According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, are overweight. It is no wonder why people are becoming more and more obsessed with dieting when the numbers point to growing increases in weight and health risks. This is not to mention that the pressure to look leaner is constantly placed in front of us through advertisements in magazines, movies, and television. Many of these overweight individuals suffer with an inability to diet successfully due to a glaring misunderstanding of what you eat being more important than how much you eat. In order to remedy this people must thoughtfully consume fewer calories than their body requires to maintain its current weight and this should be done through the reduction of calories from food and getting regular exercise, not through the new fad diet.
The problem is that people who are attempting to diet are often following plans that cut out entire food groups or macronutrients which is leading them to an inability to stick to the given program due to their restrictive nature giving them a poor relationship with food. Instead of seeking education on the fundamentals of nutrition they blindly follow the shiny new advertising of the latest fad diet. Will some of these fad diets work? Yes, but they are not beneficial to the long term success of the dieter nor do these programs typically educate the person participating on how to be healthier and more active.
The 1980’s are widely regarded as the start of the fitness revolution where dietary fat was seen as the sole enemy to those looking to get into better shape. Whereas now we know dietary fat as one of the leading nutrients our body needs to stay hormonally balanced and to aide in recovery from exercise. Along came further scare of fats in the 1990’s and now eggs were public enemy number one. This brought upon an irrational fear of the cholesterol in egg yolks being bad for us, which from a study done by K. Mayurasakorn in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand it was shown that eating eggs every day actually raises the good cholesterol levels of our body and even provides us with necessary fats that we need for day to day living. Presently we are seeing many different things being touted as the new number one enemy of those that want to diet, but none bigger than that of the carbohydrate. Diets such as Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and Keto are the biggest names featuring this growing fear of carbohydrates. It is honestly put best as an irrational fear as studies have shown that lower carbohydrate diets are not superior than diets balanced in macronutrients as long as a caloric deficit below a person’s caloric maintenance intake is sustained.
“A closing point I want to make has been demonstrated in Hu et al’s recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors. Despite subtle differences, in a total of 23 trials (2788 subjects) a rather anticlimactic lack of significant therapeutic advantage was seen in any particular type of diet. Notably, the low-carb treatments ranged from 4 to 45% carbohydrate. This reinforces the principle that we humans are extremely versatile when it comes to diet. We can achieve excellent health on a very wide range of macronutrient compositions. The supremacy of a single type of diet (e.g., low-carb or low-fat) simply lacks evidence.” -Alan Aragon, M.S.
Restriction of entire food groups and macronutrients often leads to an over obsessive mentality that food is working against us and not for us. Many times people will take an extremist mentality, going all or nothing with their new eating habits once dieting, labeling foods as good and bad or as clean and dirty, instead of seeing food as fuel for the body and seeing the impactful benefits it provides. Steven Bratman, MD coined this extremist mentality orthorexia nervosa by detailing that it “indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food.” More often than not this unhealthy restriction of certain foods and nutrients from obsessive behavior leads to only short term success for dieters and does not bring them closer to an understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition and being able to carry over long term success of a healthy body weight and a healthy mind for the rest of their lives.
The most important element in creating a successful diet while maintaining a positive relationship with food is to simplify the education. However, a problem with gaining a more solid foundation featuring the principles of nutrition is that there is so much misinformation already out there and readily available. You can easily get lost in too much detail or pointed in the wrong direction by a bad source and spend too much time focusing on something inaccurate. You should always take a science based approach when it comes to the fundamentals of nutrition. Taking this approach will provide you with proven research and results as opposed to just what sounds right or what someone with a nice physique has told you about. The basics that are necessary to understand is that the calories (energy that we take into our body from foods) versus the energy expenditure (calories that are burned through resting metabolic rate and daily activity) is what creates the basic caloric deficit or surplus in the overall energy balance making us either lose or gain weight. More important than what we eat it is how much we eat, as this was shown in a study by Richard Surwit in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where “results showed that a high sucrose content in a hypoenergetic … diet did not adversely affect weight loss.”
