Everything You Need to Know About Your Diet

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Guides, Nutrition
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Interested in keto? Read this and try this style of eating first.  If you plateau, you may think about Ketogenic Dieting.  Don’t use keto to gain mass, use this style only.

I’ve made the promise that dieting (whether to gain or lose weight) is simple – and it is.  However, you’re going to want some logic and maybe a few references for future research/confirmation as well.  For one, I won’t be citing studies for our purposes.  I want this to be accessible to the layman, as I’m hardly much better than a layman myself.  If you think I’m full of garbage though, I’ll leave you with the tools to verify what I say.  With all that said, let’s get down and dirty.

CALORIES — THE FIRST AND FINAL DETERMINANT OF GAIN/LOSS

Put simply, the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis determines whether you will gain or lose weight.  Eat more than you burn, you gain.  Eat less, you lose.  For this reason, it is almost imperative that you count calories, at least to begin your journey.  It will be hard to interpret what you see in the mirror and on the scale if you can’t look back at how much you’ve been eating.

The main question when it comes to calories then is, how much am I burning?  This isn’t exactly a simple question, and chances are you’ll go through some trial and error figuring this out.  However, there are decent ways to estimate.  I’ll quote a forum post that helped me to begin with before I give you a more comprehensive method as well:

Estimating Requirements
The simplest method of estimating needs is to base your intake on a standard ‘calories per unit of weight (usually kilograms)’. Typically:
– 26 to 30 kcals/kg/day for normal, healthy individuals with sedentary lifestyles doing little physical activity [12.0-14 kcal/pound]
– 31 to 37 kcal/kg/day for those involved in light to moderate activity 3-5 x a week with moderately active lifestyles [14-16 kcal/ pound]
– 38 to 40 kcals/kg/day for those involved in vigorous activity and highly active jobs [16-18 kcal/ pound].

For those involved in HEAVY training (eg: athletes) – the demand is even greater:
– 41 to 50 kcals/kg/day for those involved in moderate to heavy training (for example: 15-20 hrs/ week training) [18.5-22 kcal/ pound]
– 50 or above kcals/kg/day for those involved in heavy to extreme training [> 22 kcal/ pound]

There are then a number of other formula which calculate BMR.
1/ Harris-Benedict formula: Very inaccurate. It was derived from studies on LEAN, YOUNG, ACTIVE males MANY YEARS AGO (1919). Notorious for OVERESTIMATING requirements, especially in the overweight. IF YOU CAN AVOID IT, DON’T USE IT!
MEN: BMR = 66 + [13.7 x weight (kg)] + [5 x height (cm)] – [6.76 x age (years)]
WOMEN: BMR = 655 + [9.6 x weight (kg)] + [1.8 x height (cm)] – [4.7 x age (years)]

2/Mifflin-St Jeor: Developed in the 1990s and more realistic in todays settings. It still doesn’t take into consideration the differences as a consequence of high BF%. Thus, once again, it OVERESTIMATES NEEDS, ESPECIALLY IN THE OVERWEIGHT.
MEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] + 5
WOMEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] -161

3/Katch-McArdle:Considered the most accurate formula for those who are relatively lean. Use ONLY if you have a good estimate of your bodyfat %.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM)Where LBM = [total weight (kg) x (100 – bodyfat %)]/100

You then multiply these by an ‘activity variable’ to give TEE. This Activity Factor[/u] is the cost of living and it is BASED ON MORE THAN JUST YOUR TRAINING. It also includes work/lifestyle, sport & a TEF of ~15% (an average mixed diet). Average activity variables are:
1.2 = Sedentary (Little or no exercise + desk job)
1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (Little daily activity & light exercise 1-3 days a week)
1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (Moderately active daily life & Moderate exercise 3-5 days a week)
1.7-1.8 = Very Active (Physically demanding lifestyle & Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week)
1.9-2.0 = Extremely Active (Hard daily exercise or sports and physical job)

So to convert BMR to a TOTAL requirement: multiply the result of your BMR by the variable you fall into!
How Accurate are they?: Well, although they give rough ball-park figures, they are still ‘guesstimations’ and most people still OVERESTIMATE activity, UNDERESTIMATE bodyfat & end up eating TOO MUCH. So the aim is to use these as ‘rough figures’, monitor your weight/ measurements for 2-4 weeks, & IF your weight is stable/ measurements are stable, you have likely found maintenance.

