Nutrition and Calories
The first key to understanding how nutrition affects your body composition is finding your maintenance calories. The more past experience you have with tracking the easier it will be to establish this. However, through tracking your daily weight and using trial/error we can find your actual maintenance caloric intake.
Roughly speaking; +/- 500 calories per day is ~ 1lb a week. More specifically, if you consume 500 calories above what your maintenance is you will gain about 1 lb a week. The same can be said for consuming 500 fewer calories than your maintenance intake, leading to losing roughly 1 lb per week. If you are cutting we want to aim to lose not much more than 1% body weight per week at most. Losing weight too fast will lead to excessive muscle loss rather than body fat. If you are gaining we want to aim to gain about 1-1.25% body weight per month. Many people aim to gain weight too fast and this will just lead to unnecessary fat gain. I want you to log your daily weight, but we will place the focus on weekly trends for cutting and even bi-weekly or monthly trends when it comes to gaining as this, if done properly, is a slow process.
After tracking your calories and consistently weighing yourself every day for a week (morning when you wake up after using the bathroom) look at how you have progressed. If you have been hitting your calories consistently and the average scale weight has stayed the same you may need to adjust your intake. If your goal is cutting and you have not lost any weight, or your weight has increased, drop your calories by 100-300 and repeat the process another week. If your goal is to gain weight and build muscle and the scale has remained the same or gone down, increase calories by 100-150 and repeat the process another week. Remember not to get too caught up on daily weight fluctuations. Due to what foods you consume, the amount of water and sodium you intake, your bowl movements, meal timing and time of weighing this can vary from day to day. This is why it is important to log your weight every day and monitor weekly trends rather than making adjustments based off of day to day weight fluctuations.
One of the most important aspects of your nutrition is making sure you consume adequate protein daily. This helps retain lean mass when losing body fat and provide the necessary building blocks when building muscle. Protein is also great in helping you feel more satiated (feeling of fullness) with your food intake.
There’s no need for excessive amounts of protein, but adequate protein is very important. Generally I will keep you at .8-1.2g of protein per lb of body weight. This can be based off of one’s lean mass for those who have excessive body fat. Exact intake will depend on the individual, goals, and preferences, but anything over 1.2g per lb is excessive and pointless. If cutting I usually aim for the higher end of this range as it aids in muscle retention and satiety. If trying to gain I aim on the lower side as more carbs/fats in the diet are protein sparing. In simple terms 1g per lb is always a safe and easy target, but it will vary by individual.
Where you get your protein matters
Protein sources are also important. Animal-based products have a complete amino acid profile, meaning they contain the essential amino acids the body can’t produce alone. The majority of protein should come from these sources rather than plant-based ones (they lack a complete amino acid profile).
Ideally we will have 3-5 protein feedings a day, depending on personal schedule and variance in macros. We will try to split total protein intake between these meals to get a minimum of 20-30g each meal. This maximizes protein synthesis for muscle retention in a cut and help to build lean tissue in a surplus. Now it’s important to note that total daily protein intake is the most important aspect. However, splitting protein between multiple feedings is a smaller tweak to optimize the process.
Generally, I like an individual’s fat intake to be at a minimum of .3g per lb of body weight per day. If you’re overweight, this can be 0.35g per lb of lean mass. More specifically, I like to keep fats in the range of 20%-30% of total daily calories.
We never want to drop fats too low! This has a very detrimental effect on hormone production for both males and females. A higher fat approach depends on preference, but the key with fat intake is to never drop it too low. If your fat intake is on the higher end, it should come from natural sources, not processed oils. However, everything is okay in moderation. Fats, like protein, are satiating. Therefore, dropping fats too low won’t just have a negative impact on hormone production, but may also cause hunger issues.
The remainder of calories generally come from carbohydrates (or fats if preferred, but carbs are more beneficial in a surplus). This macronutrient will vary the most based on personal caloric intake and will be the first to be adjusted. When increasing calories, carbohydrates are the first to be increased (unless fats are excessively low in a cut). Likewise, when lowering calories, this will be the first that will be lowered. Carbs will be manipulated the most in your nutrition based off of your goals and current caloric intake.
How Important is Fiber for Nutrition?
Digestion can be an overlooked point when it comes to general nutrition. Usually a target of 15g of fiber per 1,000 calories is adequate. If consuming mostly whole foods in the diet and eating adequate vegetables/fruits this is easy to accomplish. If you struggle to consume enough fiber it’s usually a matter of poor food choices. The best approach to correct this is to choose whole-food sources rather than look to fiber supplementation.
Focus on consuming plenty of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. Sugar is not an issue if calories, macros, and fiber are in check. However if you have issues with hunger I would avoid excessive processed sugar intake. I will cover more on the topic of sugar in another article.
If you track your intake you can incorporate foods you enjoy and have variety in your approach to proper nutrition. But we don’t want to go out of our way to fit in junk just because we can! Most importantly, find a sustainable approach. It doesn’t matter how “optimal” your approach is if you cannot adhere to it. Small changes over time you can stick with lead to successful long-term progress. A strict plan that you can’t follow for longer than a few weeks or months will be much more difficult!