In our last Health & Wellness article we discussed the importance of looking at our nutrition differently. We can’t look at it as a diet, a temporary fix to get us to some goal that we will fall off of as soon as we stop. We need to start looking at it as a lifestyle change. The more knowledge we have about nutrition, the more prepared we are to make informed decisions about what goes into our bodies. Although we can’t make you eat healthier, we can give you the tools and knowledge to do it yourself. *Hint Hint: No matter how much you pay for a trainer, cookbook, or kitchen gadget, nothing will make you healthier until you consciously make the decision yourself to start eating better.
What’s the Right Amount?
So, how do we know what to eat? Well, those nutrition labels on the back of most foods in grocery stores say “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.” That’s should be good, right? I’m sure the FDA knows exactly what they’re doing. I’m the same as the average person, right? Well, do you have the average nutritional needs of a child, adult female, and adult male combined?  Soooo… yeah, that might be a little off. There’s too many variables (age, gender, activity level, etc) that determine your own personal caloric needs and even if someone could tell you exactly how many calories you need, we’re still not answering the correct question. Let’s say your daily caloric needs are 2,500. So does that mean as long as you eat 2,500 calories you’ve had a healthy, fulfilling day? 2 Twinkies, at 135 calories a piece, and 4 Big Macs, at 563 calories a piece, would put you at 2,522 calories. And it’s not the 22 extra calories that’s wrong with that meal plan for the day.
Instead of getting too focused on the calories, let’s take a step back and figure out, why calories? Calories are a measure of energy. Nutrition based calories are actually by the thousands, kilocalories, but when talking about nutrition, it is just assumed this is what you mean when you say calories. Now, the idea is that you want to match the energy you burn each day with the energy you intake every day. The body burns calories everyday just to breathe, eat, sleep, and stay alive. Add on exercise and the calories you burn can be completely different from the person next to you. So you need to exercise for how much you eat? It is possible to base your exercise around what you eat but this is a very bad way to go about this. It’s better to base what you eat off of what your activity level is.
The 3 macronutrients we discussed in our previous nutrition article (protein, carbs, and fat) are what provide the body with energy (calories) when digested. Protein and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram while fats provide 9 calories per gram.2 This is typically why the average person is warned to stay away from fats because they are very calorie dense. While this is true that fats are calorie dense, they are not something we should shy away from. They are a crucial part of our diet and to remove them would leave a gaping hole in our nutrition. In fact, ignoring any of these macronutrients would leave your nutrition wanting. So, instead of building our nutrition around calories, we should build our nutrition around our macronutrients. After that, the calories just kind of fall into place.
What About My Needs?
Now the questions is, how much of these macros do we actually need? This is typically when everything hits the fan. There is so much information out there and everyone is telling you something different. Low carb, no carb, low fat, 40/30/30 ratio. Let’s think about this for a second. Imagine your nutrition is a road map with all the different ‘diets’ being the routes you can choose. Well, a map is kind of useless unless you have a destination in mind (ie. fitness goals). You don’t map out a route and just see where you wind up. No, you have a destination and you make a plan to get you there.
So what are your goals? Do you want to lose fat? Gain muscle mass? Maybe you want to maintain but you would like to have more energy. And just like you need to know where you’re going, you also need to know where you’re at. You can’t expect to just drop a ton of weight or pack on a bunch of muscle in a week. Your body might not even be in a state where you have much fat to lose and it will make you physically ill to hit the targets you are thinking of. You need to set realistic goals for yourself. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed in a week and fall back into your same old eating habits.
I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet, so I won’t even act like I know what specifically your body needs to maximize it’s potential and get it where you want it to be as fast as it can. I would highly recommend talking to a doctor or a nutritionist about this to give you a nutrition plan catered to your age, gender, activity level, eating habits etc. But I will tell you, the general rule is this. If you’re trying to add on muscle mass and build strength you will want higher levels of carbs. Somewhere in the 40-60% range of your daily caloric needs. Maintaining, you should be in the 25-50% range. And losing weight, you should be in the 10-30% range. Your fats should almost always make up 25-35% of your daily caloric intake. And then protein just fills up the remaining calories to hit your 100%. As for what your daily calories should be, if you can’t see a nutritionist, look online at calorie calculators. Look at a couple different ones and you should start getting a good idea of what a healthy range is for you. Just make sure they take into account your age, gender, weight, and activity level. Without knowing these things the calculator is just grabbing a number from thin air. BodyBuilding.com has a good calculator if you want to go ahead and check it out.
In the future we will get more into the different kinds of exercise regimens you can follow that will best support your nutrition plan and fitness goals. Until then, I will leave you with a little food for thought…
“The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life.” – Hal Elrod
- Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning