DFM Director of Trainer Education Mike Grillo Lays Out the Basics You Need to Know About Nutrition
Often times the simple basics of nutrition are overlooked when we consider evaluating our nutritional intake. While there are very many complex factors that go into nutrition, sometimes we get lost in the minor aspects and forget the major take homes. Hopefully just by knowing some of the basic aspects of nutrition, you can make some simple educated changes to improve your body composition or lose weight.
First off, let’s discuss the 3 macronutrients the body recognizes. Everything we eat is made up of one or more of the following: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These are the three main macronutrients and our body breaks these down into amino acids, glucose and fatty acids, respectively. The energy derived from these foods is as follows: Protein=4cal/g, Carbs4cal/g and Fat 9cal/g. In general we can think of protein as a builder, carbs as energy and fat as fuel to cellular processes. One side note is that Protein is thermogenic, meaning it takes more “energy” for our body to break down and use. Unfortunately nothing in nutrition is this simple, (sigh) but this is a good basic start for our foundation.
Secondly, we have our micronutrients, which are primarily vitamins and minerals. We have fat soluble (A, D, E, K) and water soluble vitamins. There is no need to discuss this too much in this article. However, know that the lower the quality our food sources become typically the more we lack in micronutrients. It seems common sense that a Twinkie (although delicious) does not hold as much nutrient value as say, a cup of rice. So the take home for the continuation of the article is that both Quantity and Quality are important!
Let’s go ahead and cross the Quantity bridge in order to get some numbers thrown out there. Again, these are not perfect for every person, but are generally a good start as I have found through trial and error. In general the more active you are the more carbs you will need and conversely the more sedentary you are the less carbs you need. Simple car analogy: If you drive around a big block Chevy you are going to use a lot of (expensive) gas. However, if you have a nice little, tiny, itty bitty smart car you will not use as much. The size of the engine in our example cars are in relation to the amount of muscle mass we have. More muscle=more energy spent. Without further delay, the following is what I have found to be helpful to start guesstimating total caloric intake along with macronutrient breakdown.
Inactive or weight loss I recommend starting 8-11 calories per pound of body weight
Protein= 0.8-1g/lb of bodyweight
Carbs= .6-1g/lb of bodyweight
Fat= Leftover caloric total.
Ex: 200lb @ 10 cal per lb=2,000calories
Protein 1g/lb=200g=800cal, Carbs .7/lb=140g=560cal, (2,000-800-560=640 Fat calories left.) Fat=71g
Active or weight gain I recommend starting 16-20 calories per pound of body weight
Protein= 0.8-1.2g/lb of bodyweight
Carbs= 1.5-2g/lb of bodyweight
Fat=Leftover caloric total.
Ex: 200lb @ 20 cal per lb=4,000calories
Protein 1.2g/lb=240g=960cal, Carbs 2g/lb=400g=1,600cal, (4,000-960-1600=1440 Fat calories left.) Fat=160g
Now that we have hammered out some steps to take on the QUANTITY front. Let’s discuss how to improve our food QUALITY. I have found a very simple way to do this is to simply try and eat only single ingredient foods! Pretty simple process, if the food you’re eating has multiple ingredients, eliminate it from your diet (check the nutrition label to view this info). Once you have improved your body composition and/or quality of your foods you can then re-introduce some of the old foods and see how they affect you. Things that are commonly (and unfortunately delicious) removed during this phase include:
- bread, pasta, heavily processed meats, processed nuts, nut butters, chips, meal replacement bars, sugary drinks, cake, doughnuts, ice cream, frozen yogurt, Orange Leaf…….getting side tracked here and really craving some Fro Yo!
Generally I have found that when someone can really focus and improve on his or her nutritional quality the quantity magically starts to look like what we discussed above. Once someone has significantly changed their quality of food I will then have them start measuring and weighing their food intake so we can see what the macronutrients look like. Generally this is only something I do for a week or two till they are really good at eyeballing portion sizes. I really like to use My Fitness Pal app to track because it gives a really easy to read breakdown and can be shared.
As stated above, nothing in nutrition is simple and the same plan will not work for everyone. However, if you can improve the quality of your food intake over time you will likely see results for a while just from that. When those results cease or slow you can look at quantity to keep driving the results forward. Please don’t get lost in the HOCUS POKUS DIETS out there!
B.S. Exercise Science, NASM CPT, NASM CES, USAW, CrossFit Level 1