The idea for this write up came from a client of mine who said I should discuss how to eat, and when. I took bits of previous articles that I wrote on this blog discussing protein and carbohydrates and added them here. In order to understand how, what and when to eat, these are some things that need to be taken into consideration.
1. Knowing Intake vs. Expenditure
There are some that say you don’t need to count calories to see results. I believe this to be partly true. However, it requires an understanding of portioning and knowing roughly how much you’re taking in, and in what percentage of Protein : Carbohydrate : Fat, based on your fitness goals. Obviously, the needs of a marathoner are going to be different than a weightlifter. Once this is calculated, it is pretty interesting to see the breakdown of what you actually eat versus what you think you eat… I’ve talked to people before who have said; “I don’t have time to do that.” Or; “Pssshh, let’s be serious…I’m not going to count my calories!” As if it’s this life altering workload and unimaginable amount of stress that was just put on their shoulders. Well, let me tell you something… It’s a proven, scientific way to get the desired results! Specific goals require a specific plan. There are plenty of websites and ‘apps’ that will calculate this for you in a matter of seconds. However, I prefer to calculate it out myself, which when checked against the other websites and ‘apps’ is usually relatively similar.
There are a variety of equations to calculate these needs like; The Harris Benedict Equation or the Mifflin St Jeor Equation. Due to many peoples’ issues with math and order of operations, there leaves some room for error with those equations, though. Those above equations are meant to calculate an estimate of your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) which is essentially how much energy (in calories) you need to be consuming at rest, to maintain your current weight and body composition. A quicker estimation according to Lyle McDonald, is to use 10 calories per pound BW for women and 11 calories per pound BW for men as the baseline. When all is said and done, and your level of activity (how many days a week you exercise and for how long) is determined and then applied to the equation, most will come out with something between 14-16 calories per pound of bodyweight. This assumes that most people reading this are exercising/ training multiple days per week. For me, the above equations when adjusted for activity, came out with the range comparable to the 14-16 calories per lb of BW. That seemed pretty quick and easy…
2. Percentage of Macro-nutrients
Protein, carbohydrates and fats are the macro-nutrients and they are primarily what is determined following the estimation of total energy (calories) needs. I’ll typically start in figuring out the protein needs. Studies have shown higher protein diets to be healthy and safe and typical recommendations lie between 1.4-2.0 grams per kilogram of BW for those that are exercising according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. I tend to do well with higher protein diets and essentially plan my weekly meals around what protein I am going to cook. In that case, due to the fact that the majority of my training is with weightlifting, I stick with 2 grams per kg of BW. If I was doing more CrossFit style workouts revolving more around conditioning, interval work or aerobic based exercise, I may lower my protein consumption a bit to allow for more carbohydrate. Most recommendations suggest that lean meats are optimal, and more healthy. This I believe, is somewhat subjective. To me, it implies that fattier cuts of meat are not as healthy, or unhealthy which I would disagree with. It is important to understand that the fattier cuts of meat will naturally increase your dietary fat intake, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing dependent on your needs. However, in relation to exercise, you may want to save the fatty meats to having either earlier or later in the day, well before or well after exercise due to their rate of digestion.
In a practical application to lifestyle, it is recommended that people who regularly exercise get about 25-35 grams of good quality protein per meal for best results and body composition. By this recommendation, at roughly 230 lbs BW for myself, I already know I need to get around 210 grams of protein in using the 2 grams of protein per kg/BW, as mentioned above. Using the 210 grams of protein that I am taking, at 30 grams per serving, I would need seven servings, or six servings at 35 grams each. One ounce of cooked meat yields seven grams of protein, as does one egg. You can elaborate on the math as it pertains to your needs, but basically four or five eggs at a sitting, or a four to six ounce (usually more like an 8-10 ounce or more) piece of meat is accurate, as it pertains to my consumption. I will typically have the normal breakfast, lunch and dinner, which by the math above with 30-35 grams of protein per meal, equals 90-105 grams in total. Lets keep in mind that this is the protein from only sources of meat and eggs. I also eat; grains, nuts, cheese, milk, beans and legumes…all of which are sources of protein. With the exception of milk, they are not “good quality” sources because they do not contain a complete amino acid profile, but still will add to overall daily protein. Aside from that, I usually will have a couple protein shakes during the day as well, which will account for another 50-60 grams.
