What you do outside of the gym is at least if not more important than your time spent in it. Getting nutrition right is the difference between looking like a super hero or looking like the guy that has been going to your gym for the past year yet has not made an ounce of progress. Understanding the basics and getting to know what’s what will help you to make better, more informed food choices and ultimately lead to a better, healthier you.
Your diet as a whole needs to be approached differently depending on your goals, since this is a beginners guide we will only touch upon the basics of how to apply this to specific scenarios.
A calorie is a unit of measurement, 1 calorie is the amount of energy in food or drink. On food items calories are usually displayed as per serving or per 100 grams.
Calories are made up of macro-nutrients such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Consuming less overall will lead to weight loss and consuming too many will resort in weight gain. With a bit of clever manipulation of our macro-nutrients we can turn this in to fat loss rather than just weight loss and muscle gain opposed to weight/fat gain.
The recommended daily allowance was set back in 1941 by a committee and has been reviewed several times, including a revision that was made to include RDA's for each macro nutrient group.
Women: 2,000 kcal
Men: 2,500 kcal
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Fats: 9 calories per gram
Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies. They not only act as the foundation to repair our current tissue, proteins are also used to create new tissue (e.g. muscle). Protein is present in muscle, hair, skin, bone, and almost every other body part, which makes protein an extremely important part of a healthy diet.
This is a widely disputed topic. The RDA set for sedentary adults is currently 0.8g of protein per kilogram (0.36 per lb) of body weight. This figure doesn't take in to account heavy or strenuous exercise which will increase a persons requirement for protein to help with recovery and prevent muscle catabolism (the process of muscle being broken down for energy).
For those exercising regularly and in-particular individuals who weight train, the protein in your diet should be increased adequately. This is relevant to both individuals wanting to lose fat (too little protein and you will lose muscle tissue as well as fat) and individuals wanting to gain muscle. This is backed up by numerous studies and trials, most notably by Kent University where the study was split in to 3 test groups consuming 0.9 / 1.4 / 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The study concluded that the test group consuming 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight outperformed the 0.9g/kg and shown considerably increases in lean muscle mass. However, the 2.4 grams group did not see any increased protein synthesis over the 1.4g protein group.
In short, the commonly accepted amount of protein to consume for active people wanting to build muscle is 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight. While this is slightly higher than what the research concluded (Conclusive research actually shown 0.82g/lb to be the ceiling which no further benefit is gained), this sum will be more than enough to keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance and it's better to be safe than sorry! Any excess protein consumed will just be used as an energy source. This is also relevant if you are cutting, research shows (contrary to popular belief) that our protein requirement is not increased whilst in a calorie deficit.
Chicken, turkey, meat (the leaner the better), fish, eggs, egg whites and, to a somewhat lesser extent, nuts and beans.
Carbohydrates act as the main source of energy for our bodies. If proteins are the building blocks then carbohydrates would be the work force.
Generally carbohydrates are split in to two camps: complex and simple. Simple carbs refers to foods that have a high glycemic index (the standard of measuring how quickly our body utilizes carb sources) such as sugar, while the term complex carbs describes slower acting carb sources such as beans, brown rice etc.
The RDA for carbohydrates varies but is mostly set between 40-50% of your total calorie intake. If we base that on the average male consuming 2500 calories that equates to around 250-300 grams of carbs per day.
This is the macro-nutrient that should be manipulated the most when trying to reach your goals, since protein should stay at a constant (between 0.8-1g/lb) and fats are essential, carbohydrates are expendable in the case of trying to lose weight and a necessity when trying to gain muscle.
Simple carbs in your diet should be limited as much as possible - they do however have a use in or around your training. Consuming a simple carbohydrate such as dextrose either in your pre or post workout shake will help to restore glycogen in your muscles as well as causing a spike in insulin. Insulin spikes are usually a bad thing but around the time you work out they help to shuttle nutrients around your body more effectively, they also aid in preventing muscle breakdown while you workout.
Fruits and vegetables, beans, oatmeal,brown rice, and other whole wheat/whole grain foods
Fat has been portrayed as the bad guy in the media and this couldn't be further from the truth. We need fat in our diet to function normally, it regulates energy levels along with carbohydrates, helps with the absorption of vitamins and contributes to hormone functions (testosterone).
The exception to this fats are good rule is trans-fat, by far the worst type of fat. A diet containing a significant amount of trans fat increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and possibly even more. Long story short, avoid it.
Another myth that gets circulated around is that consuming fat makes you fat. This completely incorrect. What makes you gain fat is the over consumption of calories as a whole.
Experts typically recommend that 20-30% of your total daily calories comes from fat and that is perfectly acceptable.
Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, other nuts and seeds, salmon, sardines,mackerel, other fish and fish oil, olive oil, canola oil, avocados.
Planning your diet
First you need to find out your calorie requirement, since this is a beginners guide lets assume you’re not sure what your maintenance calorie needs are (if you do, then use that figure).
Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply it by:
- Mesomorphs – bodyweight x 15.
- Ectomorphs – bodyweight x 16-17.
- Endomorphs – bodyweight x 13-14.
Lets assume you are a 170lb ectomorph (if you’re unsure of your body type use ectomorph and adjust later) you do:
170 x 17 = 2890 calories.
Now we have a basic calorie requirement to use. This will need to be monitored and adjusted as need as it’s just a starting point.
Working out your macros:
Macros (macronutrients) refers to your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake. By setting these individually you are making sure that you give your body exactly what it needs to grow. I would always suggest tracking calories and macros so you can monitor and adjust and in the long run you will begin to understand and learn how your respond to certain things.
It has been studied time and time again and every nutritional study has come to the conclusion that we do not need more than 1g of protein per 1lb of body weight – even the most elite athletes would not need to consume more than this amount for recovery and hypertrophy (muscle growth).
170lb x 1 (your weight in pounds multiplied by 1) = 170g protein. Multiply this by 4 (the amount of calories per gram of protein) = 680 calories.
Carbohydrates should be around 50% (give or take) of our total calorie intake. We take our total daily amount which in this example is 2890 and divide by 2 to give us half, that comes to 1445. We divide this by 4 (the amount of calories per gram of carbohydrate). We get 361g of carbs.
So far we are at 2125 total calories. 2891 – 2125 leaves us with 765 calories to be allocated to fat. 765 divided by 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) gives us 85 grams of fat.
In the end we have our diet which should consist of:
Follow your output from this method for 2 weeks. If your weight has not increased by 1lb or more per week then increase your daily carbohydrates by 50 grams (200 calories). If you have gained more than 2lb each week then decrease your carbohydrate intake by 50 grams (200 calories). Continue to monitor and adjust as needed.