The basics of nutrition

When it comes to changing your physique, diet is king over exercise. You could be training for five hours per day but unless your diet is dialled in, you will not see the results you might hope for. To see just how important diet really is, check out the humorous video below.

But it is easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to knowing what and how much to eat, and what not to eat. Below we will tell you how many calories to eat, what your macronutrient balance should be, and what types of foods are the best to eat.

Calories
The first step in constructing a healthy diet is to calculate the total number of calories you need to consume per day. You must first calculate your basal metabolic rate, which gives you a rough approximate of how many calories your body burns at rest. Use this website to enter your height, weight and age, which will estimate your BMR.

Factor in any additional calories you burn via exercise (you can find a calorie burning estimator here), and then adjust the total to suit your goals. To lose weight, you must reduce the total by around 500 calories per day. To gain weight, you need to be consuming at least 300 calories more than you are burning.

Macronutrients
Your diet is based around three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. You should aim for around 40 per cent of your total calories to come from carbohydrates, 30 per cent from protein and 30 per cent from fats. Keep in mind that one gram of protein yields four calories, as does one gram of carbohydrate, but one gram of fat yields nine calories.

Carbohydrate intake may vary depending on body type and individual goals. If muscle gain is your main goal, eat a higher percentage of carbohydrate, but if fat loss is your main goal eat a lower proportion of carbohydrates.

Choose wholegrain sources of carbohydrates and avoid processed sugary products. Good choices include brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potato and fruit. Protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, soy products, dairy, legumes, and dietary supplements. Good sources of dietary fat include oils, nuts, seeds and avocado.

Example
To put this all into practice, consider the diet of a 40 year old man who wants to lose weight. He currently weighs 90 kilograms at a height of 6 foot. According to the BMR calculator, his BMR is approximately 1930 calories. He currently performs 45 minutes of weight training most days of the week, taking his average daily calorie burn to 2200.

Given that he would like to lose weight, he should remove 500 calories from the total, providing a daily caloric target of 1700. As he wants to lose weight, he will adjust his macronutrient balance to 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent carbohydrates and 30 per cent fat.

To work out the exact number of grams to consume of each macronutrient, divide 1700 by 40 per cent to get 680. This means that 680 calories must come from protein. As each gram of protein contains four calories, he must consume 170 grams of protein per day (680 divided by 4 is 170).

To calculate the total amount of carbohydrates, divide 1700 by 30 per cent. 510 divided by four equals 127.5 grams of carbohydrates.

For fat, divide 510 by nine (as fat contains more calories per gram) to end up with 56.7 grams of fat per day.

So he would consume 170 grams of protein, 127.5 grams of carbohydrates and 56.7 grams of fat per day, for a total of 1700 calories.

Now you know how many calories to eat, and how many of each type. Try dividing the totals into five, to account for five small meals per day. You will be on your way to achieving your physique goals!

Cardio v Weights

When many people start up an exercise regime, they focus on cardiovascular exercise. They plan to walk more, start up a running routine or even begin cycling to work. Very few think of beginning a weight training regime and, if they do consider it, are often overwhelmed when it comes to choosing the right exercises, sets and rep ranges. When making time to exercise, most fall towards the comfortable embrace of cardio – not realising that they are not making the right decision for their bodies.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle or simply improve your general health, resistance training is the best option to choose.

The best fat loss approach is to focus on losing body fat by following a healthy nutrition plan while simultaneously building lean muscle through a resistance-based exercise programme. Cardiovascular activity can assist with improving general health, but it is by no means necessary for weight loss.

Calorie burn and body composition
Resistance training builds muscle mass which in turn burns more calories and scorches fat. It will improve your body composition for the better. Cardio will help you lose fat, but it simply breaks down your existing tissue and does nothing to sculpt your body. Building lean muscle tissue through weight lifting will help create the coveted firm look.
15% female body fat comparrison

Both of these women have 15 per cent body fat – the difference in their physique is based on exercise

 

On paper, cardio seems to burn more calories. However, the cardio burn achieved during cardio lasts only for the duration of the exercise itself. Furthermore, any deficit created through aerobic exercise is rarely enough to offset the catabolic hormonal environment it produces in your body, which is described below.

Although the amount of calories burned during a weights session is often less, your body continues to burn calories for up to 24 hours after a resistance workout – thereby burning more calories overall.

For every pound of muscle you build, you burn an additional 50 calories at rest – meaning that you will burn fat naturally as your body becomes stronger. Strength training also stimulates the release of growth hormone, which burns fat in addition to building muscle.

If you perform weights-based exercises in a circuit fashion with minimal rest, it raises your heart rate in the same way a cardio session does. The added bonus is that you are likely to find the circuit workout more enjoyable.

Finally, your body adapts to steady state cardio such as brisk walking or jogging extremely quickly, meaning that over time you will burn fewer and fewer calories for the same amount of effort. This is why many people feel frustrated when their progress stalls six to eight weeks into a new cardio-dominant exercise programme.

Resistance training has many physical benefits

The negatives of cardio
Cardiovascular exercise does have its place in improving general fitness levels and reducing blood pressure, but it may not provide the physical changes you would like. The problem is that cardiovascular exercise becomes less effective the more you do it. After some time, the negative effects will take over.

Aerobic exercise raises cortisol levels which, in excess amounts, can encourage your body to hold on to fat. Excess cardio also causes chronic inflammation of tissues, which results in premature ageing, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The worst type of cardio is continuous (as opposed to interval training, which has numerous benefits) and long (60-90 minutes or more).

Any form of exercise will stress your body, however, there is a difference between good and bad stress. Unfortunately, aerobic exercise can often cause bad stress. Weight training, on the other hand, produces good stress – it stresses the body to adapt and get stronger. Any negative impact of cortisol is diminished by the simultaneous release of anabolic hormones.

The best workout
Aerobic exercise can be useful when it is combined with a regular strength training program, but the latter should hold the highest priority in your exercise regime. Of course, it is better to perform aerobic exercise rather than nothing at all, but it is always better to choose strength training than cardiorespiratory training.

Aim for three weights sessions per week, and keep any cardio sessions short and intense. Watch as your body becomes stronger and looks better!