The Evolution of Food or the Regression of Eating?

Food Science. Enough said.

Once upon a time, food was necessary for survival. It was a promise of seeing another day. Food was obtained through basic human skills.  You didn’t have to tell a hunter that if he was hungry he needed to hunt. He was hungry and he figured out a way to get the job done. Followers of popular diets love to draw upon the examples of early man to pattern their eating habits and, even though I don’t agree with that logic entirely, I do believe that they had something right. Back then the relationship with food was a lot more simple, ‘”I have to eat or I am going to die.”

The reason why I don’t think looking back in time and developing a menu after the diet of, say, cavemen is logical is that they ate what they could get. They ate to survive. I can pretty much guarantee without need of a study that if someone went back in time and laid out a few gluten-infused cookies alongside a chilled glass of cow’s milk there would have been a riot of epic proportions to determine who gets to claim the feast. And he’d probably spend the rest of his days thinking about that meal…not because he is now one of us ‘sugar addicted zombies’ but he can’t for the life of him figure out how he scored such an easy and delicious meal.

My point here is, in the beginning things were much more simple. Portion size meant how big of an animal you killed or how many berries ripened that day. Carb cycling was done seasonally, in regions where fruit was suddenly available. ‘Hungry’ meant your body needed sustenance and not ‘I ate over three hours ago and I’m going catabolic.’ I’m not saying that they had it good, I’m just saying that their relationship with food was pretty basic and required little to no thought outside of obtaining, then preparing (if even), the food itself.

Flash forward to the dawn of agriculture. Things were still relatively simple. Food was still earned through work. No, you didn’t have to perform valiant sprints and learn to throw a spear like Odin but farming, for example, was plenty work. Not to mention that most food was fresh and needed preparation. There was still an appreciation surrounding the commodity of food that was also encouraged by the seasons, and even traditions surrounding food. There was also still no ‘apple a day’ recommendation because apples were not available every day and if you said that you’d just sound plain stupid.

Move forward, once again, to the era of importing and exporting food. Now you can have your pick! Now you don’t have to wait or travel miles to get what you want! Food went from a necessity to an entitlement and due to its abundance could now be wasted, abused, marketed, refined, genetically manipulated and even consumed in gut-busting proportions to earn a prize. Now this didn’t have to be a bad thing but some bad mentalities came along with it. Let’s go with marketing for a moment. If we use the example of early man, I’m pretty sure that no one randomly sprung from bushes ‘pop-up style’ promoting the nutritional value of this berry over the next. They didn’t need a study to tell them about the benefits of the Omega 3s in the fish they caught to justify eating it. They were hungry and that fish kept them alive. There was no marketing team trying to sneak walnuts into your diet but if you came across some you’d be grateful for them. It seems to me that the ‘smarter’ we got about food the dumber we became about eating.

Food is so abundant that we have even taken the time to dissect it in order to ‘understand’ it. We now know the inner workings of the orange;, what makes a tomato red, the fat content of beef and it’s varying Omega 6 to Omega 3 profiles depending on the diet of the animal (we even mess with the ways our cows eat?). We can follow sugar through the human body, explaining the breakdowns and its ultimate forms of storage. Some of us even try and manipulate the storage of said sugar molecules.

Again, pretty cool, but look at what is happening. Food has moved from something that is necessary to something that is now confusing. These studies now show that there are harmful compounds in things that we thought we knew were beneficial (like broccoli). We think that the unsaturated fat in butter messes with your heart so we get all ‘wise’ and try and fix this. We’ve made ourselves ‘unsaturated’ fats that turn out to be even worse and now we are sick all over again. Sounds to me like all of this information is making us smarter for sure…

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Do we blame the food or lack of information about food? Maybe, the sheer amounts of food available lead to a different problem called over- consumption? Maybe we should focus less on the minute details of the food and focus on asking ourselves ‘how much is enough?’

