This topic is huge! And I’ll be scratching the surface…
There is plenty of debate in the industry surrounding approaches for health, dieting and body composition. You may hear the names of different diets and methods such as clean eating, paleo diet, IIFYM (if it fits your macros), flexible dieting, intermittent fasting, carb cycling etc.
Im sure that it all works… BUT the only one that works is the one you can stick to consistently.
Now it can be damn confusing, especially for someone who is looking to start a fitness journey.
So where do you start?
Learn the basics… before you get bogged down with counting calories, proteins, fats and carbs its important you learn what they are…and where you get them from.
Protein is essential for overall health. Proteins have several roles within the body, for individuals who are training the main functions are to support lean body mass, replace and repair damaged proteins within muscle tissue and in some situations (severe caloric restriction / low carb diets) protein can be broken down for energy. Protein is found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
Fat, like protein, is essential for overall health. These are important for cell function, absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Fat can also be broken down and used for energy. Fats are found in foods like oily fish, eggs, nuts, oils and butter.
Carbohydrates, these have got a bad reputation in recent times. Carbs are the body’s primary fuel source for high intensity exercise. These are found in foods such as oats, rice, pasta, potatoes and fruit.
So how much do we need?
This all depends on the individual, there a plenty of variables that would determine the requirements. Including specific goal, exercise and diet history, lifestyle, current weight, height, age and gender.
Before we get into the numbers its important we understand where we are.
If you are currently eating lots of junk food, kebabs, takeaways, pies and pasties and not doing any exercise then there is little point wasting time working these numbers out just yet.
Although the truth is that calories DO matter and that there is plenty of evidence and studies showing people eating crap food and still loosing weight because they are simply eating less and putting themselves in a calorie deficit, its something that I wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting as I want people to enjoy good food through adjusting their mindset and creating a healthy relationship with food and training.
When sitting down with a client for the first time there is no need to overwhelm and bog them down with too much information. I am yet to sit down with someone at day one to find they are in their current situation as they have accidentally eaten too much sweet potato.
I would look at adjusting several things. We need to hit the reset button and focus on optimising health from the inside out!
So… start with the Water… so many people don’t get enough water aim for roughly 35ml per kg bodyweight. This may take a bit of getting used to so build up to it slowly.
Eat Real Food – try to include a quality animal protein source with every meal (meat, fish, eggs etc) get lots of veggies in and experiment with finding ways to enjoy all these foods.
Limit The Obvious – Diets often fail as people are too restrictive, people try to be 100% strict and live off chicken and broccoli and struggle to stick to it.
I’d rather someone be 90% for the long term, than be 100% for 3 days and the fall off the so called wagon.
However, this said its certainly worth a period of elimination to help your body become a fat burning, muscle building machine!
SO…10-14 days of cutting right back can help, as certain functions in the body can be inhibited or down regulated from years of eating crap and drinking..
The goal for most people is to enjoy a balanced lifestyle including things we enjoy such as chocolate and alcohol etc and not feel guilty about it! BUT to earn this lifestyle there has to be some sort restriction because if people could do the whole moderation thing we wouldn’t get ourselves out of shape in the first place.
SO…Pull out the junk and drink and live off the land for a few weeks and see how much better you feel inside and out!
You can then start to introduce some ‘naughty foods’ every now and then when you learn how to moderate the intake of these foods to find a healthy balance.
Remember consistency is key… don’t eat ‘clean’ for a week and then have a massive binge! This is for you to decide how best to approach it.
Milk chocolate hobnob syndrome….
If you know you can have a small amounts (lets say 10% of your weekly intake) of the foods that can be described as ‘junk’ or ‘naughty’ and be consistent with this then by all means get them in and don’t feel guilty if its going to keep you on track long term.
BUT if you are like me and that small amount is likely to make you want more and more then you need to show a little more restraint. If I have one milk chocolate hobnob I WILL eat the whole packet!…So I avoid them and choose something like greek yoghurt as a snack… but if you are a person (like my missus) who can eat one and put the packet away as you have satisfied that need then this is cool!
By default most people following these simple guidelines will get plenty of protein and fats, and will almost certainly reduce calories and carbohydrate intake. Whats important is that you eat enough, don’t go hungry just make smart choices. Most people know deep down what they need to do.
So you have got to grips with the basics and have shown the ability to eat well, train well and feel healthier and happier with the progress. Do you need more?
Most people can get in really good shape doing the basics consistently well, if you want to go to the next level in terms of body composition or learn how to be more flexible with your diet to include some of the ‘naughty foods’ and still progress then you need to be aware of your intake and can begin to be more calculated.
Working out your numbers…Firstly eat normally for a few days and track your food in a diary and roughly work out your current intake.
There are several different calculators and formulas used to work out your BMR. BMR (basal metabolic rate) is roughy the amount of calories your body needs to exists when doing nothing (sitting on your arse) as your metabolism, organ function and other biological functions all burn calories when doing what they do.
So if you were eating this amount and started to do a little exercise then you would lose weight as the exercise would take you under this caloric baseline.
If you are embarking on some more intense training or are someone with a decent training back ground then you will require more calories to fuel your training. Here we would look at your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). This formula takes into account your training and calories needed to support it.