Eating smaller portions is a guaranteed method to reduce the calories being consumed on a daily basis in order to jump start a mindset for weight loss. Unfortunately, some bring themselves to an extremist mentality eating much too little which can be detrimental to the metabolism and lead to even more harmful situations such as developing an eating disorder like anorexia. In order to combat this it is best only to slightly reduce the portions by opting for smaller sizes of overall meals or sticking to one serving instead of two. A person should plan to consciously decrease their portions in minimal amounts through focusing on eating a portion that is only slightly less than what it has been previously as to avoid any negative repercussions of major calorie restriction. Perhaps you find that you eat bigger portions due to an increased appetite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that “if you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.”
It is quickly learned for anyone that has made the decision to lose weight and lead a healthy lifestyle that there needs to be a relationship built between nutrition and exercise. Whereas you can lose weight through dieting alone with a caloric deficit it will increase the rate of weight loss plus improve your overall health to implement an exercise routine. Exercise alone, however, is often not going to be enough to fix a poor diet. This has been shown time and time again through individuals that lead an active lifestyle that still are unable to achieve a loss in weight from not following a proper diet with the purpose of weight reduction. However, in a study by Christina J. Paez done at the University of New Mexico it was shown that subjects who performed exercise along with a diet consisting of an energy deficit achieved greater amounts of weight loss and were able to maintain the results well after the study concluded.
The ever growing problem of the inability to diet in order to lose weight is not only based on the misconception that what you eat matters more than how much you eat, but it is that we already know enough. If we already know enough then why isn’t the tide shifting? According to studies done and published in the Los Angeles Times 42% of the world’s population will be obese by 2030. There is no greater gift that we have received than that of life and to ensure that we are able to live these lives in whichever way we desire we must fight to maintain healthy body weights. “Public health experts have concluded that the best way to attack the obesity crisis is to prevent people from becoming obese in the first place” (Los Angeles Times). That sounds fairly obvious, but it’s not being placed into practice. There are too many people attempting to educate themselves once already overweight or in an unhealthy state instead of arming themselves to keep the problem from occurring. In order to combat this growing epidemic of unhealthy body weights with a proper ability to lose weight and diet successfully an understanding must be reached that the scientific fundamentals of weight loss through an energy deficit combined with regular exercise are needed by overweight individuals. The choice is simply to learn more about the subject and put the subject into practice or to shorten our life spans through our own blatant ignorance.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Eating for Healthy Weight: Portion Size.” 2012.
- Hu, T et al. “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials.” 2012.
- Mayurasakorn, K et al. “High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Changes After Continuous Egg Consumption in Healthy Adults.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 91.3 (2008): 400-407.
- Los Angeles Times. “42% of American Adults Will Be Obese.“ Melissa Healy. 2012.
- Steven Bratman. “Orthorexia Nervosa.” Steven Bratman, M.D., 2010.
- Surwit, Richard S. et al. “Metabolic and Behavioral Effects of a High-Sucrose Diet During Weight Loss.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65.4 (2012): 908-915. Print.
- University of New Mexico. “Exercise vs. Diet in Weight Loss.” Exercise and Sport Science Reviews. Christina J. Paez et al. 2000.
- World Health Organization. “WHO | Obesity and Overweight.”
As people were getting ready for the holiday season and its accompanying waist expansion late last year, Dr. Mehmet Oz let viewers of his TV show in on a timely little secret. “Everybody wants to know what’s the newest, fastest fat buster,” said the board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive. “How can I burn fat without spending every waking moment exercising and dieting?”
He then told his audience about a “breakthrough,” “magic,” “holy grail,” even “revolutionary” new fat buster. “I want you to write it down,” America’s doctor urged his audience with a serious and trustworthy stare. After carefully wrapping his lips around the exotic words “Garcinia cambogia,” he added, sternly: “It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”
In Dr. Oz’s New York City studio, garcinia extract—or hydroxycitric acid found in fruits like purple mangosteen—sounded fantastic, a promising new tool for the battle against flab. Outside the Oprah-ordained doctor’s sensational world of amazing new diets, there’s no real debate about whether garcinia works: The best evidence is unequivocally against it.
