Weight Loss: Simple or Complicated?

Weight loss is quite simple when you look at it on paper. Eat fewer calories than are burned and you’ll lose weight, eat more calories than are burned and you will gain weight. Calories in vs. calories out, end of story right? Mmmm… not quite. It’s important not to over simplify or over complicate nutrition.
Let’s begin with daily energy needs. Your total daily energy expenditure is known as your TDEE and is the amount of calories burned in a typical day. It is the sum of your resting metabolic rate (RMR), the thermic effect of food (TEF), and energy used during physical activity. Your RMR refers to the amount of energy expended while you’re at rest. The TEF is the amount of energy expended as a result of digesting food. Physical activity is pretty self explanatory. All of these factors contribute to how many calories you burn in a given day.

*If you’re REALLY interested in reading more about this, then leave a comment below. For time sake, let’s dive into macros a bit more.

Let’s start with protein, the king of the macros, hailed by all bodybuilders, the key to unlocking all the gainzzz! OK really though… The primary function of protein is to build and repair body tissues and structures. It’s not the most optimal energy source, but it can be used if calories are too low in your diet. Proteins are made of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. Proteins are broken down into amino acids before the body can use them to build or repair tissues, which is why many bodybuilders are fans of drinking their aminos. Once the aminos enter the bloodstream they can be used for protein synthesis, immediate energy, or potential energy (stored as fat). Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, therefore you have to eat them! If a food has all of the essential amino acids in the correct ratios it’s called a complete protein, if the food doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids then it is known as an incomplete protein. The main sources of complete protein are animal sources which are meat and dairy. Fear not vegan friends, your sources of incomplete protein are grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy. These can be combined to make essential amino acids and form a complete protein… yay for vegan gains! Protein requirements will be different for each person. During a negative energy balance (cutting phase) to reduce muscle loss you’ll want to increase your protein intake because you are most likely decreasing calories and increasing exercise. Even when dieting, the goal should be to satisfy your energy needs with carbs and fats and save protein for tissue repair and growth. This is why you might hear carbs referred to as “protein sparing”. Dieting can be difficult, but protein helps in satiety (feeling full) which will help you stay on track with your nutrition goals and ignore that bag of chips. Be careful though, if you are eating large amounts of protein then you will also need to stay hydrated by drinking more water since a high protein diet can dehydrate the body. Also, be cautious of higher intake of saturated fat, lower intake of fiber, and lower glycogen stores. A typical range of protein intake would be 10-35% of calories, although many people tend to go much higher, myself included.

On to carbohydrates the evil arch enemy… or so we thought. Carbs are generally classified as sugars, starches, and fiber. They are the main source of energy for the body, they help regulate digestion, and the use of protein and fat. Sugars can be found in foods such as honey or fruit and can be digested easily, whereas starches may take longer to digest because of enzyme break down. Carbs fall into a category called the glycemic index; the rate that carbs raise blood sugar and the effects that has on insulin release. Foods that are lower on the glycemic index are a good source of complex carbs, higher in fiber, and have a higher overall nutrition value. Some examples of low GI carbs would be yogurt, peanuts, or peas. Some examples of carbs with a high GI value would be rice, whites potatoes, breads, and cereals. After you ingest carbs, glucose is converted to glycogen and stored inside the liver and muscles. Complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, should be the bulk of your carb intake because they are high in B vitamins, iron, and fiber. I won’t ever believe that “a carb is a carb” until someone shows me the research that says Oreos and Pop Tarts provide as much nutrition as fruits and vegetables.

There is a lot of hype and marketing currently involving fiber intake, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fiber is an indigestible carb and there are two types; soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is dissolved by water and forms a gel like substance in the digestive tract, some examples include oats, legumes, oranges, apples, and carrots. Insoluble fiber does not get dissolved by water. It passes through the digestive system close to its original form. Fiber intake should be anywhere between 25-38 grams. If you’re planning on exercising for more than an hour then it is a good idea to include carbs in your meal 2-4 hours before your workout. Whether you are attempting fat loss or muscle gain, carbs should make up the highest percent of your calories. If you begin to drop your carb intake, then you will automatically drop your calorie intake. When you do this you’re creating a deficit, but you’re also diminishing glycogen, which decreases water weight; leading many people to think a low carb diet is optimal for fat loss. If you’re looking for a long term lifestyle change then your nutrition needs to be realistic and include all macronutrients. Carb intake should be anywhere between 40-65% of your calories, depending on your goals.

