Diet is king for those wishing to change their physique – but how do you really change it to suit your goals? It is quite simple – if you want to get bigger, add additional ‘energy’ (in the form of calories – this is known as a surplus), if want to get smaller ingest fewer or burn more energy (this is known as a deficit). If you want to re-composition your fat into muscle you must spend at least some time in an energy deficit (so that you burn up fat stores), and some time in an energy surplus (so that you build muscle stores).
What Is Body Composition?
Body composition refers to the ratio of body fat to fat-free mass. Fat-free mass is everything else like bone, muscle, water and other tissue. A lot of people tend to think that all they need is pure muscle. But, there must be some amount of fat in the body for many reasons, because fat protects the organs, provides energy and is very necessary in regulating hormones.
- These Are The Risks Associated With Having Too Much Body Fat
When there is too much fat in the body, it can be a problem. A high percentage of body fat can lead to many health issues. For instance, it could lead to pregnancy complications, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, greater risk of stroke and even cancer.
Overweight people can also eventually suffer from joint pain as excess weight puts a lot of pressure on our joints as we perform even the simplest of activities such as walking.
- These Are The Risks Associated With Having Too Little Body Fat
Having an extremely low body fat percentage can also take a toll on your health. How? It can affect your cardiovascular system’s ability to function properly. Also, if you have a very low body fat percentage, you may find that your energy levels are lower than normal.
The reason is because when your body’s fat reserves have nothing stored in them, there is no way to make energy.
Other complications associated with a low body fat percentage are problems such as a slowed heart rate, feeling cold, a reduction in the production of hormones, dry skin, brittle bones, a loss of muscle tissue, damage to the nervous system, shrinkage of the organs and more.
- What’s the Ideal Body Fat Percentage?
This depends on a few different things. For starters, it’s different for men and women and it can vary with age. A safe and healthy body fat percentage for an adult male is between 15 to 20%, and it’s between 20 to 25% for an adult female.
Having a little more or less in either direction is not a problem. It only becomes an issue when men go above 25% and women go above 32%.
Getting to those levels is considered a health risk. For the opposite direction, it’s never a good idea for men to go below 3%, and women shouldn’t go below 13% body fat. Anything in between those numbers is entirely up to the individual’s preference.
1. Recording Calories (temporary)
Don’t worry about adjusting your diet for the first few weeks – just ensure that you record what you consume. It is best to get a set of food scales, so that you can accurately record the calories that you eat (which can be found on the back of most food packaging). What you want to do is find out just how much you normally eat, and try to work out how much you can eat without losing or gaining weight.
To do this, you must also weigh yourself – try to do this in the morning. Do this a several times per week, and find an average – as everyone will fluctuate many times, so don’t become too caught up on it. Record your weight, and your daily calories. If your weight goes up, then you’re obviously in a caloric surplus, and if your weight goes down then obviously you are in a caloric deficit.
If your weight doesn’t change then congratulations, you have found your maintenance calories! To find your maintenance calories, either add or take 100-200 kcals until you find an amount that doesn’t cause weight change.
- Find out what your body prefers.
In addition to teaching you how your body responds to certain amounts of calories, recording your food also teaches you about proper portion control.
The goal isn’t to record meticulously forever – that would be insane, but to learn just how much of each type of food corresponds to roughly how many calories so that in the future you can better direct your diet. To make matters easier, there are many food recording apps to run on your computer or smart phone, but for the first few weeks at least I would recommend the use of food scales, as it’s all about experimenting to understand how your body works.
2. Macro Counting
Calorie balance is the fundamental for weight control, but we can go a step further to control the composition of this weight change. For instance, if we are in an energy deficit then you will lose weight no matter what (you are not a photosynthesising plant; you cannot create energy out of nothing), but we want to control this weight loss and make sure that we are losing as much fat as possible and as little muscle as possible.
By training (especially resistance training), we can provide incentive for our bodies to take fewer nutrients from our muscles and instead use fat cells, and we can also make use of macronutrient ratios.
Macronutrients are nutrients that we use lots of, and each have a calorie number assigned to them. Now, in order to preserve muscle, we should try to get in as much protein as possible. This is because your body will try to use up muscle protein to replace the protein of other body organs.
- Carbohydrates & Fats
In order to build muscle, we should get in lots of carbohydrates, and a moderately high level of protein. This doesn’t mean you should avoid fats however – they are essential to maintain your health; fats are vital for hormonal control, insulation and structural integrity of many of the body’s cells.
I could recommend a certain ratio of macronutrients (an often stated one is 40/40/20 which is 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fats), but in all honesty everyone reacts differently. Some people can have great bodies with a Ketogenic Diet (essentially their diets consist of pretty much all protein and fat, with little or no carbohydrate), whereas others (like myself), prefer to have a mega high carbohydrate diet, with moderate amounts of protein and fats.
By recording what you eat without following guidance, you can work out what your body craves, which may give insight on how it works with certain nutrients (for instance, those that crave fats may be better at metabolising them).
3. Diet strategies
Now that you have found how many calories you need to eat in order to change your weight to match your goals, and have discovered what composition of macronutrients you enjoy eating/also match your goals, now it is time to find some strategies to keep you eating the way you need to in order to get where you want to be!
- Fat Loss Tips
The most effective fat loss strategies are those that keep you feeling full for longer, staving off any hunger that will drive you to over-eat. Sure, burning more calories during a workout can be great, but at the end of the day, you’re only going to burn a few hundred calories, whereas you may be eating several thousand each day.
- Eating Order
One very easy strategy that can be used is altering the order that you eat things each meal. By drinking a glass or two of water, you are already filling up your stomach, meaning that hormones that lead to fullness will start being produced, leading you to feeling fuller sooner, and driving the hunger away.
1) By starting with vegetables/fruit, you are pumping your stomach with food that is low in calories (most vegetables are like 80% water, and water doesn’t typically have any caloric value). Following these low-calorie fillers, you can move on to protein sources.
2) Protein is a little harder to digest than fats or carbohydrates, and they’re much less likely to be stored as fat (the process of turning protein into fats – gluconeogenesis/ de novo lipogenesis – is not a major factor in fat gain). Protein has been proven to make people feel fuller for longer than carbohydrates, and they have a much lower caloric density than fats. A
3) After pumping your stomach with bulky vegetables, nutritious protein, you can move on to the fun things – carbohydrates and fats. By this point your belly should be pretty full, meaning that the potential for over eating fats and carbohydrates is reduced!
4. HIIT Workouts
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is training that involves several relatively short bursts of high intensity effort – think doing sprints rather than a marathon. Though they may not burn too many calories (as they tend to be very short in duration), they do have a curious effect of blunting hunger for several hours. This may be due to the fact that HIIT training mobilises fat for use, meaning that there is fat flowing in your blood vessels and thus signalling to your body that it doesn’t need to eat just yet.