Updated: May 24
In today’s random thoughts, I share a book recommendation and give insight into how to improve diet awareness.
#1 Book Recommendation: The Sports Gene - David Epstein
This book is well written and interesting from the start. I recommend it to any athlete, parent or sport coach who want to better understand how genetics and skill interact with one another, as well as the inner workings of skill attainment and the transition from novice to expert.
#2 Diets are confusing- START BY MONITORING 3 THINGS
Diets in general are confusing AF for most people. Which method to follow, whether one is more flexible than another, does one produce better health outcomes, etc…. These are all good questions and honestly, there are no direct answers that can be applied to everyone. However, we can simplify this and give some solid recommendations to get you started. Here is what we can say with a strong amount of confidence:
Any diet that causes you to reduce total bodyweight has been shown to be beneficial in terms of multiple health markers. Actually losing weight in itself is healthy if done with sensible and sustainable methods.
If you create a caloric deficit you will reduce weight. The math on this is clear and universally accepted.
Anyone can lose weight if they are in a caloric deficit.
How you structure your preferred diet approach matters far less than most people think - be flexible and the more education you acquire, the larger your decision-making tool box gets.
If you do a few things right, chances are you’ll get the needle moving in the right direction.
So, if we know these things above, here is what I propose the majority of people do, especially if they do not have direct support from a dietitian or some other coach:
STEP 1: Start tracking your food intake. As I explained in my Nutritional Dichotomy article, most people have no idea what they are consuming, so starting with awareness of this is always the first step. Use an app such as My Fitness Pal or even a notes app on your phone to start recording what you are actually consuming. You need to know this if you are going to make appropriate changes. This will teach you what is actually in food as far as total calories are concerned as well as the primary macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats). As you get some basics figured out, you can then add layers to this.
STEP 2: Calculate your starting calories, monitor and adjust to your goals (explained below in #3)
STEP 3: Track your protein intake and try to hit this macronutrient goal (explained in #4). Once you are tracking your total food/caloric intake and you know your starting calories, you can now start implementing slow changes over time. DO NOT try to overhaul your life. The next step is to start monitoring and trying to meet your recommended protein intake amounts. Protein has many benefits and health requirements that can help us out.
Protein consumption can aid in weight loss through its high thermic effect when being digested (calorie burning), maintaining muscle tissue, maintaining metabolic rate and increasing satiety/feelings of fullness. All of these things can improve someones ability to meet their caloric goals, and thus can lead to weight loss or desired weight gain.
We like to get everyone started with awareness of this macronutrient paired with total calories and general monitoring. Get these two things figured out and you are on a really good road for future success.
So, we now have 3 basic first layers to food or nutritional awareness:
Track your total caloric intake via some tracking tool or method, learn what is in the food you consume
Try to meet your calculated or suggested caloric intake based on your goal. This requires some form of measurement and tracking
Aim to get your suggested total protein intake as per recommendations below, while still reaching your total daily caloric goal
#3 Calculate your maintenance calories, then monitor and adjust for your goals
So you are now tracking your food intake, and can review and see what is coming in. You understand that if you have no idea what you are eating, you cannot monitor and adjust it to reach your goals. Tracking = improved monitoring = improved chance of success!
Now we have to have some quick guidelines on how to calculate starting or goal calories. There are a few approaches here, and all of them come with a different range of accuracy, so I will list them in point form and you can decide what is best for you and get to work.
The other option is to hire someone to help you, but if you put in the effort and time, you can figure out the basics:
Calculating your maintenance calories (the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight)
STEP 1: Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Use the Revised Harris-Benedict (RHB) equation to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). I recommend most people us the RHB, since it does not require you to know your body fat % like the Mueller equation does. Keep it simple, since you just need a start point. You will adjust later.
Here is a link to use an online calculator for this, instead of doing arduous math in excel or by hand (BMR Calculator).
STEP 2: Multipy your BMR number by your activity factor. Take the number from above and multiply this number by what we call an activity factor. Here is a chart from the book Fat Loss Forever by Layne Norton and Peter Baker, to help you decide what best describes you.
