You will hear it many times on throughout The Lean Exec content that it’s not about weight loss or weight gain, but rather the loss or gain of muscle and fat. Considering caloric intake is important for body weigh loss or gain, but what is more important is the type of calories you lose or gain as this can effect how useful and adept your body is and avoid boom and bust weight loss / gain cycles.
The composition of calories, particularly macronutrients (referred to as macros) influences body composition. Macronutrients are proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and they are important in terms of what type of weight we gain or lose.
plural noun: macronutrients
- a type of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the diet.
For information, if you’ve bought The Lean Exec book you can use your coupon code (in the appendix) to access a free Macronutrient calculator here.
Protein consumption is especially important in relation to strength, muscle build, repair, maintenance and reduction. Protein is the body’s key building nutrient, not only for muscle, but also for skin, bones, nails, hair, etc. Bodybuilders discovered the importance and benefits of a higher intake of protein for intense training over 70 years ago, even before nutrition experts. Nowadays, it’s well-known across all professional sports and recognised and used in everyday (non-pro) fitness training. Protein is formed from 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential (see the amino acids list in the appendix) and obtained through eating certain protein-rich foods, like eggs, milk, and meat. Protein powders, like whey or branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements, which are available in powder and tablets, can also help to provide these amino acids. Experts in bodybuilding go further, saying that to create an optimal anabolic environment for muscle improvement, the correct ratios of these protein building blocks need to be present. However, for the foundations we are building here, let’s not get too complicated.
There are lots of different views and various research studies about how much protein is the right amount. Bodybuilders have long lived by the 2.2g per kilogram or 1g per pound of bodyweight rule, many for over 50 years. However, everyone is different and we all have different objectives. It may take some trial and error to discover what is the right amount for your body without having negative and/or uncomfortable effects (e.g. bloating, irritable bowels and wind). However, if you consume at least 80% of the optimal protein rule (e.g. a 180lb man eating at least 145 grams of protein per day) in most cases you will be OK. If you start to see drops in weight and strength, you may want to up your protein and good calorie intake in increments to see if that helps.
Similarly, while carbohydrates (carbs) and fats are important, it’s essential to choose the right ones; for example:
- Carbs: oatmeal, brown rice, broccoli, sweet potato, banana, blueberries, spinach, etc.
- Fats: fish oil, almonds, natural peanut butter, olive oil, etc.
In the case of carbs, there are simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs (essentially sugars or high-sugar foods) are quickly digested and readily available to the body following consumption. Some complex carbs, like oatmeal, nuts, beans, apples and blueberries, provide slow release energy and contain more soluble fibre, making them better for the body, and they can have benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing the chance of heart disease.
However, all carbs are ultimately converted into glucose (blood sugar) with the exception of fibre and glycerine. The most basic carbohydrate our bodies use is a simple sugar glucose, although human bodies also create a more complex carb, glucose, which is stored in muscles and liver as glycogen. In relation to this, some carbs are higher in sugar and digest quicker. This can provide more immediate energy, versus the slower release energy found in a complex carbohydrate, like oats. In training and life, when you consume different types of carbohydrate and for what purpose can be quite important.
Carbohydrates help in the following ways:
- Before physical activity: help to increase energy stores and delay fatigue.
- During physical activity: maintain blood sugar to fuel the muscles being used.
- Post physical activity: replace glycogen and aid recovery.
- Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides) are essentially sugars.
- They are easily digested and can provide a quick boost of glucose into the bloodstream to provide a lift in short-term energy.
- Simple carbs can be useful for endurance activity, where the body is in need of fast energy replenishment. For example, a marathon runner or long-distance cyclist.
- They are found naturally in many foods:
- Glucose and fructose are found in fruits and vegetables.
- Galactose and lactose are milk sugars.
- Sucrose is common table sugar.
- Maltose is a grain sugar.
- Examples of simple carbs include; carbonated soft drinks, cakes and baked treats, cookies, cereal, fruit juice, and generally foods containing refined sugar and things like corn syrup.
- Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) contain lots of connected monosaccharides.
- Some polysaccharides are digestible, such as glycogen, dextrins and starch.
- Other polysaccharides are indigestible. These include cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, gums and mucilages.
- Examples of complex carbohydrates include rolled oats, broccoli, kidney beans, apples, and unrefined grains, like wholewheat bread.
The above is a simple summary of the multi-faceted facts behind carbohydrates, and more detail can be found with a bit of research.
In a similar way to carbs and protein, not all fats are created equal. Although in contrast, all fats contain more calories per gram than protein and carbs.
9 calories for every gram of fat.
When it comes to fat, don’t be a fathead! The reality is that not all fat is bad and, to be really healthy, we need some fat in our diet, even when looking to be lean. Actually, the right kind of fats, assuming sensible consumption, can help you stay lean and some research suggests they can also keep your heart healthy. Fatty acids, like omega-3, are actually crucial to our diet and they help deliver fat-soluble vitamins, provide energy and fuel for the body, plus keep your skin in good condition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines stated that we need a minimum of 10% of fat in our daily diet. However, the recommendation is between 20–35%.
The problem is, it’s very easy in the Western world to smash through this and hit 40%+ in calorie-dense fats. Not to mention that a lot of the easily available “convenience” foods are full of trans fat, the most evil, artery-clogging of all fats. Eating trans fats (essentially unsaturated fats) regularly and excessively is known to raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Research shows that diets rich in trans fat, increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The reality is it can be a challenge to eat well for training, particularly if you have to change a lot of bad eating habits. However, once you do, the rewards in the way you feel and the progress you achieve will make it worthwhile. In order to get started with your new nutrition regime the first step is to look at your target, set a goal, then understand the macros and calories you need to reach that goal, and what food and supplements you will need to maximise your training plan.
As a starting point, the foods to avoid are vegetable oil, heavily processed meats, supermarket ready meals, sugary cereals, fried chips, white bread and other simple carbs, as well as the most commonly known things, like sweets, chocolate, carbonated drinks, crisps, etc.
On TheLeanExec.com you will find starter plans for eating and also some links to tools that will help you calculate your appropriate macronutrients and calories. These are also readily available online, although it’s recommended you use them from a reputable source.