I wanted to write another entry about nutrition because while I’ve already written quite a few articles on the subject I’m still not certain that I’ve really pushed this hard enough to drive home the message of just how important it is. At the same time though there are so many urban myths out there about nutrition especially in relation to weight loss that I want to clear some of that up as well.
On top of that I want to correct some of the bro-science out there in the world of bodybuilding and not to mention what I call “troll science” that a few nutritionists with questionable ethics have gotten famous by pushing (and ridiculing anyone with an opposing view). I call it troll science because while it may be technically correct in theory, it’s completely unreasonable to expect it to be applicable in the real world.
Calories in, calories out.
This is really the bottom line in nutrition.
Determine your maintenance level of calories (in other words the amount of calories required to stay at your current bodyweight, based on age, gender and level of activity), and if you consume less than this amount you will lose weight. Consume more than this amount and you will gain weight. Pretty simple, innit?
Source and quality of calories.
Here’s where I qualify the above statement about calories in vs calories out.
I have a problem with certain (un)professionals in the industry pushing garbage science stating that calories in vs calories out is the ONLY concern. You see, there are these things called nutrients (aka vitamins and minerals) that we require for good health and well being, and these come from consuming a varied and balanced diet. Fruit and vegetables in particular are important in ensuring adequate levels of these nutrients.
Lets imagine I have a female client on a weight loss plan, and we decide on a target of 1200 calories per day which is 500 calories below her maintenance level. Lets disregard vitamins and minerals completely and accept the troll science view that calories in vs out is all that’s important, and prescribe a nutrition plan of 1 x 200g packet of chocolate biscuits + 1 x 600ml bottle of soft drink.
Yep, 1 packet of chocolate biscuits and 1 bottle of soft drink comes in at around 1250 calories!
So, what do you think? Is my client likely to successfully lose weight on this meal plan? The idea is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s what some people would have you believe.
Aside from the issue of malnutrition, potential to screw up hormone levels due to excessive intake of sugars, lack of dietary fibre and so on… we need to be able to stick to that target figure of around 1200 calories. Even if you eat an entire 1250 calories worth of chocolate biscuits and soft drink, how long do you think it will take before you are hungry again? And of course, eating junk tends to make us crave more junk, so that 1250 calories can quickly turn into 2500 or even 3750 calories!
Again I acknowledge that this is an extreme and ridiculous example but it illustrates my point that we need to choose wisely and consume quality calories that enable us to stick to our target levels. If people are hungry, they are going to eat! But you can actually pack a lot of food into a 1200 calorie plan if you stick to the sensible healthy stuff – the calories only really start to pile up when you start on the junk food. That’s probably why it’s called junk food!
Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. They’re ALL important in making up a balanced diet.
Within our total intake of calories we must also pay some attention to the ratios of macronutrients. We need enough protein to build muscle, enough carbohydrates to provide energy, and sufficient fats as well. Going back to our earlier example of the chocolate biscuit & soft drink diet (which would have virtually no protein and excessive levels of sugars and saturated fats), I would suggest there’s a possibly of still consuming too much energy to lose weight, even while being in calorific deficit (aka consuming below maintenance levels). At best, this unbalanced approach would result in “skinny-fat” appearance due to loss of muscle mass.
Meal timing, frequency of meals.
This is really only important in terms of satiety, and being able to train. You don’t want to train on a full stomach, and you don’t really want to train without any fuel in the tank either. Bottom line though, if you consume a balanced diet that is less than your maintenance level of calories (with attention to macronutrient ratios) you will lose weight, regardless of eating 1 meal a day or 8 meals a day.
Again, I’d suggest planning on 4 – 8 meals a day will help you to avoid snacking on unhealthy junk in between meals.
Again, low or high GI is only really important in terms of satiety. In other words, choosing foods that won’t leave us hungry and likely to exceed our target calories due to snacking.