How to make 2014 your fittest year ever- Diet (Part 1)

What with it being the new year and all, I figured it would be good to share a primer about weight loss, exercise, and diet.

I’m going to try my best to provide the simplest, most straight-forward guide to the thorny issue of diet.

Rule Number 1: Abs are made in the kitchen

Diet, in conjunction with exercise, is one prong of fitness. However, the importance of the two is not split 50-50, but rather 80-20 in the favor of diet. The saying goes that you cannot out-work a bad diet, and more often than not, this is the case. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but I’ll try my best to lay out a simple path for you to follow.

The only thing most people will need to remember

In order to achieve weight loss, you must eat fewer calories than your body burns daily.

In order to achieve weight loss, you must eat fewer calories than your body burns daily.

In order to achieve weight loss, you must eat fewer calories than your body burns daily.

This is a basic truth, and does not change. Anybody who tells you differently is either lying or magic.

The Basics

There are three main goals associated with exercise: weight loss, muscle gain, and recomposition. Losing weight will involve a decrease in body mass (unfortunately, muscle is also a part of body mass; we’ll talk about how to increase fat loss and decrease muscle loss). Gaining muscle will involve an increase in fat and body weight. Recomposition aims to decrease fat and increase muscle but maintain the same weight. We’ll address how to avoid the negative side effects later on.

In order to gain muscle, you must eat more calories than your body burns daily. For recomposition, you eat the same number of calories as you burn. To figure out your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), go here. The directions are fairly straightforward except for the bodyfat percentage. If you don’t know your bodyfat percentage, you can use methods like calipers or BodPod. If you’re not into that, use this visual guide to estimate.

Tracking what you eat is the next step. Some people recommend a food journal, but that doesn’t help if you have specific caloric and protein (more on that in a paragraph) levels in mind. I use an online journal to record. Some people still like pen and paper and use WolframAlpha  and then record the calories and protein and whatever other metrics are important to them.

The important thing to remember is that no matter your goal, you must eat enough protein. The standard metric is 1 g protein per pound of lean body mass. This will help to grow your muscle if you’re eating at a caloric surplus. It will preserve your muscle if you’re eating at a deficit. And it will enable any recomposition goals that you might have.

Wherein Things Get a Little Complicated

Not too complicated though: the basic tenet of weight loss remains true. However, there are some programs that will take advantage of timing to achieve certain effects. In this section, I’ll go over two or three of them to the best of my knowledge and provide you with links to do further research yourself.

One thing to remember in this section is that digestion of carbohydrates causes a spike in insulin levels in the blood. Through a complex chain reaction, insulin will cause excess calories to be stored as fat. However, if the digestion of carbohydrates happens post-workout, the calories and energy can be used to rebuild your muscles.

Intermittent Fasting

Programs like LeanGains  and CheatMode manipulate the timing windows of eating to take advantage of the anabolic function of insulin. In an average IF program, you will fast until your workout, then have anywhere from 60-80% of your daily calories in one gigantic meal following your workout. What this does is 1) provides a huge insulin spike that will shuttle energy to your muscles right when they need it the most and 2) make it less likely that you will overeat throughout the day.

Keto

I don’t know much about this program, other than it’s very low carbs (<50g per day). For reference, an apple has 24 g total carbohydrates. I believe the main principle is to eat so few carbs that the body turns to burning fat for energy rather than glucose. More information can be found here and here.

Bulk and Cut

I think I’ve touched on this before. The idea of this program is to alternate 3-to-6-month cycles of eating high-calorie then low-calorie diets. In the high-calorie months, you’ll pair heavy lifting with a high calorie-diet in order to¾what, class? That’s right; gain muscle (and put on fat, as a side effect). Then you’ll take some time to cut away that fat while preserving the muscle. The important thing to remember in all this¾and in any diet, for that matter¾is to get your daily protein needs. When trying to build or preserve muscle, the worst thing you can do is cut back on protein. There are several reasons for this, but to put it simply, it will keep your body from eating your muscles for fuel.

Review

If your goal is to lose weight, and you’re planning on lifting weights, then:

  • Record your calorie and protein intakes. Make sure you’re eating 250-500 calories less than your TDEE and meeting your protein intake
  • Lift weights. Heavy weights. If you’re not sure how to do that safely, refer to my Getting Started-Weight Lifting article
  • Weigh yourself daily, preferably in the morning, after you’ve been to the bathroom and before you’ve eaten. Record this number as well
  • Protein protein protein protein protein. If you don’t get enough protein, then you might end up looking like the guy on the left. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s your goal, but if you want to stay lean and muscular, then remember to eat enough protein.

If your goal is to gain muscle and you’re planning on lifting weights, then:

  • Eat a lot. This means 500-750 calories above your TDEE. In my experience, skinnies will say that they eat a lot, but then record their intake and find that it’s 1700 calories daily
  • Record what you eat
  • Lift heavy weights
  • Get enough protein. It’s less important for you guys, but it couldn’t hurt

If your goal is to recomp and you’re planning on lifting weights, then:

  • Eat at your TDEE
  • Lift heavy weights
  • Get enough protein

One last tip for everybody: take pictures. Maybe not every day, but at least every two weeks. Not only will this make for a killer slideshow at the end, but your progress should be noticeable if you’re doing things right, and will only serve to encourage you and make you work harder.

Good luck.

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