THE BASICS ON NUTRITION
One of the questions I get a lot is: ”what should I eat?” In the 80’s, 90’s and even 2000’s people were all talking about the Atkins diet (designed by Robert Atkins), or the Body For Life program by Bill Phillips. Now people are asking about Paleo, Keto and Intermittent Fasting. Unfortunately, deceptive marketing and pseudoscience has left Americans largely confused about nutrition. When a respected athlete or coach recommends or endorses a nutrition program, it’s not always based on knowledge of nutrition, but personal experience. The “this worked for me” approach is dangerous because not every individual responds the same, nor is every individual's goal the same.
This article is written to outline the basic nutritional principles that govern the human body. It’s important to understand these foundational principles before tackling the specifics on how to tailor a nutrition program for you. After reading this you should understand the basics about energy balance, and the types of nutrients that your body needs to perform at it’s best.
Let’s begin with the first Law of Thermodynamics: The Law Of Conservation Of Energy, which states that energy can not be created or destroyed, but only transformed.
This begs the question: What is energy? Energy is what makes up everything in this world. Energy can be measured in units like volts, watts or even calories. Yes, I said calories. A calorie is a unit of energy, and since we know that energy can not be created or destroyed, that means that calories that enter your body must be transformed.
Transformed into what? You might ask. They are either converted into thermal energy “burned” or stored as either fat or muscle.
Take a look at the chart below. This is an illustration of our First Law of Thermodynamics at work in a nutrition setting. The brilliant part about this LAW is that, just like the law of gravity, it has NEVER BEEN DISPROVEN. There are NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule. Since we know, from a mathematical standpoint, how many calories are in a single pound (3,500 kcal), we can also easily estimate how many calories to consume over a period of time in order to achieve a certain weight goal.
If one wanted to lose a pound per week, you simply divide 3,500 kcals by 7 days in a week. This would mean that you needed to eat 500 kcals less than what you burn each day. Conversely, if one wanted to gain a pound per week, they would simply eat 500 more calories than what they burn. The real question is, how many calories do you burn? This is where things get convoluted.
Mathematical formulas and activity trackers that use mathematical formulas to make estimations can be surprisingly accurate for those who have a healthy system. But they aren’t universal. There will always be outliers whose bodies may not be firing on all cylinders.
How does that happen? You might ask. There are more advanced concepts that keep your body from operating with maximum efficiency. We need to delve a little deeper into nutritional principles before we get into those advanced concepts.
There are, however, more complex concepts that must be implemented in order to sculpt the body in such a way that elicits the results that you may desire.
Macronutrients are the BIG nutrients that make up the energy that we eat. There are 4 of these Macronutrients:
Protein (4 calories per gram)
Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
Fat (9 calories per gram)
Alcohol (7 calories per gram)
Since alcohol is poisonous for the body and is completely counterproductive in any health and fitness regiment, we leave it out in any examples you might see, and if you are having trouble gaining traction on your fitness goals, you might consider eliminating regular alcohol consumption first.
The below table is an example of a macronutrient ratio chart. This is representative of the total calories one might consume in a day, and the breakdown of which macronutrient source those calories came from.
Since each of these macronutrients are used in the body in different ways. It’s important to structure your ratios in accordance with your specific goals. If you don’t know where to start, a fitness professional, nutritionist or registered dietitian can help you make the right decision (be aware that these ratios can vary greatly depending on the philosophy and school of thought your professional has adopted.)
It’s important to have an understanding of what role each of these macronutrients plays in the human body. An easy way to break it down is as follows:
Protein is made of 20 essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of life.
“The genetic code is the relation between the sequence of bases in DNA (or its RNA transcripts) and the sequence of amino acids in proteins. Experiments by Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner, and others established the following features of the genetic code by 1961.” (NCBI, 2002)
This means that the combination of certain nucleotides (guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine) create amino acids.
Without the proper amino acids your body will resort to cannibalizing itself to fill the holes in your nutrition. This can result in lean body mass loss, “decreased immunity, digestive problems, depression, fertility issues, lower mental alertness, slowed growth in children, and many other health issues.” (Berry, 2019)
On more of a practical note, protein is the fuel for your muscles. If you are looking to build muscle, protein acts as the recovery agent that will repair the tissue that has been damaged after exercise.
Fitness professionals used to think that muscle soreness was a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. We have come to find that this is simply not true. It’s important to understand that soreness in muscle tissue comes from microtears that occur when exercising. During the healing process, the body will grow the damaged tissue (muscle, tendons, bones, etc.) to meet the demands of the newly introduced stressors. This is why muscles grow, tendons get denser and bones get stronger from the appropriate exercise.
Now, if there are MACRO (big) nutrients, then it would stand to reason there are also MICRO (small) nutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in order to feed our cells and maintain proper health.
If the cells are not getting the vital nutrients they need, then deterioration and oxidative stress is accelerated. This is detrimental to your health because your body can respond to oxidative stress in many ways that will slow the metabolism and wreak havoc on the body resulting in:
Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease
Other Inflammatory or ischemic conditions
This means that it’s not ONLY about how many calories we eat, but what those calories are composed of and what vitamins and minerals are contained in the associated foods.
Here’s an example. A 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola contains 140 calories with 39 grams of carbohydrates and 39 grams of sugar, and clearly states on the nutrition label that it is not a significant source of: well, just about any nutrient other than sugar.
A banana, on the other hand, has 105 calories 27 grams of carbohydrates with only 14 grams of sugar. That banana also contains 12% of your daily potassium and fiber allowance, 17% Vitamin C, 20% Vitamin B-6, 8% Magnesium and more!
So, if you are looking for the most BANG FOR YOUR BUCK, so to speak, do you reach for the Coca-Cola, or the banana?
The Banana of course.
This lends credence to the philosophy of eating “nutrient dense” foods. They are almost always lower in calories and higher in nutrients. What’s more is that they are found in nature. These are sources that the human race has interacted with for our entire existence. It’s the way God designed humans to eat. Processing, manufacturing, chemical sweeteners, preservatives, pesticides, herbicides and genetic modification have changed the way we interact with food more in the last 50 years that it has in our entire existence.
As you absorb and assimilate the information that this article has provided I can guarantee that you will be able to find many other articles out there that will give you a "yes, but..." argument about how they believe these principles don't apply to everyone. I'm here to tell you that they do 100% of the time. For those individuals who might still be struggling to see the change they desire I would argue that there is either a flaw in your execution (where I would encourage you to book a free strategy call where we can help you get back on track) or a deeper metabolic or hormonal issue that is affecting your metabolism. We will be exploring these other factors and special conditions in future articles.
Please remember, simpler is better. We did not struggle with the obesity issues of today thousands of years ago. Most companies are more concerned with profit than providing you with good sources of food that will keep you looking and feeling good. We must get back to Gods nutrition plan where our food is provided by the Earth. This is how we can conquer the health issues that plague our nation today. Food is not only fuel, it's medicine.