I imagine at some point you have heard that old saying “You can’t put the cart before the horse.” In case you weren’t sure what that means, it just means that there is a certain order for how things happen. Case in point, horse pulls cart which means if the cart is in front of the horse it can’t pull it . . . .ahhh genius I know!
Well, the same concept apples to your nutrition!
Especially when it comes to nutrition that is geared at decreasing body fat and gaining lean muscle. What I’ve found after almost a decade in the fitness industry is that many people start by “putting the cart in front their horse” so to speak.
What do I mean? Well, what I mean is that when we start the conversation about nutrition they ask the wrong questions and focus on the wrong points (..for that given point in their fitness journey).
They start with questions like:
What supplements should I be taking?
Should I eat carbs after 5pm?
How many grams of protein should I have in each meal?
Will organic apples help me lose weight?
I think you get the point . . .
While some of these questions are of legitimate concern for some people and should eventually be addressed, they are not where you should be starting. The reality is that there is a lot of work to be done and other variable to worry about first before you can even think about those questions. Eric Helms does a great job of illustrating this concept in his book The Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid.
There really is a pyramid like hierarchy when it comes to nutrition and the variables that one ends to focus on. Just like any pyramid, there needs to be a solid foundation in order to build the upper levels of the pyramid.
Now, I’m not talking about the food pyramid we’ve all seen before with grains, vegetables, or protein and how they should fit into a nutrition.
I’m talking about a pyramid that breaks down the hierarchy of importance for the determining factors of ones body composition.
Here take a look:
What’s at the base of your nutritional pyramid?
Energy Balance is simply a math equation looking at what goes in your body (calories consumed) and what goes out of your body (calories burned). Depending on what each one of those numbers are you will either have a positive or a negative energy balance.
Ex. Calories In – Calories Out = Energy Balance
For example: If I consumed 2,000 calories today through food and liquids and I only burned 1,800 calories through exercise and my body’s daily functions (Metabolic Rate) I would have a positive energy balance of 200.
Ex. 2,000 – 1,800 = 200
If you’re body is in a great enough positive energy balance you will gain weight and if you’re in a negative energy balance you will lose weight.
Pretty simple right?
Cart Vs. Horse: If you don’t know your daily energy balance how can you even begin to worry about taking a supplement?
So before you start to do anything with your nutrition you need to know how many calories your body needs each day to survive (Basal Metabolic Rate) and how many calories your body needs to maintain it’s current state (Adjusted BMR).
One of the awesome perks for our members at O.B. Training is that we have an InBody machine that will not only give them a complete body composition breakdown but will also inform them of their Basal Metabolic Rate.
For most adults this number will be in the range of 1,200 – 2,200 and is dependent on Age, Gender, Height, Weight and Current Body Composition. There are a ton of formulas you can find online to calculate it out for you but make sure that they require body fat % so you can have the most accurate number.
Once you know your BMR you can discover your Adjusted BMR by multiplying it by the correct activity coefficient. This will be a number in the range of 1.2 – 2.0 depending on your activity level. The big thing here is be HONEST with yourself in making this assessment. Someone who has an activity coefficient of 2.0 is a COMPETITIVE ATHLETE who practices and trains daily. **Notice I did NOT say Crossfitter (That is not the same thing…sorry Crossfit).
To use myself as an example here is how we would calculate out these numbers.
BMR = 1845
Activity Coefficient = 1.7
BMR x Activity Coefficient = 1845 x 1.7 = Adjusted BMR
Adjusted BMR = 3,136
This means that in order for me to remain exactly the same weight I need to consume 3,136 calories each day. If I consume more than that then over time I will gain weight and if I consume less than that then over time I will lose weight.
This number will then be adjusted further based on your goal.
For ease here is a place to start. . . .
Lose weight – Adjusted BMR – 500
Gain Weight – Adjusted BMR + 500
* Understand that these numbers are not 100% accurate they are one calculations. These calculations give us a starting point to aim for when it comes to building our nutrition plan. They may need to be adjusted along the way which is why tracking what you eat and what you way can be necessary for certain periods of time.
