What will you learn from this article (a 15 minute read):
Calories and Energy Balance
You may have memories of your parents or even grandparents ‘going on a diet’ and counting their calories, which are the units of energy contained in food. As old fashioned as it sounds, they were on to something! Simply put:
- If you want to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume.
- If you want to gain weight then you must consume more calories than you burn.
Increasing your NEAT through healthy habits such as walking to work or always taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a great way to burn more calories during the day, every single day. Many of our clients also claim it’s the secret weapon to sustaining their fat loss and cementing their healthy habits.
With the exception of water, everything that we consume is a combination of one or more of the 3 macronutrients. In fact, very few foods contain only one. We generally classify foods as a specific macronutrient type based on the one that contributes the most calories to the overall calorific value of that food. Here are some examples:
Classification – protein
Trace nutrient – fat
Classification – carbohydrate
Trace nutrient – protein
Classification – fat
Secondary classification – protein
Trace nutrient – carbs
Now let’s briefly look at each macro in more detail:
- Maintaining energy balance and consuming adequate protein are the 2 main goals of any good nutrition plan
- Each gram of protein contains 4 kcal*
- Proteins are collections of amino acids. Each amino acid plays a different role in the body.
- If you talk about 100g of protein, that does not mean 100g of chicken breast. 100g of chicken breast contains about 25g protein, in addition to water, fat, trace minerals etc.
- There are lean proteins (including skinless chicken breast, white fish, egg whites) and fatty proteins (such as oily fish, lamb, pork belly etc)
- Plant-based protein sources such as tofu and soy products are often not as easily absorbed by the body as animal proteins
- Each gram of fat contains 9kcal* (more than double protein and carbs which is why even ‘good’ fats such as avocado or olive oil can quickly inflate our total calories for the day)
- Dietary fat is the most energy-rich food source available. The body breaks down fat into fatty acids.
- Like protein, some fats are essential for optimal health
- Sources include: nuts, avocado, olives, dark chocolate, butter, coconut oil, cheese, fatty meat
- Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4kcal*
- ‘Carbohydrate’ covers an extremely broad category, but there are 2 main types; complex carbohydrates (starches), found in foods like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes, and simple carbohydrates (sugars), which includes the naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy products as well as the kind of sugar we spoon into our coffee or that is added to foods and soft drinks)
- Although in the modern diet they make up the bulk of many people’s energy consumption, carbs are not actually essential for the physiological function of the body (amino acids and fatty acids are)
- Carbohydrates provide micronutrients, phytonutrients (a beneficial nutrient found in plants) and fibre
*Note: we talk about calories, but technically we should be referring to kilocalories or kCal. Everyone uses these interchangeably, but when you see 100kCal on food packaging or in a macros listing it means 100 calories in laymans’ terms.
A word about alcohol...
- Alcohol is sometimes referred to as the 4th macronutrient (even though it has no nutritional value and can even promote poor nutrition due to its toxic effect on the digestive tract)
- Alcohol has 7 kcal per gram
- Although it is possible to make progress towards your body composition goals if you include alcohol in your diet, it is not recommended due to the negative effects
- Negative effects include but are not limited to: poor sleep, increased hunger, slower fat loss, reduction in performance and feelings of guilt the next day due to depleted serotonin levels
In summary: Protein and Carbs = 4 KCal per gram, Fat = 9KCal per gram and Alcohol = 7KCal per gram
Vitamins and minerals can be categorised into 4 main groups; water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals and trace minerals. We will not go into detail about each type of micronutrient here, but the tables below will give you an idea of which kinds of food you can eat in order to ensure you are getting them in your diet:
Water soluble vitamins
- B1: ham, soy milk, watermelon
- B2: milk, yoghurt, cheese, fortified cereals, whole grains
- B3: meat, poultry, fish, mushrooms, potatoes, whole grains
- B5: wholegrains, chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, avocados
- B6: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, soy products, bananas
- B7: eggs, fish, soybeans, whole grains
- B9: asparagus, spinach, fortified grains and cereals, chickpeas, orange juice
- B12: Meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified cereals, soy milk
- Vitamin C: citrus fruit, broccoli, potatoes, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach
Fat soluble vitamins
- Vitamin A: beef, liver, eggs, prawns, fish, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes, spinach
- Vitamin D: oily fish, fortified cereals
- Vitamin E: vegetable oils, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains
- Vitamin K: Cabbage, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, kale
- Calcium: yogurt, cheese, milk, salmon, leafy greens
- Chloride: salt
- Magnesium: spinach, broccoli, seeds, legumes, wholewheat bread
- Potassium: meat, milk, fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes
- Sodium: salt, soy sauce, vegetables
- Chromium: meat, poultry, fish, nuts, cheese
- Copper: shellfish, nuts, beans, prunes, whole grain products
- Fluoride: fish, tea
- Iodine: seafood, iodised salt
- Iron: red meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, green vegetables, fortified bread
- Manganese: nuts, legumes, whole grains, tea
- Selenium: organ meat, seafood, brazil nuts, walnuts
- Zinc: meat, shellfish, legumes, whole grains
How much water is the right amount?
