Calories, good fats, bad fats, stay-the-fuck-away-from-them fats, simple carbs, complex carbs, whey protein, caesin protein, soy protein, water, muscles, , running, weights, squats, cardio…the list goes on! Your mind’s probably been stuffed with all this exercise and food jargon after you did your first internet search on google that looked something along these lines: “how to lose weight”, “does running make you skinny”, “will I look like a man if I lift weight”, “how to turn into Arnold Swartzeneggar”, “how to get abs before summer starts in 10 days.” Well…you will have to know about all these things, but have no fear! Let me be your guide and enlighten you on the MAIN points!
The evil Calorie…dum dum dum….the word that scares all 14 year old girls, send chills to their spines, and prompts them to live off apples and saltine crackers so they may fit into that size 2 dress at H & M. A “calorie” is actually a scientific unit of measurement – the amount of energy our body needs to heat up one gram of water by one degree Celcius (ºC) at one atmospheric pressure. If you did chemistry and/or physics in high school or college, you should be familiar with this relationship of variables; if not, it’s no big deal!
In a more common food-definition, calories are the form of energy that we get from food; each individual has their own daily requirement – called the basal metabolic rate (BMR) – that is calculated by either the Harris-Benedict equation (original or revised) or the Mifflin St Jeor equation. Each equation, despite having their respective adjustments in numerical values, takes into account the following elements: heat production at complete rest, mass (kg), height (cm), and age (years). You do not need to know the exact formula as you can use the online calculators below, but if you are interested on learning more about the equation go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_metabolic_rate to find out more details. Each type of macronutrient (which you will learn more about below) has a specific amount of calories within a given weight. Proteins and carbohydrates both have 4.5 calories/g and lipids have 9 calories/g. The reason for this difference in calories is due to the amount of water present in the molecules and therefore how dense the nutrients are. Proteins and carbohydrates are half the caloric value of lipids because they contain more water (note that water has no calories) and are less dense than lipids.
Macronutrients are three types of energy sources that are central for our body’s growth: protein, carbohydrates, and lipids. The foods with the highest amount of proteins are: any type of animal meat, dairy products, legumes, nuts, (tree and bush), tofu, and spinach. Basically everything has some trace of protein in it – after all, it is what DNA functions to produce – but meat and beans are where it’s at! Protein has many functions within our body – most notably: DNA replication, carrying molecules through our body, and catalyzing metabolic reactions; this last part is the foundation of muscle building as it helps perform anabolic reactions. “Anabolism” is the process of using smaller materials to build bigger materials – these bigger materials include, but are not limited to, our muscles. Essentially, you need anabolism so there’s stuff to use for catabolism.
Speaking of anabolic reactions…. amino acids!!! A main topic in the bodybuilding world, these little (or big) guys are the precursors to making proteins; there are 500 known amino acids, but only 20 of them actually naturally are made in the human body. In terms of catabolic reactions, when protein is digested into it’s amino acid components, those amino acids can be used to maintain the health of our skin, eyes, heart, intestines, bones and, of course, muscle. This is just a brief introduction to amino acids…they are so awesome that they deserve an ENTIRE section to themselves!
Basically, you damn well better be eating your protein (ie. if your lean body mass is 150 lbs, then eat 150g of protein per day) if you’re going to be clanging and banging at the gym everyday, breaking down all your muscles!
Photo Caption: Examples of Wild rice, Clif Bar, multigrain flat bread buns (Complex carbs; left) and Krave cereal, oreo cookies, Golden Delicious apple and white hamburger buns (Simple carbs; right)
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy; the macronutrient that we will consume in the highest amounts. Not all carbohydrates are equal though! There are three main types: simple, complex, and fibrous. Simple carbohydrates are present in foods such as fruit, yogurt, milk, and processed products such as candy, cereal (more so the Cap’n Crunch types), and white breads/bagels – they are absorbed faster by the body and give us near-instant energy for a short period of time. Complex can be found in whole wheat breads/bagels, healthier cereals (i.e. All Bran), and brown rice – they are absorbed slower by the body and take longer to be turned into energy; in contrast to the simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates give us energy for longer periods of time. Lastly, the fibrous ones can be in a soluble (broken down by body; i.e. in legumes, oats, fruits like bananas/avocados/prunes, or veggies like broccoli/carrots/Jerusalem artichokes) or an insoluble form (wheat/corn bran, nuts, seeds, or certain veggies – green beans/cauliflower, zucchini).
