So, it’s a new year and you have decided to bite the iron bullet and get into shape. While hitting the gym is an extremely important step on your journey to the new you, if you are not eating the correct nutrition to suit your goal, chances are that you will make very little progress.

The problem is then.... what on earth should you be eating?

With the abundance of overwhelming information coupled with contradictory opinions in the health and fitness industry, it can become absolutely mind-boggling to decide where to start. The content in this article aims to equip you with a solid foundation of where to begin when it comes to formulating an effective diet.

Calorie Requirements

Calories are simply a measure of energy.

The food you consume provides the body with the energy required to fuel daily internal processes as well as physical and mental activity. These processes utilise or expend, the energy provided through the nutrient intake.

Because we are all different, we require a different number of calories to keep our body functioning. Factors such as age, height, weight, gender and activity level all play a role in determining our individual calorie requirements.

Before we can determine overall calorie requirements, we need to calculate BMR. BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, is an estimate of how many calories your body would burn if you were to do nothing but rest for 24 hours. However, because we are active, our bodies require more calories to fuel day to day work. To calculate this, you will need to take your activity level into consideration.

Calories in Vs. Calories Out

In order to maintain your current mass, your energy intake needs to be equal to your energy output. Should you wish to gain weight, you need to consume an excess of calories (calories in exceeds calories out) and conversely, if you want to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than what you expend (calories in is less than calories out). While calorie intake plays a role in whether you gain or lose weight, it doesn’t regulate where the gains or weight loss come from. If you are consuming the incorrect foods, you may gain fat weight when consuming an excess of calories and you may lose muscle mass when creating a deficit in calories. Obviously, this not ideal if the goal is to improve body composition by creating a healthier balance between muscle and fat mass. This is where macronutrient ratios come into play.

Macronutrients

There are 3 macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Depending upon your goal, you need to not only consume the correct amount of each macronutrient but you need to consume them in specific ratios.

For example, in order to build muscle, the bulk of your calorie intake should come from carbohydrates and protein with very little calorie intake from fats. To lose weight, you should consume the bulk of your calories in the form of protein and fats and keep your carbohydrate intake to a minimum. And finally, to maintain your weight you need to consume a fairly even balance of all three macronutrients. 

While there are a number of factors which influence macronutrient intake for specific goals, the diagrams on the right represent the percentage macronutrient intake for the average person to gain muscle, lose fat or maintain their physique. Unfortunately, finding the exact right macronutrient ratio for your individual requirements requires a fair amount of trial and error as each person’s body reacts differently to various food groups and types; however, staying within these confines should elicit the desired results for most individuals.

Food Types

The next aspect of nutrition that needs to be taken into account is food types. When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, it is pertinent to eliminate empty calories in the form of junk food. These empty calorie foods are foods that do not provide any nutritional value and are generally calorie-dense.

Instead of junk and processed foods, it is always better to opt for natural whole foods as far as possible. These are the foods that are found in the fresh produce section and butchery of most supermarkets. These foods include all of the food groups listed in the table on the right.

Each food type contains a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats but for simplicity-sake, they are listed under their main constituent. That being said, when you calculate their nutritional value, each macronutrient amount needs to be considered.

Creating the ideal diet for your individual requirements.

Now that you have a basic understanding of calories, macronutrients and the food types you should opt for, it is time to put it all together by using simple mathematical formulas to calculate your individual calorie and macronutrient requirements and then utilise these to formulate a diet which also suits your eating preferences.

Step 1: Calculating BMR

Calculating BMR for Men

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.8 x age)

Calculating BMR for Women

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age)

Example: A 30 year old female who is 1.62m and

60kgs who wants to lose weight.

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age)

= 655 + (9.6 x 60) + (1.8 x 162) – (4.7 x 30)

= 655 + 576 + 291.6 – 141

= 1 381.6 calories as her BMR

 

Step 2: Factoring in activity level.

From here, you need to decide how active you are and multiply BMR by the appropriate value as per the below options.

