diet basics: what is your goal's foundation?
It's been a while since I've done a post specifically dedicated to nutrition, so here it is!
If you're confused when it comes to nutrition and calories and if you're not sure how to change your diet in order to reach your goals, then this post is for you! I'd like to start by saying that I do not use the term "diet" in a way to denote "fads" or "quick fixes." The term "diet" to me simply indicates a change in current eating habits. So when reading this post, try to think of these diet basics as lifestyle changes rather than a stressful and challenging short-term quick fix. This mentality will also help you a lot down the road in your fitness journey! :)
So the basis of your diet (what you consume on a daily basis) really comes down to what your overall health/fitness goals are. In order for nutrition and exercise to work hand in hand successfully, you need to make sure that you are on the same page with respect to each one. If your diet says one thing and your exercise regimen says another, chances are you're not going to achieve your fitness goals or see results in a timely manner. Ask yourself what you would like to work on. Maybe you have an extra 10lbs that you'd like to lose or maybe you don't have much muscle definition and you'd like to tone up. Regardless, the foundation of your goal will end up in one of three categories: lose weight, gain weight, or maintain weight. Let me break down each of these points and explain how to align your diet with each type of goal.
3 Goal Foundations
#1 Lose Weight
Whether you're looking to drop 10lbs or 100lbs, the same basic principles apply. In order to lose weight, you MUST be at a consistent calorie deficit, meaning you must be burning more calories than you are eating each day. Calories-in have to be less than Calories-out. Now there are many different ways to make this happen, the healthiest way being to incorporate daily exercise/training while cutting your calories SLIGHTLY. Often times we think that we have to cut our calories down by 1000 in order to lose weight, but that is not the case. You really only need to be at a 200-300 calorie deficit in order to lose weight. That means if you were to track your calories for a few days (simply eating normally), average out the numbers to get your average daily calories, and then subtract 200-300 from that number, you would have the proper amount of calories to eat in order to lose weight. This will work every time because it's biologically how the body works!
However, we forget that weight can be lost through fat OR muscle. Being at a calorie deficit will make you lose weight no matter what you eat, but eating the wrong foods can cause the wrong type of weight to be lost. Usually when people are trying to lose weight, they are looking to lose fat and preserve their muscle in order to have a more toned appearance. To ensure that you are losing as little muscle as possible, consume a substantial amount of protein every day (at least .5-1g/lb of your body weight). Staying up with your protein will enable your body to tap into your fat stores for energy rather than your muscles, thus allowing for maximum fat loss and minimal muscle loss!
So, bottom line. To lose weight, you must be at a calorie deficit; the calories you eat must be less than the calories that you burn. Adding exercise into your regimen simply makes this easier because you will increase the amount of calories that you burn each day! Make sure to eat enough protein each day to preserve your lean muscle mass.
#2 Gain Weight
I'm sure some of you are thinking: why would anyone want to gain weight?! Well, many people aren't looking specifically to gain weight, but rather simply want to gain more muscle, which is fundamentally weight. Everyone has different fitness goals, so if you're someone who is looking to add some more shape to your body and gain some muscle, here's the basics on how you tweak your diet to do it!
In order to gain weight (muscle or fat), you MUST be at a consistent calorie surplus, meaning you must be eating more calories than you are burning. If you think about it, this makes total sense! How is your body going to build new muscle if it doesn't have an extra source of energy? The calories that you consume normally are what maintain your current body, so in order to build anything new (muscle or fat), the body needs extra calories! The same principle applies with the surplus as it did with the deficit: you only need to be eating about 200-300 calories more than you usually do in order to gain weight.
If your main goal is to gain muscle, be aware that you will gain a bit of fat as well. Nothing crazy, but just a little. In order to maximize your lean muscle gains and minimize your fat gains, make sure you consume a substantial amount of protein and limit your fat intake to 25% or fewer of your total calories. To put it in perspective, my main goal is to gain muscle as well, and I have a daily caloric intake of about 2300 calories. Of those calories, I only consume 25g of fat on my heavy lifting days. Fat at 25% of that number would be around 63g of fat, but since I've become accustomed to this system, I've been able to limit my fats well. (Remember, this is only on my HEAVY lifting days!! Other days of the week, I eat about 45-85g of fat/day. For the sake of the basics, create one concrete plan of attack and worry about the specifics of days later. I'll do a post on that as well :)!)
Alright, bottom line again. To gain weight, you must be at a caloric surplus; the calories you burn must be less than the calories that you eat. Strength training is recommended so that you can work the very muscle groups that you're trying to grow. Make sure to eat enough protein and restrict your post-workout fats!
#3 Maintain Weight
If you're looking to maintain your weight, then you simply need to make sure that the calories you consume roughly equal the calories that you burn. Whether you're looking to maintain your lean muscle mass during a time when you can't workout or you just want to make sure you stay at your healthy weight, try to make your calories in and calories out as equal as possible. This is a bit difficult, but can be made easier by a few online calorie calculators. I suggest tracking what you normally eat for a few days, averaging them, and dividing by the number of days in order to get your maintenance calories. You may need to play around a bit with the numbers, but you should find what works for you. Remember, if you exercise more, you're going to need to eat more in order to make sure you're not at a calorie deficit and thus losing weight. If you do not exercise at all, you may need to cut back on calories to make sure that you don't eat more than you're burning! And as always, eat plenty of protein to maintain that lean muscle!!
So there you have it! The diet basics! Depending on the foundation of your fitness goals, you will need to eat one of three ways to see results. Now, there are ways to combine these separate categories (for example if you were looking to lose weight [say fat] while simultaneously gaining muscle). I'll talk about the more complex dieting in a later post, but hopefully these tools can help you out if you're just getting started! Good luck!! :)
You can read more about calorie counting apps that I use here.