We now have studies showing that the fats in butter were fine in the first place and are, in fact, the bee’s knees.  In fact, now you have people drinking it. Yes, they are literally drinking butter…which, is okay I guess…but why are we doing that? Because, again, we want to be ‘smart’ about our eating?

In a world of availability, is tailoring your day to a very limited list of foods sensible?  It would be smart if you were starving and all you had was a stick of butter left in your fridge. That’s survival and so I think it qualifies as ‘smart’ eating. Trying to trick your body into ‘fat-burning’ mode by buying over-priced oils, isolated, concentrated and encapsulated compounds, eating within windows (and I don’t mean enjoying the breeze on a window seat) and glorifying one food source over the next isn’t my definition of smart. It’s my definition of a headache.

It seems to me that all of the availability, all of the noise of marketing hype, all of the helpful information proving the benefits of this over that has lead to us losing touch with one very vital source of information: our intuition. How is it that, despite our built-in knowledge on the subject, all of a sudden people are confused about ‘how’ to eat? And I don’t mean proper table etiquette either but rather the ‘right’ way to eat.

For the record, I feel food science is amazing and I follow it myself. I love learning about food…seeing how we as humans challenge ourselves to new levels through knowledge of the human body and the effect food has on it’s processes and appearance. I dig that. I find it fascinating! However it makes me a little scared for humanity when people get confused about the motive for obtaining the information and especially also how it is sometimes used. It helps to be aware that some individuals take it upon themselves to take advantage of your newly found confusion and use it to their benefit.

Sometimes when people cite studies it is to sell a product, or even to sell themselves.  They want to confuse you enough into thinking that you’ve been eating the ‘wrong’ way the whole time and now their knowledge will show you the ‘right’ way.  Sometimes food becomes black-listed because a single nutrient of the food source was observed in isolation (and in some cases exaggerated doses).  It may have shown some negative effects and therefore it must be Satan in food form. All of the information about the good and bad of food has now turned our cues for eating inside out. Instead of saying, ‘I’m hungry. I should eat.’ we say, ‘I’m hungry. What should I eat?’. Instead of saying ‘I like this. I’m going to eat this today.’ we say ‘I like this but I have to eat it after my workout or else I am going to store it as fat or going to get diabetes or lose my gains or lose my hair or my sh*t won’t float or I’ll go over my macros or poke holes in my gut or go out of ketosis or fail at life or….you get the point.

I wish we could go back to the time where we were hungry and ate. Where we were full and stopped eating. Where we noticed we felt better and/or didn’t get as sick when we ate certain things so we ate them more often. Where we cut a huge slice of birthday cake and enjoy it instead of having to tell ourselves that we deserve it. I wish we could go back to the time where a calorie was a calorie and not a unit of life itself. Where food was more than an equation but an experience of taste, texture, smell with life enhancing benefits such as energy and stamina.  I wish that we could study food and its effects without losing touch with the reason that we consume food in the first place. Not because it’s there, not simply because of its nutritional properties or promotion of certain processes, but because we need it and we enjoy it.

Now let’s top that off with the fact that we’ve been smart enough to figure out how to produce enough food to feed the entire planet, eating should be simpler than ever. However, eating has moved from just another aspect of our day to the bane of some lives. It’s become a career. It’s become an enigma and is rated on a scale of 1-10. It’s become something that causes shame and self-condemnation as well as arrogance and self-righteousness. Eating has become the problem and the cure. When does it end? When do we move back to ‘I’m hungry – I’ll eat. I’m full – I’ll stop. I’m gaining more weight than I’d like – I’ll eat a little less. I’m a little underweight – I’ll eat a bit more. I feel for this – I’ll have it. I don’t feel good when I eat a lot of this – I’ll eat a bit less of it. When do we realize that we already KNOW how to eat…and all of this information around food is just to enhance and not to rule our lives?  When does food become food again?

