Where body transformations are concerned, nutrition is key.
There are no two ways about it, getting the body you want requires a diet that is structured, consistent and designed to help achieve your body composition goals.
In its simplest form, we can look at an ideal body composition as ‘calories in equalling calories out.’ You consume the same number of calories that you burn and you will maintain homeostasis.
A surplus or deficit to this will lead to either weight gain or weight loss. While this is technically true, there are many more variables that impact our body composition.
The human body is an incredibly diverse machine made up of billions of cells that operate in different ways and require different nutrients at different times to operate at an optimum level.
Your hormones, sleep patterns, genetics, stress levels, environment and your previous training and nutrition history are just some of the things that will impact your body composition.
The way I eat may not be ideal for you, and this is true with everyone else on the planet. Want to make things even more confusing? It’s not as simple as just eating more or less than your baseline level of calories.
Eating with too much of a calorie surplus or deficit can have unwanted results. Too high of an increase can lead to fat gain over lean muscle, while eating too few calories can lead to muscle being broken down instead of fat.
You need to consider other things as well such as ratios of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and then there’s the role that all other micronutrients play in our health.
This is why calorie counting can be an effective guide for the vast majority of the population, but it also has its limitations.
Not to mention that it can be a laborious task and if you’re struggling with your nutrition as it is or have a busy lifestyle then it can be too much to start with.
This is why here at UP we have individualised approaches to every person who walks through the door. If you feel you’re capable of tracking your macronutrients and calories, then we will work with you on that.
With some people, we find that focusing on other techniques may be of use to start with. Here are three tips that we incorporate with our clients that you can try too!
TIP #1 – Prepare as much food beforehand as possible
This simple and effective process is the most beneficial thing you can do for your body composition.
Out of laziness and convenience, we forgo meal preparation then get stuck making poor food decisions by purchasing whatever is convenient when you get hungry.
Sure, there are healthy take-out options out there, but a lot of the time you do not have control over how they cook their food, the portions you receive and what condiments are added.
When we are hungry we also tend to relax our inhibitions on what we deem to be healthy or not; this is a prime example of where those extra calories, extra portions and extra weight comes from.
Preparing your meals in advance is not hard, it just takes some time, but ironically it saves you time long term by allowing yourself to cook and prepare less throughout the week.
The easiest way to start this habit is to cook an extra serving of food for dinner and take that to work the next day for lunch.
Then you may start to cook even more and have two extra portions. Once you master this simple process you can start to cook multiple dishes on the same day to provide you with multiple meals for most of the week. This is a fantastic way to save time and money.
Imagine dedicating an hour of your Sunday to cooking three simple dishes. Perhaps a stir fry with meat and vegetables, grill or oven bake a protein source and pair with some steamed vegetables and some type of high protein salad.
Making four servings of each dish equates to 12 meals. That’s two to three meals a day covered for four to five days of your standard working week. Job done.
Now you don’t have to cook for the rest of the week and you have set yourself up a good food habit that will assist you in making smarter food choices long term.
TIP #2 – Use carbohydrates smartly/strategically
Controlling carbohydrate consumption within a diet is something we advise with all of our body composition clients.
When we’re trying to maximise muscle growth and fat loss, we have to ensure that, first and foremost, we are working in a calorie deficit. Once protein needs are set and met (a non-negotiable when it comes to body composition), we have the choice of either fats or carbohydrates to meet our daily caloric requirements.
You will find a hugely effective tool is to remove simple carbohydrates from a diet. These foods are typically high in calories and highly palatable (they taste good and we want more!) and low in nutrients, fibre and satiety (feelings of fullness). By removing (or limiting) these foods, it makes it far easier to maintain the calorie deficit you need to lose fat.
We’re not saying all carbs are bad, far from it. Carbs are a great fuel source and help sustain training intensity, which is paramount for optimal performance. As a general rule, the leaner someone is, the more tolerant they can be of carbohydrates. When you are lean, insulin sensitivity is improved which allows more glucose to be partitioned from the blood into muscle tissue and less into adipose tissues where body fat can accumulate.
