Updated: Apr 2, 2019
If you've been one of my clients or you've heard one of my talks on nutrition, you'll already know that one of the main things I am constantly stressing is the importance of eating enough. 9 out of 10 times when I send someone their custom nutrition program their first reaction is "WOW! That's a LOT of food!" But in reality, it really isn't, it's the recommended amount of food for their goals, whether it's fat/weight loss or muscle gain. Now don't get me wrong, I also come across plenty of clients who are definitely eating too much, or too much of the wrong things at the wrong times. The bottom line is: you need to eat. Your body requires a certain amount of calories each and every day just to survive and by that I mean - to keep your heart beating, your hair growing, digestion, breathing, and so on. That, in a nutshell is your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate: the amount of energy expended while at rest). Now lets take into account all of your daily activities: walking around, thinking, sitting at your desk, eating, working out and so on. All of those activities add even more calorie requirements than what your body expends while at rest. This would be your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure: The total amount of calories your body will burn in a 24-hour period; including sleep, work, exercise and normal daily activity).
For fun, let's take a look at Suzy. Suzy is a 30 year old female, 5'6" and 160lbs. Her BMR is 1520 calories. That means her body requires 1520 calories basically just to exist. This number isn't factoring in the fact that Suzy works a full-time job, works out 5 times a week and has two children that she is constantly chasing around the house, and all the other daily activities such as cleaning, making dinner and so on. Suzy has been struggling to lose weight for years and doesn't understand how she can eat only 3 small meals a day and workout five times a week and not drop a single pound! The reason? Suzy has put her body into starvation mode! Her body is struggling to survive on less calories than her BMR requires so anything she is eating, it's holding onto for dear life as opposed to using it for energy. When you diet, miss meals or go into starvation, your RMR (resting metabolic rate, or metabolism) is actually slowed by 20% which means that your body will burn even fewer calories while at rest. What does this mean for Suzy? If she consistently puts her body into starvation mode every day which is slowing her RMR by 20%, this could actually lead up to a 30lb increase in weight in a year!
What can we do to ensure that we are eating enough calories per day to prevent starvation mode?
Make sure you are eating every 3 to 4 hours a day to keep your metabolism up. This is especially important if your goal is building lean muscle. Irregular meal frequency increases potential for obesity and lowered TEF. (Farshchi, et. al., 2004)
Eat plenty of lean proteins and complex carbs. These two macros are your body's building blocks and what feeds your brain. Yes, you read that correctly... carbs feed your brain. Have you ever been on a low-carb diet and experienced a decrease in your ability to concentrate or remember things? That's due to lack of carbs providing your brain with the fuel it needs to fire on all cylinders.
When you workout, make sure you have a pre-workout snack within an hour of working out. But what about fasted a.m. workouts? While they are O.K. once in a while, say the day after a binge, they aren't recommended for an every day thing, especially if losing body fat is your main goal. Fats need to be metabolized by carbs and when your body runs out of carbs for this process it will begin to cannibalize muscle protein in the blood in order to feed your brain. So to put it into an easier context - without carbs for energy, your body will go after your muscle to fuel your workout. One way to help combat some of this on fasted a.m. workout days is to sip on BCAA's before, during and after your workout and then to make sure to consume a protein + carb post-workout snack immediately after your workout.
Have a post-workout snack immediately after your workout. This should include around 20 - 25g of protein to help begin the muscle recovery and building process. You can also sip on a protein shake during your workout and finish the rest of it after your workout. This is a great idea for long, strenuous workouts.
As a general rule of thumb for women, do not go below 1,200 calories a day. For men, do not go below 1,800 calories a day.
The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF):
TEF is the amount of energy expended above the RMR due to processing food for use and storage.
To put it in easier terms, eating enough, and eating frequently boosts your metabolism. Within 60 minutes of finishing your meal your metabolism spikes. (This is also why it's a great idea to eat 60 min. before a workout). The foods that produce the best TEF on your body are Proteins and Carbohydrates:
Proteins have a thermic effect of ~30%
Carbs (fruits and veggies) have a ~20% effect while complex carbs (grains) have a ~7% effect
Fats have a thermic effect of ~3%
What this means...
Say you have a lean protein that contains 200 calories, your body will use around 40 to 70 of those calories just for digestion. This is why protein is such an important food source that we need to be adding to our daily nutrition in order to burn fat.
Other foods that create a great TEF:
Herbs and Spices: garlic, cinnamon, chili peppers (~20%), horseradish, mustard, fennel seed, ginger, ginseng and tumeric
Water: 17oz. of cold water (43 degrees F) increases your TEF by 30% for 10 to 40 min. after consumption (Boschmann, et. al., 2007)
Green Tea: The polyphenols increase liver fat metabolism, inhibit Lipoprotein Lipase activity in the digestive tract, and promotes satiety and fullness. (Dulloo, 1999)
To sum up all of this information: Eat. Now, don't eat just anything! But make sure you're eating enough of the right foods for your body composition and goals. If you're struggling with losing weight, have a constant lack of energy, aren't seeing progress in your workouts and lack motivation, then there's a good chance that you aren't eating correctly. If you don't know where exactly to start, what to eat or when to eat, work with a professional (like me!) to help get you started on the right track for success!
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Tune in next week to learn about the Thermic Effect of Physical Activity!