If you have tried diet after diet, with no success you are not alone.
Everyday people start a new diet, and it usually is something like keto, low carb, vegan, intermittent fasting (IF), Whole30 etc.
Basically, these diets tell you what you can and can’t eat, or in the case of IF it tells you WHEN you can and can’t eat.
Something like keto usually works for people because they completely cut out an entire food group (carbs) and then this decrease in carbohydrate intake causes your body to lose a substantial amount of water weight right off the bat, so people will swear by this.
However, what happens the moment you introduce carbohydrates back into your diet? You will naturally gain a bit of water weight. So people get this idea that keto is some fat loss magic, when the reality is, it isn’t.
It can be good for some people, but the rigid rules can make adherence tough, and it can ingrain some poor nutrition ideas/habits in someone’s mind. For example, “carbs are bad!” And this just isnt true.
Actually, carbs are great.
Here are some client results from keeping carb intake the same or higher:
Each one of these diet protocols follows basic principles that can manipulate your body composition.
Lets go over what body composition is.
Body composition is the proportion of fat and non-fat mass in your body. A healthy body composition is one that includes a lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of non-fat mass, which includes muscle, bones, and organs.
So essentially body composition is lowering your body fat levels, and increasing your muscle mass.
Therefore, the goal of this article is to teach you these principles, and then you can follow the PRINCIPLES that are important instead of a rigid diet protocol that isnt very sustainable.
By following these principles, it will allow you to make choices based on your lifestyle and preferences. You will also be able to incorporate whatever foods you enjoy so long as you base your decisions with these principles in mind.
No longer will you have to follow rigid plans.
There principles are in order of importance.
Before we can dig into the diet principles, we need to first make sure that adherence/structure is on point. Without adherence, all of these principles dont mean anything.
In order to improve adherence, there should be some structure to your diet.
Diets like keto, Whole30, IF etc. work because they give you structure and something to follow, which increases adherence.
However, the rigidity of these diets can make long term adherence challenging.
Here are the most common ways we will structure clients nutrition protocols to improve adherence:
- Tracking your food intake.
- Following macros/calories.
- Having minimums (ex: “3 servings of lean protein per day”, “Hit x amount of water per day”, “get 2 servings of vegetables per day”, “eat 4 meals per day with a lean source of protein”.
The picture above is how we keep online clients accountable with their nutrition.
Without a diet structure/adherence, every diet is doomed to fail.
As humans we strive on structure and having something to follow.
Principle # 1: Energy Balance
The most important principle you need to have dialed in/know to change your body composition is energy balance.
Before you ask what your meal timing should be, what supplements to take, or what your macros should be. You need to first get your energy balance under control.
If you want to gain weight, then you need to take in more energy than you burn throughout the day. A calorie surplus.
If you want to lose weight, you need to take in LESS energy than you burn throughout the day. A calorie deficit.
If you want to maintain your weight, you need to take in around the same amount of energy as you burn. Aka calorie balance.
This is why things like keto, vegan, IF, and other diet protocols work. They cut out how much food you are eating, which therefore gets you into a calorie deficit. Whether you know it or not.
Here is the thing, people will say that calories in/calories out doesn’t work/isn’t real and something like hormones are the most important.
While hormones play a big role in this, at the end of the day, if you are gaining weight you are in a surplus, if you are losing weight you are in a deficit, if you are maintaining weight then you are at maintenance. There is no way around this.
The first law of thermodynamics states:
“energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.”
So everything you eat does something within your body.
However, there can be a big variability between what one person can eat compared to the other.
Daily Calorie needs vary from person to person, factors that affect this are:
- Body Size
- Daily Activity
- Exercise/Training Amount
- Height/Body Proportions
- Recovery Demands
This is why there is no magic calorie amount. This is going to vary from person to person and over time.
That’s why a 6’3 male who is active, and has a large amount of muscle, can eat 4,000 calories per day and struggle to gain weight, whereas a 5’1 female who has a sedentary job, and low amounts of muscle mass struggles to lose weight eating 1,800 calories per day.
Genetics can also play a small role in this as well.
I think another reason why people try to argue the calories in/calories out theory is that it puts too much responsibility on themselves.
Its easier to blame things outside of your control.
A good analogy is if you are trying to save money, the fundamental principle you need to follow is that you have to save more than you spend. There is no way around this.
However, some people have a larger budget to play around with compared to others.
A great way to see if you are in a surplus, deficit, or maintenance?
Tracking your body weight.
With online clients we have them take their scale weight 3x per week, first thing in the morning, post bathroom and pre food/drink.
This gives us the most accurate measurement.
We then take the average weight for the week.
If it trends down over time, then they are in a calorie deficit, if it stays the same then they are at maintenance, if it is going up, then they are in a calorie surplus.
In certain circumstances, you could be losing fat and building muscle at the same time, which could be messing with the scale weight. Read here to go over body recomposition
If this is you, its important you also track progress pics/measurements. Particularly your waist measurements.
In saying that, it’s important that everyone track their measurements. We have all clients track their measurements.
If your waist measurements are going down, and your weight isn’t moving much, we can be fairly certain you are changing your body composition in a positive way.
Thats why with online clients we track weight 3x per week, measurements, progress pics, and things like hunger, sleep, training performance etc.
Depending on these results, you would make adjustments.
Thats why having some structure to your nutrition is so important. If you aren’t tracking these things, how do you know what is and isn’t working?
Again, by having structure, this will help with adherence.