There are plenty of apps and online calculators for these… (For me, my TDEE is around 2600 calories at my current bodyweight)
So you have this number now what the hell to do with it?
We need to break it down into your Macro Nutrients…Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates.
So lets set Protein… there is loads of research on how much protein we need and I can say its a large range so pick one a stick with it!… for individuals who are training I suggest 1-1.4g p/lb of bodyweight depending on your goals. (2g-3.3g p/kg)
For fat loss we would aim slightly higher to preserve muscle tissue.
SO… Im around 180lbs so thats roughly 215g (at 1.2g/lb I’ve gone for the middle of the road…why not?)
Protein is 4 calories per gram so this means I’ve used 864 calories for my protein (216 x 4)
Now for the fat.
Again plenty of different ways people go about it, people on lower carb diets tend to go higher fat.
For the most part we would allocate around 25%-30% of our total calories for fat. So for me thats 650 calories.
Fat is 9 calories per gram so 650/9 = 72g of fat.
Other methods would use bodyweight so this would be 0.4-0.5 x bodyweight, so for me 0.4 x 180 = 72g
A lot of the literature suggests that people with a higher body fat percentage allocate more calories to fat than Carbohydrates.
So Ive got my Protein and my Fat now the rest is left for my Carbohydrates… so 2600 calories minus my 864 calls for protein and my 650 cals for fat. This leaves 1086 cals.
Carbohydrates are 4 cals per gram so 1086/4 = 271g
WHAT nearly 300g CARBS!!! Yup!!! Remember we are setting my baseline this may go down or even up depending on progress and specific goal, we don’t want to lose or gain to quickly. (obviously if you don’t respond well to carbs you can up fats in exchange… but honestly just trust the process)
In my opinion we want to ‘diet’ on as much food as possible so lets see where it goes and reduce if needs be.
Bottom line is this can be a fairly complicated thing to do, its something that can help or hinder your progress depending on how willing you are to plan and work all this stuff out and more importantly… stick to it.
So now you have your numbers you can fit your food in… but working all this out is for another blog post and comes with its own complications… how accurate are food labels? Using apps like my fitness pal planning fitting in food we want… you can see why keeping it simple is a good approach!
Things to take into account…
What if my food diary shows Im eating less than this already and not losing weight?
Well this is a tough one! I mentioned earlier about certain functions in the body not working properly or becoming down-regulated when we eat lots of crap all the time….this can also be true when we don’t eat enough. In my experience… females tend to be a little worse for this as unfortunately society seems to push females on and off different diets from a young age. Its then difficult to explain and gain the trust of a client when we say we need to gradually get you eating more… and yes you may have to put the weight loss on the back burner for a little while and be patient it could take a few months…
But sure enough over time your body will adapt and these functions (thyriod output etc) should begin to adapt and work in your favour and you can lose fat eating more then you’ve eaten in long long time.
We’ve talked about Protein, Fats and Carbs but Fiber is something that can often be under or over cooked too… Fiber is Important for gut health, digestion and has an effect on thermogenesis so depending on the individual between 25g-60g would be adequate.
Take your time…
Most of the industry is 6 weeks, 8 weeks 12 weeks etc, But keep things high for as long as possible and only make very gradual changes, don’t panic or make snap decisions if after the 1st week or two you don’t lose loads of weight… healthy weight loss can be as gradual as 1 pound a week.
Be consistent and honest…
If you go on a bender or have nights out planned, this is totally cool as long as you aren’t working towards a massive deadline then allow for these breaks and more flexible times. Just understand they can slow short term progress. The best thing here is to plan for them, make sensible choices and never feel guilty so many people slip up or have something ‘naughty’ and then say F$%K it the damage is done and go off the rails for a few days. Relax and enjoy yourself its a lifestyle choice not a punishment.
Be realistic…is it worth it?
We’d all love abs all year round, but be realistic with yourself would you rather be 85-90% there and enjoy nights out and meals out… or would you rather have the mental abs and be a boring bastard? This can be done for a period of time for some photos or a holiday…Its your call and you can have it all within reason but don’t expect to look like the front cover of flex magazine or muscle and fitness all year round (the people you’re looking at certainly don’t) but they do a good job of keeping in touching distance… so once you get where you want to be try to find stability and maintain as best as you can but don’t ruin the rest of your life chasing something that isn’t all that when you get there.
Is the information you are reading meant for you?
I read a lot of bodybuilding magazines etc but I know that the training volumes and nutrition advice in there is aimed at bodybuilders who are usually massive dudes who’ve been training for years and years and are synthetically enhanced so is the stuff I’m reading relevant to me? Not really, I find it interesting but I need to take from it what I can and ignore the stuff that I don’t need.
So I guess what I’m saying is don’t take everything you read as gospel… even this blog! Im no scientist, these numbers and calories etc will give a rough guide this information is from the current literature and from experience with clients and my own training, but you need to understand how to apply and adapt it to make it work for you… its trial and error with most things hence why consistency is so important so that you can make the right changes. Thats why having a trainer or a coach make the educated guesses for you is good way to go about it.
YOU are an individual the diet that worked for your mate may not be right for you…
BE HAPPY, HEALTHY AND ENJOY THE PROCESS.