Understanding the foundamentals of NUTRITION
Is clear that efficient muscle building occurs when in a caloric surplus, but where should those calories come from? It would be a dream if we could be built like Greek gods while eating pizzas, ice-cream and all the other finger-licking goodnesses this world has to offer.
To look good, feel good and perform well, good nutrition is key. But how do we define good nutrition? Let's summarize the key elements:
1) GOOD NUTRITION PROPERLY CONTROLS ENERGY BALANCE
Positive energy balance= Calories in > Calories out= Weight gain
Negative energy balance= Calories in < Calories out= Weight loss
Neutral energy balance= Calories in = Calories out = Weight stable
2) GOOD NUTRITION ACHIEVES HEALTH, LOOK AND PERFORMANCE GOALS
Unless you have specific competition goals in mind, good nutrition is about helping not
only look better but be better. When you look good and feel good is very likely that you'll
have more energy for your work, family and life in general.
3) GOOD NUTRITION IS OUTCOME-BASED
Meaning, you should base every nutritional decision on measurable results rather than
what's "good". (do you remember your parents telling you to eat your veggies cause
they are good for you? I bet you would have eaten them if they told you that veggies
make you run faster and jump higher).
4) GOOD NUTRITION PROVIDE NUTRIENTS
Different foods contain different amounts of nutrients. As we have to control our total
food intake it's important to choose foods loaded with macronutrients.
So what are Macronutrients?
If you look it up in the dictionary, the definition of macronutrient is: "a chemical element or substance (such as protein) that is essential in relatively large amounts to the growth and health of a living organism".
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fat and proteins and a balanced diet will include all of these elements in different proportions based on your goals and body type (more on this later).
But what do they actually do? Let's look at them individually.
Proteins are organic compounds composed of one or more long chain of amino acids. They are essential parts of all living organisms, especially as structural components of body tissue (such as muscles, hair, collagen, etc.). In simple words, they are the building blocks of the body of the consumption of high amount fo proteins has been correlated to gains in strength and size since the first Olympic games in ancient Greece. However, a diet that is too high in protein may be as counterproductive as diets that are too low in protein.
If you are interested in a comprehensive list of the highest protein foods follow this link Top 40 High Protein Foods For Bodybuilding | Bodybuilding.com
Proteins are broken down in the stomach into small groups of amino acids (peptide) or individual amino acids and are absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine.
Once absorbed, some amino acids will be used for energy, to synthesize new hormones and enzymes and the majority will be delivered to the liver for protein synthesis (the process in which chains are formed from coded combinations of single amino acids inside the cell) or conversion to glucose or fat.
Basically, if too many proteins are consumed the body converts them to fat.
One group of amino acids, in particular, is absorbed much faster than others and this group is called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
BCAAs are composed by L-isoleucine, L-leucine and L-valine. They comprise 35% of muscle tissue and help increase work capacity by stimulating the production of insulin. They are also burned as fuel during highly intense training at the end of long-distance events when the body recruits protein for energy needs. There is a lot of controversy surrounding BCAAs supplements, we will discuss this in greater detail in a later post, but in a few words if you are into bodybuilding and are eating enough proteins you don't need to supplement BCAAs.
The process is indeed way more complicated than what described so far but now you should have a better idea of how important proteins are for our body and the fundamental role they have in building muscle.
Common forms of carbohydrates are sugars (such as cookies, chocolate, muffins - otherwise called simple carbs) and starches (such as oatmeal, brown rice, beans - otherwise called complex carbs). There are a lot of misconceptions and controversies around this macronutrient but the reality is that they are of vital importance when it comes to energy levels and athletic performance for two main reasons:
1) They provide the fastest-acting macronutrient source for energy transfer
2) Their storage in the body is quite limited
Keep in mind, it doesn't matter what type of carbohydrate you eat, eventually, your digestive system will break it up into simple sugars, but that doesn't mean all foods are equal. Different carbohydrates sources affect the blood sugar level at a different speed and to help control hunger, blood sugar, insulin concentrations, energy levels and body composition we have to prioritize carbohydrates that are digested and absorbed at a slow rate.
So minimally processed food (for example oatmeal, brown rice etc.) are preferred over refined ones (for example white bread, sweets etc.) as it takes longer for the digestion system to process them.