Carbohydrates play an extremely vital role in the daily food and nutrient intake as they provide the most readily usable form of energy. Carbohydrate consumption can either limit or improve performance in sports and other physical activity, something that is usually either misunderstood or neglected. Carbohydrates DO NOT make people fat. Over consuming carbohydrates (or fat, or protein to a lesser extent) will create excess calories which will make you fat and this is why it’s important to understand how they work.
Carbohydrate is the most readily available form of energy for activity, stored as glycogen within muscle tissue and in the liver. Glycogen fuels most activity, and the energy from carbohydrate also has a direct effect on brain function, the nervous system, and even mood. A misunderstanding of them causes people to fear and restrict them which can do more harm than good for those really focused on maintaining or improving lean body mass i.e. “toning up”.
General recommendations for an active individual are between 55-65% of your total, daily caloric intake. Or, between 5 to 10 grams per kg of body weight, dependent on the type of exercise or training. The lower end of the spectrum would be more strength based training, the higher end; more endurance/ circuit training, though higher carbohydrate can help with the strength training as well. Too often, carbohydrates are blamed for health issues such as obesity and disease when in actuality, carbohydrates are essential to the improvement and maintenance of lean body mass through exercise and training and have a direct effect on performance. On the flip-side, most carbohydrates are easily over-consumed which is why it is crucial to understand food preparation, cooking, portioning, and overall intake to meet fitness, health and body composition goals. Neglecting or avoiding carbs for fad diets will only hinder your ability see optimal results from exercise/ training, and likely create an unfavorable amount of dietary fat intake to make up for the carbohydrate deficit.
It is important to understand that carbohydrates are not “bad”. But eliminating or avoiding them almost entirely will make it very hard to maintain lean muscle due to the extreme caloric deficit that accompanies that elimination. Carbohydrate and protein that is taken in at every meal based off of the needs of the individual should be the focus in order to maintain adequate energy and positive protein balance. Once that is in control, carbohydrate numbers can be modified a bit to create a net caloric deficit which will allow for a slower (but sustainable and healthy) loss of body fat.
Fat is usually the last thing figured into the diet, as it is something that can easily be added or taken away in an effort to hit the overall daily caloric goal with the appropriate protein : carbohydrate : fat measurement. A good starting point would usually lie within the range of 20-30% of the total intake following the determination of the protein and carbohydrate needs first. Many people who have weight issues can benefit from a reduction in dietary fat especially when starting an exercise routine.
Keep in mind that higher protein diets will usually contain higher fat as well. This isn’t a bad thing, but your choice of meat proteins will affect the dietary fat percentage, so this needs to be taken into consideration. Constantly choosing short ribs over seared chicken breast will throw off the numbers quite a bit, which is why it is important to be creative in your cooking!
3. Taking It All In
It is recommended that once protein and carbohydrate needs are determined, to spread that consumption out over 4-6 meals per day, paying special attention to the pre and post-workout window. Taking in protein every few hours will help the body maintain a positive protein balance and fuel the maintenance and improvement of lean body mass. Not to mention, it will also prevent that overwhelming hunger that can cause some people to over-eat.
Here’s a sample of what my day looks like;
- 4-5 eggs
- Orange juice
- Whey Protein shake
- Apple or other fruit
- Roasted Pork loin
- Sauteed vegetables & Rice
- Post-workout; Whey Protein shake + maltodextrin powder (carbohydrate)
- Sautee of Chicken leg-meat, Vegetables, Lentils