I can’t argue with anything written there, especially that you may find that you have to adjust because your body works a little differently.  Young people especially tend to find that their bodies burn more than what the calculations tell them – subsequently, they get rude awakenings when their metabolism goes back to normal and they haven’t adjusted their diet.

Here’s a final option that you may be interested in – I have found that this tends to give higher estimates for me than other methods, but I do find it to be very accurate.  The Total Metabolism Forecaster is a spreadsheet that asks you a ton of lifestyle questions and then produces the number of calories you burn per day.  The link provided is for MS Excel 2007 and newer – other download options and updated versions can be found in this thread/post.

SO HOW MUCH AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT?

Well you’ve calculated your metabolic rate, aka “maintenance.”   If you ate your exact maintenance every day, your weight should not go up or down excepting shifts in water weight.  Eating at maintenance isn’t a good strategy for just about any purpose.   Let’s keep it simple at first:

Want to gain? Eat 500 calories over your maintenance (1 lb gain/week)

Want to cut? Eat 500 calories less than your maintenance (1 lb loss/week)

Why just 500 over/under?  For most, this is the threshold when you would start gaining fat or losing muscle, depending on whether you are eating in deficit or excess.  Very few are going to be able to gain more than 1 pound per week without gaining a good deal of fat along with.  Likewise, it is difficult to lose more than 1 lb per week without shedding muscle.   If you are 20%+ body fat, you may be able to cut more than 1lb per week without any issues. As mentioned before, if after ~3 weeks the scale and mirror aren’t showing results, you may need to adjust your caloric intake.

Another thing I must emphasize is this: IT IS NOT A REALISTIC GOAL TO GAIN MUSCLE AND LOSE FAT AT THE SAME TIME.  It’s the most commonly asked question by people new to fitness – “how can I gain some muscle and lose some fat?”  In untrained and/or pubescent individuals, this may happen a bit but it’s not something worth shooting for.  Trying to “recomp,” what many call eating at maintenance in hope of gaining muscle while losing fat, just won’t work.  Most who try to do this manage to accomplish neither of those tasks.  You may find a leaning out when you’re bulking properly and likewise you may find some muscle growth when you cut – but these are not things to count on and will happen less and less and you continue improving your physique.   Therefore, decide whether you will cut or bulk.   There should be some back and forth with this too.  Cuts should not exceed 8 weeks, whereas you can bulk for longer periods of time (provided you are okay with whatever fat gain you have).  Depending on the quality of your diet and your genetics, you’ll want to go 2-4 months bulking followed by 1-2 months cutting.   I don’t really suggest going 2 and 2, though.  You may find that you don’t look as “fat” if your muscles are bigger or more well proportioned so go ahead and bulk!

WHAT DO I EAT?

Before you head to Dairy Queen for your daily allotment of calories, I have to drop some bad news on you: it’s not that simple.  You may be aware that there are three key macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  You need sufficient amounts of each of them!  Forget the Atkins Diet or whatever the guy at the gym told you about carbs – you will be consuming more carbs than any other nutrient in a well-constructed diet.  Likewise, forget all the talk about fats that pervades the media and gyms: you need fats. You’re going to need to hit certain amounts of each macronutrient on a daily basis to reach your health and fitness goals.  Let’s go ahead and break it down by each macronutrient:

Protein: This is the most underconsumed nutrient by the general public, due in part to the fact that government recommendations are far too low for the active individual.  The exact amount, however, is still a bit debated – one thing to keep in mind is that there is no real evidence that there is such a thing as too much protein.  For this purpose, I suggest aiming for the high end of recommendations when possible.  Be advised that protein is 4 calories per gram.  Here are some of those recommendations:

Strength Training Individual, popular sports nutrition: .6g – 8g protein per lb bodyweight

Strength Training Individual, bodybuilding circles: 1g – 1.2g protein per lb bodyweight

You can add .2g to the guidelines for someone doing endurance training, and .4g for an adolescent.

A simpler guideline is this one from Alan Aragon: Eat, in grams of protein, your target bodyweight.  So if you’re 180 lbs want to bulk to 200, eat 200 grams protein.  If you’re 200 lbs and want to cut to 180, eat 180 grams of protein.  Keep these goals in the shorter term – don’t eat 300 grams protein when you 150 lbs because you want to be Mr. Olympia someday.

