Nutrition Made Simple

The Most Important Things You Should Know About Nutrition

Chances are that almost everything that you were ever taught about nutrition was insignificant.

The truth is that there are only few things that actually matter and practically everything else gives very little results.

We live in a world where almost everything is worthless and there are only few things that are actually valuable. Like everything else in life, same is the case with fitness. Most of the nutrition and training information out there is not necessarily wrong or worthless – they are simply not important.

Following are some examples of common fat loss advice that are not so effective:

·         “Avoid the carbs as they make you fat.”

·         “Avoid sugar.”

·         “Eat only the gluten-free foods.”

·         “Speed up your metabolism by eating more frequently.”

·         “Go for Paleo Diet as that’s the way our cavemen ancestors ate.”

·         “Always eat breakfast.”

·          “Drink only water. Avoid all other drinks.”

·         “Eat 5 – 6 meals daily.”

You might be thinking what is the problem with these pieces of “advice”? After all, these are common advices that are thought to be effective. The truth is that they are either myths that are not true and have been debunked by research, or they have very little effects on the actual results.

Have you heard of the 80:20 rule (the Pareto’s Principle). According to this rule about 80% of the results are from only 20% of effort. It is a very powerful basic principle of life and it also applies to fitness. It is unfortunate that many people have this approach of doing everything at once in order to get great results. In other words, they go “all-out” without thinking about the efficiency, the willpower, and time.

Most of the people simply overlook the basics: the important things that matter the most. And when we talk about body composition (whether you are trying to gain some muscle or lose fat), there are only few necessary things that you must do in order to get great results.

Here they are…

The Pyramid of Nutritional Importance

In simple words, the most important things in nutrition for muscle gain and fat loss in the order of importance are:

1.       Calorie intake

2.       Your diet’s MACROnutrient composition: carbs, protein and fats.

3.       Your diet’s MICROnutrient intake: minerals, vitamins, etc.

4.       The frequency and timing of the meals – At what times you eat and how often you eat.

5.       The supplements helpful in covering the deficiencies.

All these things are the biggies. These are the essentials. These things will provide you with the results that you have been working for.

When we look at the above list, it becomes pretty clear why many people are not getting the results they want. Most of the people have this misconception that in order to lose fat they simply have to eat more veggies and fruits (it is number 3 on the pyramid), or they have to eat every 2 to 3 hours in order to stoke the metabolism of their body (it is number 4 on the pyramid), or they have to eat certain foods that promote fat loss (supplements are at number 5).

And not to forget the common misconception that some magical fat loss supplement is all one needs to lose fat.

The truth is that the things that must be prioritized the most are often overlooked by the people looking to lose fat or gain muscle.

1st Priority: Calories

This is the most important thing in nutrition.

It doesn’t matter what your goal is, whether you are trying to get rid of some fat or you are trying to gain some muscle, the main determining factor of the composition of your body is the energy balance. It is the First Law of Thermodynamics:

Total Energy Consumed – Total Energy Expended = Change in the Fat Mass

The point is calories matter the most.

In the past few years, many “experts” and “gurus” have told us that the calories don’t really matter. It is all about eating quality food and eating more vegetables etc. Yes, food quality surely matters, but it also matters equally that how many calories you are consuming of any quality food. That’s why “clean eating” is not the solution to losing fat. So whether you eat clean food or not, you will either lose, maintain or gain your weight depending on the number of calories that you eat every day.

The first step you must take when you are trying to lose fat or when you are trying to gain muscle is to know the caloric maintenance of your body. This is the number of calories that you must eat in order to maintain the current weight.

Once you figure out the maintenance calories, then you will:

·         Eat less calories in case you are trying to lose fat (caloric deficit), or

·         Eat more calories in case you are trying to put on some muscle (caloric surplus).

It is really that simple. There are definitely more things than simply eating more or fewer calories, but this is the most important thing. The change that occurs in the composition of your body is mostly dependent on the number of calories that you eat. So if someone tries to tell you that the calories don’t really matter and the only thing that matters is consuming “clean foods”, don’t believe them.

2nd Priority: Macronutrients

The macros - or macronutrients – make up the calories in the foods you eat. Carbs, proteins and fats are macros. These are the three things that play a key role in your muscle gain/fat loss struggle.

There are numerous factors that determine the amount of each macro that you consume. These include personal preference, activity level, psychological need, etc. Essentially, you will want to aim for a specific amount of fat and protein every day. And the carbs will vary depending on the activity levels.

Like calories, with macronutrients you’ll want to ensure that there’s some balance in their consumption. The most important macro out of the three is protein. You should give more attention to your protein intake. One of the rare things that the mainstream media is right about regarding nutrition is that you should make sure to consume enough proteins. This is because of the various benefits of protein. These include:

·         Protein can boost your metabolism and increase the fat burning.

·         Protein can help reduce hunger and appetite.

·         Protein helps gain muscle and to increase strength.

