Nutrition Basics: Cut Through The Noise And Get Your Dream Body (Pt 3)
New here? Check out Pt 1 & 2 first:
So far we’ve covered the importance of energy balance (calories in vs out), and the macronutrients that make up those calories.
In this, the third and final post in our nutrition basics series, we will cover the top 3 sections of the pyramid: micronutrients, nutrient timing, and supplements.
If you just took the advice from our first two posts, you’ll find there’s still a lot of freedom in choosing what you should and shouldn’t eat to cut fat and perform well. Even certain fast food options fit our recommendations nicely. For example:
- McDonalds Bacon Ranch Salad w/ Grilled Chicken – 320kcal: 14g Fat / 9g Carbs / 42g Protein
- Chick-Fil-A 12-count Grilled Nuggets – 210kcal: 5g Fat / 3g Carbs / 38g Protein
And honestly, in a desperate situation, these are not bad options. There was a professor at Kansas State University that made a point you can actually lose weight by eating a diet mostly made of twinkies, provided you pay attention to calories.
However, if you exclusively ate junk and fast food for months, you’d notice your body begin to break down in unpleasant ways.
You see, your body needs and craves certain vital nutrients beyond calories. Nutrients you’ve probably heard of, like: Vitamin C, Magnesium, Calcium. These are what are called micronutrients, and they are absolutely necessary to keep our bodies working properly, or in some cases, to keep us from dying. You will not find these nutrients in the processed, readily available foods eaten today.
What’s more, if you are constantly eating processed foods, your brain adapts to receiving an overload of pleasure signals.
These foods trigger the same pleasure and addiction centers in the brain that highly addictive drugs do. Just like an addict that can't control their cravings, someone who has been eating highly processed foods for a long time will not have a good handle on what their bodies need vs what their brain is telling them to eat.
When trying to lose weight, you already have enough to fight with when it comes to handling hunger and feelings of deprivation. In a caloric deficit, your brain is going to tell you to eat and you are going to have to refrain to stay on track. Why make it harder on yourself by adding foods with hyper-addictive artificial ingredients?
When we start to eat real foods, foods that are unprocessed and prepared with our own hands, we can really start to trust our brain's interpretation of hunger.
Luckily, our taste preferences are learned and can be shifted in a relatively short period of time.
If you want to be successful with your weight loss you have to get away from foods like this and start consuming the vast majority of your meals in the form of real food.
So how can we determine what foods are “real”?
Unlike macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) micronutrients are vitamins and minerals found in much smaller doses within our foods. There are specific quantities for all micronutrients that your body needs on a daily basis to operate and thrive.
Don’t be fooled though - just because our micronutrients requirements are much smaller in volume, it doesn’t make them any less necessary, or easy to meet.
A CDC study found that 92% of Americans are deficient in at least one vitamin/mineral. Some of the biggest culprits:
- 9 out of 10 are deficient in potassium
- 7 out of 10 are deficient in calcium
- 8 out of 10 are deficient in vitamin E
- 50% are deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium
- More than 50% of the general population is vitamin D deficient, including 90% of Americans of color, 70% of the elderly
How is it possible that we’re more overweight than any time before, but are still struggling to meet our basic nutrition requirements?
A Quick Primer on Evolution And Modern Food Choices
75% of the world's calories today comes from only 7 sources: wheat, maize (corn), rice, sugar, potatoes, soybean, and cereal grains. These types of foods are very different from what we've eaten for most of our existence. And while foods from these sources can be cheap and tasty, they are almost completely devoid of nutrients.
The math is clear: as humans, we started eating these processed foods for only the last 5% of our existence.
Prior to this, our diets were restricted to what was available to forage in the existing environment - namely plants and animals.
Despite being in almost all our food today, fat, salt, and sugar are rare commodities in nature, so when we eat them, our 200,000 year old reward pathways light up like a Christmas tree.
We were not designed to consume processed/refined foods, which became popular not 200 years ago. Yet, these foods make up the vast majority of our calories today.
What Foods Should I Eat To Maximize Nutrients?
We’ve established that what most of us are eating isn’t what our bodies are adapted to. So what should we eat?
The easiest way to sort out “good” from “bad” food is by looking at it’s nutrient density - for every bite, how many micronutrients am I giving my body?
Foods that are dense in nutrients are easier to digest, offer cleaner energy, and will generally make you feel better.