Fat: The thought that fat you eat turns into fat on your body is really not at all accurate.  You need a diet rich in fats, and most fitness folks find that they are deficient in fat.  Fatty acids are important for all kinds of body processes, including burning fat (go figure).  The guidelines are a little looser here: .5g  – 1g fat per pound bodyweight.  If you know your lean bodyweight (total mass-fat mass), use the same guideline with lean bodyweight.  If you are cutting and really can’t fit in enough fats, get at least .35g /lb.  There are certain kinds of fats that are better than others, but don’t fret too much about avoiding this or that.  Nuts and fish are the holders of the healthiest fats, but you need some of all kinds.  Make sure you’re eating a good deal of whole foods and you shouldn’t have to worry about the occasional hamburger or whatever else. Fats are 9 calories per gram.

Carbohydrates: This is the easiest part.  Take what calories are left over after fats and protein, and those can be carbs.  Try to eat some complex carbs like oats and whole grains, but some snacks are okay! There aren’t necessarily requirements here, but for athletes especially get somewhere around 2-4g /lb bodyweight, depending on activity level.  Carbs are 4 calories per gram. Carbs are not the enemy!

Here come the part that you will want to resist when you hear it, it just sounds so wrong.  As long as you are eating the correct amount of calories, protein, and fat, your diet is good!  By no means is this an endorsement of a diet that consists solely of protein powder and ice cream because “it fits my macros” but as long as an honest effort to eat a good deal of real, “clean” foods, the rest really doesn’t matter.  For instance, there is no evidence that there is a demonstrable difference in results when using complex carbs (like whole grains, etc) and a mixture of sugars, simple carbs, and complex carbs.   If you’re diabetic, that’s different and you should already know what to do about your blood sugar.  For normal indivduals, though, it’s really that simple.  Eat as many whole foods as possible, hit your macronutrient needs, and if there is space left, EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT!

Fiber: Fibrous carbs are a somewhat different category.  On the conventional American nutrition label, fiber carbs are counted amongst carbohydrates and calories.  However, it doesn’t quite work that way – you may subtract fiber carbs from your totals.  You do want to consume fiber, however.  Fiber is critical and helpful for digestive health.  It helps with nutrient absorption as well as loosening the bowels, so to speak.  Your GI can do a very good job of adjusting to fiber over time, but shoot for about 25g at the minimum.  If you don’t normally consume fiber, this may increase the amount that you flatulate and your stool may be loosened.  Like I said, though, you should adjust rather quickly – just don’t make a huge jump from no fiber to 50+g.

WHEN DO I EAT? HOW OFTEN DO I EAT?

The mantra in bodybuilding for ages and more recently in popular dieting literature is that you must eat many small meals every day, say every two hours.   Others may tell you that if you eat more than the traditional three square meals, you’ll get fat or eat too much.  Some people wait all day and pig out in one meal.  Maybe you wonder why people have had great results using any of these methods.  I’ll tell you why…meal timing doesn’t matter.  Eat when you want to, eat what you want to, just meet those macronutrient requirements.  Alan Aragon says it best and I took this one from one of his research reviews:

Of primary importance is total amount of the macronutrients by the end of the day. Timing of nutrients is secondary, since there’s typically a constant absorptive overlap between meals in a well-constructed diet.” – Alan Aragon, “Nutrient Timing Part 1: Fat”

What about pre-workout? Post-workout? Supplement companies like you to think that you have to slam some protein and/or carbs right after a workout.  This is just complete bunk – the only people this even somewhat applies to is endurance trainees, like marathon runners.  For the typical athlete or weight lifter, the only thing that really matters is that throughout the day you get nourished.  If you like to eat after a workout, go ahead.  If you don’t, you aren’t losing anything.  The same goes with pre-workout.  If you want to work out with some food in you, by all means do so.  If you like to workout fasted, like in the morning, that’s okay too – though you may want to grab an apple or something.

THAT’S IT!

That’s all you really need to know.  Become a label reader so you can track your calories – I also suggest signing up to a website like Livestrong MyPlate to help you track your calories (they also have an app!).  Just remember, their calorie and macro suggestions are likely to be inaccurate, so you need to do that yourself.  If you need more guidance, feel free to ask questions on here.  Also, you may read the links below for some info.  Finally, I suggest joining the BodyBuilding.com Forums – read the post I linked to in this article as well as others and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  There is a wealth of knowledge beyond even the nutrition forum there too.

http://www.alanaragon.com

http://www.leangains.com

http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=132544743

http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=492749

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