Set Points and Why You May Find Yourself “Stuck”

We see it far too often. New Years approaches, and along with it come New Years diet resolutions. Many times the month of January is filled with quick progress, the fat burning off of the dieter’s body at a rapid pace. Then, something happens. It is almost as if the body says “enough is enough” and the fat loss stalls, seemingly forever to the dieter. Many times, the dieter will get frustrated and consequently dietary compliance begins to suffer. Eventually, most folks return to their pre-New Years state and the cycle repeats itself. Well, why in the world does this seemingly predictable “stall” happen?

As far back as Kennedy (1953) (1) there have been theories circulating in scientific communities that body fat levels may be regulated by what is known as a “set point”. You can think of this as your body’s homeostasis point in terms of body fat percentage. In other words, within reason, this is where your body wants to be. Some folks may have higher set points and others may have lower set points (this is not to be confused with somatotypes which are downright quackery). For many years, the theory was that body fat regulation was regulated via feedback mechanisms in the body however it wasn’t until around 1994, when leptin was discovered (2) that the mechanisms became much more understood.

Anecdotally speaking, I’ve seen this time and time again with both myself and folks I’ve worked with. It is almost as if most individuals have a level of leanness that can be reached fairly quickly, often effortlessly, before dietary plateaus are reached. Once this point is hit, fat loss stalls and it can often take extra dietary manipulation or energy expenditure to get past it.

So, can set points be manipulated? There is some evidence that it can through drastic increases in energy deficit simultaneously combined with body fat loss (3)(4)(5). In other words, if a state where leptin does not decrease, ghrelin does not increase, and yet fat loss continues can be held for an indefinite time, then there may be a set point reset. We must be careful thinking this is an easy task to accomplish though. Because, conversely, a lot of data suggests that once dieting or overfeeding ceases subjects tend to regain any lost fat, or lose the accumulated fat, and return to the original body fat levels they were at before making their dietary changes (6)(7).

The biggest take-away here, is that diets are not a linear progression. There will undoubtedly be plateaus however this should not frustrate or deter you. There are many different strategies that can be enacted during times of “non progress” including refeeds and diet breaks. Just don’t focus on the scale for a few days and decide that the diet is a failure because it is never as simple as that. Try not to over-complicate things, and don’t be afraid to take a break from dieting for both mental and physical health. Lastly, don’t hesitate to ask friends for a second set of eyes or even find a trusted resource to help guide you on your weight loss journey.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13027283
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7984236
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12721502
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18191052
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18842775
6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8769366/
7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11684524/

StackingPlates now on Instagram

http://instagram.com/mrstackingplates

Now to see if I can figure out how this whole hashtag things works!

Motivation

A truly inspirational post by Antiguan fitness competitor Anna D’Ornellas

One of my favorite fitness athletes made a post today saying ‘Be motivated by the fear of being average.’ and though I fully respect her I don’t agree at all. Fear is never good motivation. Fear only thrives on more fear. Motivate yourself by NOT being afraid. Don’t be afraid to discover the limits of your strength. Don’t be afraid to fail or to be what someone else considers average. Don’t be afraid to try and fail and try again. Do what you do because you LOVE yourself and you want to do something good for yourself because you know you deserve it. Because you know you are worth the struggle. Let love fuel your motivation. Let a better, healthier relationship with yourself be the ultimate goal.

Is Consuming Grains Bad for You?

I recently got into a debate online with a fanatical user who was claiming that consuming grains was the root of all evil and led to increased estrogen levels in men, male pattern baldness, you name it. I try not to get sucked into these childish debates with fanatics since I realize that they often become emotionally attached to their ideals however there were a lot of other folks reading this nonsense and I felt it was my duty to prevent these impressionable folks from being sucked into the vortex.

With that said, here is my post in its entirety…

I’m simply going to supply the data that exists on this topic so that educated folks reading this thread are armed with more than one person’s opinion which was presented as fact. If, after reading through my posts on this topic, you still feel that grains are the devil then that is fine…self experimentation is always going to be the best course of action.

