“Hey uhh…so, what do you eat?”
This is far and away the most common question I get regarding lifting, nutrition, the time I had to get a spray tan, etc. My answer is almost always the same… “That’s a loaded question.” However, there are some basic guidelines to abide by, regardless of the direction you want your weight to change.
Guideline 1: I Count My Calories
For about 5 years now, I’ve counted my calories every day with few exceptions (holidays, vacations, etc.). That isn’t for everyone. That isn’t for most people, in fact. But the overarching point is that to gain weight, you MUST be in a caloric surplus. To lose, vice versa. At the very least, you must be aware of that concept.
Even if you don’t want to spend your life on MyFitnessPal or Excel, you should understand energy balance and its effect on your weight over. Check this out for a little more on the matter. For reference, a caloric surplus or deficit of 500 calories per day results in about 1lb increase/decrease per week.
Guideline 2: I Keep My Protein High
Believe it or not, I tend to land on the lower end of the protein spectrum, at least for someone who’s attempting to put on muscle consistently. But even if that’s not your goal, increased protein can still be of benefit because protein…
1) IS FILLING. Example. 6oz of grilled chicken breast is about 80% protein and 250 calories give or take. That’s about the same calorie count as a Snickers bar or a 16oz soda. Point is, protein fills you up and is necessary for your diet regardless of your goal.
2) HAS HIGH THERMOGENIC COST. This basically means that it takes more energy to break protein down in your gut. Because I'm a nerd, I read a study (1) a few days ago which reported protein as having ~3x greater thermogenic cost than carbs and ~10x greater than fats.
Guideline 3: I Diet With Flexibility
This final guideline may best represent everything else. No matter if I’m in a weight loss or gain phase, people often ask me “What DIET are you on?” I wish there was a sexy answer, but there rarely is. I keep protein high and calories as low or high as I need to reach my goal weight in the appropriate time frame.
The rest, I don’t track. I allow the remaining calories to come from carbs or fats in a more reckless fashion. Yes, carbs are important for performance. Yes, fats are important hormonally. However, I don’t bog myself down with too many numbers, and I‘ve found that most people don’t want to either. My advice is to diet in a manner that suits your lifestyle while also satisfying the numbers. For me, that means counting as little as possible.
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1. Tappy L. Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans. Reproduction Nutrition Development. 1996;36(4):391-397.