If you want to lose weight you need to find a way to get into a calorie deficit. You can do this by eating less, moving more, or a combo of both.
If you want to gain weight, you need to find a way to get into a calorie surplus. You can do this by eating more, moving less, or a combo of both.
If you want to maintain weight, you need to find a way to get into energy balance. You can do this by eating more/less, moving more/less, OR a combination of both.
You can have the perfect meal timing, perfect “healthy meals” or the perfect supplement protocol, but you are not in the energy balance you desire, you will not gain,lose, or maintain weight like you wish.
Principle # 2: Macros
Once you have energy balanced dialed in, then you can start to focus more on your macros.
However, if your macronutrient set up causes you to go out of your desired energy balance, then it won’t matter. So energy balance is still the most important.
In saying that, macros are important for improving your body composition, especially if you want to make sure that the weight you lose is body fat, and that you are supplying your body with the right nutrients to promote muscle growth/muscle maintenance.
The 3 macronutrients are:
For optimal body composition, the first macro we make sure is in check with online clients is protein.
Protein helps build/maintain muscle mass (which we want more muscle to improve our body composition). It also does a great job of increasing fullness.
Protein also uses the most energy to digest and absorb.
For online clients we aim for around 1g per pound of bodyweight.
For example, a 170lb person would aim for around 150-180g of protein per day.
Once you have your protein dialed in, its time to hit your minimums for fat.
For online clients we aim for at least .2 -.3g of fat per pound of bodyweight.
So for our 170lb person, that comes out to AT LEAST 40ish grams of fat per day.
Once your fats and protein are set up, you can fill in the rest with carbohydrates.
Carbs get a bad reputation. However it just comes down to misunderstanding and the fact that many “experts” equate carbs to getting fat.
So people stay away from them, even if they want to build muscle and improve their aesthetics.
Too much of anything can lead to fat gain, even protein.
The reality is carbohydrates play an essential role in muscle growth and overall bodily function.
Most of the energy you use during weight training comes from carbohydrates.
The storage form of carbohydrates in the body is glycogen, and low glycogen stores have been shown to reduce the number of repetitions in 3 sets of squats at 80% of 1RM.
Carbs from whole-food sources will improve your performance in the gym, give you more energy, and speed up your recovery from training. Plus, carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source. To build the leanest, strongest version of yourself, proper fuel is a must.
They also do a great job of sparing protein so you ensure that protein is being used for building/repairing and not for energy.
Higher glycogen stores help the body stay in an anabolic state (which is great for building muscle).
With online clients we make sure they eat an adequate amount of carbohydrates. This means we aim to go no lower than 1g per pound of bodyweight per day for extended periods of time.
If you want a more detailed approached for setting up your macros, read here.
The three macronutrients are: protein, fats, carbohydrates
Protein: 1g per lb of bodyweight
Fat: Minimum of .2-.3g per lb of bodyweight
Carbs: Minimum of around 1g per lb of bodyweight.
Principle #4: Food Composition
Food composition can be thought of as what your food is made out of.
This is where you get your “healthy” vs “junk foods”.
We can also think of processed vs unprocessed foods.
Whole foods etc.
I also like to think of this as when people refer to “clean eating”.
While this is an important principle for nutrition and body composition, it falls below energy balance and macros because if you eat “clean foods” but overeat/undereat overtime for your goals then it wont matter.
Thats why you may have heard how you can lose weight eating only Big Macs, or the professor who ate twinkies for 28 days and lost weight.
Again, the most important thing to alter your body weight is your energy balance.
Now in saying that, with online clients we highly recommend basing most of your diet around whole foods (aka clean foods), but we can add in some tastier options, so long as you stay within your desired energy balance.
The foods listed above do a great job of supplying all the essential nutrients you need to perform and feel your best, plus they do a great job at keeping you feeling full.
So while you can lose weight eating only twinkies, you may not feel your best.
Food composition is important, but you can gain weight eating “healthy foods” and you can lose weight eating “junk foods’.
However its best to focus 80-90 % of your diet on the foods listed above so you can feel and perform your best.
Principle #5: Meal Timing
Im sure you have heard the saying “eat more meals to boost your metabolism/burn more fat”.
Again, your number 1 priority needs to be energy balance. If you eat 7 times per day and your goal is to lose weight, but you are in a positive or neutral energy balance, you simply will not lose body fat.
In saying that, eating more frequently can be a good way to help lower hunger levels, which in turn causes you to eat less , which then can put you in a negative energy balance for the day.
Another caveat here, if muscle growth is your goal, its probably a good idea to go no more than 5 hours without getting protein in.
4 meals seems to be the sweet spot for most people though, but that doesn’t mean 3, 5, or 6 meals won’t work – adherence is the biggest factor, so figure out what works best with your schedule (something you can repeat daily).
Aim for 3-6 meals per day. Choose whatever amount helps you to adhere to your diet and gets you in the desired energy balance for your goal.
Principle #6: Supplements
Last on the list is supplements. Once you have the first 5 principles dialed in, then you can start to ask what supplements may help.
If you want a list of supplements to take, read this here.
But the list is pretty underwhelming.
In order to see the results you want, you need to put in the work. No supplement is going to replace that. Plain and simple.
If you want it quick and easy, then you need to re-evaluate.
I hope this helps you with your nutrition and diet. By learning these principles and their importance on body composition, you now have the tools you need to see whether a certain diet protocol will work for you.
If you need more guidance with your nutrition, fill out the coaching application here and let’s get to work.