Counting calories is a proven method to lose weight. If you’re trying to lose weight you think “I just need to cut my calories”. If you’re trying to gain weight you focus on increasing your calories. Both of these strategies work, if they didn’t Weight Watchers would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.
Your overall calorie intake is important, but what makes up that total count is more important. Your ratio of protein to carbohydrate to fat intake will be a much more powerful tool in your quest to change your body. Whether it be to shed a few pounds of fat, or to add some muscle.
These three numbers have a much larger effect on your body composition (how much fat vs how much muscle you hold) than does the overall calorie count. Finding the right ratio of these macronutrients will play the largest part in your quest to a better body.
I am operating under the assumption that most people have the goal to build more muscle and lose some fat. You can call this whatever you like- toning up, leaning out, getting shripped. I will refer to this process as body recomposition.
I always tell people that the most crucial macronutrient to focus on is protein. Most people do not get nearly enough of the protein they need to maintain muscle mass, let alone build new muscle mass. This is especially true of men over 40.
Protein is the building block of muscle, it creates the anabolic environment needed for your body to repair and ultimately grow muscle. Without the proper intake of protein you will not gain muscle, you won’t even hold on to the muscle you have.
Protein contains what are called Essential Amino Acids. These are 9 (of 22) Amino Acids that can only be obtained through food, the rest are produced by your body. These Amino Acids create hormones that regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. They directly contribute to muscle growth.
You need to remember that every goal requires gaining muscle. “Getting toned” or “working on definition” is not possible without gaining the adequate amount of muscle- even its just a pound. I cannot stress the importance of eating enough protein.
Healthy sources of protein are:
- Chicken- Breast, Thigh
- Steak- Ribeye, Strip Steak, Filet
- Pork Tenderloin
- Fish- Salmon, Tilapia, Cod
Carbohydrates are the devil. Everyone knows that.
They have no good use in the body other than to make you fat.
Those sentences were a bold faced lie, but I bet you’ve heard them before. If anyone tries to tell you that, hit them with your shoe. Carbohydrates have a large role to play in body recomposition.
Your body breaks down carbs into sugar to use as fuel for your internal organs and muscles. Without proper carb intake your body will look to your muscles for fuel. It will begin to break down your muscle tissue in search of the nutrients it needs to thrive, thus sabotaging your efforts to change your body.
The world of carbohydrates is not a world of equality. Some are superior in nutrition than others, some cause certain allergies (think gluten intolerance). It’s a simple rule to follow- the more processed a carbohydrate is the more likely it is to not be healthy for you. Pick a potato over a potato chip.
Eating a lower carb diet will help in terms of fat loss, but banishing carbs entirely will do more harm than good, despite what Dr. Atkins says. You will lose a portion of your muscle mass and achieve the ever sexy “skinny fat” look.
Think of carbs as your body’s immediate source of energy. The sugar from carbs breaks down in your body relatively quickly and can be drawn upon for energy used in training. It’s the reason why endurance athletes “carb up” the night before a race.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates are:
- White and Brown Rice
- Potatoes- White and Sweet
If anything is more demonized than carbs- it’s fat. Growing up it seemed like fat was to blame for all our dietary woes and weight problems. They even made low fat ice cream and donuts so we could feel better about ourselves.
Fat is an essential part of life. Fatty acid is found in the membrane of every cell in your body, and a layer of fatty tissue protects all of your internal organs. Fat has a place in our diet, and a gigantic role in our biology.
Fats can be found in sources as varied as almonds, salmon and ribeye. Some fats contain more Omega-6 and Omega-3s (Essential Fatty Acids) and are therefore preferable to the other sources. This is found mostly in fish and grass fed beef, but can be supplemented by taking a Fish Oil or Krill Oil capsule.
Trans fats are the only type of fat you should consume as rarely as possible. Trans fats are found in chips, French fries and other over-processed foods that no one could mistake as healthy.
Healthy sources of fat are:
- Fish- Salmon, Tilapia, Cod
- Nuts- Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Walnuts
- Oils- Olive or Coconut Oil
- Supplements- Fish or Cod Oil, MCT Oil
Putting It All Together
The point of all of this is to point out that not every calorie is equal in its potential to change your body. A gram of protein and a gram carbohydrate contains 4 calories. A gram of fat holds 9 calories.
110 calories of chicken breast has 23 grams of protein, 0 grams of carbs and a little over 1 gram of fat. It is a little less than 4 ounces, or half of a breast.
110 calories of white bread is only one slice. It has 22 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fat and 4 grams of protein.
If you were only counting calories you would view these two options as equal. While equal in calories they are not equal in nutritional quality, or in the ability to change your body. The piece of bread is a small portion compared to the chicken, and would not satiate you. It would be part of a larger meal. The chicken breast would satiate you and could be a meal on its own with a handful of veggies.
You should eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you are trying to change your body you should eat one gram of protein per goal body weight. A man aiming to gain significant muscle might even want to eat one and a half gram of protein per goal body weight.
You should eat between 100 and 200 carbohydrates per day. If you are aiming to lose fat you should err closer to the 100 grams per day number, if you are aiming to add muscle you might even go slightly higher than 200. I tell people to take their protein intake and subtract 50 grams to figure out their ideal carbohydrate intake.
Fat should always be between 65 and 75 grams per day. On days you do not work out you should cut carbs slightly, while increasing fats slightly.
So let’s put this all into action.
Let’s say I am a 195 pound man who wants to gain a little bit of muscle while losing fat. I want to look toned and defined. My goal body weight is 185 pounds. I would eat 185 grams of protein per day, 130 grams of carbohydrates per day and 65 grams of fat. That is a grand total of 1,845 calories.
This is a customizable formula. Your body does not have the same caloric needs and mine does.
Calories counting is important, but the breakdown of where the calories come from is more important. Learn to make the proper food choices for your body and you will see much better results. Macronutrients are the most powerful tool in your quest for body recomposition. They seem complicated at first but with a little bit of study and attention you can master them in only a few days.