General rules for water consumption can be summed up below:
- Try to drink at least 40ml per kg of bodyweight per day (more if you exercise or have a lot of muscle)
- Don’t drink much with meals as too much liquid can dilute your stomach acids and actually hinder digestion
- Keep a water bottle with you at all times so you can sip throughout the day rather than trying to drink your daily quota when you remember at night (which will interfere with your sleep as you will wake in the night with a full bladder)
Questions you should ask yourself might be:
- How many times can I realistically cook each day?
- What size meal do I need in order to feel satisfied and not crave snacks?
Your answers to these questions might help dictate the optimal number of meals for you.
In an ideal world supplements should not be a shortcut to optimal health. As the name suggests, they should only be used when you are unable to get a certain nutrient from your diet. In many cases, you can boost your levels of certain micronutrients by making changes to what you eat, for example adding fermented foods, grass fed and pastured meat or regeneratively farmed vegetables that have higher mineral and vitamin levels.
- Protein powder – to maximise essential amino acids and fill any gaps in protein consumption. Many people opt for a shake after training in order to consume protein when they don’t feel like a full meal. It’s also a convenient way to boost protein without overdoing fat and carbs.
- Electrolytes – sodium, magnesium and potassium – to maximise hydration. People are aware that too much sodium is harmful, but in fact too little sodium is even more so.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EPA/ DHA) – to improve general health. These are commonly known as Omega-3 oils and they occur predominantly in seafood, so unless you eat oily, deep sea fish daily you probably don’t get enough.
- Vitamin D3 (with K2) – to improve general health (* note supplementing vitamin D is no substitute for sun exposure, but might be necessary if you don’t get much sun or if you’re overweight).
- Magnesium – for overall health and energy. Most people are slightly deficient in magnesium, yet it is responsible for over 300 different processes within the body.
Building a simple nutrition plan
- Set your daily calorie amount. There are various online calculators that can help you work this out. Even if your goal is to lose weight, we would recommend starting off at your estimated maintenance calories so you can get used to tracking and eating what might be more protein than you are used to.
- Work out how much protein you need. A good starting point is to set your protein to at least 1.8g per kg of bodyweight, so a 70kg person should be looking at eating at least 126g per day. If you are working out consistently we usually recommend slightly more than this at 2-2.4g per kg of body weight daily. Vegetarians and vegans should aim much higher due to the lower bioavailability of plant-based protein sources
- Work out how much fat you need – aim for 30-40% of your total daily calories. As you know, fat has 9 kcal per gram, so if your daily calories are set at 1800, then your fat goal would be (40% of 1800) divided by 9 = 80g of fat per day.
- Take the protein calories and fat calories away from your daily total and divide what is left by 4. That’s your daily carbohydrate number. In our example with the 70kg person and the 1800kcal allowance, they are getting 126g protein x 4 = 504kcal from protein and 80g fat x 9 = 720kcal from fat, which is a total of 1224 calories. That leaves 576 calories for carbs, which when we divide by 4 gives us 144g.
- Decide how many meals per day you will eat. We would recommend 2-4, depending on your current patterns.
- Try to distribute your daily protein amount evenly between each meal for better digestion and utilisation by your body.
- Try to keep both fat and carbohydrate consumption fairly low directly after a workout
When it comes to choosing foods that you enjoy, bear in mind that sometimes you might need to make small sacrifices or substitutes in order to reach your goals. At ATP Personal training we help clients like you navigate meal options, as well as teaching you all the tips you need in order to cement healthy habits into your life.