** Most people are not willing to track all of their food intake so we often use serving sizes (hand portions) to track as it allows for a much more flexible lifestyle.
I’m assuming that you’ve probably at some point heard someone talk about their “Macros.”
Macros is short for macronutrients or the main nutrient classifications that we give to our foods, Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. To have a well rounded complete diet you need to be consuming the right proportions of each of those nutrients. In order to lose body fat you will also have to be consuming a certain proportion of each of those nutrients.
Let’s take a closer look. . .
Protein – This guy is going to be very important for you when it comes to fat loss. Even though protein is not a big contributor to energy expenditure it plays a vital role in muscle function and more importantly preserving muscle during caloric restriction. Protein is not easily stored as fat which is another reason it is a favorable nutrient. (4 Calories per gram)
Good Sources: Meat, Eggs, Poultry, Fish, Nuts, Seeds, Legumes
Carbohydrates – Don’t be scared of these little buggers! You body needs them for energy production. Thing of carbohydrates as your body’s main source of fuel for it’s engine ESPECIALLY your brain. Your brain NEEDS glucose (carbohydrates) to survive. This is why it becomes so hard to think and complete mentally taxing work when you haven’t eaten in a long time. (4 Calories per gram)
Good Sources: Potatoes, Quinoa, Rice, Vegetables, Sprouted Grains
Fats – Just like carbs don’t be scared. HEALTHY fats are essential for brain function and can do wonders for the immune system and joint lubrication. The key word there is HEALTHY fats. The one thing to be careful of with these guys is they pack a big caloric punch in a small package (9 Calories per gram).
Good Sources: Oils (Olive, Fish, Krill), Nut Butters, Eggs, Grass Fed Meats
How Much Of Each?
You can find 100 different people that will give you 100 different theories on how your diet should be split up between these macronutrients. There is NOT one specific ratio that works for EVERYONE. The reality is that each of us are different and our numbers need to be adjusted according to our individual body’s and lifestyle.
Here is a way to figure out a good place to start. . .
Protein – 1-1.2 Grams per pound of bodyweight
Fat – 15-25% of your total calories
Carbohydrates – The remaining after solving for Fats and Protein
Example: I weigh 175 pounds and my Adjusted BMR is 3,136. Since I want to lose Body Fat my Adjusted BMR will be lowered to 2,700.
Protein = 175 * 1.2 = 210
Fats = 2,700 * 25% = 675 / 9 = 75
Carbs = 295
So you’ve gotten through the first two phases of creating your nutrition lifestyle change, now it’s time to look at the minutia….literally.
Micronutrients are. . . exactly that. This is where we start to talk about vitamins, minerals and for our case water. Just like you need a certain amount of calories for your body to survive, you also need a certain level of key vitamins and minerals.
Believe it or not. Most people are deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral so I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure that you’re getting your daily required amounts.
**Note: Eating “clean” does not mean that you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. In fact, restricting your food variety too much is a sure fire way to create deficiencies.
Here is a list of the most common deficiencies:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin A
Now, I’m not going to go into a ton of detail as to what each one of these vitamins / minerals are responsible for and the ramifications if you are in fact deficient in them but I will share with you some great ways to make sure that you are getting your requirements.
Fruits and Veggies
Yup! Pretty simple really. . . Make sure that you are eating a shit load of vegetables and the appropriate servings of fruit (not a shit load of fruit). We talk a lot about this with our Precision Nutrition habits, make sure that you are getting your veggies in at EVERY meal! I can’t stress how important this is for not only fat loss but overall energy and well-being.
We’ve literally had people make dramatic progress with their body composition simply by increasing their vegetable intake.
You: “But I don’t like vegetables”
There are so many different kinds or vegetables that there has to be at least a couple that you will enjoy. You can really get creative with the way you cook them or at the very least blend them into a smoothie. BOOM
That being said….I am a HUGE FAN of Athletic Greens which we offer for all of our clients at a HUGE discount (that shit is expensive retail).
This should not be the only source of “greens” that you consume. Make sure to get them in at other meals
Your body is made up of over 60% water.