Even more so than calories or even fats, carbohydrates seem to be put in the doghouse these days. This is due to their ability to be stored as fat and therefore increase unwanted bodyweight. But that does not mean that eating carbohydrates “makes you fat”; I shall go into (readable) detail on that a bit later. The takeaway from this section on carbohydrates is that you should eat them when you need them and refrain from eating them when you don’t need them – the proper type too! If it’s an hour past your workout and you’re just getting your post-workout shake in, you will want to have around 30-50g of SIMPLE carbs with your shake so that the protein can be shuttled to your muscles ASAP and that glycogen can be made in to rebuilding energy. Here you want something that replenishes fast (it’s not like you’re going to go at it again, therefore you need a long-lasting energy source); however, when you’re eating breakfast and know that you won’t be eating for another 3-5 hours after, COMPLEX carbs are your friend because they give you a large amount of energy that will be slowly used over a long period of time,so you can excel at whatever you’re doing in the meantime and not bite anyone’s head off because you’re having a hangry sugar crash.
Lipids, more commonly known as “fats” is one of the three categories of macronutrients and contains the following types: fatty acids, non-glyceride lipids, complex lipids, and glycerides. Nutrition-wise you only need to know about these ones: fatty acids, and nonglyceride lipids. Fatty acids contain saturated, unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated) which are respectively found in high amounts in beef, butter, coconut oil, eggs yolks and cashews; avocados, all nuts, olive oil, and canola oil. Saturated fats are good to have in small amounts as they are required for the production of testosterone and keep the good (high density lipid, HDL) cholesterol levels high and the bad cholesterol (low density lipid, LDL) levels low,
Macronutrients and Weight Gain
For a large portion of the 1900s, society has been “fat shaming” – and I’m not talking about yelling at fat people, I’m talking about fearing dietary fat and going on low fat diets. Bottom line…neither type of fat shaming is cool. It started off in the 1940s when physicians recognized a positive correlation between high-fat diets and high cholesterol; heart disease, known to be associated with too much fat consumer (arteries get clogged so the heart becomes undernourished as the blood cannot bring the proper amount of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle). Skipping forward, as I know most of you will probably become bored with the history of semi-moronic/semi understandable approaches to fats and fat loss, the turning point came around 1983 when obesity was found to be an “independent risk factor for heart disease” (). This meant that obesity was a problem on it’s own (in relation to heart disease); after this finding, the promotion of a low-fat diet was still perpetuated, but was met with more skepticism.
Eventually, in part with the rising number of individuals with diabetes and the birth of the Glycemic Index (GI), it was found that carbohydrates (in addition to oversized portions) were the real culprit of the rise American obesity. What is the GI you ask? It’s a system that ranks foods from 0-100 based on how much they raise your blood sugar by (measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L); to learn about mmol/L click here) after consumption. The higher the GI of a food/drink, the higher the blood sugar and therefore insulin are raised, and the more energy stored in adipose (fat) tissues. You’re probably thinking: “well that means carbohydrates make you fat” – but let me stop you there!
When too many carbohydrates at a given period of time are absorbed, the body’s blood glucose content is raised way too high and all that extra glucose needs a place to go as the blood cannot tolerate it; so it gets stored in muscles and adipose tissue. If the muscles are being used (for exercise or daily movement) enough, all that stored carbohydrate energy gets converted to usable energy so that our bodies are able to appropriately function for the task(s) at hand. Conversely, if our body does not need the extra energy it will be stored as fat. This is not to say that if you eat 3500 calories extra (the equivalent of 1 lb) one day that you’ll suddenly gain another 1b of love handles that tighten your pants a little more – in fact, your body will most likely speed up and be like “Hey! We’ve just got all this extra crap thrown at us, it’s go time boys! BURN BURN BURN!” Just don’t make it a habit, otherwise your muffin top will be spilling out of those jeans. Last week I decided to eat two bags of Kettle Chips one evening while watching Queer as Folk and then another bag 6 days later. I realized that I had literally done the same thing almost the exact date a year ago (yes…I remember useless stuff like this), so now I’ve made binge eating Kettle Chips a May tradition and won’t really eat potato chips for the rest of the year. It is important to note that we all have different “eating styles”; I happen to be an “all or nothing” person – I’ll eat healthy 80-90% of the time and have my treats for the other 10-20%. I can see I’m starting to digress a bit into the “losing fat” portion of “Starting Out” – more on that later!