If there is one thing that I firmly believe, it’s that you must hammer the basics until they become so second nature, you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Then, and only then, do you begin to introduce new methods. If you can’t squat correctly, why would you add chains or bands? If building a birdhouse seems daunting, why would you attempt to build a skyscraper? I think two examples is enough.
One of the biggest issues I see when it comes to nutrition is that a large majority of the population does not understand the basic concepts involved in nutrition. I will premise this by saying I am not a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, and that any advice I am giving is not medical advice, nor is it a diagnosis or plan of treatment. This is general, basic advice to help you better understand how to get good at the simple things when it comes to following a “healthy diet”.
I put “healthy diet” in quotation marks, because that is a very ambiguous statement. What does healthy mean? Does it mean organic? No. Does it mean gluten free? No. A healthy diet is any diet derived from foods that help you meet your caloric requirements for the day and perform optimally while maintaining health. That’s it. Unfortunately, billions of dollars have been poured into marketing to confuse the masses and make them think there is some sort of special key to unlock all of their dietary dreams. Well, I’m here to crush them.
The simplest, and most effective way to have a healthy diet is to eat the amount of calories that you need to reach your specific goals. After that, the focus needs to be on macronutrients, and then as we get better at those things, we can start focusing in more on things like micronutrients, macronutrient timing, etc., but for now, let’s just focus on calories and macronutrients.
Everyone has different calorie requirements based on several different factors. The biggest factors that are usually taken into account are activity level, training history, and lean body mass. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how many calories you need to eat for your specific goals, as each person is different, but there are tons of online calculators that can give you a solid idea, or you can hire someone to help you figure that out. Either way, at the end of the day, calories are king when it comes to weight loss, weight gain, or just maintaining.
The second factor in keeping things basic is learning what the different macronutrients are. Most will say it’s just protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They’re not wrong, but I like to add alcohol in there as well, since that oftentimes is a part of a lot of people’s diets. Let’s explore what each macronutrient is, how it calls into the caloric spectrum, and a brief overview of what it does for your body.
Protein: Protein is often called the building block of the human body. It is built up of 13 amino acids, and it is an essential macronutrient, which means that the human body can not live without it. It has a myriad of functions, from helping muscles recover and rebuild after a grueling workout, to helping with hair and nail health. Most people do not get enough protein. For active individuals, the recommended daily intake is 1.3-1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (1) When you’re tracking your protein, it’s important to note that each gram is worth 4 calories.
Fat: Fat is another essential macronutrient. It is essential to life and is one of the main fuels for a large spectrum of functions in the human body, including fueling the heart (2) . It has gotten a bad rap over the last few decades, based on bad science, but now we have figured out that it is actually extremely good for us, and extremely necessary. Fat falls in at 9 calories per gram, with some variances based on what sort of fat source you’re using, but for consistency sake, 9 calories is the go to. (some Medium Chain Triglycerides are only 7 calories per gram, but in the long run, just go with 9).
Carbohydrates: This is where things get interesting. Carbohydrates are not essential, but they are extremely important when it comes to living optimally. After we pardoned fat from a death sentence, carbohydrates came under fire as being the evil this making everyone fat and unhealthy. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Carbohydrates serve an important role in the human body, especially for populations that are training hard, like those at The Spot Athletics. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is stored in your muscles and liver, and provide energy for tough bouts of lifting and training, as well as fueling the brain. Carbs, just like protein, weigh in at 4 calories per gram.
Alcohol: No matter how great someone’s diet is set up, this always seems to be the curveball that can make or break success. Alcohol isn’t inherently good or bad, it just is. Some forms have important antioxidants, and can be an important part of socializing, which can help some people maintain mental sanity and destress. However, alcohol doesn’t offer much more than that, except 7 calories per gram. This is where a lot of people go wrong. They eat 100% perfectly all day, and then 3 glasses of wine later and they’re up to 375 extra calories that day, assuming the actually poured 1 serving per glass, and aren’t topping off each time.
So, let’s recap. Carbs and protein equal 4 calories per gram, fat equals 9, and alcohol 7. Great. So what do we do with that information? The best step is to figure out how many calories you need to reach your goals, and then figure out a macronutrient breakdown by percentages. I will not give any recommendations as everyone is different, but there are vast resources on the internet to help you with that.
The biggest piece of advice I can give however, is to track your calories and macro nutrients. This way, you can make adjustments based on how you’re feeling, how your clothes are fitting, and how your mood is. If it’s measurable, it’s manageable. If you’re just eating foods because they’re “healthy”, “organic”, or any other buzzwords that might be filling headlines nowadays, then you’re really just shooting in the dark. Learn to read nutrition labels. Here are a few that can help:
Utilize these tools and start figuring out what the best way to eat is for you, and if you ever have questions, make sure to let us know!