Finally, fats (lipids) the partner in crime to the evil carb right? Wrong. In reality lipids are just a group that includes fats, oils, phospholipids, and sterols that are carriers for fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. They can be classified as saturated or unsaturated, monosaturated, and polysaturated… hello complicated. Saturated fats are no good because they raise bad cholesterol (LDL), where are unsaturated fats raise good cholesterol (HDL) and actually decrease risk of heart disease. One of the most common fatty acids we see today is known as trans-fatty acid. These have the same effect on the body as saturated fats. Fat helps aid in satiety, like protein. It helps slow the digestion of food and stabilizes blood sugar. Fat intake can be anywhere from 20-25% of the total calories consumed because it is more calorie dense than proteins and carbs.

Water… this is definitely my biggest nutritional downfall. Why is it easy to drink down 8 glasses of alcohol, but so dang hard to swallow 8 glasses of water? Drinking enough water will improve your endocrine gland function, liver function, metabolic function, help absorb more nutrients, and regulate body temperature. The average adult should be drinking between 2-3 liters of water daily… time to bust out the obnoxious gallon water jug!

Summer is here, maybe you reached your goals and feel yourself starting to slide back, maybe you have started toward your goal but aren’t quite there yet, maybe you haven’t even attempted your goal. Don’t wait until next week, next month, or next year, do something for yourself. Whether you take the information from this article and apply it or you contact me to help you, I want to see you happy and healthy and taking care of your body! Either way, the best time to start is now!

WTF is a Macro? Bioenergetics & Metabolism

First, lets review some key words so all of this science makes sense. Bioenergetics is the study of energy in the human body. Since we need energy to sustain life, exercise, and recover from it, this is kind of important! Metabolism refers to all of the chemical reactions that occur in the body to maintain itself. It is the process in which nutrients are acquired, transported, used, and disposed of by the body. Exercise metabolism is the relation of bioenergetics to the physiologic changes and demands placed on the body during exercise. Energy. The main energy sources are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (AKA Macros). Phew, onto the Macros…

Fuel for Energy Metabolism

When we eat food, it has to be further broken down into substrates before it can be used for energy. Carbs, fats, and proteins are the main substrates used to transfer energy to the cells.

Macronutrient #1 Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not just bread, bagels, or pasta. Carbohydrates are not the devil either. Carbohydrates are organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which include starches, cellulose, and sugars. Carbohydrates are a good source of fuel for the body during daily activities and exercising. Lack of carbs in the diet can cause fatigue, poor mental function, lack of endurance, and lack of stamina. Hang out with someone on a low carb diet and tell me how friendly they are after the third day. Once carbs are digested they produce glucose (a simple sugar). Glucose is then absorbed and transported in the blood where it circulates until it enters the cell, from there it is either used or stored as energy. Once it is stored it is known as glycogen. Glycogen is a string of glucose molecules that can be broken down and used for energy, especially during long intense exercises. Glycogen is stored in the liver and in the muscles.

Macronutrient #2 Fats. Eating fat will not make you fat… promise. Fat helps the body use vitamins and keeps skin healthy. They are also a great energy source. Triglycerides are the chemical or substrate form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. When excess calories are consumed they are converted in the body as triglycerides and transported to fat cells. Most people have a decent supply of fat, which can be broken down into triglycerides and used for energy (enter the Keto Diet hype).

Macronutrient #3 Protein. The beloved protein. Brotein. The bodybuilders BFF. Protein doesn’t actually supply much energy during exercise and isn’t a significant fuel for energy metabolism. Protein only becomes a significant source of fuel when the body is in starvation. If calories are restricted too much amino acids are used to form glucose, this is known as gluconeogenesis.

Energy During Exercise

Intensity and duration of exercise are inversely related. Immediate energy systems are for a very short-duration exercise, here,  the main fuel source is stored ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and phosphocreatine. When the duration increases (longer than 2 minutes) the main fuel source becomes glucose. When the duration increases even longer, the main fuel source becomes glucose AND fat. After 90 minutes of exercise glycogen stores are basically depleted. When glycogen is used up, the fuel source switches over to fat. Long story short, energy from ATP is limited, energy from carbs (glycogen) is limited, but energy from fat is almost unlimited. Your body needs energy for exercise. Your body needs the correct ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins to function optimally. If you’re overwhelmed by all this crazy science, you’re not alone. There are many personal trainers and dietitians that are able to provide you the correct Macro Ratios to match your goals.