Although hitting the gym isn’t for everyone, nutrition is something we literally can’t avoid. But there’s a problem: everybody thinks they are a nutritionist these days, meaning it can be very hard to determine fact from fiction. Does the latest health fad really work, or is it just another urban wives’ tale?
Over the years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve changed my approach on nutrition a number of times, but one thing that has always – and will always – remain constant is this: you can devise the most personalised/scientific meal plan ever, but if you don’t stick to it, you will never get the results you want.
The key is to break old habits, fight cravings and keep working towards a goal. Changing your diet for the better isn’t easy – in many ways it’s harder than training your body to lift weights or run 10k – but there are some ways to make your life a little easier. Here a few things to think about.
You need to create a calorie deficit for weight loss
Are there good and bad calories? There are entire medical journals dedicated to this very topic, and I could fill this newspaper many times over trying to give you a reasoned argument either way. What you need to know is that, on the simplest level, to lose weight you must create a calorie deficit. You need to expend more energy than you consume. This can be done by consuming less, burning more, or both.
One of my clients struggled to lose weight until we worked out he was consuming over 3,000 calories with most of his evening meals (the meal usually would come with a couple glasses of orange juice or wine, and he would always use ketchup).
A standard Pret salad that seems low in calories can increase dramatically once you add the dressing; same goes for the bread that comes to the table at a restaurant.
It’s great that people are more health conscious these days, but they need to be aware that if you over-eat “clean” food, you still won’t lose weight.
There is very little actual evidence supporting the notion that higher protein intake has a positive impact on muscle growth
Trainers will recommend a variety of diet plans to help their clients – low carb, low fat, ketogenic, intermittent fasting, paleo – and each one works by creating a calorie deficit. The problem is, these will work wonders for one person and another will see no change whatsoever. Personal trainers are prone to telling people to follow a certain exercise plan without actually knowing much about the individual.
I know trainers who will give all their clients a standard meal plan and expect everyone to achieve the same results, but that’s far too basic. You have to take all kinds of things into account: how much they move during the day, how much excess weight they are carrying, what they would like to achieve. There are thousands of factors, and the key is finding what works best for you.
Track your calories
We encourage every client at No1 Fitness to track their food throughout their journey with us, even if it’s just for a few days at a time.
There are a number of ways to do this, none of which are 100 per cent accurate. But if you do start paying attention to what – and how much – you eat, you’ll find it far easier to start making changes.
First thing’s first: set a baseline. How much am I currently consuming? I suggest using a tracking app like Myfitnesspal, which is great and easy to use.
Method 1: Track your food for two weeks and then take a daily average calorie amount (if you consumed 40,000 calories in 14 days your daily average would be 2,857).
I would then weigh yourself every day, take an average of your weight at the end of a week, then do the same again the next week and compare the difference. If you’ve lost weight, your 2,857 calorie average means you’re in a deficit. If you don’t change weight, you are around maintenance. If you gain weight then those calories have put you in a surplus.
Method 2: This is much quicker. Use a BMR (basal metabolic rate) calculator to work out your daily baseline using the Harris Benedict Equation. Beware that the calculations for this are taken from norms and averages, so there can be a large degree of inaccuracy.
Now you have your baseline daily calorie number, you can start looking at your goals in more detail.
What about protein?
Protein is the popular macro in the fitness industry. For some reason we always hear bad things about fats and carbs, but never about protein. Protein is an essential macronutrient, responsible for muscle growth and recovery. It cannot store significantly in the body, so there needs to be a continuous supply. It plays a huge part in hormone production too.
There is very little actual evidence supporting the notion that higher protein intake has a positive impact on muscle growth, so for those who are smashing the protein back, you might be over-doing it.
I recommend eating in the region of 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight depending on your goal. For example, I weigh 85kg, and I set myself 2g of protein per kg because I train regularly. So 85kg x 2g = 170g of protein per day.
Nutrition is a minefield. People are bombarded with so much information, much of which is conflicting. Be wary of anyone telling you that there is one correct way to eat better; unfortunately our bodies are far more complicated than that.
Try tracking your foods for four days and see what you learn: I guarantee it will give you some food for thought.