For whatever reason, folks have a tendency to get emotionally attached to viewpoints and I’ve found this to be even more pronounced in the nutrition field. Years of arguing with various sects such as Paleos, vegetarians, and vegans has really taught me to leave emotions out of debates and just provide the objective data. Over the years, most folks I’ve found to be as emotional as (username removed) rarely change but there have been a few times where I’ve been surprised and folks have actually been open to data which doesn’t fit into their belief systems. With that said…

Let’s show some studies and meta-analysis which actually demonstrate that grains do have health benefits (either by association or directly):

    ASSOCIATION STUDIES/META-ANALYSIS

Aune D et al (2011) “Dietary fiber, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.”

Flight I, Clifton P (2006) “Cereal grains and legumes in the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke: a review of the literature.”

Jensen MK et al (2006) “Whole grains, bran, and germ in relation to homocysteine and markers of glycemic control, lipids, and inflammation 1″

Venn BJ, Mann Jl (2004) “Cereal grains, legumes and diabetes.”

Association studies and meta-analysis papers demonstrate a positive correlation however they can still leave topics open for debate. Here you can see that grain consumption has demonstrated a positive correlation with things such as decreasing cancer risks, heart disease, stroke, lowering inflammation markers, and lowering chances of developing diabetes. Next, we’ll dive into some of the studies which directly demonstrate positive health benefits. These types of studies provide even more value than the ones included in this post.

Now, let’s move onto the studies which directly demonstrate that grain consumption leads to positive health benefits.

We should also realize, before reviewing the studies, that the term grains covers quite a few sub-types such as rice, oats, barley, rye, wheat, corn, quinoa, etc. Many folks unfairly lump all of these together when forming conclusions so this is something that should be considered when making blanket statements that “grains are bad”.

    CLINICAL STUDIES

Maki KC et al (2010) “Whole-grain ready-to-eat oat cereal, as part of a dietary program for weight loss, reduces low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in adults with overweight and obesity more than a dietary program including low-fiber control foods.”

Katcher Hl, Legro RS et al (2008) “The effects of a whole grain-enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome.”

Rave K et al (2007) “Improvement of insulin resistance after diet with a whole-grain based dietary product: results of a randomized, controlled cross-over study in obese subjects with elevated fasting blood glucose.”

Kelly SA (2007) “Wholegrain cereals for coronary heart disease.”

Pereira MA, Jacobs DR Jr et al (2002) “Effect of whole grains on insulin sensitivity in overweight hyperinsulinemic adults.”

Jang Y, Lee JH (2001) “Consumption of whole grain and legume powder reduces insulin demand, lipid peroxidation, and plasma homocysteine concentrations in patients with coronary artery disease: randomized controlled clinical trial.”

As you can see, these are primarily peer-reviewed clinical trials which all demonstrated direct positive health benefits associated with grain consumption under controlled settings.

Okay, now let’s move along to something I’ve seen mentioned a few times and that is grains contain anti-nutrients (namely phytates, lectins, and oxalates) which prevent the body’s ability to absorb nutrition from other food sources.

One thing we need to make very clear is that grains are far from the only food group that contains these anti-nutrients. How many consider leafy green veggies such as spinach or fibrous veggies like broccoli bad? Well, guess what? They also contain these supposed nutrient absorption stoppers (1) and I would dare say that the majority of folks would not consider veggies a food to avoid (unlike username removed who has stated he avoids veggies as well, LOL).

A group who would likely be at high risk here would be vegetarians since they are more prone to eat larger concentrations of grains and leafy vegetables than your typical omnivorous eater. Studies have continually demonstrated that even vegetarians, who often will have lower iron and zinc levels (moreso because they don’t eat animal PRO sources as opposed to anti-nutrient reasons) demonstrate no adverse health effects from it (2). If we were to make the huge leap here that phytates and oxalates block mineral absorption, it doesn’t even appear that this is cause for alarm based on the data we see here.

