Having the skill of cooking as a skill bases has helped me work all over the world and given me the opportunity to work in some great restaurants and meet some brilliant people. My knowledge of ingredients is pretty good, I still get confused and overwhelmed with the amount of information that is out there. When I started getting into my endurance sports and sports nutrition another door was opened to the world of calories and macros. I was so used to throwing dishes together based on taste and appearance, this normally included loads of butter, cream and salt.
I wanted to write this post to try and simplify things and make the world of nutrition a not so daunting place to visit. A lot of people that I have met along the way with my training and races are comparing themselves to elite level athletes. Elite athletes diet is a ritual to them because they are looking for those peak gains they need to compete at such a high level. When I did my first triathlon I read up about the best diet plan and strategy for a 12 week training plan. It told me what to eat after training, before training, before I went to bed, what to eat when on the toilet to replenish the minerals you are losing from doing a number two, having a chart to compare your poo and urine to see if your drinking enough fluids or getting enough fibre. STOP! Chill out relax. Think about the reasons you are doing the race or looking to loose weight. Look at your current life situation have you got time to train like an elite level athlete probably not, make it fit round your life and make it sustainable.
Making huge changes to your body will shock it and will probably make you feel terrible. The nutrition world is full of really confusing information, lots of fad diets and lots of nutritional information which overwhelms people. Keep it simple, understand a few basics, get to grips with the principles then start to build on those foundations. You don’t get up and run a marathon without any training, take your time and understand what implications it will have.
This is going to be a super simple crash course into understanding what your body needs and how simple it can be to get yourself on the road to your nutritional goals.
One thing to remember is that your body cant think, so you as the human with the power you have to feed the body the right things and let the body deal with the confusing part of digesting it and using it for its intended use.
Lets have a look at this minefield of nutrition….
CALORIES in its simplest form is ENERGY and the body needs energy to live and allow are organs to function properly.
The easy way to understand energy is to think of a car – calories are the petrol and you are the engine. If you run out of the fuel the car will stop – if you don’t put enough calories in your body the body will stop.
Next step is to understand how many calories your body needs to stay alive. We figure this out by using some simple maths based on your weight, height, age and sex.
BMR – (Basal metabolic rate) – This is the amount of energy you burn at rest.
There are a lot of online calculators, which do all the hard work for you.
The number you are given is your BMR
We then take this number and use a formula called the Harris Benedict Formula which will introduce your activity levels and give you a calorie amount to maintain your weight.
The best way to track your calories is to use something like MyFitnessPal. It is super simple to use and will do all your BMR calculations for you and allows you scan food items so you can get a true reflection of what’s going in your body.
*Word of warning when starting out on MyFitnessPal don’t set an unrealistic weight loss target. When I first started I set my weight as the same number and exercise as I saw my activity levels so it gave me a maintain figure and I used this as my benchmark. Once you have your maintain calorie amount then you can take a percentage off to give yourself a calorie deficit which will set you on the right path on weight loss – start by taking off 5-10% of your calories and see how you get on*
Once you have your calorie target it is time to understand how to hit that number and where do calories actually come from. This is going to be a really basic, grass route entry-level explanation on what a MACRO is.
Macros are broken down into 3 components and have a number that correlates to how many CALORIES each MACRO has per GRAM.
PROTEIN – 4
CARBOHYDRATES – 4
FATS – 9
So it is simple to see that fats have a huge calorific content compared to protein and carbs. But MyFitnessPal can help you do all the hard work.
Without too much confusing science:
Protein: Will aid muscle growth/prevent muscle loss and help repair muscle tissue. Basically delivering an ongoing MOT on your body.
Carbohydrates: Are the main source of energy for the body, the petrol for your engine.
Fats: Are essential for our bodies to survive – its helps with vitamin absorption, brain function and also aids as a slow burning fuel source. Imagine fat as being a back up generator for when your body has no carbohydrates to fuel your body.
Now we have a very basic understanding of your calories and macros you can start to look at how you can hit your calorie target.
The key for when you are starting out on fulfilling your nutritional goals is to become accountable for the amount of calories you are eating, start tracking everything you are putting in your body and you will soon realise if you are not enough or eating too much.
When starting out I would use these five steps and tips:
- Track your food and calories for a week with your current eating habits being honest to yourself – This will help you see your mistakes or good habits. It will also make you accountable for what you are putting in your mouth. Input your data daily.
- The following week reflect on your food intake and see how you can adjust that to hit your calorie target. Make small changes and improve your diet as you move forward.
- Don’t over complicate your diet to start off with. If you don’t cook a great deal try introducing a few meals a week.
- See how you feel hitting your target – it is not gospel that calorie target as you may be doing more or less exercise a week. A lot of things can effect your metabolism like stress and exhaustion. Listen to your body.
- Take small steps – your weight loss/fitness goals don’t happen over night.
There is my crash course into the basics of nutrition – if you have any questions or need some advice feel free to contact me.