The miracle cure isn’t really a miracle at all. It’s not even new. Garcinia cambogia has been studied as a weight-loss aid for more than 15 years. A 1998 randomized controlled trial looked at the effects of garcinia as a potential “antiobesity agent” in 135 people. The conclusion: The pills were no better than placebo for weight and fat loss.
I have always told anyone that has asked me about this man the same exact thing each time — Dr. Oz is a joke. The fact that he is in the public eye giving out advice on health should be punishable by a public tar and feathering. This man not only perpetuates constant misinformation, but is a major player in pulling society backwards in understanding nutrition fundamentally.
Don’t listen to just anyone when it comes to your health. Find the sources that are backed by relevant and current research that want to lead you to better health and not just out to make a dollar out of you buying into their nonsense.
Summer is always closer than you think and so this means that the idea of being out in public wearing nothing but a bathing suit in front of everyone crosses many of our minds on a regular basis. For some it is an opportunity to show off what hard work and discipline will get you while others are panicking to find a perfect diet that will let them shed the last few pounds. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention up to 68% of all adults are overweight. Saying that the majority of people will be disappointed in their dieting efforts isn’t a hunch, it’s a fact. We are a society that loves to diet to lose weight, but can’t do it successfully.
Dieting hasn’t always been a concern for people. In fact, before the first recorded diet comprised of consuming only liquid calories from alcohol in 1087 by King William I overweight people were seen to be of greater wealth and of more importance. A bigger belt size meant a bigger wallet in those times, but my how things have changed. Now it seems that the thinner the individual the more successful they are perceived.
In the beginning of the 20th century dieting began to take shape featuring ideas such as, the Inuit diet where participators would eat only meat or fat, and George Harrop’s diet in which a person only consumed bananas and fat free milk. Later into the 1960s a popular dieting system was developed by Jean Nidetch that was pillared by ideas of group support, encouragement and following a style of smarter eating and healthier living. With this program members would meet weekly to share experiences and gain information from one another on how to achieve better results in their efforts. The program proved to be so successful that it is still widely used today under the same name as it started with, Weight Watchers.
Unfortunately for society there isn’t just one diet though. There are literally hundreds of fad diets and styles of eating that are available. How are you supposed to know which one is right? How are you supposed to tell one that is focused on getting you to better health instead of just taking your hard earned money? The weight loss industry was worth a staggering $60.9 billion in 2010 alone according to a report done by Marketdata Enterprises, so to think that all diets are in it for the good of your health would be quite naïve. Every time you open a magazine there is a new perfect diet to follow. Watch an interview for the new blockbuster movie out this weekend and you’ll hear about how the lead actor got in shape for their role following some new diet gimmick. Dieting is everywhere in our society and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Temptation can wreck a diet in a matter of minutes. You have been successful in losing a substantial amount of weight to the point where friends and family are taking notice. You’ve stuck to your guns on this diet fad and it’s paid off. You feel better, but you’re not happy. You want to lose more weight and you are constantly being reminded of the fact that you can’t eat anything that you want. As you grocery shop the candy aisle taunts you with bright colors and tasty choices. The ice cream cartons call out to you as you’re trying to find frozen vegetables to complete your healthy dinners for the week. Then you get a phone call from your best friend asking you to come out to a restaurant for some company. You know the place well. It has delicious food, cheap drinks and a great atmosphere. You go and you’ll break your diet and be miserable. You don’t go and you’ll stick to your diet, but you’re still miserable because you missed out on a good time and your social life has become non-existent. You just can’t win in that scenario unless you change your outlook. Temptation is hard to beat, but if you give in every now and again then temptation subsides. In a study put out by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where participants ate a diet abnormally high in sugar content author Richard Surwit said, “We therefore conclude that the use of sucrose in a weight-loss regimen is unlikely to cause problems for the average patient, as long as total energy intake is restricted.”