Okay, but does this mineral blocking effect even exist from grain consumption? Randomized cross-over trials demonstrated that calcium absorption wasn’t affected (3). Wheat bran did not have an affect on mineral consumption at all as it related to calcium, zinc, and iron (4). And another study found no effect on subjects consuming oat bran as it related to zinc absorption (5). So, as you can see, the literature is pretty clear here in that it shows there is no “mineral blocking” properties related to consuming grains.

1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0023643804001719
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12936958
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1941185
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6315050
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10702590

When forming conclusions, the science on a given topic is great however bodybuilders also like to see results “in the trenches”. Real-world applicability is going to go a long way when it comes to the validity of a theory.

So, what better way to put this anti-grain fear mongering to bed than to look at civilizations that are the healthiest, with the longest lifespans?

Earlier, I alluded to the Okinawans who (although recently passed) were for a long time the longest living culture in the world. Sho did a great analysis of the Okinawan lifestyle and talked a lot about their diet. In addition to ample amounts of leafy green veggies (which above you’ll see contain all the supposed anti-nutrients we are being told to avoid) also eat roughly 840g/day of white rice (1). So, even with the ample amounts of leafy greens and grains, they are still living long and healthy lives. Hmm…

Has anyone heard of the “French Paradox” (2)? The term was originally coined because of the saturated fat fear mongering started by Ancel Keys (topic for another day) however the reason I bring this up is because the French are known, as a culture, to consume copious amounts of white bread as part of their daily dietary intake. The irony here? They also, as a country, have one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease in the EU.

Lastly, let’s look at the Blue Zone Countries (3). Look over the societies that make up the list and start researching the dietary characteristics of these places. See how many have grains, lentils, and other “forbidden” foods as the staples of their diets.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11710358
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14676260
3. http://www.bluezones.com/about/

Is Adding Weight the Only Way to Induce Hypertrophy?

We have all seen those guys in the gym who routinely load up far too much weight on the bar and sacrifice form for ego. The question this begs asking is, does adding weight to the bar over the time equal the best way to induce skeletal muscle hypertrophy?

Brad Schoenfeld, a leading researcher in the field, defines the ideal mechanisms for hypertrophy as being able to produce significant metabolic stress while maintaining a moderate degree of muscular tension.

So, obviously, adding weight to the bar is not the only way one can achieve this. In fact, I rank it near the bottom of all methods due to the inherent risk factors that are associated with doing so. Here is a list of the best methods I’ve put together over the years for the best ways to induce hypertrophy over time.

– Controlling and increasing the range of motion on your movement

– Use better form with more control or less effort

– Simply doing more reps with an equivalent weight

– Using less rest between sets; shortening your rest intervals

– Increasing the volume of your working sets (e.g. simply doing more work per workout)

– Going to the gym with greater frequency (e.g. more workouts per week)

– Lose body fat (you are then lifting more relative weight if you continue to use the same weight and rep scheme as compared to your prior lean mass which requires additional skeletal muscle engagement)

– Use techniques such as forced reps, negatives, pause reps, etc (easier if you have a training partner)

– Focus on the mind and muscle connection (this is the single most important thing you can learn as an advanced bodybuilder in my opinion)

– Using more explosiveness on the concentric contraction (another method which is not necessarily my favorite due to risk factors but it can be used under specific circumstances)

– Lastly, going for more weight (unfortunately the most popular method folks use)

Far too often, the folks who simply use the “add weight to the bar” method are going to be those that have a relatively short shelf-life due to things like burn-out and risk for injury. I highly urge trainees to experiment with the other methods on the list before resorting to ego lifting.

How to Properly Design Your Diet – Part Five

Up to this point, I’ve provided some basic terminology definitions and talked about the overall concepts when constructing your first successful diet. In this post, I will be moving onto determining if your calculated TDEE values match with real world food intake. I’d highly urge you to read parts one, two, three, and four if you haven’t already done so.

