Nutritional Basics You Need to Know

Nutrition plays a critical role in your fitness and physique endeavors, everyone knows that. We have all heard it before. We all have an idea of how important nutrition is and how important it is to nail down in order to have any success with transforming your body to your ideal physique goals.

But with all of the different approaches to nutrition nowadays, it can be extremely confusing to pinpoint what is right and what is wrong. There is so much misleading information out there in regards to proper nutrition and it can be hard deciding on who and what to believe or what approach to take.

Sometimes our own research can lead to more confusion than when we started. I’m here to tell you that it ISN’T that complicated. For majority of people, nutrition is actually quite simple. We try to over complicate things and think too much. Maybe you have jumped from fad diet to fad diet with little to nothing to show for it. It’s okay, we have all been there.

My objective is to equip you with the only real knowledge you need to succeed with your nutrition.

I am going to cover some of the basics you need to know and apply in your every day nutritional regimen, regardless of your goals. There are so many “diets” out there and they all have their pro’s and con’s. Why do they work, though? What fundamental principle do they all encourage and incorporate into their “diet” approach? Why do people get results when trying these different diets? What makes these diets so special compared to just eating normally?

There are a number of reasons why most diets work, but the most important is CALORIE CONTROL. For the most part, when you jump on a fad diet you automatically start consuming less calories than you were before because you have to exclude certain foods or food groups from your diets. That’s all fad diets are. You have to eliminate certain foods because the diet tells you to.

In turn, your calories are decreased and you lose weight. Was it really the “diet” you were on that caused you to lose that weight? NO! It was the simple fact that you decreased your caloric intake. But after weeks of eliminating and avoiding the foods you love, you can’t take it anymore. You go right back to where you started and binge out for a few days or perhaps weeks in some cases. That’s not healthy and thats the dark side to fad dieting.

There are actually many diets out there that claim you can eat as much as you want but still lose body fat and get lean; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t believe the hype. It’s scientifically unsound to claim such. I’ll try to explain in layman’s terms and keep it as simple as possible for people who don’t care much for the scientific reasoning behind weight loss/gain. Losing weight and achieving your goals doesn’t have to be dreadful, and you don’t have to jump on a fad diet in order to lose weight. You have to follow one simple principle – calorie control.

Essentially, your body needs a set number of calories per day to maintain, lose weight, or gain weight. It’s really that simple. Figuring out these numbers are quite simple as well. Your caloric intake is dependent upon your goals, your bodyweight, and your activity levels.

If the amount of calories you put in your body are less than what your body demands to maintain it’s weight, you will lose weight. If the amount of calories you put in your body is more than what your body demands to maintain it’s weight, you will gain weight.

It’s pretty simple. It’s called thermodynamics. Energy in and energy out is the number one factor in losing or gaining weight. Depending on how drastically you reduce or increase your calories will dictate how fast or slow you lose or gain weight. In my opinion, and many other professionals in the nutrition industry, this is the most important and critical key in achieving your physique and weight loss goals. Calories are energy.

If we burn more calories than we take in, we lose weight. If we take in more calories than we burn, we gain weight. Very simple, right?

I could end this blog post right now and send you on your way but most people take this concept WAY out of context and assume you can consume nothing but junk food and fast foods and achieve your desired goals. It’s actually true.

You can lose body fat and get a six pack by eating nothing but donuts and pizza, but let’s be smart here and use some common sense. Calories are calories at the end of the day but being mindful of your overall health is very important. Let’s get into some specifics of what calories are made up of and the details of each.

Calories are made up of three different macronutrients:

  1. Carbohydrates (4kcal/g)
  2. Protein (4kcal/g)
  3. Fat (9kcal/g)

Each macronutrient has their place in your diet. Before we begin, let’s understand that I am not trying to give you a biochemistry lecture. Instead, i’m breaking it down into simple terms you can understand. All too often I see complex posts that leave people more confused than when they started. That’s not my objective with this post. I will explain some science behind my reasoning, but i’m keeping it as simple as possible for your sake. Let’s begin…

1) Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately. You see it everywhere. Low carb diets, ketogenic diets, etc.

