Often times, the simple basics of nutrition are overlooked. Many people start the year off by attempting a “diet” and most have likely been deterred from it already. While there are a lot of different aspects to nutrition, sometimes all of the parts get lumped together and the most important pieces get lost.
Everything we eat is made up of one or more of the following: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These are the three main macronutrients that our body has and it breaks these down into amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. The energy derived from these foods is as follows:
Keep in mind that protein and fiber are thermogenic, meaning it takes more “energy” for our body to break down and use. Unfortunately, nothing in nutrition is this simple, but knowing these basics is a good place to start.
Secondly, there are micronutrients, which are primarily vitamins and minerals. The two types of vitamins are: Fat soluble (A, D, E, K) and water soluble (B-complex).
It should go without saying that a Twinkie (although delicious) does not hold as much nutrient value as a sweet potato. So remember: The lower the quality the food, the more we lack in micronutrients.
Quantity is the most important factor when trying to adjust one’s body composition and when focusing on proper nutrition. Generally, the more active you are the more carbs or calories you will need. On the other hand, the more sedentary you are the less carbs or calories you need.
Simple car analogy: If you drive around a big block Chevy you are going to use a lot of gas (carbs). However, if you have a nice little, tiny, itty bitty smart car you will not use as much. The size of the engine in our example is in relation to the amount of muscle mass we have. More muscle equals more energy spent.
A quick Google search will show you that there are various Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculators that can tell you how many total calories are needed in relation to how active you are. The hard part is determining how those are distributed amongst the macronutrients from person to person. In my experience, I have found the most success with high protein (40%), high/moderate carbohydrate (35-40%), and low fat (20-25%). These are all estimations and will vary from person to person. That being said, if we are looking at pre- or post- workout nutrition, it is very beneficial to have high protein, high carb, low fat meals, bars, and shakes around. Convenience is a huge factor when making nutritional decisions, so make it easy for you to prepare meals and have healthy snacks.
The next most important thing to discuss when it comes to nutrition is food quality. A very straightforward way to do this is to simply try and eat only single ingredient foods! If the food you’re eating has multiple ingredients, eliminate it from your diet (check the nutrition label to view this info).
Personally, whey protein is my only exception to this rule. Try to work on one meal at a time so it is not overwhelming to you. Once you have improved your body composition and the quality of your food you can then re-introduce some of the old foods and see how they affect you.
Foods that are commonly removed during this phase include:
I have found that when someone really focuses and improves on his or her nutritional quality, the quantity typically starts to look like what we discussed above.
It goes without saying that nothing in nutrition is simple and the same plan will not work for everyone. However, if you can improve the quantity and quality of your food intake over time you will have the best chance for body composition change. However, when those results cease or slow you can look at adjusting quantity even further to keep driving the results forward. Just please don’t get lost in the most recent trendy diets! Consulting your doctor and a professional, certified nutritionist can help you safely make adjustments to your diet.