Not a dumb question.
As humans we must eat to survive.
But for most Americans, we eat for pleasure, fulfillment and social reasons.
What we eat affects our body mass. Even more, the ingredients we choose determine how our body operates.
Feeling slow? Feeling sluggish? Hyper, are you?
Before we think about how it operates let’s look at how what we eat determines how we look.
There are three ways in which food affects our mass.
What are you eating for?
1. mass maintenance
2. mass gain (fat or muscle)
3. fat loss
Whether or not you love the skin you are in or you seek to affect change on your body, you must decide for what you are eating.
Honing in on one of the three above will make it that much easier to achieve your end goal.
It might even make following a nutrition plan and figuring out what to eat metally and emotionally easier 😉
It *will* be 1,000 times harder to achieve a physique goal if you focus on more than one thing at a time.
For instance, you will not have an endurance athlete who’s training for an Ironman try to lose fat, or bench press 225 lbs at once.
You also have probably heard it is tough to lose fat and gain muscle at once.
It’s hard, but not impossible.
The bottom line is that figuring out ONE thing to work on will set you up for nutritional success.
What are YOU eating for?
1. Mass Maintenance
“The secret to staying lean is not getting fat in the first place.”-Dan John
I want to preface this section with this: maintaining a lean body is not easy, knowing how to do this is a skill and a product of several very good habits practiced over time.
Controlling your food intake and limiting it/enjoying it in the amount that you need and not the excess that you want is a skill.
Learning how much you need is difficult, especially because it can vary.
Knowing what you need, or “intuitive eating” as some refer to it, is not a practice for a beginner.
Beginners, or anyone trying to affect change on their body must start at the bottom, at a kindergarten level and go through the steps of caloric awareness, macronutrient ratios and water intake.
Those things take time to learn and analyze as different numbers have varying effects on indiviuals.
A lot of lean people are that way because they may have lost weight to get there and *that learning process accrued the knowledge which keeps them there.*
Staying lean is also difficult without weight training for many people.
Eating to maintain the mass you have is challenging since it is a skill, but it can be simple once it is learned.
How do you find your daily needs as a beginner?
- Start by consuming roughly 13 calories per pound of bodyweight.
- Know that the macronutrients matter; consider your protein intake in relation to carbs and fat.
- Are you eating more fat than carbs or vice versa? No matter what, the protein intake should be equal to or greater than the fat and carbs.
Figuring out maintenance needs takes time.
If you are having trouble, speak with a dietician, nutritionist or nutrition coach like myself for tips along the way.
2. Mass gain
So maybe you want to look like this…
The Average Joe does not look like her. Chances are to get her look, the Average Joe would have to lose weight *and* build muscle.
While the above image demonstrates a woman with incredibly low body fat, she DOES have an immense amount of muscle that took time to build.
To build muscle you need more calories; you NEED a surplus.
I will repeat: She had to put on that mass by eating a surplus of calories to build it.
No, believe it or not, she did not run 10 miles everyday and shed a fat layer to reveal those muscles; she strategically ate a surplus of calories in order to create those muscles #gains.
She either lost weight prior to hitching the train to Gains City, or she built it first (bulking) and then cut.
A lot of people are confused on what it really takes to get a body like hers, or this:
First and foremost it is important to realize your number one goal; see my article on What are you training for?
This is crucial because if your goal is powerlifitng, you may not look like a bikini model.
If your goal is to complete a marathon, you will not look like a body builder in most cases.
Gaining muscle can be equally as difficult for some people as losing fat.
If you want to maintain a lower weight for a specific reason, attaining a physique like the one pictured will not align with a low body weight.
The more muscle you have, the more you will weigh.
If you don’t care about the scale, then bring on the extra calories and heavy iron, build that muscle!
Know that in order to get that “toned” look as some say, you have to train and build the muscle.
Building large muscles or storing fat takes a surplus of calories no matter what.
How do you achieve this surplus?
- Setting a specific goal is a good place to start.
- How many pounds do you want to gain? How much muscle do you want to put on? What physique do you want to attain?
- Then, decide to eat possibly 100-250 calories over your your daily needs.
- Track how much you eat and look for changes
-in the mirror
-in your jeans
-on the scale
-in a bathing suit
Take photos for accountability.
Do not think, however, that you must gorge yourself. There are strategic ways to eat in a slight surplus to build muscle but not get fat, the caveat is lifting weights.
- try eating 14-15 calories per pound of bodyweight on the days you lift weights
- on rest days, eat 13-14 calories per pound of bodyweight
- find a healthy go to snack with 200 calories to add into you normal diet. Make sure it has protein
3. Fat loss
If you are eating for fat loss, you will be eating less.
You MUST be at a caloric deficit to lose fat, bottom line.
You cannot eat more than your body’s basic needs on a consistent basis and expect to lose weight.
If your macronutrients are not taken into account, you will most definitely lose muscle if you are not consuming enough protein.
Even more, if you are doing copious amounts of cardio, it will cost the muscles; they will breakdown to provide the body with energy and in turn, the body will lose lean mass.
The body doesn’t discriminate on what type of mass it gets rid of if macronutrients are not prioritized. If there is a deficit in calories and glucose, as well as a lack of protein the body will turn to the muscles and or fat to create energy.
If you want to maintain whatever lean mass you have and specifically focus on fat loss/ body recomposition it is absolutely integral to eat enough protein, to strength train and to remain at a caloric deficit.
Figure out what you want and from there it will be easier to figure out what to eat and how much to eat.
If you have a goal in mind, try reading Five steps to know what to eat everyday, you already have step 1 covered.
How do you find the caloric deficit?
There are several ways but here are a few of my favorite tips:
- Plan your meals like you schedule your day. Know how much you will eat and what you will eat.
- Drink a lot of water.
- Add vegetables whenever you can.
- Avoid drinking calories.
You must start by deciding *what* you are eating for.
Then you can work on developing strategies to achieve the goal of eating to gain, eating to lose or eating to maintain.
If you have questions feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org