There’s always a new expert in the field of nutrition, new books, new approaches, and lots of new information. If you are someone who’s looking to optimise health and fitness, nutrition is the foundation of your efforts, but how do you decipher all of that information?
The reality is that there’s nothing new to all the (good) nutrition information. We’ve known most of it for decades. And when you dig in to all the information out there you’ll see that almost everyone who knows a bit about the topic agrees on the most important facts. Your nutrition is almost sorted when you have these factors down.
- Eat well raised sources of animal protein. Even if you are training intensely on most days of the week, you don’t need to consume massive quantities to get your daily protein needs in.
- Eat vegetables everyday.
- Get your fats from animal sources, olives, nuts and their oils, egg yolks (why would you waste the best tasting part of the egg?), and avocado.
- Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (and other man made products).
- Having a knowledgeable coach is a well placed investment
Keep it simple by getting your ABCs locked down and don’t focus on anything else until you do.
Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉
What is the most common response to “I need to lose weight”? “I need to eat less,” of course. So, using people who frequently train at high intensities as an example, let’s look at what happens when you eat less in an effort to shed weight.
The first thing that happens is naturally consuming less energy than the body needs. This is often achieved by guesstimating how many calories you expend on average, and calculating how many calories you need to consume to stay in a calorie deficit (burn more than you consume). More often than not, however, people stick a wet thumb in the air to feel which way the wind is blowing to find out which and how much food needs to be cut in order to lose weight – crash dieting.
You continue trying to train regularly, even though you’re barely making it through workouts thanks to your lack of food intake. But you’re burning more calories and eating less so it’s all good, right?
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the human body recognises the innate lack of common sense in the human mind and does what is necessary to keep itself safe. Safety for the human body is simply survival. When you’re constantly expending more energy (through movement) than you are consuming the body retards fuel depletion and alters the substrates it uses for fuel.
Retarded Fuel Depletion
Movement is one way energy is depleted in the body. This is of course where, if you’re training, most energy depletion comes from. However, you are expending energy even at rest. The entire body needs a constant supply of fuel to keep functioning normally. All internal organs, the musculoskeletal system (especially because of training), cartilage, hair, skin – everything aside from body fat – requires ongoing maintenance and therefore fuel. This energy consumption when not moving is known as your basal metabolic rate (resting metabolism).
When you’re constantly depleting more than you are consuming, the body retards this fuel depletion because it perceives this as a threat to survival. Of all the parts of the body that require ongoing fuel, muscle is the most (metabolically) costly and also the “safest” to get rid of. You begin to lose muscle mass to reduce energy depletion and to aid in the change of fuel substrates (see below).
So now you have the body reducing metabolism and shedding muscle to save energy. Less muscle mass further reduces the metabolism too. This is the body’s first big up yours to eating less – you end up burning less calories AND losing muscle (the stuff that makes you look good naked) BECAUSE you’re not eating enough. Just to make it worse, this also results in reduced performance.
Change in Fuel Substrates
When you’re eating correctly – to support training but not body fat – your body uses fat and glucose to provide energy. When you don’t eat correctly this system is disrupted. The first thing that happens is you begin to hold on to fat stores because it’s the most efficient fuel source – it keeps on giving and you’ll need that for survival. Because you’re not eating enough carbohydrates and the body needs to get rid of muscle, you begin to catabolise muscle for fuel.
This is the body’s next up yours to eating too little – you end up holding on to more fat instead of losing it! More body fat + less muscle = skinny fat = unfit and unhealthy.
You knew you had to make changes to your nutrition in order to lose body fat, but you jumped the gun. So before you jump the gun on the above advice, some more advice. It’s easy to get the amount of calories you need by eating rubbish, but the same things happen. You lose muscle, put on fat and lose fitness. You need to eat good quality calories most of the time.
You also don’t have to be eating all the time. You can get the correct amount of good calories in by just one meal a day. How your nutrition is structured depends on your lifestyle and goals.
Lastly, the ratio of carbs, protein and fat does matter. But it must be calculated relative to your amount of body fat, your levels and type of activity, and your goals. It’s not a thumb suck.
“If you can’t fix it with squats and fish oil, you’re probably going to die.” I’m not sure who or where that quote came from, but it’s one that stuck. The importance of consuming quality Omega-3 (O3) fish oils seems to be the one aspect of nutrition that everyone in the industry agrees on! It is, however, important to understand why it is so beneficial.
The Omega-3/Omega-6 Balance
This is arguably the most important reason. O3 comes from wild seafood, wild game and wild vegetation. The operative word there being WILD. Unless you’re out there catching and growing your own food from untouched sources, the seafood, meat and vegetables you’re eating don’t have the amounts of O3 they would have had pre-agriculture. Omega-6 (O6) comes from vegetable oils (sunflower, soybean, peanut, corn – man made oils), margarines, and grain-fed animal fats – items that you have hopefully begun to eliminate from your diet given what we teach from your first week at the CFJ facilities.
A 1:1 O3/O6 ratio helps keep inflammation in check. O3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, while O6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. In the modern, unbalanced diet O6s far outweigh O3s, thereby contributing to inflammation.
