan is the toughest plan to follow, but can offer amazing results if adherence is perfect. However, it is the least flexible plan and does not allow for much social wiggle-room. This plan is for people who want to attack their weight-loss goals quickly or for people who prefer to have a rigid, structured eating program.
For the "Slow and Steady option", we simply subtract 200 calories per day and continue with your normal exercising. Any additional cardio will be a bonus. This puts you in a deficit of about 1400 calories per week which = about 1.5 - 2 lbs per month. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on your activity level. This also allows for the usual "sidetracks" that occur. Sometimes you’ll want to spend time with friends and family, consuming too much food/drink. With this slow and steady option, it doesn't affect you too much. There won't be any muscle loss during this phase, as long as you’re eating at least 50g-70g of protein per day.
For the "Moderately Fast" option, you become a little more focused. Subtract 500 calories per day while maintaining your current activity level (maybe add a little extra cardio or weightlifting), but do not deviate from this plan. Every day you're hitting 500 under maintanence and not a single calorie more. This will create a deficit of 3500 calories per week (from diet alone), which is about a pound per week. At this rate, we should see about 1-2lbs per week with exercise, assuming you don't deviate from the diet. Ideally there will be no muscle lost during this phase (especially with exercise and weight training), but protein consumption will need to increase to 70-100g per day to compensate.
The "Really Fast" option, it requires immense focus and willpower. However, it's over in 4-8 weeks. For this option, we consume considerably less than our maintenance calories (with just enough calories to live and exercise). This option is usually pretty difficult and most people won’t follow because it's mentally taxing. It requires very strong willpower. For this option, we eat 1000-1200 calories under maintenance while consuming extra protein to make sure no muscle is lost. For this plan we will be consuming between 120 - 180g of protein. (Protein shakes may help here). At this rate, you're seeing a bodyweight change of 3-4lbs per week.
Keeping Yourself Honest
So it’s clear that calorie counting will be very important. To do this, I recommend creating a free account at a calorie counting website, such as www.myfitnesspal.com, and logging your nutrition EVERY DAY.
This is the most important step, because we often over-consume calories without realizing.
So now you know how many calories to eat, and a method to begin tracking them. Start this step today and begin your fat loss journey!
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me:
Jeremy Bushong, MS, CSCS