As a quick recap from earlier in the series, my calculated TDEE is 2454kCals based upon the output from the Katch McArdle formula. I will use my first week to get as close to 2454kCals as possible over the first seven days. This can be made much simpler by online tools such as MyFitnessPal and FitDay; I normally use the latter so examples from here on out will be stolen from that app.

My first phase of the diet will be constructed of predominantly whole, minimally processed food sources while simultaneously being sure to hit both my micro and macro-nutrient goals. My diet will consist of essentially 200 grams of PRO, 200 grams of CHO, and 100 grams of FAT for a total of 2500kCals (remember, these are averages and if you go slightly over or under from day to day that is not a problem). The breakdown of macro-nutrients is as follows:

Protein – 200g x 4kCals/gram = 800kCals
Carbohydrates – 200g x 4kCals/gram = 800kCals
Fat – 100g x 9kCals/gram = 900kCals
2500kCals (total)

Over the course of the week, I try my best to weigh all food selections on a nice digital food scale and log everything in within FitDay. FitDay makes tracking caloric and macro/micro-nutrient goals much easier. I will elaborate on the specifics at a later time if there is interest.

In parallel to this effort, I’ve started a detailed spreadsheet and have made sure to weigh myself first thing in the AM once I get out of bed. I ensure that I control variables such as bathroom usage and weigh-in times so that consistent readings can be had each day. Obviously weighing myself in the morning and evening could differ by multiple pounds so this is an important step to remain consistent. After the first week, I average my weight measurements over the course of those seven days and see see that my weight has only changed by -0.2 pounds versus the prior week which tells me that the calculated TDEE was pretty much dead accurate. So, what do we now do with this newly acquired data?

We simply adjust our dietary intake and continue the weekly process of measuring actual weight loss. It is not recommended to go on crash diets nor use hard numbers for your deficits. I like to stick to a 5-15% caloric reduction strategy, typically starting on the low side and adjusting as necessary. The reduction of calories should primarily come from the CHO macro-nutrient group as opposed to either the PRO or FAT group. If you recall from earlier in this series, CHO is an optional macro-nutrient whereas the others are not. I also recommend trying to keep PRO high when combining a caloric deficit and lower CHO intake. In my specific example, this would reduce my daily caloric intake somewhere between 125-375 kCals/day. Just as before, maintain your food and weight log consistency so you can adjust intake as necessary; strive for no more than a 1-2 pound weight loss per week goal.

I think we’ll stop there as this should give you, the Educated Reader, a high level primer on what it takes to start designing your own diet strategies. It can take some trial and error so don’t be discouraged…good luck!

Kobe Bryant Credits Diet with Newfound Youth

NBA.com has a great article discussing Kobe Bryant’s game-day preparation and how he ensures his body is ready to handle the rigors of the grueling 82 game NBA schedule. It is truly astonishing to watch Bryant put up career best numbers after logging seventeen years and over fifty thousand minutes on the court.

Kobe’s tub of youth

Kobe calls his daily ice baths his “tub of youth”. Interestingly, there have also been significant dietary changes for Kobe at this stage of his career (note: Gary Vitti is the LA Lakers head athletic trainer)…

Part of that changed diet and those healthy eating tips come from Dr. Cate Shanahan, a team consultant who has her own practice in Napa Valley. Pasture-fed foods – pasture-grazed beef from a pasture-fed cow, eggs from a free-range chicken (not a cage chicken) – are just some of the main staples of Bryant’s diet. Sugars, specifically anything with corn syrup, should be avoided, and the intake of carbohydrates has been scaled down, consumed in moderation.

“What happens is the athlete consumes one of these products high in carbohydrates and sugar, they get a spike of energy and feel really good,” Vitti said. “Your body knows that, sends insulin and then they crash. As soon as they crash, they need another sugar fix, and they’re yo-yoing up and down. If we get them off that stuff and get them into more of protein and the right kind of fats, then they’ll have a higher level of energy without the lows or the dips.

