In this three part series I want to go over some some basic tools you can use to set up your nutrition as well as go over basic definitions so you have a better understanding of why your diet is so important to your workout goals, whether it be performance or physique. So lets get started.
There are two main things I want you to think about to help you change the way you eat so you can build the body you desire. They are 1. Eat to supply your body the proper nutrients it needs to build and recover from your workouts, and 2. Use calories to manipulate whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight. In this article I will go over what a calorie is and go over your macro nutrients.
A calorie is what we measure to determine how much energy food has, eat too much and stay sedentary and you can expect to gain weight and mass. Eat too little and live a very active lifestyle, then you can expect to lose weight. This is known as energy balance, from the outside eating less calories and staying active to lose weight sounds simple, where many people mess up is not consuming enough nutrient dense foods(and the correct macros) therefore not supplying the proper nutrients for your body.
Each macronutrient contains a certain amount of calories per gram, this is how they break down: 1 gram of protein=4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate=4 calories, 1 gram of fat=9 calories. Dont worry too much about this right now, we will dig deeper into setting up your macros.
Protein is essential for building muscle and also when you’re cutting weight to preserve lean muscle mass. When you eat food with protein your body breaks it down into amino acids, which helps build lean muscle. As well as many other things, but for now we are just focused on that. When you do not eat enough protein and there are not enough amino acids in your body, it simply CANNOT build and repair your muscles. The body is always losing some amino acids so we need to make sure we get enough protein in our diet to keep the process going. Even if you do not workout or exercise regularly we still need amino acids, but as your exercise increases, so does your bodies need for essential amino acids(these are amino acids that are not produced by the body). This is why a high protein diet is recommended for athletes and people who exercise regularly.
Starting out I recommend everyone do around 1 gram of protein per bodyweight. Depending on your goal whether it be, weight gain or weight loss, will determine the amount of protein eaten. I will get into more of this later, but while cutting it is beneficial to eat a little more protein than you normally would. Anything more than 1.3 grams of protein per bodyweight is probably too much and simply will not benefit you.
The best sources of protein come from a variety of foods. Try not to get too caught up in the whole “you need to eat just chicken and fish all day everyday to build or cut”. Making sure we choose more whole nutrient dense foods over highly processed foods is a major key to ensuring we get the proper nutrients for our bodies. Here is a list of protein foods:
- Lean meat such as beef, pork, wild game
- Poultry such as chicken, turkey, or duck
- Fish and seafood
- Dairy such as cottage cheese or plain greek yogurt
- Protein powders (whey or casein)
- Beans and Legumes
Remember, the more you move and stay active the more your protein needs will increase, some other factors for an increase in protein would be if you are injured or sick, recovering from surgery, or if you are losing protein for some other reason, whether it be chronic stress or poor digestion.
Protein Supplements- As far as supplementation goes you can get protein powder via whey, casein, milk protein blend, egg white, and plant based proteins. The only two I will talk about are whey and casein. We want to always shoot for real food first, meaning if you can get protein from whole food sources such as beef, then you should get it there first. If you find yourself struggling to get enough protein in a day then this is where supplementing with protein powder will come in handy. Here are some examples of when supplementing with protein will be beneficial:
- You may be busy and find it hard to make good protein choices on the go
- You may be ill or not able to cook and prep whole foods
- If you are an athlete and are traveling
- A student who does not have access to a kitchen to cook food
You can take whey protein at anytime, but it is effective post workout because it is digested very quickly (causes a dramatic spike in amino acid in the blood) and can stimulate more immediate muscle growth than a slow digesting protein. The other protein is casein, this is a much slower digesting protein. Casein is the protein found in milk. You can use this protein when you do not need an immediate spike in amino acids in your blood. Taking it before bed will ensure you get a slow release of amino acids into the blood over several hours. If you notice casein or whey start to bother your stomach, a good non dairy alternative would be egg protein powder.
Many people will shy away from carbs, I want to make sure you eat plenty of carbs, while putting on muscle. Believe it or not carbs play a huge role in muscle growth and overall body function. If putting on muscle is your goal, then making sure you get adequate amounts of carbohydrates is crucial because when you eat carbs some of the glucose(any form of carb breaks down into this in the blood) will turn into glycogen which then is stored in the liver and muscles. When doing high intensity activities such as lifting weights you will rapidly drain these glycogen stores, and you replenish them by eating carbohydrates. By keeping your muscles full of glycogen you will improve your performance.
