David Arcemant, BS, CSCS
Nutrition is one of those things that has become overcomplicated and yet oversimplified from diets that only work for a certain amount of time. In fact, most people following a diet regain their weight and more. Unless you’re an athlete who was only cutting down to a class, that means all the efforts created in the diet plan was in vain.
So what is the answer? Well first, you must recognize the facts of what you eat.
In definition, a Calorie (Cal) is a unit of energy created to raise one gram of water up by 1 degree celsius at 1 atmospheric pressure. However, the foods we eat are actually measured in kilocalories (or kcal).
Basically, how many calories you eat versus how many you use up will ultimately determine how much weight you will gain, lose, or maintain at.
Calories In > Calories Expended = Weight Gain
Calories In < Calories Expended = Weight Loss
Calories In = Calories Expended = Weight Stable
However, after initializing how many calories you should consume, ou should then consider the types of calories you are consuming. These are known as Macronutrients.
This Macronutrient gets the most attention, and for good reason. Sufficient Protein promotes Skeletal Muscle Synthesis, Satiety, and because it is a large molecule, requires a bit of energy to fully digest. Types of foods that contain Proteins are animal and dairy products. There are also supplements such as whey protein that (of course) contain Protein. In protein that comes from animal and dairy, a better amino profile is included. This means that the body utilizes it more effectively than other sorts of protein. If you are vegan, however, other foods such as soy and hemp protein can also satisfy protein requirements. However, the quality of protein is not as high due to their amino profile and thus needs to be a higher amount per serving. If we were to look at our body as a car, proteins would be viewed as the steel and material of the vehicle. Therefore, the larger the steel, the more energy required to move it. Likewise, the larger quantity of lean mass we can gather, the more energy we can burn off.
Carbohydrates have lately received bad hype. However, they are the main preferred source of energy for the body. When we eat Carbs, the nutrient is broken down into Glucose that enters the blood stream. From there, Insulin is spiked and sent out to bring Glucose from the blood into specified cells; either the liver, the muscle tissues, or into adipose tissue (stored as fat). While Carbs are not the only way we can obtain energy, it is the preferred method, especially in the case of exercise. Carbs also enhance the ability of muscle tissue to grow and can aid in hydration (Hence why Gatorade can be so effective). In the analogy f the car, Carbs can be seen as the gas required to move the vehicle. Therefore, the more lean mass acquired, the more carbs will be utilized.
Fats are a calorically dense nutrient but are very necessary in a diet. They are stored into adipose tissue and used for hormone regulation, recovery from workouts, and low energy expenditure. While it can be used as energy in the form of Ketones, it will only be utilized as such if Carbs are not presently available. Further, the body must adapt to efficiently use Ketones as a primary source of energy and is therefore not always an ideal source of energy. In the car model, we can look at fats as the oil of the vehicle.
In accounting for the amount of calories and Macronutrients you eat, the majority of the work is already done. By contrast, in over examining a specific supplement without knowledge and application of caloric intake and the amount of Macronutrients taken, you will find yourself in a frustrating state by only accounting a fraction of what will ultimately attribute to a successful goal. Further, eating specific diets without analyzing the logic behind them can give false hopes and misleading results. For example, in completing an unsustainable diet and resulting in fast weight loss, we cannot say that the weight lost was of quality weight; some will be fat, but most will likely be of water and lean tissue. Likewise, eating a diet high in calories without any understanding of how much and the Macronutrients involved can quickly turn a lean and healthy body into a body full of stored fat and minimal lean tissue increases.
So how can we find the amount of calories needed to sustain weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance? One of the best ways is to use a scale 2-3 times per week. In correlating your eating habits with your goal weight, you can quickly find if what you are doing is working. Some days will be off, but in a consistent weigh in over the course of months, it can easily be determined if the caloric intake is meeting the goal. Another way is to use a calculator such as the Mifflin equation to give a starting point of what your caloric intake should be. In tracking calories, it is difficult at first, but you will quickly find eating habits that will suit towards your goals. It is much like strength training: Take it slow and steady at first, then step up the latter as you stay consistent.
Mifflin Equation: Best way to find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Males: 10 x Weight(kg) + 6.25 x Height(cm) - 5 x Age(Years) + 5
Females: 10 x Weight(kg) + 6.25 x Height(cm) - 5 x Age(Years) - 161
In tracking Macronutrients, the correlation must be that towards the calories consumed. However, there are certain principles that should be applied regardless of the goal. For example, Protein should almost always be equated before scaling out the other Nutrients. In Protein, it is generally recommended to consume close to 1 gram/pound of bodyweight. From there, depending on your goals, fats and carbs should be split between the remaining calories. Further, Fiber is an important source for the body for proper digestion and feelings of satiety. Therefore, about 10 grams of Fiber should be consumed for every 1000 calories. It should be noted that 1 gram of Protein and 1 gram of Carbohydrates each contain 4 calories, while 1 gram of Fat contains 9. Because of this, Fats will typically be consumed in a smaller amount than Carbohydrates or Proteins.
If the goal is to decrease weight (More importantly, decrease body fat), it should be done in a slow but steady manner. It is then recommended that weight loss should be at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week. 1 pound of fat contains 3500 calories, so in order to lose 1-2 pounds of fat in a given week, you must drop your standard caloric intake by 500-1000/day. Again, in using a scale to monitor your progress, it is recommended to start cutting calories slowly to see the rate of change before increasing the intensity of the caloric changes.
If the goal is to increase weight (More importantly, lean tissue), it should be done in a slower rate than losing fat. This is because the rate of building quality tissue is slower and you will already add body fat in the process of acquiring lean tissue. It is therefore recommended to gain 2-3 pounds per month, or 1-2 pounds every two weeks. Rapid fluctuations may occur, but consistency in measurement can determine the average of weight gain.
Before gaining or losing weight, however, it is most recommended to find your steady caloric input; that is, you eat a steady diet and maintain a certain weight for a period. This is to adjust and stabilize your metabolism as it has most likely adapted to other eating habits. In short, how can you really know how many calories you need to lose or gain weight if you don’t know how many calories it takes to sustain your weight? In using an equation, tracking what you eat, and monitoring progressing with a scale, you can begin to take on your journey of a healthier lifestyle of eating in a relatively short time.
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