Being burdened with an overwhelming amount of choices and kinds of diets, all which bring different information to the table claiming to be the right way to go, we are left with a society that flip-flops between diet programs and constantly yo-yos between overweight and attempting to diet. Due to this abundance of diet programs using contradictory information to achieve goals dieters are being guided down a very unsuccessful path. Typically these programs want to put focus on eating a certain way that consists of focusing on the intake of a particular nutrient and the exclusion of another nutrient in a person’s diet. These styles can range from not eating carbohydrates, lowering the amount of dietary fat eaten, the removal of all sugar or just not eating any food that has been processed. However, in a study done by The New England Journal of Medicine author Frank Sacks found that participants in four different dieting groups all featuring different nutrient intakes were able to successfully lose weight over three years as long as each person adhered to eating a lower total amount of calories each day. It would seem that the finer details of the diet programs are not necessarily the most important part as long as someone successfully follows a lower caloric intake on a day to day basis.
However, is our ability to successfully follow a diet necessarily our fault when something as common as stress is causing us to gain more weight? A study conducted at Yale University and published in Science Daily showed that non-overweight women who are vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You can’t control all the situations you’re placed in and inevitably this is going to lead to stress, which in turn can lead to weight gain. Nonetheless, we absolutely can control the way that we react to a given situation which can lead to a decrease in stress and subsequently keep us from the unwanted gain in weight and give us the ability to follow a diet successfully.
The trend of dieting isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The desire to look better and feel better is always going to be important to our culture. We can, however, learn to lose weight successfully and to become healthier if we make an effort to change things. First, we need a do over with our education on the subject. Society needs to be grounded in factual scientific evidence of how weight loss is achieved successfully and not enamored with the next big diet craze or just what seems to be the popular route. Once we understand how it works fundamentally we can start to relax a bit and not sweat the small details. Restricting ourselves from foods we enjoy or avoiding events involving food like birthdays or weddings will lead to a self-destructive path featuring a feeling that weight loss is a burden on our social lives. Giving in a little when you’re putting in a lot of self-discipline to lose weight will only make the ends of dieting justify the means of eating less more understood.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.”
- Marketdata Enterprises. “U.S. Weight Loss Market Worth.” John LaRosa. [http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/5/prweb8393658.htm].
- Surwit, Richard S. et al. “Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65.4 (2012): 908-915.
- The New England Journal of Medicine. “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates.” Sacks, FM et al.
- Yale University. “Stress May Cause Excess Abdominal.” ScienceDaily.
A closing point I want to make has been demonstrated in Hu et al’s recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors. Despite subtle differences, in a total of 23 trials (2788 subjects) a rather anticlimactic lack of significant therapeutic advantage was seen in any particular type of diet. Notably, the low-carb treatments ranged from 4 to 45% carbohydrate. This reinforces the principle that we humans are extremely versatile when it comes to diet. We can achieve excellent health on a very wide range of macronutrient compositions. The supremacy of a single type of diet (e.g., low-carb or low-fat) simply lacks evidence.
- Alan Aragon
Important Things to Remember
- Cardio does not fix a bad diet.
- The key to fat loss is an energy deficit that can be created through a caloric deficit or increasing activity levels. However, too large of a deficit will be detrimental.
- Aim for a loss of .5-1.5% of body weight weekly if the goal is fat loss.
- Optimal fat loss is obtained through diet and weight training, not cardio. Weight training builds strength and muscle mass promoting a high rate of fat loss. Cardio can promote fat AND muscle loss when used improperly which is a very common problem. Cardio should be utilized more so to improve cardiovascular performance and endurance and not to achieve fat loss.
- It does not matter when you eat or when you workout.
- The majority of your intake should come from whole food sources for the purpose of getting micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) in your diet as well as your macronutrients (protein/fat/carbs).
- Follow a general rule of 80/20 for your diet. 80% whole foods and 20% of whatever else you want.
- There are no shortcuts. The road is paved through desire, dedication, and discipline.
- The hierarchy of importance: Diet > Weightifting > Cardio
- Without proper rest and recovery you will have diminishing returns.
- Follow a weight training program with a focus on progressive overloading of the muscle. Whether that comes from increasing weight, reps, or both is up to you based on your goals. I, personally, would recommend focusing on a strength building based program for the majority of beginners that is 3-4 days a week ranging from 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps for each set with a primary focus on compound lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) each day. Barbell complexes are king. The heavier the weight that can be controlled for reps the better.
- Stick to a diet plan for a minimum of 2-4 weeks. This will ensure that you get a good idea of how your body is reacting to the partitioning of nutrients and at the end of 4 weeks you can adjust the intake to reflect a change in body weight.
- Do include cardio in your program but do not make it the primary focus. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) types of cardio are generally the best for fat loss goals. This has been proven through research to be the most beneficial for fat loss and lean body mass retention. A 30min session of cardio is sufficient 2-3 times a week maximum.
- The most important thing to remember when following a dietary program for fat loss is that the caloric deficit is most important followed by your intake of protein. Next should be fats/carbs/fiber. Do not forget that too steep of a deficit will be very detrimental in the ability to maintain weight loss and your health in the long-term.
- One perfect week will not make a great physique. One imperfect week will not make a bad physique.
- Eat things that you love, but just do so in moderation. Follow the 80/20 rule and don’t stress over food.
- When you eat does not matter in the broad scheme of things, but if you find yourself feeling a bit “weighed down” when eating carbohydrates then consume the majority of them in the evening before bed.
- Weighing once a week to once every two weeks should be the absolute most often that you should step on a scale.
- Dependant on how you feel and respond to a particular macronutrient intake (especially carbs) things can be adjusted to incorporate a lower daily intake, weekly or bi-weekly re-feeds, timing, or in rare cases and as my recommended last resort, low-carb dieting. This is a feeling out process which is why I recommend to follow a set dietary intake (macros) for 2-4 weeks before altering.
- Fiber is likely the most important thing that you aren’t paying real attention to.
- Drink more water.
The Final Word
- Live your life passionately and be passionate about the people that surround you. Eating and exercise are a part of your existence and it does not make up all of who you are. Following a solid exercise plan and dietary intake will benefit your health and that’s an added bonus. Enjoy your time with the people around you — making it about them and not what foods are available — and find happiness in all of which you do. Obsessing over all the details of diets and exercise programs will lead you to stress and inconsistency. Being healthy comes not just from what you consume or your activities, but from your mental and emotional disposition.
I received this question a few days ago and thought I would answer it publicly here seeing as I would guess more than one person might have this exact same question.
Well, there is no magic trick or best tip. I would assume you already realized this, but it’s worth reiterating. The be all end all of losing weight will be that you find something that you can stick to (dedication) and that you incorporate these three main philosophies.
- eat less
- repeat often
You may also want to transition your mentality from “weight” loss to “fat” loss. You can chop off an arm to lose weight, but who in the hell wants to do that? Furthermore, no one wants to lose their sexy lean body mass (muscle) they’ve worked hard for as weight either and then come out looking just like skin and bones sans fat. We typically hear the word “tone” when someone is referring to losing fat and retaining that sexy lean body mass.
The best recommendation I can give you is to adjust your caloric intake to lower than what it is (not much, but slightly below what you believe to be your maintenance caloric intake — this could just be decreasing your portions), increase your activity (you can do cardio if you wish, but it is not the most optimal — resistance/weight training is king), and eat enough food (this is where the whole “don’t eat too little” comes in to play) to fuel your workouts, recover properly, and stay satiated while not wrecking your metabolism from too low of a caloric deficit. The food you eat a majority of should be good sources of lean protein, fruits, veggies, and other fibrous carbohydrates. Throw in some of your favorite treats every now and again in moderation to keep yourself sane. I’m serious. Eat that “bad” food every now and again. It’s not going to hurt you as long as it’s done to a minimal degree.
I’ll be putting out a post soon of important things to know and baseline recommendations for optimal fat loss and general health.
The nutrition page has been completed and can be accessed in it’s entirety here. This section will continue to be updated with new articles and research as time goes on. Previous articles have been updated to reflect current research and information.
Below you will find the articles located on the nutrition page. Please feel free to look over these if you haven’t already and even if you have seen them before it is always a great idea to get a refresher on these topics.
Calculating and Tracking
If you have any questions or feedback please use the contact page.
Alan, what is your general philosophy on food sources regardless if the individuals is in a caloric surplus or deficit, the phrase “Clean Eating” is thrown around a lot. Could you shed some light on research or any information regarding utilizing different sources that may be considered bad and the impact it may/may not have on body composition?
