Simplify What You Should Eat…
With the flood of information available to us combined with the opinions of experts (and self-proclaimed experts) how are we supposed to know what to eat? Eggs are healthy…or are they? Chocolate is good for you…and what about bacon, can I have that? What’s the real deal with Keto? Paleo? Intermittent Fasting? At the end of all our searching, most of us want to be healthy and happy… maybe improve our performance…maybe lose some weight. Is it really this hard and complicated?
If you are looking for a strategy to get more out of your weight loss I would advise you check out our other entry: 10 Ways to Break Your Plateau
In this entry, however, I want to cover the practical science and accepted theories behind the strategies and approaches to diet and nutrition. I find that many people are focused on the details and miss the big picture. This approach often leads to exceptional efforts followed by equally exceptional frustration. So, let’s cut through all the opinions and fads and get down to what really matters.
At the end of all the opinions and all the talk, Energy Balance cannot be escaped. This is the number one priority when looking at a diet. Determining your personal energy requirements so that your calorie intake for your specific needs are met is an essential part of any nutrition program. The problem with this is that calories just are not sexy. Most of America wants to believe that you can “eat more and lose weight” or that there is some special food or botanical that will compensate for a poor metabolism or poor digestion. Although there are helpful foods and botanicals that we will cover later, nothing can compensate for a disregard to energy balance. In the end, calories count…and counting calories matters.
Now, determining your energy balance can range from simple to complex. There are some great formulas and devices to help gauge your baseline metabolism. Here at NECFM we use a method of bioelectrical impedance called The InBody Analysis (come in and get yours checked!).
If you are looking for a simple calculation, not accounting for activity, then you can multiply your current weight in pounds by a factor of 10. So if you weigh 180 pounds, 180 x 10 = 1800, then you would need 1800 calories to keep this weight. Remember this is only an estimation and there can be other factors that determine your base line metabolism.
Don’t neglect your energy balance, as it is the most fundamental factor in any diet or food plan.
After you have determined your energy balance and your caloric need for your metabolism, the next step is to know where you’re going to get these calories. The three major sources of macronutrients (or BIG nutrients) are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are some others (like alcohol and ketones), but for the sake of simplicity we will stick with the big three. Macronutrients emphasize that the QUALITY of your calories is also a fundamental factor and a close second to the QUANTITY of your calories.
Different styles of diet plans use different macronutrient ratios. For the most there are three major food plans out in the marketplace and all have different macronutrient ratios. These are the Standard American Diet, The Mediterranean Diet, and the Ketogenic Diet. If you are curious, the recorded ratios are as follows:
Standard American Diet: 50% Carbohydrates 15% Protein 35% Fat
Modified Mediterranean Diet 40% Carbohydrates 30% Protein 30% Fat
Ketogenic Diet 5% Carbohydrates 25% Protein 70% Fat
According to the collected research, the Modified Mediterranean diet and the Ketogenic diet far surpass the Standard American diet for health and longevity. There are specific benefits to each of these two great plans and they should be tailored to the needs of the individual.
And for the more advanced…
Sometimes it is best to take a step-by-step, personalized approach to your macronutrients and the quality of your nutrition. The guidelines of the two basic plans are a great start, but when you want to target your specifics goals you need to make your macronutrients work for you.
Setting a protein goal for maintenance or gaining lean muscle is important. This should be calculated first. If you personally are trying to lose weight or lean out, a good protein calculation is 1.0 – 1.3 grams/pound of body weight. Gaining weight is actually uses a little less at 0.75-1.0 grams/pound of body weight.
Fats and Carbohydrates are then calculated by the remainder of calories after your protein calories are subtracted from your daily energy requirements (calorie intake). If you are attempting to lose weight, then use a smaller percentage of fat calories (15-25% of your total daily calories). After you have subtracted the total fat for your day, then use the remaining daily calories as carbohydrates. If, however, you are attempting to gain weight, a slightly larger percentage of fat is best (20-30% of your total daily calories). Again after you have subtracted the total fat of your day, then use the remaining daily calories as carbohydrates.
