I have seen on so many occasions, people starting out at the gym or starting a new training programme and not considering their nutritional requirements. A lot of people think they need to get a trolley load of supplements in order to achieve success when in actual fact this mind set could be causing you more issues than you think. One of the most important factors for success is nutrition and it is so important to understand what you actually require in order to achieve your goals. Whether you are a first timer at the gym, a professional athlete looking for performance benefits or someone changing their training programme your nutritional needs will change along with this.
Before you rush out and spend loads of money on supplements, work through the following steps and ask yourself if you really need them or if there is another aspect of your diet that is in greater need of attention.
A really cheap and useful tool that you can get to help is a note book. With this you will be able to keep track of goals, training programme, nutritional requirements, progress and any issues you encounter along the way which is a really good way of keeping motivated.
1. Understand Your Goals
Whatever you goals are it is very important to actually understand what is required in order to achieve them. Along with any equipment, clothing or training that may required your nutrition will also play a massive part in your success.
Lets say you are starting out at the gym for the first time, you are looking to tone up a bit. You have bought yourself some new clothes and trainers and get started. The problem with this approach, is you have not actually looked at what your diet is like, what you need to change in order to achieve your goal and what your goal actually requires in general.
From experience with my clients, I have found that some peoples idea of toning up is to lose fat while others is to build muscle. These 2 goals require a different nutritional approach so if you went into the gym and didn’t pay any attention to what was required it would be very difficult for you to find out what you are doing right or wrong.
If you are wanting to lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Likewise, you need to be in a calorie surplus to support muscle growth.
Once you understand what it requires to achieve your goal, you would then need to find out exactly how much you need.
2. Establish Your Protein Requirements
Protein is the most important of the 3 macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat) and is the one that a lot of people believe is the hardest to get through the diet. However, the actual amount you need is dependant on your size, your activity levels and goals.
Before you rush out and buy protein shakes, figure out how much you actually need for you to achieve your goals.
Consider that one of the many roles of protein is muscle growth and repair. If you are looking to build muscle you are going to need more protein than someone who is looking to run a marathon. A marathon runner requires protein for the repair of damaged tissue which occurs during the intense training they undergo but are not actively looking for much growth. Likewise, if you are looking to lose weight it is important that you limit the loss of muscle tissue which can occur when in a calorie deficit. With this in mind, you would require a higher protein intake.
The following will give you a better idea of how much protein you will need:
- Endurance Athlete – 1.2 – 1.4g per kg body weight
- Fat Loss – 1.6 – 2g per kg body weight
- Muscle Growth – 1.8 – 2g per kg body weight
- Strength and Power athlete – 1.4 – 1.8g per kg body weight
Timing of protein intake is equally as important as how much you are consuming. Keep in mind that your body needs to process everything that you eat, it is not immediately absorbed as soon as you eat it. Many people think that by eating an extraordinary amount of protein all at once, that it will lead to faster muscle growth e.g. 3 raw eggs, a protein shake and some chicken. This is not the case, the body will simply excrete excess or even store it as fat if it is not needed. It is the stimulation of muscle tissue through training that is responsible for muscle growth not extra protein.
Focus your efforts on planning and making sure you are getting adequate protein at every meal as well as protein rich snacks should you require them.
It is also worth mentioning that the levels of protease enzymes which are the enzymes responsible for breaking down protein into amino acids will become elevated in order to deal with the excess protein over the required amount. If the protein intake is then reduced (injury, holiday, stopping taking protein shakes etc), these enzymes will remain elevated and as a result will continue to break down protein at a higher rate. If this protein isn’t coming from dietary sources, it can come from the bodies lean tissue (muscle). So by consuming a protein intake way above what your body actually requires, you may find that you are doing more harm than good.
Remember; your body will just use what it needs and the rest will either get excreted in urine or stored as fat depending on overall calorie intake.
3. Establish Your Calorie Requirements
What a lot of people don’t understand is what a calorie actually is. I have heard people saying they are fat, carbohydrates and even just thinking that if you eat them you will put on fat. All a calorie is, is a unit of energy. So like a metre is used to measure the distance of something, a calorie is used to measure how much energy is in a food or drink.
The amount of calories you need depends on a number of factors including: body size and activity levels.
With this in mind, it is very important to make sure you are consuming enough to support both your body and your goals. Did you know that around 65% of all the calories you burn in a day goes to making sure your body can function. So, ensuring your lungs are breathing, your heart is beating, your brain, kidneys, liver, hormones, menstrual cycle in females, immune system etc are all able to work properly.
