common mistake I see people making with their fitness journey is overlooking the basics of nutrition in favour of more intense training sessions.
Properly fueling your training is a fundamental element of your energy levels and body composition. If you’re new to exercise, you may have heard these terms before but not really understood the impact they’re having.
If you’ve been training a while, but you do not see the results you might expect, it’s likely your nutrition is the critical piece that needs work. The good news is that it’s far less complicated than you might think. With this short introduction, you’ll understand what food is doing for your body.
The Role of Food for Humans
All food we eat is made up of macronutrients; protein, fats and carbohydrates. Some foods will have only one of these “macros” (known as “single macro foods” such as skinless chicken breast, cooking oil, or fruit) while others may have two or even all three.
If you’re tracking your macros carefully, knowing your single macro foods can help you to meet your daily targets. The macronutrients in the food you eat will have an impact on energy levels, sleep, recovery, fat loss, performance, and feelings of fullness.
After calories, protein is the most important consideration when you want to lose unwanted body fat and get lean. A high protein diet will help to keep you feeling full for longer and more satisfied with your diet. Protein can be found in meat from animals, animal products like eggs and milk, and in some non-animal products, like peas, in its incomplete form.
The role of protein is to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue after exercise. The terms “complete” and “incomplete” when referring to protein relates to the individual branch chain amino acids in the protein molecule. Don’t be put off by this though – in practice, this may mean that non-animal sources of protein (such as those in a vegetarian or vegan diet) require a little extra supplementation.
Traditionally, carbs have had a bit of a bad reputation. People have dieted by cutting out carbs completely. While it’s true to say that your body doesn’t need carbs to survive, eliminating them is a very radical approach that isn’t suitable for most people. A low or no-carb diet can lead to feeling very sluggish for some people, so understanding how your body handles it is imperative.
Rather than “good” carbs and “bad” carbs, it’s more accurate to say unrefined carbs and refined carbs. Unrefined carbs could include things like fruit, vegetables, rice and potatoes. These are great sources of fibre, starch, vitamins and minerals.
You can find refined carbs in foods like sugary desserts, cakes, cookies, pastries and even white bread and have a much lower nutritional value. They don’t make you feel full, and as a result, they’re very easy to overeat. This overconsumption of calories can lead to weight gain if it’s done regularly.
Eating dietary fats, like salmon, avocado, or butter doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll gain body fat. Body fat increases relative to eating too many calories – and while that may come from dietary fats, it might just as easily come from other macros also.
However, dietary fats have more calories per gram than other macronutrients (9kcal per gram compared with protein and carbs at 4kcal). So, it’s worth keeping a close eye on your calories if your diet contains a lot of dietary fats and your goal is to lose weight.
Fats are essential to feeling full, transporting vitamins and regulating hormones. Fats are involved in how our bodies process cholesterol, carrying cholesterol to the liver where it can be excreted as bile. Some people prefer a slightly higher fat content in their diet because it feels more comfortable with losing weight when compared with a higher carb diet. This is a personal preference, and you may want to experiment with both to find what’s right for you.
Your diet is one of the main contributors to quality sleep, high enough energy levels to train with intensity, and adequate recovery from your workouts. When you’re in a calorie deficit, the macronutrient ratio in your diet will determine how much of the weight you lose will be from body fat and muscle tissue. When you are in a calorie surplus with a weight gain goal, that same ratio will determine how your body utilises what you eat and how much of that will be used to add muscle mass or store fat.
Having a diet which is high in low quality, processed foods makes it much harder to feel full, and repair muscle from training. When you overeat, you’ll also store more body fat.
A diet made up from whole foods, minimally processed and cooked at home gives you maximum control over how and what you eat. This is important when the goal is to get lean and train well. In a nutshell, abs are made in the kitchen. Feel free to reach out if you feel you need expert advice to achieve your fitness and body composition goals.