The BIG picture take away …
Macronutrients are a foundational factor in a healthy diet. Your macronutrients determine a lot of the quality in your total energy balance. These two factors (energy balance and macronutrients) go hand in hand in a successful diet plan. The whole goal of learning this is to improve muscle tone, lose body fat, improve energy and athletic performance, lower risk factors related to illness, and maximize health and longevity. All of these factors affect the quality of our life and are influenced by the QUALITY of our food.
Although not truly a nutrient, per se, there is something to be said for WATER content in the picture of overall health. I recommend you consume at least 50% to 75% of your weight (in pounds) of water (in ounces). So, like our Energy Balance example, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should be consuming between 90 (50%) to 135 (75%) ounces of water per day.
Equally worth mentioning is the role of FIBER in the diet. Fiber, insoluble fiber specifically, is essential for overall health and specifically gut health. A good goal for fiber: Women should aim for 25-30 grams of fiber per day, while men should target 35-40 grams (or 20 and 30 grams daily, respectively, for those over the age of 50).
As the world of macronutrients is BIG, so the world of micronutrients is SMALL. However, these small nutrients are essential co-factors and supporters of many metabolic pathways that influence our health and well being. For that reason, it is important to get these in our diet plan for the best possible success. There are three categories of micronutrients: minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients, what I like to call MVPs. Without going into too many details, minerals are inorganic nutrients, vitamins are organic nutrients, and phytonutrients are plant-based nutrients essential for balanced health.
Many of your minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients are found in the foods you eat. They tend to be abundant in plants and equally are “color-coded”. Usually I teach the simple approach to obtain all the colors by the end of your daily food intake. This presents a simple way to get close to all the MVPs you need for the day.
When it comes to micro nutrition, all of our nutrients are important. However, some micro nutrition deserves special attention because of the stress and demands of daily life. For this reason, supplementation of some specific minerals and vitamins should be considered.
In the world of minerals, supplementing with Magnesium, Zinc, Calcium, and Iron is practical and likely essential for most of us. Iodine may also be considered considering your specific needs. Not surprisingly, Sodium is the mineral in excess related to the American diet.
In the world of vitamins, most Americans are deficient in Vitamin A, C, D and E. Equally, super supplementation with the B vitamins (realistically all of the B complexes) is a great idea. These vitamins are essential for stress management, energy production, and detoxification pathways. With our stressful lifestyle and desire for greater levels of energy, I find most of us need more B vitamins than we are getting in.
Lastly, in the world of Phytonutrients…eat your colors. If you get all of your colors in, and preferably two servings of each color, you will get the right levels of phytonutrients needed for your day.
Now that we have covered the major aspects of a solid nutrition plan (Energy Balance, Macronutrients, and Micronutrients) we can dive into some more controversial and debated topics. Nutrient timing is more or less WHEN you take in your nutrition. The timing of your food may, or may not, make a difference. Still, it is worth covering some of the aspects of this to be well informed.
Long Term Nutrient Timing…
First let’s talk about long term timing in a nutrition plan. Really this pertains to breaks in the plan periodically. Most people think of this as a refeeding day or a diet break or a cheat meal. The views on this are more psychological than physical according to most of the research and opinions. Taking a break from your routine can lead to a decrease in stress and strain and therefore cortisol levels can go down. So it is reasonable to take a “day off” from the plan, especially if you mentally need a break. However, the research seems to point to the more experienced you are in dieting and the leaner you are at baseline, the more diet breaks benefit you That also means that if you are a newbie, then it is better to stick to the plan consistently.