Further, as you reduce the amount of calories you eat, it becomes more challenging to get all the nutrients you need. This makes it even more important to choose foods that are highly nutrient dense.
If you want to skip counting calories, paying attention to nutrient density will get you 90% of the way there. The rules are simple:
- High nutrient, low calorie foods - eat as much as you want
- High nutrient, high calorie foods - eat once in a while
- Low-nutrient dense foods - avoid wherever possible
Source: Simple Science Fitness
Now, there’s not a graph big enough to plot all foods based on their nutrient density. The good news is it’s actually quite easy to find them - no graphs necessary. When grocery shopping, the food around the perimeter is generally dense in nutrients, whereas food within the aisles is processed.
If you want to buy foods within the aisles, here’s a quick primer on how to read nutrition labels:
As we’re now farther up the pyramid, I won’t spend as much time here. However, here are some simple, proven tips on nutrient timing that have proven useful:
- There is a delay in time from when you’re eating to when your body recognizes that you’re full.
- Focus on eating your vegetables and protein first, chewing your food well, and slowing down the pace of eating to have a better understanding of when you’re full and avoid overeating
Carbs Before Working Out
- There is a school of thought that performing your workout while fasted will help you burn more fat, since your body has already worked through its carb storage. This however has been disproven.
- It’s recommended you eat some carbs 1-2 hours before you work out to help energize you through your workout and allow you to burn more calories.
Protein Before And/Or After You Work Out
- There is a special window of time after you workout where your body is more receptive to protein to aid in muscle recovery.
- It’s recommended that you consume 25-50g of protein 1-2 hours before or after your workout to take advantage of this
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
- IF is a meal timing schedule that cycles between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a given period.
- Following our advice earlier about eating what our 200,000 year old bodies are adapted too, it makes sense that our ancestors would go through periods of eating, then fasting as they hunted/foraged for more.
- A popular trend right now is to simulate these periods of eating and fasting through IF.
- The most popular IF protocols are:
- 16:8 (eat for only 8 hours a day, e.g. from 2-10pm)
- 5:2 (eat normally for 5 days, then a max of 600 calories on 2 days)
- There is some early evidence that there may be additional benefits to doing this, including increased fat loss and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- At the very least, it helps to reduce the total amount of calories you can eat, since your eating time is significantly reduced.
- If your curious, give it a try and see how it feels, but it’s not necessary
Barring any abnormalities or known deficiencies, there are only a few proven supplements that benefit most people, and should be considered:
- Whey Protein / High-Protein Cheese - meeting your daily protein needs can be a challenge, especially when limiting calorie intake. Protein powders like whey and lean, high-protein foods like PROTEINA are an affordable, fast, and effective way to meet your protein requirements.
- Fish Oil - If you’re not eating fish every day, chances are you aren’t getting enough Omega 3. There are many benefits to these poly-unsaturated fats, and they can’t be made by the body.
- Vitamin D - Most people don’t get enough Vitamin D and new research has shown us the recommended daily intake is most likely set too low. Consider adding 2,000 - 5,000iu per day, especially during the winter months or if you’re a person of colour.
- Magnesium - Due modern farming practices, many of the essential minerals from our soil have been washed out and therefore not transferred to the vegetables that we eat. Magnesium in particular is important, and absent from almost all our farmed foods. It’s highly advised to be supplemented
- Multi-Vitamins - Even if you eat only the most nutrient dense foods, chances are you’re missing out on some important micronutrients. Taking a well-rounded multivitamin is a good insurance policy that you’re not missing anything.
Summary, or TL;DR
If you’ve skipped reading the “why”, or simply want a reminder of what you’ve read, here’s all the key nutrition advice you need.
- You can do this by increasing your muscle and minimizing fat gain, or maintaining muscle and decreasing fat
- Calculate how many calories you currently expend daily (TDEE)
- If you’re trying to build muscle - eat 500 more calories per day
- If you’re trying to lose body fat - eat 500-1000 calories less per day
- You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, pay attention to how many calories you’re eating
- Calculate your protein requirements (1g/lb of body weight) and split the rest roughly between fat & carbs
- Choose carbs that are high in fibre and low on the Glycemic Index
- Eat more fats that are polyunsaturated, and saturated. Avoid Trans-fats.
- Eat foods with higher nutrient density. Meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.
Specifically, Eat More Of:
- This infographic is a fantastic resource to help construct “perfect” meals.
And that's it for the Nutrition Basics series! Be sure to join our newsletter below to get the latest in nutrition news.