"My training's on point... But how do I know what, when & how much I should eat?"
I heard this a few times last week. Along with, 'I'm just not sure what I should eat, when I should eat it and exactly how much I should be eating?' So, here goes! Let's shed some light on these, all to often, grey areas and give you the info you need, to fuel & nourish your body!
I'm going to share with you the answers to the 7 big questions about how to get your nutrition on track, but if I miss anything out, please drop me a note in the comment section so that I can do my best to help you in my next post! xx
7 Things you need to know when starting a new training program:
#1 How much food should I be eating?
#2 What kind of foods should I eat?
#3 Do carbs make you fat?
#4 When should I be eating?
#5 How can I keep track of how much eat?
#6 Does alcohol affect my gym gains?
#7 Do I need to take supplements?
How much food should I be eating?
Calories, what are they and how many do I need?
OK, so this is a biggie and yes, it can be confusing, especially if you were shit at math class.. which I definitely was, but let's start at the top. The first thing you want to identify is your objective. What is your goal? Lose weight, gain weight, or remain the same weight? ...now hold on just one moment more before you jump straight on the weight loss wagon! If you want to develop your shape (or if we must call it, get 'toned') and increase your metabolic rate, you need to build muscle! To build up the muscles we need to load them with resistance training. Resistance training requires lots of energy for the muscles to work hard during the training session and also energy for repair and growth after the training session. So it makes sense to be in a calorie surplus if your goal is to develop more shape and be able to eat more food, right? If your goal is simply to shed some of that pesky body fat, then that is fine also! A calorie deficit is the way to go here.
Whichever your goal may be, you will need to be in either a calorie surplus, calorie deficit or calorie balance. The equation here is pretty straight forward;
Surplus: Calories in > calories out = gain weight
Deficit: Calories in < calories out = lose weight
Balance: Calories in = calories out = maintenance
One thing that I want to mention here, is how often we tend to think that the only way to put ourselves in a calorie deficit is to reduce our calorie intake. It is one of two ways, and to be honest, the alternative method sounds way more fun in my books! The other way we can achieve a calorie deficit is to keep the calorie intake the same, but increase our calories out. How do we do that? Move more!
'So... what are calories exactly?'
A calorie is the name given to the measurement of energy produced by an item of food. Calories = Energy. Not all food has an equal amount of energy/calories per gram. Check out the different calorie values for each of the macro-nutrients here;
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories
How do I find out how many calories I need?
There are equations we can use to find the number of calories that we need to match our body and achieve our goals. The first number we need to calculate is our BMR - Basal Metabolic Rate. Your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories your body uses, in one 24 hour window, to support your current body composition and let your autonomic nervous system maintain homeostasis while at COMPLETE REST. Or, simply put, the minimal amount of calories you would need to consume to keep your current body shape if you were to do nothing at all for a day.
So we now have our BMR and know how many calories we need to do sweet FA for a day, let's find out how many calories we need to fuel us for all the things we get up to on a regular basis, like tackling a day at work, walking the dog, lifting weights, cleaning the house etc, etc. This number is what we call our TDEE - Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is the magic number! This number is where our perfect energy is balance is. If we add calories to this number, we move into a calorie surplus, and if we subtract calories from this number we move into a calorie deficit.
BE AWARE. Our activity levels can change daily which means your TDEE will too! Think about how much energy you would burn through on a heavy weight training day after an 8 hour shift at work, yuck! V's a non training day or lazy weekend.
How do I calculate my BMR & TDEE?
There are a few formulas out there for calculating your BMR. My favourite is the Revised Harris-Benedict Equation. So I'm going to add it in here so that you can find your BMR & TDEE, without having to pay someone to do it for you!
Women: BMR = ( 10 x weight in kg) + ( 6.25 x height in cms) - ( 5 x age in years) - 161
Men: BMR = ( 10 x weight in kg) + ( 6.25 x height in cms) - ( 5 x age in years) + 5
Once you have your BMR, you will need to make one final calculation to find your TDEE. This will be based on how active you are and the type/intensity of your workouts (remembering some days are more full on than others). Here are some approximate figures for activity level. Keep in mind that your activity level may fall somewhere in between.
TDEE = BMR x 1.53 for sedentary or lightly active people
TDEE = BMR x 1.76 for moderately active people
TDEE = BMR x 2.25 for heavily active people
What kind of foods should I eat?
There's two answers for this question. Firstly, we all need to consume certain amounts of three different macro-nutrients to maintain good physical health and perform well. The second answer lies in the types of foods that we choose in order to meet those macro-nutrient requirements.
Let's look at these three macro-nutrients and what function they serve in the body. Our macro-nutrients are protein, fats & carbohydrates. Our bodies need these macro nutrients for different purposes. To give you a quick run down..