You know that the cleanest food in the world is? Hydrogenated vegetable oil. It was originally developed for the purpose of making soap. Pretty damn clean, I’d say. On a more serious note, the “clean” label is very misleading when applied to individual foods. There’s no way a food can be judged in isolation from the rest of the diet. To give an example, most people would call celery a “clean” or healthy food, and ice cream a “dirty” or unhealthy food. In the far-fetched/hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose only one of those foods to survive on, guess which one would sustain your health (and ultimately your life) longer? Hopefully you chose ice cream over celery, unless you’re anxious to knock on Heaven’s door. The point is, labeling foods as clean or dirty ignores context, and ignoring context is just plain dumb. I think that’s it’s intuitively obvious that the diet should consist mostly of whole & minimally refined foods. But still, it’s not all that simple, since certain foods are significantly altered from their original state (i.e., whey protein powder), but still have positive impacts on health. I wrote an in-depth article on the “clean eating” topic here. It’s a long article but worth the read for anyone interested. I think it’s been very amusing to see the definition of “clean” vary widely according to highly subjective criteria.
Read more of the interview at Machine Muscle.
“To say that obesity is caused by merely consuming too many calories is like saying that the only cause of the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party.” -Adelle Davis
This quote gets to the core of a basic question that is the topic of much discussion in bodybuilding circles. What’s more important: what you eat or how much you eat? A study conducted by the Institute for Nutrition and Cancer Research (INCR) discovered that 78% of adults agreed with the statement “the kind of foods you eat is more important than the quantity of food you eat” in regards to weight management. Very good arguments can certainly be made for and against the statement. It is true that your overall caloric balance during a given day will determine whether or not your weight changes. On the other hand, food choices can influence that caloric balance by influencing metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (TEF), and satiety. In order for one to lose weight, and hence, body fat, one’s caloric expenditure must exceed their caloric intake and this requires energy intake control, and thus the quantity of food must be controlled (1).
It is pertinent to state that one should eat healthy foods when on a weight loss diet. Fruits, vegetables, low fat meats, and the like are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber (in the case of fruits and vegetables) and these can certainly impact one’s health. However, one can not simply eat as many “good” foods as they like with reckless abandon and expect not to gain weight. It is certainly easier to achieve a caloric surplus eating twinkies all day than it is to achieve that same surplus though fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, however if the person eating only twinkies makes a conscious effort to limit their twinkie intake to a caloric level that is less than the amount of calories they expend per day, they will lose fat whereas a person who eats an unlimited amount of “good” foods will still gain weight if they consume more calories than they expend. Don’t get me wrong, eating only twinkies is not a good strategy for losing fat, but it is an extreme example to support my points.
There are plenty of meatheads gurus out there who would have you believe that consuming chicken, rice, and broccoli cannot make you fat no matter how much you eat of it. They will most likely try to argue that the specific foods you eat are more important than the quantity that you eat will use the argument that “a calorie is not a calorie” to support their stance. In other words, they believe that certain foods may provide an advantage over other foods. There certainly is ample evidence to support this stance. For example, diets higher in protein are less “energy efficient” as the conversion of alanine to glucose during gluconeogenesis (production of glucose from amino acids and other substrates) requires 6 ATP molecules and the conversion of pyruvate to glucose also consumes 6 ATP molecules (2-3). Furthermore, 4 molecules of ATP are required to dispose of the nitrogen as urea (3). Now before you throw up your hands and say “what the hell does all that mean?” realize that it’s only a scientifically correct way of saying that turning protein into energy requires more energy input by your body compared to carbs or fats. Maintaining the protein turnover is also energetically very costly (4). In fact, the thermic effects of nutrients are approximately 2-3% for lipids, 6-8% for carbohydrates, and 25-30% for protein (5)! This increased thermic effect of food seems to cause increased weight loss in high protein diets compared to diets equal in calories but higher in carbohydrates (6). The fiber content of a diet is also another issue to consider. Dietary fiber contains far less metabolizable energy than starchy carbohydrates due to incomplete absorption of fiber and the amount of energy extracted from fiber is less than that of other carbohydrates (7).