Also, minimally processed carbohydrates contains both soluble and insoluble fibers.
Although fibers are indigestible they play a very important role:
Soluble fibers: are found for example in oats, beans and peas, nuts, some fruits and
some veggies. They bind to bile acids preventing their reabsorption and decreasing serum cholesterol level.
Insoluble fibers: are found for example in seeds, nuts, whole grain products, dark green leafy vegetables and root vegetable skins. They will add bulk to stool and increase colonic transit speed.
Fats, also called lipids, are a source of energy found in foods. They come in solid and liquid form. The simplest unit of fat is called fatty acid and based on their molecular structure they can be divided into saturated fatty acids (butter, cheese, lard etc.) and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids can be further divided into monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Omega-3 and Omega-6, which are often recommended in a nutrition supplemental program, are good examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils are good examples of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Dietary fat is extremely important for the body:
1) Provides energy (in fact it's the nutrient with the highest energy-density with 9Cal per gram vs the 4Cal per gram of Carbs and Proteins).
2) Supports the manufacturing process and balancing of hormones
3) Forms cell membrane
4) Forms brain and nervous system
5) Transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
6) It provides two essential fatty acids that the body can't make: linoleic acid and linolenic acid (respectively derived from omega-6 and omega-3 thus the importance of these supplements).
Most dietary fat sources are made up of some combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. For example:
Medical researches have shown over the years that a diet high in saturated fat may lead to increased cholesterol levels and be correlated with increased risk of heart disease.
However recent new data don't necessarily support this idea entirely and the problems associated with high saturated fat intake (i.e. excessive body fat, increased cardiovascular disease risk, etc.) usually occurs when two other dietary conditions are present:
- The diet is also high in sugar and processed/refined carbohydrates
- The saturated fat intake is out of balance with unsaturates
In summary, overall health is determined by the balance of fatty acids consumed and it is misguiding to suggest avoiding saturated fats when consuming a diet rich in whole, minimally processed food.
Calculating your daily intake
I hope by now is clear to you how important it is to have a balanced diet that supplies your body with all the necessary nutrients. But how do you estimate your daily needs?
The most common way of estimating macronutrient intake is by body type.
In the 1940s, psychologist Dr William Sheldon came up with the idea of somatotypes and divided body shape and sizes into three categories:
- ECTOMORPHS: thin, fragile and poorly muscled
- MESOMORPH: broad-shouldered, muscular and athletic
- ENDOMPORPHS: soft, round and overweight
Genetic traits for each category have then been analyzed to figure out metabolism characteristic and develop a tailored nutritional plan.
The guidelines indicate the following macro split per body type:
- Ectomorphs - 25% protein / 55% carb / 20% fat
- Mesomorphs - 30% protein / 40% carb / 30% fat
- Endomorphs - 35% protein / 25% carb / 40% fat
So should you develop your nutritional plan based on these somatotypes and the recommended split?
The answer is...it depends...
Let me explain:
If you are new to all of this and have never paid much attention to what you ingest than you shouldn't care about your body type. It would be too confusing.
What you should do instead is develop good nutrition habits such as:
- Consume mostly whole foods
- Eat slowly
- Eat until you’re satisfied—but not stuffed
- Emphasize protein and vegetables
Rather than counting your macros, you should fill your plate using your hand size as a guideline. For most people, this means aiming for 1-2 palm-sized portions of lean protein, 1-2 fist-sized portions of carbohydrates and 1-2 thumbs of fats.
Whether your goal is to build muscle or lose fat this technique should take you to the finish line as long as you keep track of your weight regularly and adjust the portion accordingly.
If you have already established good nutritional habits but are not achieving your goals or want to take your physique to the next level then you should start using the macro split suggested by your body type.
Be aware that this applies to the general population. If you want to be a professional athlete you should seek the help of a professional sport nutritionists that can tailor a plan according to your very specific characteristics and make changes based on monitored athletic performance.
A balanced diet will give you a better life. We don't really need to add more, do we?
Once again, thanks for reading this far and I hope you can take away some good points from this article. I would love to hear from you in the comments, what does your nutrition look like at the moment? Are you gonna make changes based on what you have read today? To do you agree with the somatotypes?
Till the next time