More findings examine the ratio of high-density lipoproteins (HDL’s) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL’s), better known as “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, which can be monitored. The common thought was the ratio for of HDL’s to be high and LDL’s to be low. But according to Vitti, new findings are changing that perception. “We’re finding out now that a higher level of LDL’s, which we thought was bad, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad,” he continued, “because within that category, there are good LDL’s and bad LDL’s. Even though you might have an elevated level of LDL’s, it might be the right kind of LDL’s.”

For example, eating fats, when they’re the right kind of fats, can be packed with nutrients.

“All this fat free stuff and all these things we’ve been doing has been the biggest proponent of it,” Vitti said. “When they strip the fat, they strip all the nutrients with it. We don’t necessarily want to stay away from fats, but it has to be the right kind of fat.”

How to Properly Design Your Diet – Part Four

In the first parts of this series, we went over definitions and the basics on how to find your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) using the Katch-McArdle formula. Please read the first three parts of this series if you have not done so already.

Let’s start off talking about what type of foods make the most sense when designing your first diet. Most likely, if you’ve spent any time researching this topic online, or watching television, you’re already well aware that a new fad diet is invented, seemingly, every few minutes – eat this, don’t eat this, don’t eat at all, cleanse this, detox that, etc. They all range in their level of absurdity but the fact remains that dieting is not a complex endeavor, no matter how hard these celebrities and Internet marketers want you to believe that it is. Want to skip the rest and go right to the punch-line? Eat less than you require (TDEE) and you will lose weight. Conversely, if you eat more than you require then you will gain weight. Quite an astonishing concept, isn’t it? Now let’s expand upon that principle so that you, Educated Reader, will not be miserable when you start.

My, admittedly oversimplified, mantra has always been that your goal with food intake should be that the majority of your calories come from whole, minimally processed foods while limiting potentially harmful agents such as trans fats. So what does this mean exactly? I’ve explained it to folks in numerous, comparative ways such as asking yourself “would my great grandparents recognize this food item I’m about to ingest”. Does this mean that you can never have that slice of pizza, cake, or other treat which you thoroughly enjoy? Absolutely not, and we’ll talk more about this after a brief recap from a topic discussed in part three of this series.

As you recall, there are generally three recognized macro-nutrient groups and they are PRO, CHO, and FAT. Two of these (PRO and FAT) are required and the third is a non-essential macronutrient (CHO). The first goal is to ensure that your essential (required) macro requirements are fulfilled and then we can continue filling the rest of our caloric budget largely with whole, minimally processed choices.

To continue using myself as an example, I’ve already determined that my TDEE is 2454kCals and in order to hit my minimum recommended PRO intake levels, I will need at least 95 grams (~380kCals). To hit my minimum recommended FAT intake levels for the day, I will need at least 57 grams (~513kCals). This leaves me with around 1561kCals to do with what I please. At this point, let me take a step back and say that the person who knows you, Educated Reader, the best – is you. If you have been largely subsisting on a diet of Cracker Jack and root beer then it may shock the system to eat chicken, broccoli, and rice all day, every day. In addition, if you currently have a diet that consists of primarily processed carbs then going full-blown Ketogenic might not be the best idea for you either. The reason is that the key to any diet is long term compliance, success, and yes – even enjoyability. I often see folks who dive into a new diet headfirst only to begin hating life within a week or two. I’m writing this shortly after New Year’s and continue to see this every day with folks who have resolutions related to new and healthy lifestyle choices. Remember, results does not equal sustainability

I used the word “budget” a few paragraphs back for good reason. I see caloric intake very analogous to financial budgeting. Although there are arguably right and wrong decisions, these are largely subjective. For example, even though you may be craving that Quadruple Bypass Burger doing so may be about as intelligent of a choice as buying that gold plated iPhone 5 when you don’t have enough extra cash left over to pay the rent/mortgage…

The best budget choices in the dietary context are those that allow you to hit macro, micro, and caloric goals while leaving you satisfied, happy, and healthy. In the next part of this seemingly never-ending series, we’ll finally setup my example diet and determine if my calculated TDEE is too high, low, or just right…

How to Properly Design Your Diet – Part Three

In parts one and two, we laid out the foundation for the concepts we’ll be covering in part three. If you haven’t done so I would urge you to read them now.