This information has led many meatheads to deduct proudly that by consuming a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet you need not concern oneself with calorie intake because there is a far smaller net energy gain when consuming such a diet as compared to a typical higher carbohydrate diet. Although the net energy gain is much smaller on a high protein/low carbohydrate/increased fiber diet, the fact remains that it is still quite possible one can consume more calories than they expend if they fail to control the quantity of food that they take in. Controlling food intake and self monitoring is crucial in any weight loss or weight maintenance regime. In fact, Hill et. al, found that the majority of people who successfully lost fat and maintained it for at least one year practiced some form of restraint, including restricting certain foods, portion sizes, and counting calories (8). So while it may require a greater quantity of food on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet to exceed one’s caloric expenditure, it can still be done, and therefore the quantity of food must be controlled. While controlling the quantity of food one eats may be more important than the types of foods one eats in regards to weight maintenance/loss, it is important to note that the types of foods that one eats will impact the quantity of foods that one will consume as well. Diets high in protein and high fiber have both shown to reduce hunger compared to a higher carbohydrate or reduced fiber diet (8,9). Additionally, research has demonstrated that high protein diets have an increased thermic effect of food, allowing for greater weight loss at ‘equal’ calorie intakes when compared to higher carbohydrate diets. The big take home points however, are that eating ‘good’ foods will allow you to keep total calories higher but eating the occasional ‘bad’ food won’t wreck your diet as long as it controlled within the context of total caloric intake. Therefore, the most successful strategy in achieve limiting fat gain/maximizing fat loss is to practice cognitive restraint while consuming a diet high in protein and dietary fiber.
1) Wardlaw GM, Kessel M. Energy Production and Energy Balance. In: Perspective in Nutrition 2nd Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education; 2002. p. 535-537.
2) Feinman RD and Fine EJ. A calorie is a calorie violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition J. 2004, 3:9.
3) Hue L. Regulation of gluconeogenesis in liver: In: Jefferson L, Cherington A, eds. Handbook of physiology: the endocrine system. Vol 2. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2001:649-57.
4) Bier DM. The energy cost of protein metabolism: lean and mean on Uncle Sam’s team. In: The role of protein and amino acids in sustaining and enhancing performance. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1999:109-19.
5) Jequier E: Pathways to obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002, 26 Suppl 2:S12-7.
6) Westman EC, Mavropoulos J, Yancy WS, Vlek JS: A review of low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2003, 5:476-483.
7) Buchnolz AC and Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr, 2004:79(suppl): 899S-906S.
8) Nickols-Richardson SM, Coleman MD, Volpe JJ, Hosig KW. Perceived hunger is lower and weight loss is greater in overweight pre-menopausal women consuming a low-carbohydrate/high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 2005 Sep;105(9):1433-7.
9) Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr. Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39.
The most perfect diet will not work if the person cannot adhere to the details that actually matter. A diet has to make sense physiologically and psychologically. Diets that leave both variables unaccounted for are usually setting up people for failure, rather than helping them reach their full potential.
- Alberto Nunez
Nothing! Everything’s Fine in Moderation
Health gurus may gasp in horror, but Alan Aragon, a southern California-based nutritionist who works with professional athletes, welcomes pretty much anything into his diet. “There are no foods I can think of that I would completely avoid,” he says. “I like to say, ‘avoid food avoidance.’ This helps reinforce the principle that everything — and I mean everything — is fine in moderation.”
French fries? Cheese curds? Taco Bell’s Dorito-shell tacos? It’s all acceptable. “Junk food can be eaten as often as you want — even daily — as long as it only comprises a minor proportion of your overall calories for the day. This allows people to not feel boxed into a diet that has no leeway for letting your hair down,” says Aragon. “I’ve always said that life is far too long to spend on a strict diet.”
Aragon cites studies looking at ‘orthorexia nervosa’ — an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. ”It reminds me of the counterproductive dietary perfectionism I’ve seen among many athletes, trainers and coaches. One of the fundamental pitfalls of dichotomizing foods as good or bad, or clean or dirty, is that it can form a destructive relationship with food,” he says.