The roles of macro-nutrients in the body:
Protein plays both structural and functional roles in the body. We need protein for growth and repair of organ tissue, including muscle, skin, hair and nails. It also plays a role in enzyme and hormone production. Protein is broken down into amino acids during the digestion process and these are the building blocks that our body uses to grow and repair cells.
Fat is essential for good health. It plays roles in hormone production, nutrient delivery, brain function, nerve transmission and is also a back-up source of energy. The important thing to remember here is that not all fats are created equal! We have healthy fats, which are the polyunsaturated fats & monounsaturated fats. These healthy fats are found in foods like nuts, seeds and fish. ...aaand then we have the unhealthy fats, which are the saturated fats that you find often in meat products, dairy foods and bakery items.
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel source for energy production. So yes, carbs are important too! What you need to know about carbohydrates is that some are better at maintaining consistent energy levels over a longer period of time, these are our complex, or low GI, carbohydrates. (GI stands for Glycemic Index, which is a rating given to carbohydrate foods to indicate how quickly they digest, turn into glucose and enter the blood stream). At the other end of the spectrum we have our simple, or high GI, carbohydrates. These are great when you have just finished a massive training session and you need to replace the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver quickly, BUT are best to avoid consuming during the rest of your day.
How much do we need of these macro-nutrients?
Well, that will vary from person to person depending on size, age, muscle mass, pregnancy, activity level and type of exercise performed, but here's a bit of a guide to help you calculate a good amount of each for YOU:
Protein: between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight, per day, is advised for good health. People undertaking heavy resistance training or endurance events, and pregnant women will have higher protein requirements of between 1.8 - 2 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight. This should work out to be somewhere between 15-30% of your calorie intake.
Fat: around 0.8 and 1 gram of fat per 1 kg of body weight. Or between 20-30% of your calorie intake. Go for the good fats, and try to leave the saturated fats out.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates should fill the remainder of your daily calories. This will be your fuel for the day! Choosing LOW GI or complex over high GI or simple carbohydrates will help to keep your blood glucose levels more consistent and to avoid those annoying energy crashes and sugar cravings. This will fill the remaining 45-60% of your calorie intake.
Do carbs make you fat?
No, no, aaaand, no! Carbohydrates do not make you fat! Eating more food than your body needs is what will make you fat, regardless of what type of food it is!
If I had a dollar for every time I have overheard someone at a cafe making a declaration to their coffee companion that, "Oh, I don't eat carbs anymore", while sipping a vanilla latte and munching a Buddha bowl, I would have a shit-ton of dollars! First of all, that shot of vanilla syrup and every ancient grain, carrot, and celery stick in your bowl contains carbohydrates. And secondly, carbohydrates are not the enemy, even though you hear them copping the blame time and time again. Here's how they work:
Carbohydrates are converted to glucose during digestion and are either used immediately if your body needs energy, or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver for later use. Glucose is our body's preferred source of energy. Even your brain needs glucose to function! Have you ever wondered why you get cranky or confused when you are hungry? People tend to come unstuck with carbs when they choose foods containing simple over complex carbohydrates. Remember the GI rating?
We all know that food like bread and pasta get a bad wrap when it comes to weight gain and IBS. But blaming carbs is just lazy. It's more likely to be the fact that people eat more than twice as much pasta than they actually need as well as the cream sauce and cheese that it's served with. What about bread? Was it really the bread that upset your tummy, or the massive wad of butter (saturated fat) you spread on top, that made you feel like shit?
The rule here is: If it makes you feel like shit, don't eat it! More importantly, remember that grains, vegetables and fruits are the greatest sources of complex carbohydrates. And these ones come with a much higher micro nutrient, and fiber content, which aids in digestion and won't make you feel like a bloated heap of crap. Win, win. So don't be one of those "I don't eat carbs" guys. Please, that's cough, cough, bullcrap!. Do your research on micro nutrients, GI ratings and calorie values for starchy carbs Vs vegetables & legumes.
Or, plain and simply, choose fresh over processed sources of carbohydrates, and lot's of them!
When should I be eating?
There are no right and wrong times to eat. Don't let the intermittent fasting hype confuse you. The fundamentals are always the same. You need to eat a certain amount of calories (all dependent on your goals and your physical exertion) during the time that you are awake. No right or wrong, but definitely smarter times to eat especially on days where you are working out. Here are some ideas for structuring your meals:
And here's where the smart stuff comes into play. Being smart about when you eat, by planning your meals for the day ahead and being prepared, will save you from impulse eating during the day and losing track of calories. We've all done it. Left the house without any lunch thinking, "she'll be right", and only a few hours in, she's definitely not 'right. So you swing past the bakery with your mouth drooling and before you know it, you've eaten your days worth of calories in 5 minutes.
