With dozens of nutritional approaches, hundreds of voices, and everyone and their brother trying to get you to buy their product, method, or diet to lose body fat and/or gain muscle, things get confusing and quick.
There’s counting calories, counting macros, eating organic, following specific diets like keto, carnivore, and vegan. Then there’s fasting, point systems like weight watchers, frozen made for you meals, online diet plans from ‘personal trainers’, nutrient timing approaches.. the list goes on.
All this noise makes it really difficulty for the average individual to make the right choices for them. If you’ve read anything by Uplift Fitness you know, our favorite thing to do is to cut through the noise and get straight to the truth.
Before we get to the nitty gritty, I do think it’s important to differentiate the difference between eating for optimal health & eating for a change in your physique. Though the healthier you are the easier physique changes will be and vice versa, they aren’t the same thing. So, just so we’re clear, our talk today is a quick guide on the stepping stones to eating for physique change.
No Magic Pill
You can pick any one of the above-mentioned diets, methods, or products and we can boil them all down to the fact that they control calories and/or optimize macronutrient intake, one way or another. While some tout health benefits, proclaim to produce superior results, or are purposefully confusing to scare you into sticking to your diet 100%, none of them have any magic formula or patent on eating for fat loss or building muscle.
While some dietary prescriptions are better than others, some make too big of a jump and can damage the metabolism or are too hard to stick to, simply because some individuals aren’t ready or don’t have the necessary tools to be successful at them yet.
We can talk about physiology and nutrition all day long but, one thing we always seem to forget is that you actually have to apply concepts for them to work. That takes behavior changes and behavior change, is hard. All too often individuals try to make the switch to all organic foods or worry about getting certain amounts of protein at specific times, and their approach is either too much at once or doesn’t make a big enough difference because they skipped the first big steps.
Below are the steps you should take to begin figuring out what works best for your and your goals, ending with two progressions I commonly use with my clients.
Ways to Make Changes to your Nutrition
1. Counting Calorie Intake
Most of us have heard that if you take in more calories than you put out you’ll gain weight and conversely if you put out more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. This is true to an extent. There are a few factors that we won’t get into that can make that statement untrue but, for the most part, it’s a relatively solid statement.
Counting your caloric intake is THE most basic way to monitor food intake. It’s a great way to measure incoming energy and a great introduction to quantifying food intake, which will help you get more comfortable with the next step.
Counting calories has its pitfalls though. Sometimes individuals see results just from tracking or dropping calories for the first time, and continue to drop and drop until they inevitably, wreck their metabolism. Also, as you may know, not all calories are created equal. That means, the type and/or quality of calories could be impacting your results much more than the number of calories.
When results stall, it’s time to move on to the next step.
2. Counting Macronutrient Intake
As I mentioned, not all calories are created equal. That’s because some calories do different things in the body. We differentiate these types of calories by categorizing them as the three different macronutrients; protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
One gram of each macronutrient yields a certain number of calories (energy) for the body to use as fuel. Their molecular structure determines how that fuel is used. Proteins typically lend themselves well to repairing tissues (such as building muscle). Carbohydrates are the body’s typical fuel source. They’re easy for the body to breakdown and burn for fuel. Fats are very important for hormone production and function and also serve as an energy source.
There are also subcategories of carbohydrates like fiber and sugar and subcategories of fat such as saturated and unsaturated that further determine their effect on our body. Different types of proteins are also better at certain types of cellular repair. For example, collagen protein isn’t very effective at building muscle, especially when compared to beef or fish protein. Not important for you yet, but good to be aware of.
Tracking your intake of each macronutrient (what your calories are made of) allows you to manipulate what your calories do in your body. Want to learn more about counting macros? Download our free guide at www.upliftfitnessohio.com/shop
You can spend a long long time at this step before getting perfect at it but, you can also continue to track macros and get better while you move on to other steps.
3. Food Choice
While you’ll be changing your food choices by virtue of counting macros, there are endless combinations of food that can all yield the same macronutrient intake. That means, 5 ounces of one food and 6 ounces of another may both contain 40g of carbohydrate and fit your goals. At the same time, food A could be a highly processed, bloat causing food whereas food B might be a whole food with one ingredient, such as a sweet potato.
This is why food choice is important. Paying attention to things like digestion, energy levels (or crashes), mood, and fullness after eating certain foods can make a huge difference. Just like you can take two individuals with the same calories but different macros and get different results, you can also take two individuals with the same macros but different food choices and get different results.
