Its easy to get confused about nutrition. As we have discussed in numerous articles and blogs, there are a million ways to manipulate your intake for a number of different results. And honestly, for the most part, most ways work to a degree. This is why its important to understand nutritional components on a base level and make your decisions based on that. Below I have outlined what I think is important when considering your nutritional intake, and how I troubleshoot nutritional strategies.
Calories: The base of the diet, no matter what version of management you use, all comes down to calories. Calories are the measurement assigned to units of energy inside food required to provide fuel for activities large and small. The very first item I look at when deciding how to set up someones nutrition is what their caloric intake truly is from the start. I realize that there are calculators out there that have an algorithm that will give you a numerical on suggested intake. However, these calculations are usually fairly flawed and hard to trust. The calculators usually ask something about how active you are, and then offer some vague options like “somewhat active” or “extremely active.” The problem here is that no one really knows how active they are. Further, no one is really sure what counts as activity. Somedays I vacuum for an hour pretty intensely. Is that going to tip me over from “somewhat active” to “active”? Who knows! There is most certainly a huge calorie difference between an hour of powerlifting and running for an hour. Very few take body fat percentage into consideration. This seems like a huge oversight, as the upkeep for a pound of muscle is roughly 3x the caloric upkeep of a pound of fat. Its all just a bit precise for how NOT customized the readouts may be. So how do we determine your caloric intake? As tedious as it may be, we keep a log of everything we consume and compare the weight on the scale. I understand thats not a thrilling process, but its necessary for me to get an idea of what you eat and how it impacts you. Once we have figured out what your caloric demands our, we move on to base macros.
Macronutrients/ “macros”: All calorie yielding foods can be broken down into its macronutrient profile, which is simply its protein / carbohydrates / fats. If you have scratched the surface of nutritional studies, you have most certainly heard a lot about how to arrange your macros for various goals.
Protein: Protein is living the high life, thanks in large part to the supplement industry. While its a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to recovery, its dosages have been hyped to a fairly ridiculous degree. I have had people come to me eating 2-3x their bodyweight in protein, and that is overkill. My blanket suggestion (with the understanding that it all depends on the goal) is .8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight as a baseline. I might veer upwards of 1.5g/lb and I may sink as far as .5g/lb in certain situations, but generally stay in the .8g-1g range. 1g/lb has never shown me reason to believe more is needed, and the reduction in protein makes room for carbs. And I like carbs.
Fats: Fat is another energy source that the body can use, though fat-adaptation is a fairly painful and inefficient process when compared to carboydrates. However, fats are very important in upkeep of many cellular functions. Fats are essential for the absorption of all fat soluable vitamins (A,D,E,K). Fat is also a key player in hormonal balance and provides structural support for our nervous system. Fat is also fair simple: since I have already figured out the base calories, I simply take 15-25% (again, variance dependent on where client is and need to go) of these calories and allocate them to fat.
Carbohydrates: THE MVP! MY ACE IN THE HOLE! CARBS! Carbs are the last thing I calculate out, and I make the rest of the calories come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source and are the most efficient energy source for the human body. Because I am fairly conservative on protein and fat intake, I leave a lot of room for carbohydrates.
Timing: This is the very last thing I mess around with, and I actually don’t incorporate it if calories and macros are routinely not getting hit. If calories and macros allow, my first act of nutritional support is to add in a peri-workout protocol, which varies from client to client depending on their endeavors.
A lot varies, but these are the order of operations for nutrition. I dont skip calories and go right to macros, and I dont throw in macro timing without seeing compliance to an eating strategy. All of this said, being well versed in a variety of nutritional ideas will serve many well, as the best diet out there is the one clients can make work with their life.