Very Light Activity (You only perform daily chores with no extra physical activity) - BMR x1.2

Light Activity (You perform a non-physical job but do very light exercise) - BMR x 1.4

Moderate Activity (You perform a non-physical job but do include a daily workout) - BMR x 1.6

High Activity (You perform a physical job and include a daily workout) – BMR x 1.8

Extreme Activity (You have a physically demanding job and you perform intense daily workouts) – BMR x 2.0

Example: Continuing with our subject example,

she is moderately active.

Daily calories requirements   = BMR x 1.6

= 1 381.6 x 1.6

= 2 210.6 calories per day

 

Step 3: Selecting a goal

Once you have calculated your calorie requirements, you need to select a goal.

If you want to gain weight, start by adding approximately 300-500 calories to your diet.

If, however, you want to lose weight, start by decreasing your calorie requirements by

300-500 calories. If you want to maintain your weight, then use the calorie requirements that

you have calculated in step 2.

For example, we are going to use a calorie deficit of 500 calories.

Total calories with deficit = Calories – Deficit

= 2 210.6 – 500

= 1 710.6 calories per day

 

Step 4: Setting up your macronutrients

Depending on your goal your macronutrient requirements will vary. Refer to the Macronutrient pie charts for the appropriate macronutrient split for your goal.

Example: Because our subject example’s goal is to lose weight, she would use a macronutrient ratio of 40-50% protein, 30-40% fat and 10-30% carbohydrates.

For the purposes of the example, we will use the following split:

50% Protein

40% Fat

10% Carbs

Protein

In order to calculate your protein requirements, you must take your total calorie requirements including the deficit and find 50% thereof.

Protein calories = Total Calories X 50%

= 1710.6 x 50%

= 855.3 Protein calories per day

Because protein contains 4 calories per gram, you need to divide the protein calories by 4 to get how many grams of protein you require per day.

Protein = 4 calories/gram

Protein requirements (g)= 855.3 ÷ 4

213.8g of protein per day

Fats

In order to calculate your fat requirements, you must take your total calorie requirements including the deficit and calculate 40% thereof.

Fat calories = Total Calories X 40%

= 1710.6 x 40%

= 684.2 Fat calories per day

Because fat contains 9 calories per gram, you need to divide the fat calories by 9 to get how many grams of fat you require per day.

Fat = 9 calories/gram

Fat requirements (g)= 684.2 ÷ 9

= 76g of fat per day

Carbohydrates

Lastly, you will need to calculate your carbohydrate requirements. To do this you must take your total calorie requirements including the deficit and find 10% thereof.

Protein calories  = Total Calories X 10%

= 1 710.6 x 10%

= 171 Carbohydrate calories per day

Because carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, you need to divide the carbohydrate calories by 4 to get how many grams of carbohydrates you require per day.

Carbohydrates = 4 calories/gram

Carb requirements (g)    = 171 ÷ 4

= 42.8g of carbs per day

Macronutrient Requirements

Protein – 213.8g Fats – 76g Carbs – 42.8g

 

Step 5: Incorporating macronutrient requirements into a diet.

The 5th and final step in calculating your meal plan requires you to decide which foods you would like to eat and then add up the quantities of protein, fat, carbohydrates and calories they contain.

Example: For lunch, our subject is going to have a skinless chicken breast, spinach and brown rice with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil drizzled over it.

In order to complete your meal plan, you will continue to calculate protein, fat, carbohydrate and calorie intake for all of the meals you would like to consume throughout the day until you reach your total daily requirements. It is suggested to eat 3-6 meals per day no matter your goal. Obviously, the more often you eat, the smaller the portions and the less often you eat, the bigger the portions. There is no real benefit to eating more or less often per day, but the key to achieving your goal is consistency. So rather schedule your meal plan to suit your lifestyle.

Tip: To find out how much protein, fat, carbohydrates, and calories each food you would like to include in your diet contains, visit www.fatsecret.co.za

Happy Dieting!

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