The Nutrition Hierarchy
Again - the stuff on the bottom of the pyramid is the most important stuff. As you make your way up the pyramid, you get less and less meaningful impact per time invested.
1. Sustainability And Adherence
The most important thing about your diet? It has to be something you can stick to.
Even with fast weight loss, you'll still be dieting for quite some time. If your diet isn't something you can stick to for at least a few months, you won't be able to get results.
When I first started coaching, I gave all my clients macros - based on my own success with tracking.
What happened? Hardly anyone could stick to their diets.
This is exactly why we spend so much time initially talking about your lifestyle, and what diet structure will work best for you currently. That's how we create a diet easy for you to adhere to.
Now, our goal is NOT to keep you dieting for the rest of your life - so you don't have to be able to see yourself doing this for years... but it has to be maintainable for the course of the diet (typically 3-6 months).
So really, after the diet is over is when sustainability comes into play. The habits you've learned - eat protein at every meal, prepping ahead, focusing on high-volume foods, balancing calorie intake with movement - these are what allow you to sustain your new bangin' body composition once you get there.
Basically, you'll never just be able to eat crappy food constantly and be fit. So while you don't have to constantly be dieting - you do need to implement the healthy behaviors you've learned to sustain your results.
2. Energy Balance
-When you eat FEWER calories than you burn in a day, you lose weight.
-When you eat More calories than you burn in a day, you gain weight.
^This is how ALL diets work. They're simply different ways of getting you to eat less.
For everything else you could possibly want to know about energy balance, check out last week's email.
All your foods are made up of some combination (or at least one) of these “macros”.
our macro intake can have a pretty big impact on your body composition, but it does NOT overrule energy balance. Calories in - calories out is still the most important factor.
The calories per gram varies a bit by macro:
*Protein: 1 gram of protein contains ~4 calories
*Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 calories
*Fat: 1 gram of fat contains ~9 calories
*Ethanol (alcohol): 1 gram of pure ethanol contains ~7 calories
Keeping protein high is crucial to building a great body, BECAUSE:
2. Carbs: 5-10% of calories consumed are burned via TEF
3. Fat: 0-3% of calories consumed are burned via TEF
When you eat more protein, you're actually increasing the Calories outside of the energy balance equation, since you're burning more calories via TEF.
Outside of controlling energy balance, increasing protein intake to .8-1 grams/lb of bodyweight daily is likely the most impactful thing you can do to improve body composition. (Although you're good to take protein higher than this, there are no added benefits. So no need to go over the top.)
This begs the question: Does drinking kill fat loss?
Well - no. You can absolutely drink and still hit your fat loss goals. Seriously, don't feel like you need to give up your social life entirely to get in great shape.
Now, your body views alcohol as a toxin. So priority one for your body after drinking is getting the alcohol out of your system A.S.A.P. To be more efficient at this, the body shuts down other processes to clear the system faster. Processes like: Oxidation of fat, hormone production, muscle tissue repair, etc.
Basically, when you drink, your results (losing body fat, building muscle) stop until your body clears the alcohol.
All that being said, fat loss still comes down to creating a calorie deficit. So no need to be afraid of alcohol.
To work alcohol into your daily intake:
*If you're tracking: swap preferably fat, and then carb calories for macros.
-For fat: divide the total calories in your drink by 9. The resulting number is the grams of fat to subtract from your daily intake.
-For carbs: divide the total calories in your drink by 4. The resulting number is the grams of carbs to subtract from your daily intake.
Basically, always keep your protein higher. Carbs and fats are going to have to take a hit. Try to keep carbs as high as possible, as long as possible. Don't let fat drop below 15% of your total calorie intake.
Ok - so this could get really boring. I'm not going to hit you with an exhaustive list of vitamins and minerals. We'll just cover the essentials quickly.
You've probably heard the term nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are simply foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are key to overall health, gym performance, and even your mental state.
Typically whole or minimally processed foods are nutrient-dense foods. Think - anything that comes from the earth OR lives on the earth. Meats, veggies, fruit, etc.
On the other hand, highly processed foods typically contain very few nutrients. Think - Food that's produced in a factory. Typically a very long ingredient list.
Now, the five most common micronutrient deficiencies are:
^A diet with a good variety of whole foods should cover all your bases here. Consuming dairy, red meat, and getting regular sun exposure will keep you on point.
As far as fruits and veggies - a good rule of thumbs is to eat one serving of fruits and veggies for every 500 calories you consume.
So how important is food quality?
Here's the thing - you could eat only Twinkies and lose weight, as long as you maintained a calorie deficit.
For real. The professor in THIS STUDY ate strictly Twinkies and the like for 10 weeks.
Dude lost 27 LBs, while eating strictly highly-processed, sugar-laden foods. All he did was maintain a calorie deficit.
Now, do I recommend this approach? Absolutely not.
Your health will be awful. You need adequate intake of the nutrients whole foods provide to feel good, perform in the gym, and function properly.
Plus, while dieting, you have to deal with being hungry often. Highly-processed foods are literally engineered to make you want to eat more. They're "hyper-palatable". Not ideal when the goal is to eat less.
Eating mostly unprocessed, whole foods will keep you full longer. Whole foods typically have more volume per calorie (you get more "bang for your buck" as far as satiety per calorie goes). They also generally contain more fiber, which also increases satiety.
So does your diet have to be strictly chicken breasts and tilapia? No way.
But - making 80-90%of your diet whole foods will make the process much easier, and you'll feel better throughout.