Also, being smart about eating to fuel a good workout, and then to recover from a good workout, will give you the best results. Some simple thing to aim for when you plan your meals around workout times;
How can I keep track of how much I eat?
Easy! There are apps for everything nowadays! Most smartphones come with a fitness tracking app already installed. I have a Samsung phone and have used their app called Samsung Health. I loved how easy this app was to use. You can always try different apps from the Play Store or iTunes Store. My Fitness Pal is another one that has been around for yonkers. Just be sure to adjust your profile settings so that your daily calorie target and weight goals reflect the calculations you have done manually for YOU, otherwise the app will give you a generalized figure. (to calculate YOUR daily calorie requirements/TDEE see the last paragraph from, How much food should I be eating? )
Calorie tracking should be used as a helpful tool to achieve your goal, but never something to obsess over. Unless you are an elite athlete or competitor with a specific weight target and strict time frame, relax a little. Take some time to experiment with types of food, quantities and meal times that can become part of your lifestyle, and not just a 'diet'. I like to use tracking when I introduce new foods into my diet, to educate myself on calorie and nutrient values and keep a eye on my eating habits. But I don't have to continue tracking once I have found a good meal routine that works for me. Even if you are not restricting your calories to a specific number, tracking will definitely make you think twice about binge-ing on those naughty snacks. Here are my tips on tracking:
Does alcohol affect my gym gains?
Yup. Firstly let's look at the calories. We've established that knowing your TDEE and the total amount of calories needed to achieve your goal of weight loss or weight gain, is really important. So let's look back at our macro nutrients. Even though alcohol its-self isn't a protein, fat or carbohydrate, it is still considered a macro nutrient because it has an energy value. Remember this?...
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories
Now here's where alcohol messes with you when you are trying to lose weight by burning fat OR gain weight by building muscle; The energy from alcohol cannot be stored in your body, it must be used up straight away, messing with the body's normal metabolic process. What does this mean? Well, during the time that your body is hustling to use up the energy from the alcohol you consumed, any calories from good foods with a higher nutritional value you might eat during or immediately after drinking, will be stored. This also means that consuming alcohol disrupts protein synthesis and your body's ability to repair muscle cells, especially 24-48 hours after having an awesome training session. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
My advice? If you value all the hard work that you put in to your physical and mental health, including the hours training hard and preparing nutritious meals, avoid alcohol altogether. If you can't remove alcohol from the equation entirely, be smart about timing, choose your drink wisely, and don't expect the results to be quite the same.
Do I need to take supplements?
Instagram influencers, and fitness celebrities might lead you to believe that you need to take supplements if you want to make a physical transformation. But, remember that these people are sponsored by supplement brands. And let's be honest, you will never know if the athlete actually uses the product they endorse or not!
If you are eating quality foods with enough variety and quantity, you can achieve amazing body composition results without taking any supplements! My advice would be to get your diet in order FIRST, with fresh whole foods, and think about supplementation secondly.
But can supplements help? Sure they can help, but never as much as you hope they will. It is fine to take supplements, as long as you do your research, choose the right one for your objective, and you take them wisely.
Keeping it simple is the best idea here. Eat more real food, and drink less crap, yes that includes your flavoured milky coffees and high calorie smoothies. Coffee CAN be the perfect pre-workout if you need a pick-me-up, just stick to black coffee and be mindful of what time of the day you take it (caffeine can stimulate our sympathetic nervous system for up to 9 hours after consumption. Which is not good for the rest and recovery we all need after a workout). Prioritize quality food and water intake, and you will notice the difference.
I do recommend being mindful of water, salt and glycogen loss through heavy training sessions. So if you really want to give supps a go, try an intra-workout supplements or some basic BCAA's. These can be helpful to keep you hydrated and amino acid supplies up during your training sessions. I personally drink loads of water during the day and often add BCAAs to my water, mostly for the benefit of eliminating cravings for sugar and caffeine. Works a treat!
If you feel that something is not quite right with your energy levels, sleep or recovery, you could be dealing with fatigue or lacking in certain vitamins or minerals. If you are concerned about this, your GP or nutritionist should be able to test your levels and prescribe you with dietary or supplementary advice.
Round Up & References
Hey there! Thank YOU so much for taking the time to read this post. My fingers are crossed that you enjoyed the read and have found some of this info helpful for taking control of your health! If you loved it, please feel free to share this with your friends and fam!
✌ Jessie Bee xo
Australian Institute of Fitness - Master Trainer Personal Trainer p301 - 347
Australian Institute of Fitness - Fitness Instructor p337 - 371