Like I said, most of you will have taken the advice given by us to cut out vegetable oils and opt for animal products from cleaner sources. So your O6 intake will already be lower than most. However, because most animal products and vegetation is not wild caught and grown anymore, you may not be getting enough quality O3s in.
More Health Benefits
- Cardiovascular health: O3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have been shown to keep triglyceride levels down. That ensures that plaque development in blood vessels is limited. By keeping blood clotting and inflammation of blood vessels down, blood flow is maintained to ensure proper oxygen delivery to working muscles.
- Neural and retinal development: Brain, nerve and retinal (eye) tissue contain huge amounts of DHA. Last trimester babies can therefore really benefit from fish oils. Have you given birth before? Did you take note of short-term memory loss, slightly impaired cognitive function and slow reaction times? It’s because baby was sucking all that O3 from you! So pregnant women especially need to supplement with fish oils. And on the flip side, visual and neural health tends to decline as we age. Low DHA and EPA levels have also been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s, some dementias and vision deficiencies.
- Insulin sensitivity: Yes, fish oils may even improve insulin sensitivity.
Adverse Side Effects.
Given the lower levels of inflammation, better cardiovascular health, healthy neural tissue and good vision, could there be anything wrong with fish oil supplementation? While there are a few known side effects, it’s highly unlikely to get too much of this good thing. There are some contraindications, though.
Too much fish oil may lead to too much thinning of the blood. Therefore, if you’re on chronic medication to prevent blood clotting you need to consider your O3 dosage. Consult your physician about that.
Oxidised fish oil can actually contribute to toxic fish oil. How do you avoid that? Only get your fish oil from reputable sources, keep your product in a cool place and don’t overcook your fatty fish.
A diet high in high glycemic carbs and alcohol can also place undue load on the liver if you’re supplementing with fish oils too. But hey, you’re off that boat already, right? And for those still on that boat thinking, “Well I’ll just keep eating as is because the fish oils will counteract that,” you’re actually doing more harm.
In the current environment of the supplement industry that is all about numbers, quality is especially important. Most supplement companies water down their products to yield a greater quantity of saleable produce. Fish oil from small, wild caught fish has the best concentration of O3. The products also need to be distilled to reduce mercury and be kept away from high temperatures and levels of oxygen to prevent oxidation.
Most of you reading this will already have a low sugar intake, and be avoiding refined carbs and vegetable oils. But you won’t quite be dining on wild caught venison and salmon everyday. So for most of you on a healthy primal-type diet, fish oils will help balance your fatty acid profile, keep inflammation at bay, promote good heart health, give your brain, nerves and eyes the fatty acids needed to develop and stay healthy, and counteract some of the pitfalls of modern life.
The effects are best experienced when taken with a good dose of squats.
By now (I hope) you’re starting to learn that sugar is what makes you fat. Dietary fat – the fat you eat – doesn’t make you fat. What confuses most people is that many natural sugars are touted as being healthy, and that there are so many artificial sweeteners proposing to be a better alternative to natural sugars. Let’s break it down to a few points to help you understand different sugars and sweeteners, and their effect on your body.
1. Both natural sugars and artificial sweeteners can elicit weight gain or inhibit weight loss
Even if sweeteners have no calories? Yes. Research has shown that any sweet taste induces the release of insulin, and too much insulin is one of the leading causes of excess weight gain.
Eat carbs/sugar/sweeteners -> Insulin is released -> Insulin is a storage hormone that moves glucose to cells -> If cells are full, insulin stores the glucose as fat
So you opt for a sweetener instead of a natural sugar thinking that you won’t store fat, but you were wrong. If it’s sweet your body will release insulin. Insulin signals storage. And you get fat.
2. Natural sweeteners will always be a better choice than something made in a lab or factory
It’s important to know which natural sugars are okay to use, and which chemical sweeteners to avoid.
If you are going to have something sweet, have something from nature. Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype that makes you think that you will live better through chemistry.
Natural sweeteners are not necessarily ‘healthy.’ (Remember, anything sweet causes the release of insulin). Our bodies can metabolise natural sweeteners, while chemical sweeteners are recognised as toxins in our system. Toxins may be stored as fat. So not only does the elevated levels of insulin encourage the body to store more, but you’re also storing toxins as fat!
Use in moderation and organic where possible:
Real maple syrup
Dates, or date sugar
Freshly squeezed fruit juice
Green leaf stevia
NEVER use these chemical sweeteners:
Stevia when it’s white or bleached
3. It’s ALWAYS better to limit your intake of any kind of sweetener
To achieve and maintain a healthy body composition and support your activity levels, you need to limit the consumption of sweet things – natural or not. Use these guidelines to help you, and to ensure that you don’t get suckered in to having sugar.
- Read the nutrient labels of products.
- Check for the total carbohydrates, and just under that you will find how much sugar it contains. 5g of sugar = 1 tablespoon.
- If an ingredient ends in “ose” or “tol” – it’s a sweetener. For example, sucralose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, sorbitol.
- The words sugar, nectar, syrup and crystal indicate that it’s a sugar.
- By law, food labels have to list ingredients in order of proportion. Items atop the list therefore make up the bulk of that product. If a sweetener is listed in the first few ingredients, avoid the product!
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