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.
Only once we move beyond the idea of nutrition as a belief system can we address any of the questions we may have with the foods we eat.
And there’s a particular order, or hierarchy, of how to address our nutrition. This concept was proposed by Tom Venuto and works quite well.
Before we get to addressing the layers of this hierarchy of this concept we need to understand the context of the situation. For this blog we are writing with the end goal being fat loss. The prescription would differ for someone with a performance goal or looking to add lean mass.
The first place to start is to answer the question ‘how much should we eat?’ If we get this part wrong it’s a lot harder to achieve our goal and can add frustration to positive efforts.
In order to determine your daily caloric requirement we need to know about the individual.
- The sex of the individual – Men require about 12-13% more calories than women. If you eat according to portion size this is 1/8th and can be used to estimate energy when plating out meals.
- The age of the individual – A younger person will require more than a older person. For adults our caloric requirement will decrease by about 3.8 cal/year.
- The individual’s occupation – Someone with a desk job will require less nutrition than a very active occupation like a bike courier.
- The individual’s activity – Not counting work-related tasks it helps to know if the person moves a lot or not.
And as we mentioned this assumes a weight loss goal. Knowing the answers to these we can estimate daily calories as somewhere between 10-20 calories per body of body-weight. A older female with a desk job that doesn’t play a lot of sports might be closer to 10 calories per pound whereas a younger male that works a physical trade and plays a lot of sports might be closer to 20 calories per pound.
It is important to know that although we are seeking a caloric deficit to lead to fat loss we don’t want to over do it. For example there would be few exceptions where someone would eat less than 10 calories per pound. And when calories are reduced below this lower threshold fat loss may be harder than when more calories are consumed.
Cutting calories too much may result in delayed recovery, diminished training intensity, irritability, over-eating, lower metabolism and loss of lean body mass.
If counting calories is not for you there is another option. And that is to use your hand as a measuring device.
Your palm is a serving of protein. A closed fist refers to the veggies you’ll eat. A cupped fist is the amount of carbs and the thumb is the amount of fat. One serving of each would be the amounts for a woman. Men would eat double this.
If you followed this approach for two weeks check to see the change in your mass. If no change reduce the amount of carbohydrate slightly. Otherwise if you’re down a pound stay the course.
In terms of the amount of protein you’ll eat you can go with 0.8-0.9 grams per pound of body-weight. For a 150 pound person this would equate to 120-135 grams of protein per day. Spread over four meals this means eating about 30 grams of protein per meal. Vegans and vegetarians need to ensure they consume enough B12, zinc, iron and calcium.
A common question is if it’s possible to eat too much protein? While over-eating any macro-nutrient is never a good idea, it’s important to understand protein recommendations are typically based on required and not optimal levels. Research studies have can as high as 2.9 grams per kg body-weight with no adverse effects on kidney function.
Next we want to look at our fat requirements. There are three groups of fat including saturated (animal fats, coconut oil) mono-unsaturated (avocado, olive oil) and poly-unsaturated (cold water fish, flax, some seeds/nuts). A healthy nutritional plan includes a third of each of these. A quick rule of thumb is that when a product is low- or no-fat there may be extra sugar pumped up or an artificial sweetener added in its place.
This bring us to our carbohydrate requirements. Once protein and fat calories are satisfied the remaining energy comes from carbs. This makes sense due to the fact that there are essential amino acids and essential fatty acids there aren’t essential carbohydrates. If we go too low in our supply of carbs our bodies have the ability to make carbs through the process of gluconeogenesis.
The other reason to not go too low with our carb intake relates to performance and training intensity. The more intensely we train the greater the requirement for quick energy becomes. Fat cannot yield energy quickly enough and therefore are an ineffective energy source for high intensity training or competition.
Now we have an idea of how much to eat. We can either figure out our daily requirement or use the hand example. We have an idea of how much protein, fats and carbs to eat. The next step is to ensure we get the most nutrient density from the foods we eat. This refers to the vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health. To get the most return on your nutritional investment choose fresh, whole foods grown in season. Eating foods grown locally can typically be picked closer to the optimal ripeness point and leave less of a carbon footprint.
The last thing to consider is when to eat. With post-workout nutrition the window of opportunity is more important for athletes. For the general population it’s not as important as we once thought. If you’ve had something to eat before training you’ve got a little more time before your post-workout meal. However for the people that train at 6 am there might not be an opportunity to eat something before training. In this case a post-workout recovery shake would be a good idea.
Nutrition can be confusing but it doesn’t have to be. Keep the order above in mind as you consider your plan. Track what you do in terms of foods, amounts and timing. Then monitor progress every couple of weeks and adjust accordingly. For more questions or assistance reach out to an Okanagan Peak Performance Inc coach here.