They promise weight loss, and although weight loss occurs, you usually end up right back to where you started because you can’t go the rest of your life without carbohydrates. With that said, carbohydrates are not an essential macronutrient. Meaning, carbohydrates do not need to be consumed in order to survive. However, you are different if you are reading this post. You are an active person and carbohydrates are your best friend.

Carbohydrates are a fuel source for intense activity i.e. weight lifting, running, crossfit, bodybuilding, strength training, etc.

Carbohydrates fuel your body for bouts of intense exercise. If you have ever experienced with a low carb diet while training intensely, you know why carbs are essential. You get that foggy feeling, you feel weaker, your muscles are flat, your energy is almost non existent, your recovery sucks, and overall you just don’t feel good.

Carbohydrates are essential for performance in trained individuals. They give your body the energy it needs to perform at it’s best. If you are active and participate in daily intense exercise, you need carbs. Period.

Carbs are also essential in terms of recovery and building muscle. After intense exercise, your body has more than likely depleted a good bit of glycogen and it needs to be replaced through the form of glucose in order for it to repair and recover properly.

By consuming carbohydrates, you ensure your body is ready for your next exercise session. Carbs are also protein sparing. I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible for you guys.

How many carbohydrates do you need to consume? It completely depends.

First, you need to figure out your total caloric intake depending on what your goals are. When you have your caloric intake numbers, a good rule of thumb for active individuals is setting your carbohydrate numbers at 40-50% of your total caloric intake. That tends to be a great number for active individuals.

Once you figure out your carbohydrate numbers, hit those numbers daily and adjust accordingly with how much weight you are losing.

Does carbohydrate source matter? In terms of body composition i.e. losing weight, gaining weight, no, carbohydrate source is irrelevant. BUT, in terms of overall health, I always encourage people to opt for more micronutrient dense sources of carbohydrates: sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, oatmeal, and vegetables (Fruits are a completely different story. They are broken down into fructose, which has also gotten a bad rap as of lately for no apparent reason. There’s a lot of research behind fructose consumption and the takeaways are that you would need to consume insanely high amounts of fructose to ever have any issues. Simply put, enjoy your fruits, fit them into your total carb intake for the day. Fruits are your friend).

Back to me encouraging micronutrient dense sources. Am I saying you should stay away from completely avoid “simple” carbohydrates? Not necessarily. Again, at the end of the day carbohydrates turn into glucose in the blood. That means sweet potatoes and twizzlers both turn into the same substance, glucose, at the end of the day. You’re probably telling yourself right now “I can eat twizzlers everyday and get lean and healthy!” The answer is yes you can to a certain extent, given that your micronutrient content for the day is met. It’s all about common sense, moderation, and context with regards to carbohydrates.

Always opt for micronutrient dense sources of carbohydrates, but don’t be afraid to have some “simple” sugars every now and then. Use the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, eat the micronutrient dense sources: sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, etc. 20% of the time you can enjoy the sweets and candy you love, have the lucky charms and candy.

Just don’t expect to consume ONLY junk food for your carb sources and get the results you want. Overall health is important, so make sure you are getting your vitamins and minerals for the day as well. Remember, though, glucose is glucose and in terms of body composition i.e. fat loss and muscle gain, carb source is irrelevant.

2) Protein

Protein is essential for your goals. I’m not going to get into the science here, just know that protein is essential. Tissues, cells, organs, cartilage, hair, nails. They are all formed by protein. It’s safe to say protein consumption is essential for overall health and well being.

But, what about people who are active? Do we need more protein than sedentary individuals? You betcha. Why? Physical exercise by itself literally breaks muscle fibers down and in order for these fibers and their filaments to repair, protein has to be present.

Now, your body does a pretty dang good job of replacing amino acids that are broken down by your body. It’s a natural process that occurs just sitting around doing nothing.

