The human diet has to be one of the most contentious and hotly debated issues today in the health and fitness industry. In fact, if I were to ask 10 so-called experts for their opinion on how one should eat I’m confident that I would get 10 different answers. Some would say that people should be eating a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat and protein, while others would say that people should be eating a diet high in carbohydrates and protein and low in fat. It’s no wonder many people are left scratching their heads. That’s why in this article I want to discuss a simple 5 step solution to solve your dieting woes.
Step 1 – Determine Your Calories
In a previous article we discussed the importance of the energy balance equation. It’s important to make sure you are eating the requisite amount of calories for your goals. If you want to put on muscle you will need to eat more calories, and if you want to lose fat you will need to eat fewer calories. That’s why in Step 1 I want you to determine your caloric needs. I’ve touched on the importance of keeping a journal in the past, and that’s why I highly recommend you keep a food journal in order to track your food intake and determine your needs based on your goals.
For those who are still lost, the following calculation will give you a rough estimate of your daily needs:
Take your bodyweight and multiply it by a factor or 15 or 16. This will give you a rough estimate of how many calories your body needs just to maintain its current weight. If you want to gain, eat more (bodyweight x 17-18) and if you want to lose, eat less (bodyweight x 13-14). Remember, these are just rough figures. You will have to do the homework yourself and determine how much your body needs based on individual variables. This rough calculation will at least give you a place to start.
Step 2 – Set Your Protein Intake
After determining your caloric needs, you will need to figure out how much protein you need to consume each day. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need massive amounts of protein in order build muscle. This is just another myth perpetuated by the supplement industry in order to sell you overpriced protein supplements. In fact, a recent study has shown that eating about 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight is plenty. I know some of you out there will say, “But look at all of the huge body builders, they all eat MASSIVE amounts of protein!” They sure do, but they are also on a massive amount of drugs that will help them utilize all of that extra protein. In your case the extra protein will lead to nothing more than expensive bowel movements. Therefore I recommend you eat about 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight. This will roughly equate to about 25% of your daily caloric intake needs depending on your activity level. For those of you dieting, there is an argument for a higher protein intake (1.5g per lb) but that’s an article for another time.
Step 3 – Eat Your Healthy Fats
It has been determined that the typical North American diet is low in healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and high in animal fats (saturated) and trans fatty acids. In case you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, there is now a mountain of scientific evidence indicating the numerous benefits of a diet high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Furthermore, a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids (a particular type of polyunsaturated fat) has been found to reduce the risk of numerous ailments including cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s to name just a few. Unfortunately, the typical North American diet is severely lacking in omega 3 fatty acids. Research indicates that a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is ideal in preventing disease and optimizing health, whereas a typical North American diet has a 15:1 ratio in favour of omega 6. That’s why in Step 3 I want you to make sure that you eat a good source of unsaturated fat in your diet, particularly omega 3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil. This is the one time where I think the use of a supplement is beneficial. In addition to supplementation I recommend you include other healthy fats in your diet such as coconut oil, olive oil, and flaxseed oil to name just a few. Personally, I’ve found that a diet that contains roughly 20% of calories from fat (coming mostly from the sources mentioned above) to be beneficial and I think it’s a good place to start for those who are not already restricting calories.
Step 4 – Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables
Guess what? You’re mom was right, eat your vegetables! There are numerous scientific studies that state that a diet high in fresh fruit in vegetables protects against a variety of diseases. That’s because fruits and vegetables are packed with a lot of different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are essential to your health; which is why I recommend that you make it a point to eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day. For those of you who are really lazy, invest in a good blender and make yourself fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies. It’s a really easy and convenient way to bump up your intake without having to fuss over making a salad every day.
In addition to eating a lot of fruit and vegetables I also recommend the consumption of whole grains. Considering the popularity of the Paleo Diet, I know that it is not what all of the “cool kids” are doing these days but I don’t think grains are nearly as harmful as some would like to have you believe. My only advice is that if you are going to eat whole grains make sure that they are not heavily processed and opt for sprouted grain varieties where you can.
Step 5 – Fine Tune
Once you have completed Steps 1-4 it’s all about fine tuning your diet to your individual needs. Maybe you need to eat more carbohydrates and less fat. Perhaps you need to cycle your carbohydrates around your training schedule. Maybe you are lactose intolerant or have a gluten intolerance and therefore you can’t eat certain foods. Whatever the case may be, this is where you have to experiment and discover for yourself what is going to work the best for you. Regardless of what you do in this step, the basics will remain the same: eat the requisite amount of calories for your goals, get enough protein and healthy fats, and eat your fruit and vegetables. What you do with those basics is really up to you, but my only advice is not to get too caught up with minutiae.
I get a lot of questions from people about diet. Usually when I tell them my 5 Step Plan I notice a look of disappoint on their faces. I think it’s because they are looking for me to tell them the one secret or “magic bullet” that will melt all of the body fat off them (with ease of course), or the one tip that will immediately put slabs of lean muscle on to their thin frames (again without much effort on their part). The problem is that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions. Fortunately, none of this is rocket science. The basic principles I’ve outlined above WILL work if you are diligent and consistent. They will work because they have ALWAYS worked.
Here’s to staying fit!