How Calories Affect Fat and Muscle Changes. (2nd most important thing)
"Don't put the cart before the horse."
In other words, don't try and learn all the little details before understanding the context of the details and the bigger picture.
In his book, 'Muscle & Strength Nutrition Pyramid', Eric Helms puts it this way.
Imagine you have a race car driver who has spent months researching race courses, strategies for competition, honing his mechanical engineering and selecting a good pit crew. But, he hasn't yet learned to drive or even have his driver's license.
This may sound ridiculous, but it's very common for people to do the same when it comes to nutrition.
So, with Part 1 in mind, remember that calories are king. They always matter most in body weight changes.
But, the next most important thing is food choices. Especially in relation to protein, carbs, fats and nutrients.
Nothing else matters unless you understand these two parts. Don't put the cart before the horse.
ALL CALORIES ARE EQUAL
BUT THEY ARE NOT THE SAME
I know, I know… In part 1, I was constantly on about how all calories are equal and didn’t even mention they are not the same.
But, that was to truly emphasise the point that total calories affect weight.
This time I’m emphasising that macronutrients affect body composition and health.
If you ONLY want weight changes, focus on your total calorie balance from part 1.
If you ALSO want increased muscle mass, decreased fat mass and improved health, focus on your macronutrient intake from this post.
What Are Macronutrients And Why Should You Care?
Macronutrients (from now on macros to save me some key strokes) are in every single thing you eat and drink.
They are the ‘packages’ that contain calories and the body breaks them down to use as energy.
There are three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrate and fat.
(I’m not going to include alcohol here as that’s for another time and another place - long story short - alcohol contains calories but these calories provide no nutritional benefit to the body)
As the calories you eat come from these these macronutrients, it’s important to understand what each does in relation to body composition.
Protein - 4 calories/gram
Mostly found in meat, fish, eggs, tofu, dairy, beans
Preserve or grow lean muscle mass
High satiety (keeps you fuller for longer)
Carbs - 4 calories per gram
Mostly found in bread, pasta, rice, fruit, sugary foods, oats
Body’s preferred energy source
Can be stored as fat if not used
Fat - 9 calories per gram
Mostly found in nuts, seeds, oils, avocado, fatty meats, fatty fish, fried/greasy foods, deserts.
Very calorie dense
High satiety (even higher than protein)
Controls function on hormones
Provides energy for body when carb stores are low or in times when the body doesn’t need immediate energy.
These 3 macros are eaten by absolutely everyone, but usually in different ratios depending on diet.
Each diet contains the same number of calories. But will have different effect on body composition and health based on the macronutrient amounts.
Protein is the golden macro when it comes to health and body composition
A high protein diet:
- helps you grow muscle (as muscle is made of proteins)
- keeps you full (helping you manage calorie intake)
- spares your muscle when you’re calories are low (so energy is taken from fat or carb stores in the body and not precious muscle)
How much protein should you aim for?
A good standard (and easy to remember) is 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
Or just try and eat as much protein as you can each day. Protein isn’t easy for the body to store as fat and you won’t reach a level where you’re eating too much protein that it becomes bad for you (unless you eat 1kg of chicken and 1kg of turkey every day).
How do fat and carbs fit into the picture then?
Here’s where it get’s funny.
THE EXACT AMOUNTS OF FAT AND CARBS DOESN’T REALLY MATTER.
In all studies done on topics of weight loss and body composition, the only thing that is truly evident is that high protein matters.
The rest of your diet can be made up as you see fit as long as there are no extremes.
Both of these macros are important.
Fat controls your hormones (think feelings, hunger, energy, mood) which is pretty dam important. There’s never a reason you should go low fat. Keep it to above 20% of your daily calories or 40-50 grams a day.
Just remember, fat is very calorie dense and it’s easy to go overboard. Olive oil is pure fat and 2 tablespoons contains about 26 grams of fat which is 234 calories.
Carbs, while not as important as fat in terms of health, still have a part to play. They give you energy. Energy to walk up the stairs to your office. Energy to train for 30 minutes instead of 20. Energy to play with your kids for another 15 minutes before dinner.
Eat your carbs in moderation. A cupped palm each meal is a nice way to think about it.
Note: Carbs can be simple or complex. Without making things too complex (haha - get it?) simple carbs comes from sugar and provide IMMEDIATE ENERGY and if you don’t use this energy it can be stored as fat. Complex carbs come from things like brown rice, wholemeal bread/pasta and oats, and they provide SUSTAINED energy which is much more desirable.
All diet makeups will have a very similar effect on body composition as long as protein is high and calories are managed. Just choose which one is easiest to stick to.
Can I just eat high protein then and not exercise?
Well, yes you can.
But, you will get much better results by training as well.
Resistance training is especially good when dieting. You may remember, from part 1, that when you have an energy deficit (you are eating less than your body needs each day) the extra energy comes from stores in the body.
Your body can take this energy from fat stores, carb stores or STRAIGHT FROM THE MUSCLE!
Ideally, you don’t want your body to use muscle stores as energy. You may lose weight and end up looking even fatter than before.
Resistance training helps here. Lifting heavy weight preserves muscle mass as it stimulates muscle growth and therefore down regulates muscle breakdown.
The best way to go about it is to eat high protein and train with heavy weights.
Micronutrients And Health, Wellbeing and Energy
I haven’t even mentioned the importance of micronutrients yet.
Micronutrients come with the packages of macros in the form of vitamins and minerals. We can also chuck fibre into this group too. They contain no calories but are super important.
Micronutrients are responsible for making you feel good. They are used in all of the little processes of the body and relate to the ‘health’ of your system.
After understanding a calorie deficit the importance of protein, micronutrients are the third most important thing to understand (and in some cases may be the first thing you need to improve).
They may not have a direct correlation with your weight, but feeling more energetic and healthy through the day will help you get to the gym, reach a calorie deficit and eat your protein.
This is the problem with processed and packaged foods. They often contain less micronutrients and more calories. You generally want to
The easiest ways to get more nutrients into your diet is to eat 5+ servings of vegetables a day and 1-2 pieces of fruit.
So now we have some solid reasoning behind these things for some healthy fat loss.
Eat in a calorie deficit (200-500 calorie deficit)
Eat high protein (1g/pound of bodyweight)
Complete resistance training with heavy weights
Eat nutrient dense foods
Once you have the diet down, sustainability should be your litmus test
Did you find a good way of eating where you eat at a deficit, get enough protein and eat nutrient dense foods?
Awesome! Now the question is: CAN YOU SUSTAIN IT FOR OVER 3 MONTHS
Is it simple enough to follow?
Is it efficient and doesn’t take too much of your precious time?
Does it fit your lifestyle like a glove?
If you answered yes to all of these, that’s great! You’re on to something special.
Any no’s? Work at it. How can you make it simpler? More efficient? Fit your life?
Keep it simple. Calorie deficit. Protein. Wholefoods. Resistance training.
You got this.
And if you don't got this, I got you.
Message me here if you have any questions. I'd be happy to help.