This is where it shows how dangerous it can be if you are consuming a very low calorie diet. I will use my own calorie requirements as an example to demonstrate this. I need around 2600 kcals a day, so taking 65% means that my body requires around 1690 kcals JUST TO FUNCTION! This is before any exercise is taken into account. If I was to go on a 500 kcal diet, it wouldn’t leave my body with what it needs and would therefore lead to the down regulation of various processes including things like the immune system and hormone function. In order to survive, the body would have to find energy from elsewhere, one of these would be muscle. Due to how much energy it requires to maintain, it makes sense for the body to get rid of it to prolong survival.
Energy balance (calories in vs calories out) is the basis for everything to do with weight. If you take in more calories than you put out you will gain weight, what this weight is will be dependant on protein intake as well as training. If these are in the right place, you will gain muscle. If not, it can lead to gaining fat.
If you consume less calories than you put out you will lose weight. How much of a deficit you are in will determine whether you are losing fat or muscle. Ideally if you are looking to lose fat you want to create a deficit of about 10-15%.
Some of my clients have found it difficult to consume the calories they required which was made worse by the fact they were using protein supplements which contained a high protein content but calorie wise it was considerably low and added to the issue of not reaching the calorie target. Take things like this into account when planning for your new programme as it may be causing you more problems.
To find out how many calories you need there are a range of calorie calculators online which will help you. Check out the BBC calorie calculator here
Tracking calories can be very useful in your journey. If you find that you need 2500 kcals a day, it is going to be extremely difficult to achieve this simply by guessing how much is in every food you are eating. Start looking at the nutrition labels on packages and weight foods out to get a better idea of what they contain.
Make use of your training note book by keeping track of the calorie content of foods you consume regularly as this will help you massively when it comes to planning and reaching that goal!
4. Establish Your Carbohydrate Requirements
Carbohydrate is another misunderstood macronutrient. It is the bodies main source of energy. Many people believe that carbohydrates are stored as fat, this isn’t the case. It is the over consumption of calories that does. Carbohydrates are stored as a thing called glycogen, whenever you exercise these stores of glycogen are used up. It is then refilled once you consume carbohydrate again afterwards. The issues arise when these glycogen stores are not being used up, if you continue to consume carbohydrate and there is nowhere else for them to go, only then will it be stored as fat. As mentioned previously, the over consumption of protein can also be stored as fat.
The amount of carbohydrate you need is also dependant on a number of factors, the main one being your activity levels. For example, someone who is running a marathon will require a lot more energy and therefore carbohydrate than someone who is mostly sedentary.
Carbohydrate requirements can vary from 3g per kg body weight right up to 12g per kg depending on exercise levels and goals.
Remember, if you are not providing your body with the energy it needs to support the training you are doing, you might only be able to perform at 60% of your ability which would have an impact on your overall success as you wont be getting all the benefits from your training sessions.
5. Review Your Current Diet
Once you have looked at your goals, calorie and macronutrient requirements it is important to be able to implement these changes into your diet. Recording a food diary is a great place to start and will help you see where you are going wrong or what you are doing well.
So many times people will search online or get given a “diet” from a personal trainer or friend that will not suit them and can cause them to fail due to them not enjoying what they are eating.
The best way to succeed is to modify your own diet. No-one knows what you like to eat better than yourself, so look at way to improve your own diet rather than trying to a completely different diet somewhere else. It is much easier to simply add or change a few things rather than starting from scratch and having to change everything.
Use your notebook to plan meals, menus for the week, recipes, recovery ideas and list foods you like. This will all go a long way to helping you achieve your success.
I see so many people filling their cupboards up with protein powders and various other supplements before they even know what their current diet is like. If you don’t know what your diet is like at the moment, how do you know you even need additional protein? You might find that you are consuming enough then spending £50 a week on something that is just going to end up in the toilet.
So next time someone tells you things like “you need protein shakes” or “Check out this diet” have a look at your own, find out what you actually need and go from there. The benefits you will get from optimising your diet will have a huge impact on the success of your goals.
If you would like a professional look at your diet or need assistance working out what you require to achieve your goals. Contact me to find out how I can help you. I offer a number of services which are personalised to suit your requirements, lifestyle and training. All of which have been specifically designed with you in mind to allow you to smash your goals!