Choosing whole food over processed food, which may require meal prepping if you haven’t already started, can be the change your body needs.
4. Tracking Micro-nutrients
You can nail your macros, make progress, and still be severely hindered by having micro-nutrient deficiencies. Getting adequate calcium, magnesium, vitamin d, potassium, etc. can have a profound effect on not just our progress but also, our health.
When figuring out your micro-nutrient intake, be sure to consider that many times, recommendations, especially Recommended Daily Values on nutrition labels, are extremely generalized and broad and could be completely wrong for you. A good example is sodium. We are often told to limit sodium intake, however, this very often lends well to chronic dehydration, chronic inflammation, poor digestion, and hindered performance in the gym, especially for individuals who are sweating a lot during their workout.
Regardless, most of us are deficient in a lot of micronutrients and addressing those deficiencies will have a big impact on both our health & weight loss/muscle building progress.
5. Organic Vs. Non-Organic, Grass Fed Vs. Grain Fed, GMO Vs. Non-GMO, etc.
Next up, where your food comes from has an impact on how well it is absorbed, adverse effects on other parts of our bodies, environmental consequences, and more.
I won’t make any specific recommendations here as the volume of research and discussions around these sort of topics are vast, often politicized, and would be much more than you probably want to read.
Rather, it’s important to know that these things do have an impact. Maybe that’ll be a blog for another day.
6. Nutrient Timing
You may have heard that protein is best absorbed after a workout or you should avoid carbs after 8pm. While there are varying degrees of truth to statements like this, they’re all a form of nutrient timing.
Our body is a constantly changing chemistry experiment. That means there are certain scenarios or times of our day that certain nutrients are more optimally absorbed, used, or needed.
Nutrient timing can be very complicated, and results are highly individualized. You’re splitting hairs at this point and for most people, you’d be better served making sure you are nailing your macros and food choices.
More often than not, nutrient timing stategies like eating protein immediately after a workout or avoiding carbohydrate after a certain time of the day, are usually promoted by companies trying to sell supplements or meal plans and are very often only half true.
Here are our recommendations on nutrient timing that we know to have a real effect on your progress.
· Consume a protein at every meal – this aids in digestion, stabilizes blood sugar, helps to prevent overeating, and helps get adequate protein in.
· Don’t eat 2-3 hours before bed – Do not mishear us on this one; this has nothing to do with calories after dark being more evil than daytime calories. Eating too close to bedtime can, however, impact our sleep. Stimulation from food can impact amplitude and frequency of our brainwaves and can also cause us to wake up from deep sleep for bathroom breaks. The value in not eating close to bed time has nothing to do with calories and everything to do with sleep quality.
So, you have a good base of knowledge surrounding a few things than contribute to both our progress in the gym, our performance in life, and our health. Next, I’ll lay out two different progressions to begin implementing these changes into your daily life.
Progression #1 – Good for individuals to objectively see energy intake, food type, and how their choices affect their progress.
1. Begin Counting Calories
2. Begin Tracking Macronutrients
3. Begin Addressing Food Choices
4. Begin Addressing Micronutrient Deficiencies
For most clients, I stop here unless they have questions or request further assistance with the following:
5. Food Quality/Source
6. Nutrient Timing
Progression #2 – Good for individuals who have less serious fitness goals and are better served by slowly building in good habits first.
1. Food Choice – paying attention to digestion, energy levels/consistency, mood, and fullness.
2. Begin Addressing Micronutrient Deficiencies – further addressing how food makes us feel rather than it’s effect on what we see in the mirror
3. Nutrient Timing – being sure to get a protein, fat, and carbohydrate at every meal and spacing out meals well.
4. Begin Tracking Calories
5. Begin Tracking Macronutrients
6. Food Quality/Source
Lastly, there’s one factor we all tend to forget; the human factor. The fact that we have emotions, seasons of life, and experiences that shape our attitudes toward eating are all very important. That means some of us will move through and master other steps faster or slower than others and that’s quite alright. The important thing is, we don’t move too fast.
If you want to learn more, head to www.upliftfitnessohio.com/shop and download one of our free guides to dive even deeper!
If this article helped clear some things up for you, be sure to share on Facebook!
As always, if you have specific questions, we encourage you to message Uplift Fitness on Facebook or Instagram, or stop in for a visit!