Diet comes from the Greek word Diota which means "way of life." A diet is simply that -- it is your way of life (nutritionally speaking). A diet does not mean you have to eat less, eat more, eat specific foods, etc. Simply put, a diet is a way to fulfill the nutritional targets in order to meet your health and fitness goals. You are about to learn how to set up your diet, why it is structured a specific way, and how to adjust according to the progress you make. With that out of the way, let's begin.
Macros and Micros
If you've ever read anything about diets before you've likely come across the terms "macronutrients" and "micronutrients." Both are crucial to any diet but it's important to understand how and why they are imporant and the role they will play for you.
Let's start with macronutrients -- otherwise known as macros.
Macros are the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that comprise all foods. Techincally, alcohol is a seperate macrontrutient, but we'll cover alcohol all by itself in a seperate artice.
First, let's look at each macronutrient and what role they play in the body.
Protein: This is the building block of muscle and the most important macronutrient for anyone interested in improving their physique. Proteins are comprised of amino acids. Some amino acids are considered essential -- this means the body cannot produce them on its own and we must obtain them through diet.
Fats: Fats ensure we are healthy and everything is running properly. They are also tremendously important when it comes to hormone production and hormone balance. If hormone levels are at an optimal level in the body, your body will be in a far better state to build muscle and burn fat. Some fatty acids are considered essential -- this means the body cannot produce them on its own and we must obtain them through diet.
Carbohydrates: Carbs are essentially the fuel for our body. Carbohydrates convert to glucose in the body, and glucose is our body's preferred source of fuel. There are NO essential carbohydrates. This means even if the body recieves zero carbohydrates, it can produce the fuel it needs from other sources. However, this does not mean "low carb" is the way to go, and we will dive deeper into this topic below.
Now that you have an understanding of macronutrients, let's briefly dicsuss micronutrients and the role they play in the body.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that keep our insides operating. You've probably heard that Vitimin A is good for eye health and Vitamin C boosts our immune system -- these are all true and so it is important to get a full array of vitamins and minerals in our diet.
Just take a multivitamin, right?
While the debate is still out there on the effectiveness of multivitamins, one thing is for sure -- it's always best to obtain micronutrients from whole foods whenever possible.
This is where food choice comes into play.
Choosing the Right Foods
Does it matter what you eat? If two foods have the same calories and the same macronutrients, then they have the same impact on weight loss, right?
While on the surface, a glass of soda with 20 carbohydrates and an apple of 20 carbohydrates are both comprised of about 80 calories of carbohydrates, the apple will provide other vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy.
The healthier you are, the more optimal a state you put your body in for fat loss and muscle gain.
A general rule of thumb is to eat about 70% of your foods from whole natural sources, and have fun with the rest.
Setting up YOUR Diet
Finally. The moment you have been waiting for -- how to structure a diet that is specific to you and will help you reach your individual goals.
Notice we havent spent a whole lot of time discussing calories. That's because if you have your macroniutrients in check, you are already factoring in calories without even knowing it. Now let's get into your macros.
You will have your own specific set of Macronutrients or "Macros" that you need to follow. This will never be a single formula that you follow forever. It will evolve and adapt as your body changes. But we will go through how to make those adjustments later on. First, let's get started.
To start, we will discuss what your baseline macronutrients are. By baseline, we mean the macros that will allow you to maintain your current body weight. Generally speaking, you will not gain or lose weight eating this level of macronutrients. For every pound of bodyweight, most people's baseline will fall around:
1g protein, 1.5g carbs, 0.5g fat
So for a 180 pound male, this would mean 180g protein, 270g carbs, and 90g fat. This would be a total of 2,610 calories a day.
For a 130 pound female, this would mean 130g protein, 195g carbs, and 65g fat. This would be a total of 1,885 calories a day.
Now, this may or may not be your specific baseline, but determining your exact baseline is nearly impossibe, so this is a great place to start.
Adjusting for your goals
So to review, we have 1g protein, 1.5g carbs, and 0.5g fat per pound of bodyweight as our baseline. So, how to we manipulate this equation for our goals? Remember in the section above we discussed the imporant macronutrients, and determined that carbohydrates are the only non-essential macronutrients. Therefore, carbohydrates are the macronutrient we will manipulate according to our goals. This way, we will not lose the health benefits from protein and fats.
When Fat Loss is your goal...
First of all, notice the goal is FAT LOSS and not WEIGHT LOSS. There is a big difference between the two, and it's important to understand the difference, losing weight will not improve your physique. Weight loss involves the loss of fat and muscle. Our goal is to maintain or even increase muscle mass as we lose body fat. This will give you the physique you are looking for. With that out of the way, let's discuss fat loss.
As you may have guessed, we will have to lower carbohydrates to lose bodyfat. After you have chosen the program to complete, begin at your maintenence macronutrients. Every two weeks you should weigh yourself and take a progress picture to determine your results. The scale can't always tell the story (particularly with women), so you should use the scale as a tool, but the picture in the mirror will tell the real story. If you are losing about 1-3% of your body weight every two weeks, you are on the right track and should not make any adjustments. If you are losing anywhere more than 3%, you should increase your carbohydates by 0.1g per pound of bodyweight. So if your carbs are at 1.5g per pound and you lost 5% of your bodyweight in two weeks, for the next two weeks your carbs will increase to 1.6g per pound of bodyweight. What's the point of this adjustment? It's absolutely crucial to keep calories as high as possible while losing body fat. This keeps your metabolism high and prevents the "crash and rebound" from extreme diets. Just watch The Biggest Loser -- they follow crash diets, and nearly every single one of them has regained every pound they have lost, and then some! But I digress. If you are losing anywhere less than 1%, you should decrease your carbohydrates by 0.1g per pound of bodyweight. So if your carbs are at 1.5g per pound of bodyweight and you lost no weight, you should eat 1.4g per pound of bodyweight for the next few weeks.
Note: Keep in mind the picture in the mirror supersedes any scale measurements. So put the picture first and the scale second before making any adjustments.
If Muscle Building is your goal...
While it is possible to build muscle while losing weight (this is why we keep protein high), if muscle building is your PRIMARY goal, you should increase your calories to put your body in a more conducive state for building muscle. Similar to how we lowered carbs to lose fat, we will increase carbs to build muscle. Simply use the same adjustments for building muscle that we used to build fat -- except you will do the opposite. For example, if after two weeks you are 5% heavier, you will lower carbs by 0.1g for the next two weeks. If you are 1% heavier, there is no need to adjust. And if you are not heavier at all, than you should increase carbs by 0.1g.
How To Track Macros
Sure, you can use a pencil and paper, but it's the 21st century -- download an app! I prefer MyFitnessPal, but there are many options out there. Just keep in mind to ignore any recommendations the app gives you, and to use the guidelines outlined above.
Where To Go From Here
Now that you have an understanding of macronutrients, micronutrients, baseline macros, and how to adjust for your goals, you have all the information you need to build a lifelong sustainable diet. Additional questions? Tweet us anytime! @GatorFitnessCom
Disclaimer: Results may vary from person to person. Always consult your physician before starting any workout or nutrition program.