As you recall, we’ve calculated our TDEE at 2454kCals/day. In theory, this would be the amount of calories we would need to consume to stay at our same body composition where no other variables change (also sometimes referred to as maintenance calories). You will also likely recall that this figure was derived from the Katch-McArdle formula, which is simply that – a formula. Although it is my preferred formula for initial baseline testing, I’ve also found that it can be upwards of 200-300kCals off depending on the individual.

To find the individual’s TDEE we need to design a diet that works out to ~2454kCals/day and begin carefully monitoring both weight and body composition for changes (either positively or negatively). Many folks simply measure weight but I feel that can paint an incomplete picture of what is going on (for instance, simple changes in water weight can cause spikes and drops of pounds per day and give false hope and/or anxiety). For completeness, I would highly urge the individual to grab a tape measure and log measurements in addition to weight. The more data points, the better – but, at a minimum, measure the waist, chest (around nipples), and glutes (at widest point). It would be even better to also measure arms, quads, calves, and shoulders but that isn’t an absolute requirement. Just remember, the more data the more complete the progress picture you can paint.

I don’t intend to dive deeply into macro and micro-nutrition since that would, in itself, be an entire article series however a brief overview will be required at this time. Generally, there are three major recognized macro-nutrient groups and they are Protein (PRO), Carbohydrate (CHO), and Fat (FAT). One could argue that there are more (think water, alcohol, fiber, etc) but that is beyond the scope of this article. Micro-nutrients are generally vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other essentials required to maintain healthy being. Further reading on the topic can be found here for those inquiring minds.

As we design our 2454kCal diet, we must focus on macro/micro nutrition and then fill the rest of our intake with intelligent food choices which we’ll take about in more depth later. Of the macro-nutrients listed above, there are two essentials (PRO and FAT) and one non-essential (CHO). To quote Lyle McDonald, to be considered an essential nutrient, it must meet these two criteria:
– Nutrient is required for survival
– Nutrient cannot be made in sufficient quantities (or at all) by the body

CHOs are actually not required in the dietary sense as the body can convert other nutrients to glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis, but I really don’t want eyes to start glazing over at this time so we won’t get further in depth than this. Just realize that two of the macro-nutrient families are required via dietary intake and one is not (again, this isn’t entirely true in certain cases but for the rest of this series it will be referred to as such).

The first thing we’re going to do is take care of the essential macros (PRO and FAT). In general, when designing a diet where calorie intake will be restricted (assuming if you are reading this then that is the case) then higher PRO intake generally becomes more important. Besides PRO being a very satiating macro, it also has been shown to help retain lean mass during long-term dieting as well as many other benefits. General recommendations would be 0.5-1.0g of PRO per pound of body weight. In my case, continuing to use 190 pounds as our example, this would equate to 95-190g/day of PRO.

FAT is our other essential macro and maintaining FAT intake is crucial as it relates to hormonal processes, protecting against inflammation, etc. General guidelines would indicate that it is optimal to shoot for 0.3-0.8g of FAT per pound of body weight. Again, using the example of 190 pounds, this would equate to 57-152g/day of FAT.

Assuming we hit our bare minimum requirements of 95g PRO and 57g FAT, this puts us at 893kCals for the day; well short of our 2454kCal target. One gram of PRO = 4kCal and one gram of FAT = 9kCal. This leaves us with well over 1500kCals to play with. This 1561kCal bucket can be filled with either more PRO, more FAT, or you can introduce CHOs (which also have a relative value of 1g = 4kCals).

That concludes this post, in part four we will talk more about the types of foods we’ll want to include in the diet and get further into how to measure the data for progress.