From there, you're free to enjoy the other 10-20% of your calorie intake from whatever your heart desires (as long as you work it into your food intake goals) without any negative effects on your results OR your health.
5. Meal/Nutrient Timing
How many times have you heard: "You HAVE TO eat six meals a day to lose weight."
^This is super not true.
The thinking behind this myth was - due to TEF, you burn more calories (via digestion) when you're eating. So eating more often means you're burning more calories.
Thing is - on average, TEF is about 10% of the calories you intake. 10% of a larger meal, or a smaller meal. Whether you eat 2,000 calories in 4 different 500 calorie meals, or in 2 different 1,000 calories makes no difference. TEF at the end of the day will still be 10% of 2,000 calories.
So does meal timing/number of meals matter at all?
Well, yes. It CAN make a difference. Just be sure to prioritize. All the stuff we've talked about previous to this makes MUCH more difference for your body composition. Treat it as such.
A few things to consider:
The most important thing - finding the meal frequency that is easiest for you to adhere to. (Anecdotally, clients usually do best with 3-4 per day.)
“Get ripped in two weeks with the SuperShred-69 fat burner!... And don’t forget to use my promo code.”
-J. Swollzz, Instagram Fitness Model
Most everyone has tried some type of fat burner, detox, etc. expecting dramatic results...and…..nothing.
The problem is, the supplement industry is crazy good at selling on the idea that “the thing” is out there somewhere.
You know, "the thing" that’s finally gonna get you the body you want, without having to put in years of hard work and consistency.
"The thing" doesn't exist.
Truth is, most legal supplements do little to nothing. That's why they're way up here, at the top of the pyramid.
Are any supplements worth the money?
*A Note On Proprietary Blends:
Supplement labels often include “proprietary blends”. This allows for the total amount of ingredients in the blend to be listed, while leaving the exact amount of each individual ingredient unspecified.
Taking supplements containing proprietary blends is much more likely to be a health hazard.
Finally, do your own research. The following is purely informative, not a recommendation. It’s up to you to determine if a supplement is safe to take.
That being said, a few supplements do have merit.
Creatine is an extremely well researched supplement, with the most effective form being creatine monohydrate.
Our bodies use creatine phosphate as a fuel source for the first few seconds of intense or explosive movement/exercise. Think of supplementing with creatine as “topping off the tank”. It allows you to maintain high-intensity exercise for slightly longer.
This means an increase in strength, and overall workload you’re able to handle in the gym, equating to building more muscle.
That being said, the effects of creatine are far from “steroid-like”, but it is a proven supplement to aid building muscle and strength.
3-5 grams/day will do the trick.
We’re all well-versed in/potentially addicted to this one.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Although considered a psychoactive drug, its use is extremely common and mostly unregulated.
Of all the supplements on this list, caffeine has by far the most noticeable effects. Not only does caffeine boost mood, alertness and mental clarity, it also has some real benefits to your workouts.
Research shows that caffeine decreases perceived effort, increases power output, and improves endurance.
Not that you needed an excuse for more caffeine, but it’s a real performance booster. Just keep your intake reasonable. Ideally less than 400mg per day.
If you’re able to hit your daily protein requirements entirely from whole foods, there’s no need to use a protein powder. Protein powders are lacking many of the micronutrients that quality, whole food protein sources will have.
But, if you’re struggling to meet your daily protein requirements, supplementing with a protein powder can be helpful.
Whey protein and casein proteins have the best amino acid profiles of available protein powders. They're the easiest for your body to absorb and use. It’s debatable which is superior. The body digests whey protein quicker than casein protein.
Whey and casein protein are derivatives of milk. So if animal products are a no-go for you: pea or rice proteins have the best amino acid profiles.
Getting all of your micronutrients from whole foods is ideal.
Ideal, but not always realistic. Taking a multivitamin is a good way to ensure your daily micronutrient needs are met.
We obtain vitamin D naturally through food and sunlight.
The issue? Most of us don’t get enough time in the sun, and the amount of vitamin D is negligible in most foods outside of fatty fish. As a result, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common
Taking a vitamin D or Cod liver oil supplement can be extremely helpful in preventing this deficiency.
The typical recommended dose is 1,000-2,000 IU per day
EPA And DHA (Fish Oil)
EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids. Now, if you eat fatty fish 2+ times per week, you're good on these. If not, a fish oil supplement can help.
Typically, 1-2g EPA + DHA per day is advised.
Again, supplements are the LEAST important factor. You'll rarely see any noticeable difference from taking a supplement. So don’t get caught up in the minutiae of things like supplements, and forget to focus on the things that really make a difference when it comes to changing your body.
Ok, got all that?
A quick summary:
Week Three: The Nutrition Hierarchy
1. Finding a diet you can adhere to and learn sustainable behaviors from is by far the most important factor.
2. You must have a negative energy balance for weight loss. You need a positive energy balance for weight gain.
3. Adequate protein is super important. Carbs and fat intake can be geared towards what is easiest for you to adhere to.
4. 80-90% of your food intake should come from whole foods.
5. Meal timing doesn't matter all that much if you don't have 1-4 dialed in. Eating 3-5 meals per day is slightly more ideal. The most important factor is finding a meal frequency that fits your lifestyle.
6. Supplements typically make little to no difference. A few will help you hit your nutrient needs, and/or slightly improve gym performance.
Feel free to shoot me comment below or send me an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Coach Kayli
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Kayli is a certified personal trainer and online coach that specializes in fitness, wellness, nutrition, mindset, mobility and everything in between.