In a 1999 study, researchers found that flexible dieting was associated with less overeating, lower body weight and better psychological health. Extremely strict dieting was linked to the opposite. Aragon believes those who restrict themselves too much can end up overeating later. “Anyone who spends enough time among fitness buffs knows that these findings are not off the mark,” says Aragon.
Aragon is by no means encouraging junk food binges, but for him, everything in moderation is just fine.
This excerpt comes from the very last page of this article. Unfortunately, the entire article is comprised almost entirely of the same old poor information until you hit this page featuring Alan Aragon.
If you’d like to read more on Alan Aragon’s insights to nutrition and fitness I would recommend checking out his article The Dirt On Clean Eating.
Also, if you’d like to know more about moderate dieting for a healthier lifestyle check out a few previous posts that have been featured here such as:
Training must facilitate the adaptations necessary to promote muscle tissue growth and diet must be there to complement the physiologic needs of the body in order to support growth and recovery. Without one or the other the equation falls apart. Since I am a nutrition major, I will address the diet side of the equation.
A diet which promotes recovery and growth is one which first and foremost meets the caloric requirements of the athlete. Without adequate calories (above maintenance levels) growth cannot occur. Secondly, adequate protein and carbohydrate must be consumed in order to A) sustain energy for training sessions and B) adequately recover and grow during the post-training period. I am not a stickler with numbers and ratios, as one diet is not universal for everyone, but as a general rule of thumb, 1g/lb lean body mass of protein and anywhere from 3-4g/lb body weight of carbohydrate is a good start. Obviously your caloric requirements will dictate the overall amount of macronutrients in the diet, but these are good jump off points. Fat should constitute the remainder of your diet without being too low and without hindering the intake of the other macronutrients.
Some of the same dietary principles which apply to muscle gain also apply to fat loss. For instance, calories dictate overall fat loss just as they dictate muscle gain. Without an adequate drop in calories (through either diet and/or exercise) fat will not be used for energy and your weight will remain stable (or elevated). Since carbohydrates make up the majority of most athletes’ diets, they are the first to get reduced alongside fats. The only thing I would suggest not decreasing is protein. Maintaining adequate protein intakes (1-1.25g/lb lean mass) when dieting is more than enough to hedge your bets for any muscle loss without taking away too much from the other macros. If you’re more of an endurance athlete, you could probably get away with the lower end of the range due to increased needs for carbohydrate. In terms of weight loss, anything over a 2lb loss (after the first week) should be a sign that calories were cut too drastically and more carbs should be introduced to attenuate any further losses. Losing over 2lbs during the first week of a diet is not uncommon, especially in bigger athletes. This is normal due to glycogen stores being depleted as well as the water associated with the stored glycogen. Remember, water follows solutes, and carbs are a solute. Less carbs means less glycogen and less water in the cell. Once your body exhausts dietary fuels for energy it draws upon its own stored fuel sources, and glycogen is one of the first to go (most notably during exercise).
As far as supplement recommendations go, I would highly suggest focusing on training and diet protocols well before thinking about supplements – especially for the novice athlete/weightlifter. Training and diet alone will account for nearly 100% of any gains seen in the weight room and mirror for any beginner. Once a firm foundation has been built, and training and diet have been maximized, only then should supplements be considered. That being said, in terms of scientific literature, creatine monohydrate would be the first to choose. If it’s not monohydrate, it’s bullshit. Creatine monohydrate has been shown time and time again to be an effective ergogenic aid. Other forms of creatine (Ethyl ester, krealkalyn, etc.) are not stable in the acidic environment of the stomach and get converted to creatinine and are excreted in the urine instead of taken up into the cells (no wonder there’s no water weight. You’re pissing it all out!). Furthermore, I don’t consider whey protein or fish oils to be supplements per se, only because they are actual food items and do provide calories. I would suggest taking both at any stage of training (beginner, intermediate, advanced), unless your wallet says otherwise. You can perfectly and effectively train and grow without the help of supplements. In closing:
In the hierarchy of things – Calories > Macronutrient Composition > Timing > Supplements