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Nutrition: The Q’s are important

Posted 7th February 2016 by Josh Schouten

“What should I eat?”  “I want to…. <insert goal here>.” “When should I eat carbs?”  “What supplements can help me reach my goal?” “What is the best way to get a six-pack?”

HealthCoaches and personal trainers often get asked these types of nutrition related questions. Everybody is an individual and nutrition advice is not as simple as many may think. There are millions of diet books and nutrition guru’s that share tails of weight loss and muscle gain from cutting calories, eating more protein, going low-carb, going low-fat, going on a detox, or only eating after dark.  It’s a complicated topic and if the answer to all these questions were simple, the health and fitness industry would not exist.

So where do we start?  What tips can we share that can help you make better food choices and understand the impact that food has on your health and body composition?  Firstly, if you’re not willing to make changes and listen to the advice, then don’t ask the questions.  There is no such thing as a magic pill and improving your nutrition requires time, hard work and dedication.

Tip #1 – Quality is important

Some so-called “experts” believe that the quality of the food we eat does not matter, as long as you have the calories correct you can eat and drink whatever you like.  In my personal opinion this is a load of crap and the nutrient density of the food we eat has a very important role to play.  Eating 1000cals of pop tarts does not have the same impact as eating 1000cals of vegetables or drinking 1000cal of alcohol. 

If you want to get lean and perform at your best you better start paying attention to the quality of the food you are eating.  If you need to look at the ingredients, you’ve probably already made a mistake.  Think meat, nuts, seed, vegetables, fruits, and natural fats like butter, olive oil, coconut palm. Real whole food should be the basis of everybody’s nutrition as these foods are full of nutrients that our bodies need to thrive.

Tip #2 – Quantity is important

The quantity of food that you eat also matters and we all need to make sure we are eating the right amount of food to sustain our lifestyle and our goals. MOST clients I see do not eat enough food, even the clients who come to me for weight loss advice do not eat enough food.  If your calorie restriction is too high your body will go into a state of starvation and it will store the majority of calories you digest as fat.  Our bodies are living and breathing organisms that require a certain quality and quantity of food to function optimally.  If you fail to feed your body, or you feed it on empty calories you will suffer the impact.  Maybe not today, maybe not next week or next month, but in the future the quality and quantity of what you eat now will affect your health.

Tip #3 – Questioning Advice is important

Never take nutrition advice from an overweight nutritionist or personal trainer. Is the person giving the advice practicing what they preach and do they have the body composition that you are looking to achieve? Let’s be honest, everybody wants to look good naked and taking advice from someone who is not in good shape is a mistake.

Tip #4 – Query everything you read

When reading any nutrition advice stop and think, who is the author and what is their experience? Who is the intended audience? Many books and articles published about nutrition have different audiences ranging from the obese population, the overweight population, endurance athletes, CrossFit athletes, the person who exercises 2-3 times a week, or the average couch slob.  Be aware that one diet does not rule them all because lifestyle factors and health status has a significant role to play.  For example going “low-carb” for a lean individual who exercises regularly is not necessarily a healthy option as it can limit performance, impact sleep, lower hydration levels, and slow down the recovery time between training sessions.  However, an overweight person who only trains 2-3 times a week and does very little movement during the rest of the week could see health and body composition improvements with “low-carb.”  Low fat is unhealthy, low protein is unhealthy, and low carb for an extended period of time can be unhealthy, even for overweight individuals.  Our bodies are designed to eat a diet that contains protein, fats and carbohydrates and understanding the right levels of these macronutrients is beneficial.

Base Metabolic Rate (BMR)

You might be wondering how to calculate the quantity of food you should be eating each day.  The process is not as simple as 1 + 1 = 2.  Let’s start this week by talking about our base metabolic rate (BMR).  BMR is the minimal amount of energy (calories) your body needs to function at rest.  If you were to stay in bed all day and not move and not think (the brain uses a high level of glucose to function) your BMR is the calories required to do this.  This is the base levels of calories your body requires to keep you heart beating, keep you breathing, to make certain enzymes and hormones and to stay alive.  

You won’t die immediately if you’re not eating your required BMR, but over time this will have serious health impacts and your longevity will be cut short. 

There are many different ways to calculate BMR, personally I use the Harris–Benedict equations revised by Roza and Shizgal to calculate BMR for myself and my clients as it only requires 3 simple values;

Men BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)

Women BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

The 95% confidence range for men is ±213.0 kcal/day, and ±201.0 kcal/day for women.

For example this is how I calculate my BMR:

88.362 + (13.397 x 76kg) + (4.799 x 175cm) – (5.677 x 34) = 1739.94 Calories per day.

Be aware that this is not the full picture because I’m guessing you don’t stay in bed all day.  If you’re reading this blog you’re probably a very active person who works and trains hard.  The BMR is the base calories required and this doesn’t include the additional energy requirement your body needs to survive, train and work. 

Do your homework and calculate your personal BMR.  Then take a food diary for a couple of days so that you can see just how much, or how little, food you are eating.  An application like MyFitnessPal is an easy one to use to record your calorie intake.

Next week we’ll give you some more information on how to calculate your physical activity levels and how this impacts your daily calorie intake.