Just think of it this way: physical exercise does this on a larger scale. It places the demand of protein consumption on your body. In order for your body to repair, recover, and grow, your protein numbers need to be quite high. Again, not getting into the nitty gritty science of it all, just giving you general guidelines for you to incorporate into your daily nutritional regimen.

There are two different types of protein: incomplete and complete. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids. Incomplete proteins do not.

What are some good sources of protein, and how much? I always encourage people to opt for animal sources of protein, as their amino acid profiles are much better than non-animal sources.

With that said, non-animal sources of protein do have their place as well. Here’s some good sources of protein: lean red meat, eggs, chicken, turkey, pork, whey protein, and milk.

How much? For people who train, .8-1 g/lb of bodyweight. Example: If you weigh 180 lbs, you would need to consume 140-180 grams of protein PER DAY to ensure your body is getting enough protein to preserve it’s lean muscle tissue.

The awesome thing about protein is the numbers you need are pretty consistent regardless of your goal. If you want to gain muscle, that number doesn’t change much if you decide it’s time to lose some body fat. Protein is highly thermogenic as well, meaning your body uses alot of energy digesting and breaking down dietary protein.

It’s a win win. Another benefit of dietary protein is it’s extremely satiating. You get fuller longer by consuming a high protein diet. Fuller longer = less total calories for the day, in most cases. Win win again. Keep your protein intake at .8-1g/ lb of your lean body mass and your good to go, regardless of your goals. Protein intake stays consistent no matter what the goal. Pretty simple.

3) Fat

Ahhh, fat. The dirty culprit, right? The artery clogging, heart destroying demon, right? No, not at all. The low fat era put a really bad name on fat and some people still demonize fat and blame it for the cause of obesity and health issues.

Research, however, has proven this to be completely false. Fat is an absolute essential macronutrient you need to consume if you want to be a healthy individual. In fact, fat is your friend. There are four different types of fats: saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats. Which are good, and which are bad? Let’s first understand no fat is “bad”, per se. Everything has to be viewed in a contextual manner.

As long as you are getting enough of the essential fatty acids your body needs, some “bad” fats isn’t going to kill you or hinder your results. I will say this, though. I always encourage people opt to get ~90% of their total fat intake from healthier sources of fats: avocados, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.

Again, i’m not getting into the nitty gritty science of the different types of fats and all of their benefits, i’m giving general, basic nutrition advice that I think everyone should know. How much fat, you ask? .3-.4 g/lb of bodyweight is a fine number. Example: A 200 lb male needs around 80-100 grams.

Just do the math, it’s pretty simple. Why are fats essential? What good do they do us? Fats are essential in the sense that our body can not make what we need (triglycerides, cholesterol, essential fatty acids) on it’s own. We must consume fats that contain these in order for our body to carry out it’s functions properly. Fat soluble vitamins (A, K, E, D) are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues and play essential roles in our body.

Just know that they are good and we need to eat them to be our healthiest. They help protein do their job, protect our vital organs, and insulate us. Pretty important stuff, right? Fat is also essential for men and women who want to keep their hormones functioning properly. Our ability to produce testosterone is highly dependent on our dietary fat intake. Testosterone, regardless of gender, is extremely important for quality of life, gaining/losing weight, and other bodily functions.

Fat intake is also essential for women in the sense that it regulates and produces ample amounts of estrogen for healthy hormonal function. If our hormonal functions are not functioning at a high level, our ability to recover from intense exercise decreases and will hinder us from our goals. There’s alot of misinformation out there regarding fat and it’s sad that most people have fallen victim to the misinformation.

I do not care what any guru says about fat, scientific research has proven fat is not the culprit in obesity and heart issues and is an essential macronutrient for our body. Now, I am not saying go crazy with the fat intake, because too much is just overkill. At 9 calories per gram of fat, it’s very easy to overconsume dietary fat. Keep a close eye on your fat intake in regards to your total caloric intake, they tend to add up pretty quickly.