·         It improves the density of bones.

·         It can reduce those late-night cravings.

On the other hand, fats are something that gets love as well as hate. Fats are actually an important component of diet. They are important for the body composition and the overall health. Make sure to consume enough healthy fats to maintain the optimal body function & performance.

The third thing is carbs. They give energy to your body. How much carbs you need will depend on your goals, your training volume and your tolerance. For example, you can eat more carbs on the more active days.

3rd Priority: Micronutrients

Micronutrients are something that many people think as the most important thing in losing fat. However, they are 3rd most important thing. You get your micronutrients from vegetables and fruits.

I will not get in to too much detail about the micronutrients. I’ll simply say that your parents were absolutely right when they told you that eating vegetables and fruits is important. Veggies and fruits are helpful in covering the nutritional bases of your body for the general heath that keeps the immune system healthy. Like fats, veggies and fruits are important for the optimal functioning.

Just think about this – What is the point of 6-pack abs if you are always feeling tired, sick and lazy. Consuming enough of these nutrient-dense foods makes sure that your body stays healthy.

4###sup/sup### Priority: Frequency of Meals and Nutrient Timing

Timing of meals and their frequency comes at the 4###sup/sup### level of nutrition pyramid. Here are the important things to know…

·         You don’t need to eat after every 2 to 3 hours in order to eat 6 or 7 meals a day in pursuit of speeding up your metabolism. The fact is that the frequency of meals is not as important as many people think it to be. This is the case for muscle gain as well as fat loss. Having said that, it is still a great idea to eat 3 to 5 meals every day. Although you might find it easy to go with one or two big meals every day to cover the daily calorie requirements, eating too infrequently is not recommended for the obvious reasons like hunger. If you don’t eat food for too long, it can have a negative effect on your hunger. And if you eat too frequently, it can also have a negative impact, as you will be constantly thinking about food. So you should aim for the middle ground, i.e. 3 to 5 meals daily depending on your lifestyle and your preference for meal frequency.

·         When you are trying to find out the best frequency for your meals, you should take in to account your macronutrient and calorie goals. Let’s say that your daily calorie requirement is of 2,000 calories and your protein target is to consume 150 g daily. If you are eating 3 meals daily, then you will be aiming for 50 g of protein and 660 calories per meal.

·         Talking about your post-workout shakes/meals, you do not have to take the post-workout recovery shake/meal within 10 seconds of finishing the exercise. But for staying on safe side, it will be a good idea to have your post-workout meal/shake within one to two hours after the workout. For the post-workout meal/shake go for protein + carbs combo. It is also a good idea to go for a pre-workout meal consisting of protein + carbs combo about one to three hours before the work out.

5###sup/sup### Priority: Supplements

Supplements are useful, but they are not the answer to everything. And this is exactly why they are the last part of nutrition pyramid and they should be the least important thing for you.

Here are some important things that you should include in your starting supplement stack:

·         Green supplement/Multivitamin

·         Whey protein powder

·         Vitamin D

·         DHA/EPA (fish oil)

Of course, your supplement requirements will depend on the limitations or deficiencies in the diet and your body. If there is not enough fish in your diet then it is probably a good idea to take fish oil of some decent brand. Similarly if you are not getting enough of the sun, then grabbing Vitamin D supplement is a good idea.

Other supplements that I recommend fall in performance category:

Beta-alanine, caffeine, creatine, etc. These will be helpful for you in lifting more weights.

In case you are confused about supplements, you can always check Examine.com. It is an unbiased and independent online encyclopedia on nutrition and supplementation. If you are ever unsure about a supplement or about an ingredient in a supplement and you want to know more, the user-friendly database of Examine is a very good resource.

Everything Else is Secondary

Yes, all those other things that you have heard about nutrition are secondary.

In case you are trying to gain muscle or lose fat and nothing is working for you, the problem may not be because you are not eating right “foods for fat loss” or you are not following the paleo diet. Instead, the problem might be that you are consuming too many calories or you are not eating enough of the nutrient dense foods.

So, all the fluff that you commonly hear or read, are those extra things that have a very little impact on the results. Don’t worry about other things until you have covered the basic things shown in the pyramid. Keep things simple. Your priority should be the things at the bottom of the pyramid and then you should work your way up.

Action Steps

Here are the actions that you should take:

·         The first thing is to find out your calorie & macronutrient requirements.

·         Start practicing by keeping a check on your calorie intake and staying in your daily limit. Develop a habit of tracking the foods for few weeks so that you can be sure about the number of calories you are consuming. If you have never done this before, you can use apps like MyFitnessPal in order to check your daily calorie intake. You will surprised by the amount of calories you eat daily.

·         Once you start hitting your daily calorie targets, practice hitting your fat and protein targets. This is the toughest thing for many people. It is not easy hitting the protein targets if you are not used to of eating a lot of lean protein. In case you are one of those people, it might take some time to get used to eating enough protein and to be on target with your protein intake.