Search for the term ‘fat loss’ on Google and it returns millions of search results.
Amazon has over half a million books in its ‘health’ section.
And let’s not forget all the health and fitness Guru’s gracing fitness magazines and appearing on your favourite talk shows.
It’s no wonder people are so confused about nutrition and diet.
What works and what doesn’t?
The truth is, all of these methods will work to varying degrees.
Because every diet protocol, regardless of the fancy name it’s given abides by the undeniable principle of the calories in vs calories out equation. In other words, in one way or another they have you controlling your calorie intake. Whether that be through the omission of a certain food group, restricting the time period within which you eat or having you follow a certain meal plan.
Amidst all these diet plans and eating styles lay the principles.
When it comes time to losing fat or gaining muscle it’s these principles that matter.
In this piece I want to dissect these principles so you know how to discern the things that really matter from the things that don’t when it comes to achieving your physique goals.
What Are Calories
If you’ve been around the fitness space for a while, or simply have had an interest in altering your body composition, I’m sure you’ve heard of the term ‘calories’.
The term itself is pretty abstract – what exactly is a calorie, right? To make it easier to understand, calories are simply energy. While we think of calories in relation to diet and food, calories exist in anything that contains energy.
Thinking of calories this way makes it a lot easier to understand that a surplus of energy [eating more than you burn] will result in weight gain, and inversely, if we use up more energy than we take in [eating less than you burn] we lose weight.
Now, to put things into context as it pertains to our goals:
1lb of fat contains 3500 calories.
Thus if you wanted to lose one pound of fat per week, you would eat 500 calories below your maintenance intake* [the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight] and to gain weight, you would eat 500 calories over your maintenance intake.
*The 500 calories was calculated by dividing 3500 (calories in 1lb of fat) by 7 (the days in a week) – to get a daily deficit or surplus number.
Your current maintenance intake is 2500 calories.
- For fat loss you would eat : 2000 calories a day (-500)
- For weight and muscle gain you would eat: 3000 calories a day (+500)
What Are Macros ?
Ok, so we’ve understood what calories are. We need to understand what makes up the calories in our food: Macronutrients.
There’s three main macronutrients [alcohol is technically a fourth – I’ll explain why technically later].
The 3 main macronutrients (macros) are:
Let’s take a look at these bad boys.
Protein is (literally) the building block of muscle, so if your goals are improving body composition, whether that be gaining muscle or losing fat, consuming adequate protein is quintessential to your success.
Protein contains 4 calories per gram.
E.g – 30g of Protein = 120 calories.
While debates have raged on for decades on how much protein a person needs to consume to build or retain muscle – we now know that eating a metric-ton of protein isn’t as important as was once thought.
Current research has shown that anywhere from 0.7 – 1.5g/lb is enough to cater to our goals of improving body composition.
While more protein isn’t necessary, the caveat here is that if you are dieting or in a calorie deficit a higher intake of protein can be beneficial due to it being more satiating than either fats or carbs. I recommend going for the mid range of 1-1.2g/lb.
Good Sources Of Protein
Ah, the controversial Carb. While carbs have seemingly become the villain of the dietary world, carbs (nor any other macronutrient) is bad in and of itself. As mentioned in the previous section – it’s the excess of energy [calories] that dictate whether you gain or lose weight.
If protein is the building block of muscle and your body, think of carbs as the energy source.
While technically speaking you can survive on zero carbs, due to the body’s ability to breakdown fats and proteins to use for energy, Carbs are the preferred energy source of the body. Thus, if you regularly engage in high intensity exercise like strength training [which you should be, if body composition improvement is your goal] carbs should be a part of your diet.
Carbohydrates also contain 4 calories per gram.
E.g – 30g of Carbs = 120 calories.
Depending on how active you are both in your day to day life [think office job vs a manual labor job like a construction worker] and your training schedule, carb Intake can range from 0.5 – 3.0g/lb.
Of course the more active you are the higher end of that range you should go for and the less active you are the lower end of that range.
Good Sources Of Carbs
Like protein, fat is an essential nutrient that is is needed for us to survive (and thrive). If protein is the building block, and carbs give us the energy, fats are needed for hormonal health. If you go too low in fat intake a lot of bad things start to happen like loss of sex drive, women can lose their menstrual cycle and a ton of other processes in the body go haywire.
Point: Fats are important so don’t fall victim to low fat diets.
A good range for fat intake is somewhere between 0.3 – 0.7g/lb. As mentioned before, going too low in fats can have deleterious effects on health so don’t go any lower than the 0.3g/lb recommendation, or 30% of total calorie intake.
Fats are the most calorically dense micronutrient, containing 9 calories per gram.
E.g – 30g of fats = 270 calories.
Good Sources Of Fats
Full fat dairy
Fatty cuts of meat and poultry
So, remember at the start when I said alcohol is ‘technically’ a macronutrient. This is why:
Alcohol does contain calories but these calories can’t actually be stored in the body,
However, alcohol has some sinister ‘side effects’.
While the calories from alcohol aren’t stored directly, alcohol causes an increase in hunger and shuts off fat burning of the other macronutrients. So the foods you eat after a night out are more easily stored as fat.
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram.
While fiber is not a macronutrient, it is extremely important for health and in aiding our goals of body composition.
Fiber helps aid with digestion, keeping us ‘regular’ and helps stabilise blood sugar. More importantly, fiber helps increase satiety so is a must have during a fat loss diet, when calories are low and hunger is an issue.
While fiber does contain calories they are extremely minimal, and weighed against the ton of benefits fiber provides both in terms of health and our goal of body composition, don’t worry about the overeating of fiber to cause you to gain weight.
Aim for 10g of fiber per 1000 calories [around 20-30g a day at a minimum].
Fiber contains around 1.5-2 calories per gram
Good Sources Of Fiber
The Wrap Up
As Harrington Emerson famously said:
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
This article gives you those principles so that you can get started on your own body composition journey while avoiding the fads and gimmicks rife in the nutrition world.
Bio: Aadam Ali
Aadam is the Head Physiqonomist at physiqonomics.com where he writes about fitness, training and nutrition, helping guys get cover model lean, while having a life. When he isn’t lifting, he’s either reading, ruminating on the deeper philosophies of life or chilling to some hip-hop.
Link : www.physiqonomics.com