Again – moderation, common sense, and context. Too much of anything can cause us to gain weight, no matter how healthy it may be.

As you can see, every macronutrient has their role in a persons diet. Every macronutrient has unique differences and functions. No one food or macronutrient causes weight gain or weight loss, everything must be looked at in context. Too much of anything can cause weight gain, regardless of how healthy and filled with vitamins and minerals it may be. In order to lose weight, we must be at a caloric deficit. In order to gain weight, we must be in a caloric surplus.

Always opt for the more micronutrient dense foods but never be afraid to include the foods you love in moderation. Always be cognitive of the calories you are consuming and don’t go overboard with any one macronutrient thinking it will enhance it’s benefits.

Too much of anything is overkill and unnecessary. Calories are king when it comes to losing weight. Although food choice is important for ensuring your body is getting it’s vitamins and minerals it needs, it is not the determining factor of weight loss or weight gain. Calories dictate that.

Here are my dietary recommendations, regardless of your goal:

  1. Eat plenty of vegetables
  2. Reduce (not eliminate) refined sugars, junk food, fried food, soda
  3. Increase protein intake (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, lean red meat, etc)
  4. Eat plenty of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, etc)
  5. Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated, and reduce (not eliminate) other sources of liquid calories
  6. Consume carbohydrates in context, meaning eat the amount of carbohydrates your body needs to sustain your activity levels, always opt for healthier choices
  7. Don’t worry about eating 6-7 small meals a day (it’s a myth), instead look at everything in the big picture and make sure your calories and everything are met on a daily basis
  8. Do not eliminate foods you love , instead reduce the amount or reduce the frequency of eating these foods to ensure your sanity and well being
  9. Enjoy your foods. It’s pointless to eat foods you don’t enjoy, regardless of how healthy they are. I’m not saying to eat nothing but McDonalds because you love McDonalds, but opt for foods you enjoy that are in accordance to your goals
  10. Don’t look at your diet in the sense of it being a “diet.” Look at it as changing your lifestyle around and opting for healthier choices to improve your health.

Conclusion & Takeaways

  • Caloric intake dictates weight loss or gain regardless of food source
  • Carbohydrates are essential for active individuals
  • Carbohydrates turn into glucose regardless of source (except fruit – fructose)
  • Carbohydrates improve recovery, mood, and overall well being
  • Protein is the building blocks of our entire body and musculature
  • Protein consumption is mandatory for active individuals
  • Protein consumption is highly thermogenic, in which case can lead to weight loss due to satiety
  • Protein preserves lean muscle tissue in the case of a caloric deficit
  • Fat is not the enemy, in fact it’s quite healthy
  • Fat regulates hormonal production, which is essential for individuals trying to better their health and physique
  • Fat is twice as high in calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates
  • Fat is essential in the sense our bodies can not make up essential fatty acids on it’s own, we must consume dietary fat
  • Look at your diet as a means of becoming healthier and changing your lifestyle, not as something that’s dreadful or for shorter durations of time
  • Nutrition is very important, but don’t fall for the fads and quick fixes
  • Use common sense and moderation in your nutrition approach, reduce the things you know are holding you back
  • Always keep your overall health in consideration, look at everything in context instead of going to extremes
  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST – STAY ACTIVE, ENJOY YOUR FOODS, ENJOY LIFE, nutrition and fitness shouldn’t control your life, it should only improve it

I hope you guys enjoyed my advice. I tried to keep it as simple as possible for everyone who isn’t well read or informed about nutrition. I hope you can incorporate some of these concepts into your life and make use of them.

Remember, fitness and nutrition both are marathons, not sprints. This is a lifestyle, not a quick solution for your long term problem. Treat your fitness and nutrition endeavors as a learning experience and never quit learning or evolving.

What may work for someone else may not work for you. You’re your own unique individual and the only way to know what truly works best for you is through trial and error. I’m out!