Nutrition for Newbies: A Basic Introduction

1. INTRODUCTION

This is a basic introduction to nutrition. Some facts/points are purposefully simplified to avoid confusion.

What is a Calorie?

A Calorie is a unit of energy. The human body needs energy to work. Humans acquire energy through food consumption. The amount of calories in a food can be found on nutritiondata.com, or where possible, on the food’s packaging.

What is a Macronutrient (Macro)?

The energy (Calorie) content of all foods come from the macronutrients in the food. The macronutrients you need to know about are protein, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol. Macronutrients are the fuel that gives your body energy.

  • One gram of protein provides 4 Calories.
  • One gram of carbohydrates provides 4 Calories.
  • One gram of fats provides 9 Calories.
  • One gram of alcohol provides 7 Calories.

The macronutrient content of a food can be found on nutritiondata.com, or where possible, on the food’s packaging.

What is a Micronutrient?

Micronutrients are required by your body to operate properly, or in a healthy manner. Micronutrients include things like vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are like the “oil”, “brake fluid”, etc. that keep your body running smoothly. The micronutrient content of foods can be found on nutritiondata.com. “Whole” foods generally contain more micronutrients than “processed” foods. 

2. BODY COMPOSITION

Of all the things the body is made of, the most important components are muscle, fat and water.

  • A marathon runner has LOW muscle mass, and LOW fat mass.
  • The average, sedentary person has LOW muscle mass, and HIGH fat mass.
  • A “toned” person has MODERATE muscle mass, and LOW-MODERATE fat mass.
  • A sprinter/weightlifter/bodybuilder has HIGH muscle mass, and LOW fat mass.
  • A sumo wrestler has HIGH muscle mass, and HIGH fat mass.

Body fat percentage (BF%) is a good measure of body composition. As a guideline for men (for women add 5%):

  • BF% < 10%: Six pack abs visibile.
  • BF% 10%-15%: Shapely abs, muscular shape evident without flexing. Waist < hips.
  • BF% 15%-20%: “Soft” looking, some muscular shape for highly muscular individuals. Waist ~ hips.
  • BF% 20%-25%: Waist > hips.
  • BF% 25%-35%: Obese.
  • BF% 35%+: Morbidly obese.

You can estimate your body fat percentage using just a measuring tape. See this page for example.

3. GAINING AND LOSING WEIGHT

  • To gain weight, you need to take in more calories from food than your body expends.
  • To maximize muscle gain and minimise fat gain, you need to eat a GOOD DIET and EXERCISE including WEIGHT TRAINING.
  • Aim to gain 1-1.5kg or 2-3lbs a month, any more may result in excessive fat gain.
  • To lose weight, you need to take in less calories from food than your body expends.
  • To maximize fat loss and minimise muscle loss, you need to eat a GOOD DIET and EXERCISE.
  • Aim to lose 2-3kg or 4-6lbs a month, any more may result in excessive muscle loss.

4. HOW MANY CALORIES DOES MY BODY EXPEND?

Follow the above link, focus currently on the “Katch-McArdle” section under “Estimating Requirements”, and multiply the BMR by an appropriate Activity Factor.

This should give you a good ESTIMATE for your maintenance.

5. SET CALORIE AND MACRONUTRIENT GOALS

Calories

  • If you want to gain weight, multiply your maintenance by 1.1.
  • If you want to lose weight, multiply your maintenance by 0.9.
  • If your calorie target is below 1500, consider extra exercise to increase your maintenance as it may be difficult to intake adequate amounts of macro/micronutrients.

Protein

  • Protein is important for muscle gain and recovery, among other things.
  • Aim for 2 grams per kg of body weight, or 1 gram per lb of body weight.

Fats

  • Fats are NOT BAD, in fact, fats are important for satiety, hair/skin health, hormonal health, etc. Do not neglect dietary fats. Fats are TASTY!
  • Aim for 1-2 grams per kg of body weight, or 0.5-1 grams per lb of body weight. Aim for the lower target if you are trying to lose weight, and the higher if you are trying to gain.

Carbohydrates

  • Carbs are generally used by your body just for the energy content. But they’re tasty and commonly found.
  • You do not need to make a solid target for carbs but make sure you get some.

Alcohol

  • Alcohols are not necessary for your body. 
  • Less is better but some is fine.

6. DESIGNING A DIET

You do not need to design a daily food plan and follow it religiously. It can be a good exercise to do in order to get an idea of the amount of food you should be eating though.

You need to keep track of what you eat, and know how to count calories and macronutrient amounts. See here for some pointers. Track EVERYTHING YOU EAT, including that cookie you had as a snack, the dressing on your salad, etc.

Your primary goals are:

  • Reach your protein and fat goals (excess is OK as long as you do not break any other goals)
  • Eat a variety of “good” foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, fish, whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of water.

After fulfilling these goals for the day, you can consume ANYTHING* you want in order to reach your calorie goal. Aim to hit your calorie goal as accurately as possible.

*Use common sense.

Secondary goals (which should be achieved with a good diet) include:

  • Enough fiber to keep you “regular”.
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Avoid excessive amounts of salty foods.

By reaching these primary goals, you should get a good range of micronutrients to keep you healthy. Feel free to read this post for more information on macro/micronutrients, sources and uses.

Things you do not need to do (unless you are a very high-performance athlete, in which case you should not be reading this):

  • Eat x meals a day. It does not matter how many times a day you eat, or when. All that matters is what you eat per day.
  • Take a multivitamin. Micronutrients are generally absorbed much better by the body when they have come from a whole food source.
  • Eat this before/after a workout. Current scientific consensus suggests that nutrient timing is irrelevant.
  • Take casein/”slow acting” protein or eat cottage cheese before bed to prevent going “catabolic”. If you eat a proper daily diet, you won’t go “catabolic”.
  • Buy supplement x which promises “insert outrageous claim”. If they worked and were legal and safe, I wouldn’t have wrote this. See below…

7. SUPPLEMENTS

…are not always necessary. If you would like to add supplements into your plan then I would suggest checking out this post.

  • Protein powders are fine and can help you reach your protein goal easier. They are practically a “food” anyway, be sure to consume them along with a variety of other protein sources in your diet.

8. ASSESSING YOUR DIET

Before starting your new diet (and exercise program), measure your body weight and your body fat percentage. Feel free to take photos as well.

Follow your new diet for AT LEAST 2 weeks before measuring again and passing judgement. Resist the temptation to measure daily as natural fluctuation occurs.

If you are trying to lose weight but have not lost weight, either:

  • Reduce your calorie target by 5% (multiply by 0.95)
  • Increase the amount of exercise you do.

If you are trying to gain weight but have not gained weight:

  • Increase your calorie intake by 5% (multiply by 1.05)

(via forum.bodybuilding.com by dat)

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