When the goal is to make any type of body composition change, a focus on the client’s nutrition becomes a priority. My goal here is to begin to break down the basics of nutrition and what changes a client may need to make in order to get the toned look many desire.
Let’s start with what a calorie and macronutrients are. The definition of a calorie is the measure of energy in food. Different types of food provide different energy levels, which leads to certain foods being calorie dense. When making a body composition change we need to look at the amount of calories taken in versus those expended.
The three main macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. When you hear someone talk about their diet these are the things they typically focus on. Each macronutrient group provides different calorie counts – protein = 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram and fats = 9 calories per gram. A pound of fat is made up of 3,500 calories, so in order to lose one pound you need to find a way to have a 3,500 calorie deficit.
Protein in the fitness world is typically associated with building muscle and most often comes from animal sources – meat/poultry, eggs, fish/seafood and dairy – but there are many plant based sources as well – beans, nuts/seeds, and some grains. In addition, protein is needed to keep your organs healthy and is present in bones, hair and most tissue in the body.
Carbohydrates have been demonized over the years, and are the one macronutrient the human body can technically live without, however quality sources of carbs give us the energy we need to get through our workouts and our hectic days. That is one reason we hit the vending machine in the office during the 3:00 slump. Carbs are broken down into complex and simple. This refers to the length of the molecules. For our purposes, complex (whole grain) takes longer for the body to break down and simple (sugar) breaks down quickly for the body to use.
Healthy fats should be a part of every meal plan. Back in the 1990s, big food companies had us believing a low or no fat diet was best. But they filled their products with chemicals (think olean) so that they tasted better. But science has revealed that a diet with amounts of healthy fats (not baked goods) is best for our organs. Fat does not create fat in the body. Some examples of healthy fats are avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, seeds/nuts.
Changing Body Composition
So how do I change my body composition? Start by figuring out how many calories you burn in a day and how many you consume. Without knowing your starting numbers you can’t possibly figure out where to make changes.
Once you know where you are, start tracking your food. There are many apps you can use to track your food and see your caloric intake. Some versions of the Fitbit also have tracking programs allowing you to see intake and output at once.
Now that you can see caloric exchanges, is your intake higher than your output? How can you adjust? Can you remove 500 calories a day or can you increase your exercise for more of a balance? Remember, a pound of fat is 3,500 calories which equals 500 calories a day for a week.
Extra burn doesn’t have to be in the gym. When I had a desk job I would put conference calls on speaker and do squats, lunges, push-ups or pace my office. People walking by gave me weird looks at first but slowly I noticed a few of them doing the same thing! Take the stairs when possible. Get up every hour and walk around the office. Go to your coworkers desk instead of sending an IM.
How can you cut 500 calories? Look at your portions. Are you measuring your food? Chances are if you are not measuring you are eating a lot more than the portion calls for. We’ve all heard 3 oz of protein is the size of a deck of cards but do we pay attention? Here is a link to a chart showing portion size visuals. http://www.healthyeating.org/Portals/0/Documents/Schools/Parent%20Ed/Portion_Sizes_Serving_Chart.pdf
And what about vegetables? Technically they are not a macronutrient but they provide carbs, minerals, vitamins and fiber. All things we need for a healthy diet. And because they are generally low in calorie we can eat a lot of them, fill up and still lose weight!
Once you know your numbers, track your food, move a little more, eat a little less and get proper sleep, your body composition should start to inch toward that toned look you are dreaming about!