But if you want to maintain a fat loss diet, it’s important to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Having stable blood sugar means you will be able to better regulate your appetite (something we want to control to stop us over-eating calories) as well as maintaining ‘real’ energy.
The problem with simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, pastries and sugary drinks is they cause wild fluctuations in your blood sugar levels – something we want to avoid when dieting.
When blood sugar spikes, insulin is released to deal with the elevated amount of glucose in your blood stream and bring it down. This leads to an inevitable ‘crash’ which leaves you feeling lethargic and tired. What do we do when we feel tired and lethargic? Go for the quick energy-boosting sugar rush to get us through the day
Constantly raising blood sugar and spiking insulin release won’t help towards your fat loss goals. Insulin directly inhibits fat metabolism by limiting the mobilisation of fatty acids from the fat cell itself.
The type of carbs you eat are important here – you want to avoid simple carbs altogether and focus on ‘healthier’ sources of carbs which have a lower glycemic load to help manage blood sugar better.
Getting the majority of your carbohydrate intake from green vegetables like broccoli, kale, bok choi and spinach, as well as sources like sweet potato and oats, is what we always advise clients.
Better controlling your blood sugar levels will make your diet more sustainable, so lowering carbs can help with dietary adherence.
As well as focussing on the type of carbs you’re eating, it’s important to focus on the time that you’re eating them. Limiting carbohydrate intake to post-workout (when you are most insulin sensitive) and also in the evenings, where eating carbs boosts serotonin production to aid sleep, is most effective.
TIP #3 – Don’t follow a diet, make it a lifestyle
Diet is a dirty word. It implies a restriction upon yourself and that you have an end date to what you are doing. A diet is a pre-planned eating regime based on a set of restrictive requirements that you have to follow for a certain amount of time.
Once past this timeframe, you often fall into the old ways as diets are short sighted and don’t practice long term habits.
The other problem with a “diet” is that you focus on taking things that are bad out of your diet but you don’t replace them with good quality foods.
As a general rule, ‘bad’ foods tend to be very calorie dense but offer very little in terms of nutrients. You create a significant calorie deficit in the body when you remove them from your diet.
The fact is, you need to eat quite a lot more healthy foods to come close to matching the amount of calories you were eating beforehand. The added benefit of this is all the additional nutrients you will be consuming.
Of course, in terms of losing weight you need to eat in a calorie deficit but create too high of a deficit causes the aforementioned hunger, starvation and cravings severely testing your willpower while making you miserable all at the same time.
In addition, you run the risk of metabolic damage making it very hard to lose fat long term. If you’re eating in such a large calorie deficit not consuming enough food you run the risk of plateauing your weight loss which means that when alterations need to be made, there is no room to drop more calories to play with your nutrition as you are already under eating.
Instead of focusing on the negatives and removal of foods, focus on adding things to your daily nutrition.
Look to hit a daily protein goal to start with. Men should focus on at least 2g per kilo of body with women looking at 1g-1.5g per kilo of body weight.
Don’t be afraid of good quality fats as well; they help our body transfer nutrients to where we need them most, assist with brain function and many other important metabolic processes.
As mentioned above, your carbohydrate sources should be based largely around vegetables.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to nutrition. It comes down to finding out what your body type is first.
That is why at UP we take skin fold measurements to determine fat levels which in turn can reveal a lot about your diet habits and how certain foods may be impacting your hormones and why you’re storing fat in certain areas of your body.
We take this information and determine what deficiencies in nutrients you may have and we incorporate this into any nutritional guidelines we suggest you follow.
A low carb approach might work for you, it might not. You may require higher carbs to reach your goal.
You might also benefit from a combination of high carbs on training days with low carbs on rest days.
There might even be the odd refeed day in there if required. As you can see, there is plenty to think about and work around on a daily and weekly basis.
We take the hard work out of your hands and give you the simple guidance that will hopefully give you the tools to build long term habits to succeed in your short term goals and plan for some amazing long term life long success!