Maintenance calories= BMR x Activity factor
(example: 1750 calories (BMR) x 1.55 (activity factor)= 2713 maintenance calories)
STEP 3: See what happens in the first week at this number by tracking your weight and food intake. EXPECT NORMAL FLUCTUATIONS IN WEIGHT, both up and down.
Simply put, monitor your weight each morning, naked, after using the washroom, on the same scale, at around the same time. This ensures you avoid high and low weigh in days. Take the average of 1 weeks weigh-in numbers and based on whether you go up or down in weight, you can now with more certainty know if those prediction maintenance calories are accurate for you. I want to stress that all of the equations out there are prediction equations, and you have no idea if they are right for you. Only by starting somewhere, being consistent and monitoring change over time, can you see what is actually happening. Once you have an idea of this, adjustment can be made as per the recommendation below.
Once you know if you are staying roughly the same weight (about a 1% shift in total weight fluctuation during the week), then you know roughly what your maintenance calories are and you can adjust accordingly.
With these maintenance calories in mind, we can make one of the following safe caloric recommendations to start getting your weight to move:
If your goal is to lose weight, start by subtracting 5% of total calories from your established maintenance calories. Once you see what this adjustment does for you after a week or 2, you can then stay at this number until the changes slow down.
You want to lose weight at a rate that is gradual and its important to try to do so on the highest number of calories possible. Start with the 5% listed and only increase this number to a 10 or 15% deficit from maintenance if you are sure you are tracking properly and the scale is not moving. Another option is to increase activity slightly, to see if that gets the needle moving. This is a general statement and there is certainly more to it than that, but increasing your overall activity will certainly burn more calories and may allow you to stay at a higher calorie intake and still see progress occurring. Remember, these are start-up recommendations to get you moving in the right direction and increasing awareness.
It is important to understand that adaptations to your metabolism will occur as you gain and lose weight. This point can’t be ignored and it is why I heavily recommend you become educated over time on the finer details of weight management or hire someone to teach you. There are a lot of variables here, and in 1 article, I cannot even come close to doing justice to all that is involved in sustainable and effective weight management. I am however, trying to at least get you thinking about it!
#4 Try to hit your protein goals
As per #2 and 3 above, you should have the starting information to do the following:
Calculate your starting maintenance calories and by using an app or other method, monitor your calorie intake.
See how your maintenance calories affect you for 1-2 weeks.
Adjust your total calories by 5% to start up or down to get your weight moving. For example, if you were at 2300 calories, this would be a 115 calorie reduction start point.
Monitor change over 1-2 weeks and only adjust further if you are confident you are tracking and have also tried slightly increasing overall activity.
Now, lets add 1 final layer to your awareness - trying to reach protein intake goals. Here are the general recommendations and information to get you started:
Aim for a recommended protein minimum of 1.6g/kg of bodyweight
If you are of average weight, you can go a bit further and aim for 1g/lb of bodyweight
If you are carrying a fair amount of extra body weight, it would be a better idea to aim for total protein intake of around 40-50% of total calories to come from protein. This is a recommendation and if you really do not know what to do, find someone to help you get started. Know when you need professional assistance and get the support to help you succeed
Try to get this protein intake throughout the day
Protein has 4 calories/gram, so if you consume 170g of protein, this would be 680 calories from protein. Subtract this number from your total goal calories and make up the rest however you want from fats, and carbohydrate sources. fat has 9 calories/gram and carbohydrate 4 calories/gram just for reference (alcohol is 7 calories/gram). Track everything as mentioned above so you know what is going on and are aware. Eventually this will get easy, just have patience.
So to summarize this whole article that turned into much more than I originally planned:
Start tracking calorie/food intake so you become aware
Use equations and monitoring to determine maintenance calories
Start with 5% change to caloric intake, increase activity first before lowering further
Try to hit your protein intake goals as per basic recommendation and if confused, find support to help make decisions
Keep learning and be patient. You will be surprised with how intuitive and aware you will become
I hope this comes across as basic enough, but not too dismissive of the intricacies that come with nutritional science. There are a lot of variables and let me know when you need support. Otherwise, just get started and start paying attention. Knowledge will be a powerful tool!