Carbohydrates, like a candy bar, will get converted into glucose faster than a piece of fruit like an apple will. Im not saying a candy bar is the same as a piece of fruit because at the end of the day you will be missing out on key nutrients that a piece of fruit has compared to a candy bar. What I am saying is that a carb gets turned into glucose no matter what type of carb it is. Where we go wrong is overconsumption and energy imbalance. The problem with carbs is that too many people will over consume highly processed sugary foods and not be very active throughout the day, this is when problems arise and you start to notice weight gain. This can even happen if you eat too much fruit while being too sedentary. We need glucose to live, about 130g, our brain and red blood cells(which cannot make it on their own) need a continuous supply of it. While we need a certain amount of glucose to live, it can come from several sources, ketosis for example is one way we can get enough glucose.
There is no certain amount of carbohydrates that someone should have, this will depend on each person, I will only give recommendations. Carbohydrate intake will depend on several factors, lets go over a few of these.
-How big or small someone is
-How much lean body mass or body fat they have
-How active they are
-How intense that activity is
-How old they are
-What their goals are
These are just a few factors that contribute to how much carbohydrates someone should consume. For example, a 73 year old sedentary male that is high in body fat will need way less carbs than a 23 year old with 10 percent body fat that strength trains everyday. People that are active need and use carbohydrates more effectively than sedentary individuals.
There are two types of carbohydrates, complex and simple. Complex carbs take much longer to break down in the body than simple carbs, refer back to my statement about if you eat a candy bar versus a fruit. When we eat complex carbs we want to make sure they are mostly from whole food sources. When they come from whole food sources like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits they usually will leave us feeling full for longer. Not to mention they have many micronutrients (more on this soon), fiber, and water. These type of carbohydrates keep our blood sugar and insulin levels stable, while the energy is released gradually. Simple carbohydrates digest very quickly, but are highly processed and striped of all nutritents. They also will contain high amounts of sodium along with artificial flavors to make them taste better. Simple carbohydrates will also leave us wanting more and cause fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels. They are designed to make you want more! This is why I want to help you focus on eating more whole food carbohydrate sources such as:
- Black Beans
- Brown Rice
- Sweet potatoes
- White potatoes
Later on in this guide we will go over recommendations on amounts of carbohydrates you should be consuming, this is going to fluctuate based on whether you want to maintain, cut, or bulk.
Dietary fat is the most energy dense macro nutrient at 9 calories per gram. The two most common type of fats are saturated(butter, cheese,fatty beef etc.) and unsaturated (almonds, avocado, fish walnuts etc). Unsaturated fats can broken down into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, omega 3 and omega 6 fats are both polyunsaturated fats.
Dietary fats have some major roles in the body, here are some of them:
- Provides us with energy
- Helps make and balance hormones
- Forms cell membranes
- Forms our brain and nervous systems
- Aids in transporting fat soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K
We want to make sure we eat a diet that is balanced with all the fats, in order to do this think about choosing whole, less processed foods such as: nuts and seeds, dairy, avocados, eggs, fish, beef, poultry, olives and extra virgin olive oil. The one type of fat we want to stay away from is trans fat. Trans fat can be found in food items such as microwavable popcorn, cakes, packaged pastries, frozen pizza, certain peanut butters, as well as most fried foods. Consuming to much trans fat can have a variety of health problems such as heart disease, insulin resistance, inflammation, diabetes and many more. Even if the package says it does not contain any trans fat does not mean it does, as long as it has less than .5 grams per servings they can get away with saying it has zero trans fat. To make sure you do not get any trans fat try to stay away from foods that are highly processed and stick to a diet that has a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. Just like with carbohydrates, the amount of fats will vary per person depending on goals, body type, activity level etc. Later on we will go over fat recommendation amounts.
Check back later this week as I will go over the importance of micro nutrients and fiber, and then in the last article we will go over how to set up your diet for whatever your goal is.
Matthews, M., 2014. Bigger Leaner Stronger. 2nd ed. Oculus Publishers Inc.
Berardi, John, et al. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Third ed., Precision Nutrition, Inc., 2017.