The question I get most often as a trainer and health coach is how should I be eating? To many people’s dismay the answer I give is usually pretty simple, exactly how you want as long as you are within your calorie range and getting adequate amounts of macro and micro nutrients. Now, I usually dive into more detail with each person individually to help them maximize their health and whatever fitness goals they have, but the truth is nutrition is a lot more simple than people make it out to be.
So first, let’s explore the definition of nutrition. Nutrition is defined as: the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth (or loss), yes I added that last part. Basically, you need to provide your body with enough calories to live and breathe and hit whatever fitness goals you have. What those calories are made of is NOT as important as how many you get if you look at it from a general standpoint. Basically, if you want to lose weight and you burn 1500 calories per day and you consume 1200 calories per day you will lose weight. At that rate mathematically you would lose 1 pound of weight every 11-12 days. Your bodyweight will continue to drop until your body reaches homeostasis at the new calorie level. This usually takes anywhere from 1-3 months. Now let’s say you want to gain weight, if you burn 1500 calories a day and you consume 1800 calories a day you will gain 1 pound of weight every 11-12 days, give or take. And this will continue until your body reaches homeostasis at the new calorie goal and so on and so forth. So that’s it, It’s really that simple. Deficit yourself to lose and surplus yourself to gain. But, not really.
If you’re at least semi- educated in the fitness realm you know that two people who weigh the same amount can look very different. One person who weighs 190lbs and 8% body fat will look much different from another person the same weight at 25% body fat. Person one is holding significantly more muscle mass than person two and also significantly less body fat. So, when you’re looking at nutrition it needs to be something that’s viewed from a position of altering body composition. So most people who come to me that want to “lose weight” aren’t really searching for a number they’re searching for an image in the mirror. So, how do you eat to get that “dream body” you’ve been looking for? Well, let’s take a look at macro-nutrition to explain that.
There are three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fat. If you’re looking for a “toned” body odds are you need to build some muscle mass. If you are a female reading this and saying you don’t want to build muscle, relax having muscles isn’t going to make you look gross or bulky. Instead it’s going to make you look firm, toned, and curvy. So, building muscle mass will require a bit more protein than your body would need otherwise. How much will depend on how often you train, how hard you train, and how new to working out you are. The RDA of an inactive adult is 50 grams of protein per day. So, when talking about protein intake with a client we usually base needs off of how often they work out. If I am working with a female client who works out 3x per week with the goal of fat loss and building muscle who is new to working out I will usually recommend a minimum of 75 grams per day. If the client is male or is working out more often the recommendation will usually be higher. When you are new to working out I believe a less is more approach is better. If you wanted to see a more rapid gain in muscle you could increase the protein to as high as one gram of protein per pound of lean mass. Not getting enough protein is something that’s very rare especially in the US because most foods we eat on a regular basis have protein in them. However, the longer you train and more muscle you build the higher your protein needs become. So, now that we have protein covered let’s talk about carbs and fats.
The reason why I group both of these macronutrients together is because, even though they are different, as long as you consume both the distribution does not really matter all that much. Now, this only applies if you are a regular person. If you’re a competitive athlete there are proven methods of dieting that are superior, however that is not what this blog post is about. First, let’s talk carbs. Carbohydrates are your bodies main energy source. They can be broken down easily and converted to glycogen which can be stored in the liver or muscles and is basically the fuel for all human activity. Fat can also be used as energy. Your body has to use multiple processes to turn it to glycogen so it is not recommended as a “main” fuel source, but also can be used as one especially if you are following a ketogenic diet. Now, fat also plays a big role in hormone production and normal body function. So, consuming it is important in day to day life. So as you can see each of these macronutrients are important, but the distribution is not all that important. This is where I tell people to gravitate towards foods that they like. If someone loves peanut butter then we leave more room for fat in their diet. If someone is more in love with carbohydrates then we get more of our calorie content from carbs. But, at the end of the day if you’re a regular person the distribution between the two macronutrients is not that important as long as you eat some of both of them. Now, obviously this all sounds easy on paper, but application in real life is where things get tricky.
Eating whatever you want to lose weight sounds like a dream come true, but it is the application that usually breaks peoples willpower. Staying in a calorie deficit is challenging. Its challenging because your body by nature does not want to lose weight. When you are trying to lose weight you are decreasing the volume of food that you eat. When your body, mind, and stomach are used to a certain amount of food there is usually a little backlash such as hunger which can be minor or major depending on the breakdown of your food. So let’s say person one gets all of their calories from low volume high calorie foods (basically foods that are packed with calories for how big they are I.E pizza, ice cream, chips, etc). And person two get’s all of their food from high volume low calorie foods (veggies, lean meats, whole grains, etc). Who do you think will be more successful? Probably person two for a few reasons. One, they can eat more food volume. Getting calories from more nutrient dense foods allows you to eat more total food which keeps the stomach full aiding in will power. Two, nutrient dense foods are hard to consume in high amounts. For example 2 slices of a large cheese pizza (no toppings) is around 800 calories. You would have to eat almost 4lbs of kale to consume the same amount of calories. An extreme example, but you get my point. Now, another thing is if your calorie goal is 1500 for the day and you just ate 800 of it in one sitting you only have 700 calories left over for the rest of the day. 2 slices of pizza is filling for some, but it will only keep you full for a couple hours. So, as you can see where you get your calories from may not matter, but having the willpower to eat in a calorie deficit becomes easier when you don’t feel starved at all hours of the day. This is why I recommend to my clients that they do not eat high calorie foods when trying to lose weight because it lowers their chances of being successful.
So, I hope I shed some light on some of the nutritional myths that exist these days. When you have any goal in fitness just follow the 80/20 rule. If you make 80% good decisions and 20% not so good decisions you will set yourself up for success and not lose your mind. If your goal is to lose weight try to eat a variety of foods and try and stick to nutrient dense high fiber foods. Fiber will keep you full and help you push through being in a calorie deficit. If your goal is to gain weight make sure you are getting adequate protein and adequate calories. Also, just because you’re trying to gain weight don’t go crazy and gain a ton of bad weight that you have to lose later. Regardless of your goals the most important thing is to stay within you calorie range. If you stay within your calorie range you will hit your fitness goals before you know it.
My name is Patriel Dunford and as the owner of Infinite Fitness my main goal in life is to spread good advice in the health industry and help people live healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives.