Weight loss is an interesting topic these days. For some, bringing up the topics of keto, intermittent fasting, plant-based or some other popular nutritional topic of the day leads to heated discussions.
Unfortunately, some conversations are prefaced with ‘I believe…’ and then whatever nutritional opinion follows. Emotions can become so strong with nutrition that facts and evidence get thrown out the window. And positions can be maintained as though defending a religious perspective.
When discussing weight loss there are two predominant positions popping up on social media. One supposes that creating a caloric deficit is all that matters. You can eat fast food every day as long as you are eating fewer calories than you burn in a day. This ignores what the other position claims is vital, which is the quality of the nutrition.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression ‘as long as it fits your macros’ to justify eating certain foods. By macros we’re referring to the macronutrients i.e. proteins, carbs and fats.
The truth is that both sides are correct. It matters how much you eat. A caloric deficit is needed to achieve weight loss. And the quality of the matters as well. You cannot achieve healthy weight loss with low quality nutrition..
But there’s one more piece to the puzzle that typically tends to get ignored. And that’s the timing of our nutrition.
In other words, would you expect eating the same foods in the same amounts at different times to have an impact on our weight loss efforts?
For example, if you ate a 2070 calorie breakfast, a 600 calorie lunch and a 330 calorie dinner…
Would this have any difference on our fat loss efforts than if we ate the following:
A recent study looked at whether there was a difference in thermogenesis based on whether a larger breakfast or large dinner was eaten.
16 normal weight men ate either a large breakfast equivalent to 69% of daily calories or a small dinner of 11% of daily calories. In the example above I used 3000 calories to represent total daily intake, 11% equaled 330 calories and 69% equaled 2070 calories. The participants of the study ate the big breakfast or big dinner for three days. They then followed the opposite protocol of what they did for the first three days i.e. if they ate a big breakfast in the first part they ate a big dinner in the second part.
So what did they find?
Diet-induced thermogenesis was 2.5 higher following the big breakfast compared to the big dinner.
Does this really matter?
It can definitely make a difference. When we are seeking a weight loss goal we want to know how many calories we expend in a day. The total is a combination of our basal metabolic rate (70%), our non-exercise activity thermogenesis (15%), our exercise (5%) and the foods we eat (10%). The percentages listed are averages and will vary based on age, sex, level of obesity, which foods we eat and more.
The foods we eat can be responsible for 10% of the total energy we burn in a day. If someone is burning 2500 calories per day than the food we eat, digest and metabolize could be responsible for 250 of these calories. This study found that those that ate a bigger breakfast had 2.5 times the diet-induced thermogenesis. In other words, if breakfast normally accounted for 100 calorie burned this could be pushed up to 250 calories. For someone looking to create a 300-400 calorie deficit per day this is huge.
It get better.
When subjects ate a bigger breakfast compared to a small, hypo-caloric meal they were less hungry during the day and had less cravings for sweets. This is very important when seeking a weight loss goal as there will be less temptation to grab a treat or eat more than is needed for health.
One way we’ve thought about this in the past was to eat like a king, then a prince then a pauper in terms of calories. So early in the day eat the bulk of your calories and gradually reduce these as the day progresses. And for the best results make sure to eat the best quality foods you can at each meal.
Richter J. et al. 2020. Twice as High Diet-Induced Thermogenesis After Breakfast vs Dinner on High-Calorie as Well as Low-Calories Meals. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 105(3).
Nutrition is one area of fitness and performance that many struggle with. Take for example the recent documentary Game Changers as an example. Since this film has begun to trend we’re hearing of more and more people making the switch to becoming vegan or vegetarian.
What this tells me is that the average person:
A. Can be easily swayed by a Hollywood story i.e. James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan produced and/or directed this documentary.
B. Is seeking more or better results and is willing to make changes to achieve better results.
Knowing that many don’t have a background in nutritional science and want to achieve the best results was the inspiration for this piece. Oftentimes those seeking the best results may invest in a supplement and so we want to provide some direction on that end as well.
As we evaluate the various aspects of nutrition we want to identify if there would be benefit to adding a supplement to the mix. We need to be on the same page as to what is a supplement and here is our criteria.
Something that is in addition to and not in place of.
Something that is morally and legally justified.
Something that has 3rd party labeling to assure the quality.
If a substance doesn’t adhere to these three rules we, the coaches at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc., would not recommend it to our clients. Obviously it is possible to source many products that don’t satisfy these three rules, and find coaches that may recommend them, but these are our rules.
Now onto the nutritional guidelines.
Step 1 – Energy Balance
The first step is to determine is you are eating enough calories to support your goal. The last part of the sentence is key. If we want to change our mass we need to eat for our goal not for our current state. For example, if a young athlete wants to add 15 lbs he or she will need to eat for the mass they want to be not the mass they currently are. And vice versa if someone wants to shed some mass they need to consume calories based on the less massive version of themselves.
So how do you figure out how much to eat? The truth is most people don’t count calories. And we don’t recommend this for our clients either. That being said here’s how you can figure out how much to eat.
A quick start would be to answer the following:
your age (more calories for younger, less for older)
your sex (more for male, less for female)
your height (more for taller, less for shorter)
your occupational activity level (more for vigorous work, less for sedentary work)
your fitness training (more for frequent and intense, less for infrequent and moderate)
your goal (more to increase mass, less to decrease mass)
This provides six criteria to estimate how many calories to eat daily based on a range of 10-20 calories per pound of body weight. For example a 150 lbs person would eat between 1500 and 3000 calories based on the conditions above. If all of the six criteria above were on the low end this person would eat closer to 1500 calories per day. And if the six criteria were towards the upper end the individual would eat 3000 calories. Understand this is a rough starting point and further adjustments may be required.
Instead of counting calories people typically do better with adjusting portion size. If the goal is to gain mass, eat larger portions and to lose mass eat smaller portions. To change your portion size change the size of the dinnerware you eat from. Use a smaller bowl or a saucer instead of a plate. Do the opposite if your goal is gain mass.
If you’ve done everything you can with to change your mass, up or down, there may be benefit of a supplement. For weight loss, look to add some spice to the kitchen as they may help suppress appetite. A couple I use include cinnamon and hot sauce with cayenne pepper.
If the goal is to gain mass, consider a meal replacement in the form of a shake. These are advantageous as you can typically drink calories faster than you can eat them, you can consume them on the go and you can doctor the recipe to more of what you like in the shake.
If there are particular ingredients in a meal replacement you’d like to know more about check out examine.com. Hands down this is the best resource online for unbiased info on all things related to supplements.
Going forward journal everything you eat for two weeks. On a weekly basis track your weight upon rising, your waist circumference and bodyfat. If you are gaining or losing 0.5-1 lbs per week don’t change anything as you’re on the right track. If you haven’t seen a gain in your mass after two weeks add a post-workout shake to the plan. If you haven’t lost anything after two weeks double check where your strength, waist circumference and bodyfat are at. If these are moving in the right direction you’re on the right track. If not try reducing your portion size by 5-10% and track again for two weeks.
Step 2 – Protein
Once you’ve figured out your daily caloric requirement you’ll want to figure out how much protein to eat. The range for this macronutrient is from 1.2-3.3 g/kg bodyweight. The low end of the range is for sedentary people and the high end of the range is for those looking to add mass. If you think in pounds instead use 0.5 – 1.5 grams for pound of bodyweight. If we look at an example for an obese person they should eat 0.5 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So a 250 lbs person would eat 125-175 grams of protein per day. Another way to think about this is use the palm of the hand to represent a portion of protein. If a serving was 30 grams this would equate to 3-5 servings of protein per day.
For individuals of healthy weight they may consume more protein depending on their activity level and goal. An active person looking to increase their mass while staying lean may consume up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 200 lbs athlete may consume 300 grams of protein per day.
Eating 300 grams of protein per day can be a challenge. Not only can finding the time to eat this much protein be a challenge it’s also tough to eat some steak, chicken or fish when you’re on the goal. A protein supplement can work well in this way.
There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements including whey (isolate or concentrate), casein or plant (soy, hemp, pea or rice). Whey will be more quickly digested and casein more slowly. For those that don’t want a dairy-based protein the various plant options work well.
Step 3 – Carbs and Fat
The next step is to figure out how many carbohydrates and fats to consume. These macronutrients are grouped together because they can both be used as energy.
If you are an athlete and speed and power are a part of your game you will need to consume carbohydrates. The graph below shows why this is the case.
If your goal is not high performance and/or your sport doesn’t involve speed and power you may be able to function on fewer carbohydrates. Whereas an endurance athlete may eat up to 6 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight someone on a ketogenic diet may limit their carbohydrate intake to 5% of total calories. In the literature a very low carbohydrate diet (VLCD) means eating 40% of calories as carbs.
When the goal is weight loss or there is a metabolic disorder fewer carbs may be advantageous. On days when you are more active or you compete increase your carb intake. When you do so remember that carbs and fats can both be used as fuel. So if the carbs increase dial back the fat intake accordingly. Sometimes in bodybuilding circles you’ll hear this referred to as carb cycling.
With your fat intake this makes up the balance of your nutrition. Of your fat intake this can partitioned as one third each of mono-unsaturated (olive oil, avocado, some nuts), poly-unsaturated (fish) and saturated (butter, animal fats and coconut).
As for servings sizes of protein, carbs and fats Precision Nutrition has a great info-graphic to remind us how much to eat of each. We may not always carry a scale or at a glance be able to figure out portions. But we will always have our hands with us.
Step 4 – Nutrient Density
The last thing to consider is the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of your food. The goal should be to ensure that essential nutrients are satisfied first though with real food before looking to add a supplement to the plan.
For example, oftentimes a certain nutrient may be deficient from the diet. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, plays a role in energy metabolism. When someone is low in vitamin B12 they may experience anemia and feel weak or tired. Although you can find breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12 you’d be better off to eat more fish, liver or eggs than a big bowl of Fruit Loops.
The average North American is also commonly deficient in vitamin B6, omega-3, folate, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, vitamin D and vitamin C. A few foods can satisfy our requirements for all of these nutrients. Increasing your consumption of fish, broccoli, spinach, fruit,eggs and getting outside for 20 minutes of sunlight daily will address all of these deficiencies. Eat some eggs and a piece of fruit for breakfast. Get outside for some sunlight at lunch. At dinner eat fish with a spinach salad or broccoli. It’s simple but not easy.
Wrapping It Up
Going forward approach your nutrition in this order. Make sure you’re eating the correct amount of calories to support your goals. Track your results for a couple of weeks then make small changes, i.e. 5-10%, if necessary. For portion sizes remember to use your hand as a guide for how much protein, carbs and fats to eat.
Once your calories are dialed in make sure you’re eating enough protein. Follow this with the right amounts of carbs and fats based on your goal and how intense your training is. Lastly, address any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies. If you eat a typical North American diet than you may benefit from eating more fish, eggs, broccoli, spinach, fruit and getting some sunshine.
A couple of things I really like are efficiency and great value. I like it when things are moving forward at a good clip and when the return is better than expected. Who doesn’t like that though, right?
Nutrition is an interesting topic. For some, they treat it like religion. But it isn’t like religion at all. It doesn’t matter what I believe. Instead what should matter is what the research tells us to be true. We can decide to accept science or not.
Do you drink milk? That’s a pretty easy question because it doesn’t specify what kind of milk? Most people assume you mean cow’s milk but nowadays that question can be open to interpretation as the regular variety or one of rice, almond or soy.
So the #1 goal of people who go to the gym is weight loss. And it’s like finger nails on a chalk board when I see people making all the right decisions when it comes to training, rest and the foods they eat only to blow it in one area.