Daily Nutrient Timing…
Next, let’s focus on meals throughout your day…how many? Well again the studies and opinions are mixed on this one. Old school thinking is that frequency of meals impacts metabolism, however there is little research to back this up. Equally, the interest in intermittent fasting seems to refute this theory. So how many meals should I have in the day? The collective opinions and research support the range of 3 to 6 meals per day, so there is some real flexibility here. When you start decreasing to 2 or fewer meals per day the long periods in between eating can compromise adherence to the plan, and therefore break the first foundational component of energy balance. Equally, meals more frequent than 6 meals per day leave the individual so focused on food and small portions that there is a decrease in meal satisfaction leading to a breakdown in adherence to the plan as well. Therefore, the mid range of 3-6 meals per day seems to create the greatest amount of nutrition, adherence and satisfaction…and this seems to create the greatest success.
Activity and Nutrient Timing…
Lastly, let’s focus on the timing of meals around activity. This specifically relates to nutrition before your workout, during your workout, and after your work out.
In regards to pre-workout nutrition the research seems to support carbohydrate intake playing a role in performance. However, this is tricky because if your over eat or choose only one source of carbohydrates, GI upset and water shifts can impact your training in a negative way. However, when taken in appropriate amounts, carbohydrates pre-workout seems to make the biggest impact of the macronutrients.
In regards to nutrition within the work out or peri-workout, again carbohydrates seems to have the biggest impact on performance. The same GI upset and water shift considerations need to be considered, but having the energy during your workout from carbohydrates seems to benefit performance. Intra workout protein, on the other hand, seems to be controversial. Supplementation with proteins, specifically branch chain amino acids (BCAA), may have less of an impact on performance than total protein intake during the day. So taking BCAA intra workout MAY be helpful, but it is more helpful to keep your protein levels consistent throughout your day.
Lastly, in regards to post-workout nutrition, there is a big push for a magic window post workout for nutrition, especially protein. The problem with this is that the research does not support this. Therefore, post workout nutrition does not seem to be as important. There is a small advantage to individuals who consume protein and carbohydrate mixtures after their workout. However, as stated earlier, it is more important to have consistency with your macronutrients and energy balance throughout your total day.
Last on our list to review are supplements. There is a reason they are last. Supplements should do just that, supplement your plan. If you have not placed your focus on the first stages of diet and nutrition (Energy Balance, Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Timing), then there really is no supplement to compensate for that. However, if the other aspects of your plan are in place, there are a few supplements I would add in for overall health and well being.
I often recommend a total of FIVE supplements for best health and balance
Phyto-Multi Vitamin: Multivitamins are supplemental sources of vitamins and minerals to help ensure your body gets the nutrition it needs, but may not get from diet alone. A daily multivitamin/mineral should go beyond basic wellness support to help ensure your body is receiving the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy and active. To learn more visit 5 Reasons to take a MultiVitamin
EPA /DHA Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oils): Evidence from over 30,000 studies conducted on EPA and DHA indicate they play important roles throughout the body as influential structural components of cell membranes. However, the human body can’t produce the essential fats needed to create these important omega-3 fatty acids on its own, which is why we must rely on outside sources like cold-water fish and flaxseed to get the EPA and DHA we need for optimal cellular health and functioning. To learn more visit Why everyone needs Omega 3s
ProBiotics: Your body contains up to 10x more bacteria than it does human cells. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to health. Via effects on the microbiome and on the human body itself, probiotics may impact every facet of health. To learn more visit Why are probiotics important?
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D is important because it helps your body sustain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus. Because it works as a key that allows your body to absorb calcium, vitamin D plays a critical role in forming and maintaining healthy bones. It also helps keep your muscles, nerves, and immune system healthy.
AntiOxidant/Super Food/Green Shake: Make no mistake, formulating a true “superfood” product requires a deep understanding of the biological processes that drive our health, longevity, and well-being. Here is one of our favorites: Fruits and Greens
Thank you for reading through this entry, It is a lot, but I hope it has given you a better perspective on your diet and nutrition. When it comes to your health, food plays a big role, but it is important to be able to prioritize the factors that we reviewed. If a plan gets too complicated for you to follow, it is not the right plan for you. Start with the foundations and move your way up through other factors until you have mastered those skills. In this way you can achieve the consistency and balance you need to truly maximize your health…all while doing it simply and practically
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