You need it to survive.
So Drink it.
60+ ounces roughly per day.
First, look at how far down the list this is. That right there should tell you how important it is in determining how successful your body transformation will be. For most people, this is not important YET.
Remember, you have to start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way to the top. By focusing on the other factors that we’ve already talked about you will make great progress before you need to worry about timing.
So here’s the moment so many people have been waiting for . . . .
Nutrient Timing really doesn’t matter that much AT ALL.
Research over the last 20+ years has shown that the timing of nutrient intake has very little effect on how the body responds and how fat is lost or muscle is gained.
Yes, that even goes for post-workout meals. That beloved “anabolic window” you’ve read so much about in the magazines isn’t that so magical after all. I’m not going to go deep into all the research, read Eric Helms book if you want to see the details (they’re quiet interesting actually).
Heres what you need to know:
- Eat Breakfast
- Eat Protein, Carbs, Veggies 30-90 minutes pre workout depending on individual preference.
- Eat Carbs, Protein,Veggies 30-90 minutes post-workout (timing isn’t that important but I bet you’re hungry)
- Don’t Eat a ton of food before you go to sleep.
This is the other BIG questions I get asked and well, well, well look how unimportant it is.
Supplements are exactly that, a supplement! That means that they are intended to supplement your nutrition, NOT replace it.
When and ONLY when you have gotten all of your other nutritional factors locked down would I recommend these supplements.
Multivitamin / Greens Supplement
Like I said, most people suffer from some sort of vitamin or mineral deficiency so a greens supplement is a great way to have an “insurance policy” in place that you’re getting your servings. I use, prefer and recommend Athletic Greens.
Some people, especially men, find it hard to meet their daily requirements of protein in whole foods. A protein supplement can be a great way to help with this problem. It’s also a great way to get a good source of protein on the go. Now a days, there are 100 different types of protein supplements so navigating them can be a chore. I still use regular Whey Protein and I make sure that I buy a reputable brand that has independent research studies done on their products. That way you know you are getting what you pay for. Again, I use and recommend Athletic Greens Grass Fed Whey Protein here.
Fish Oil (Omega 3/6)
Too many people are deficient in Omega 3’s and 6’s because as a society we don’t eat a lot of foods (fish) rich in those fats. A good fish oil supplement can help with this problem. Make sure to find a reputable company that has the proper ratios. I use and recommend Athletic Greens Fish Oil pills.
Now I know that most people wouldn’t think of this as a supplement but it is. Caffeine has a ton of research behind it showing enhancements in performance for athletes of all kinds. The key here is that if you already drink a lot of caffeine, there will most likely not be a performance enhancing effect for you. Just like any “drug” your body builds a tolerance to it and yes caffeine is a drug.
Notice I didn’t list off any “test-boosters”, “fat-burners”, “nitric oxide enhancers”, belly fat “destroyers etc”. The reality is that most supplement companies are full of shit and are simply trying to get you to buy something you don’t need. Sorry, but it’s true.
This is the final piece of the puzzle that actually encompasses the whole pyramid. In order to be successful at any nutritional change it needs to fit your lifestyle. In other words, it has to make sense for you.
That’s why I said earlier that tracking calories and weight long term is not achievable for most people. Unfortunately, the world we live in is moving faster than ever which means so are our lives each day. If you’re someone that is extremely overwhelmed with the idea of tracking then DON’T DO IT.
You won’t be able to maintain it long term and you are literally just setting yourself up for failure and relapse into old habits.
No one knows you better than you. Be honest with yourself and your coach (Whoops…did I not tell you? Everyone should have a coach) when it comes to what you’re willing to change/do and what you’re not willing to change/do.
For more than 90% of our clients at O.B. Training, we don’t do tracking of calories long term. We may do it for a short period to get a gauge on where they are at but that’s it. Following a habit based nutrition approach can be just as successful.
I hope that I clearly broke down the nutrition hierarchy for you so that you can see exactly where YOU should be focusing your efforts.
Chances are that it’s not supplements or even macros.