Everything you NEED to know about nutrition

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This article will be unlike many of my others in that I will not be going into massive detail but instead will be covering the bare essentials. In this article I will be covering the extremely broad topic of nutrition and boiling it down to a few key principles that are fairly easy to understand and follow. As I have said, I will not be going into great detail on any of the principles but will be covering most of the necessary information but if you would like to learn about this in a lot more detail then I advise reading the books “Muscle & Strength Nutrition Pyramid” by Eric Helms and “The Renaissance Diet” by Dr Mike Israetel. Before I start with the main part of the blog, the last thing I’d like to say is that this advice is mainly aimed at those trying to optimise body composition or performance. If your goals are more health related then the principles remain the same, the only difference is going to be in how you prioritise each principle.

The first nutritional priority is going to be calorie balance. This is the number of calories you take in subtracted by the number of calories you burn on a daily basis. Simply put, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight; if you eat fewer calories than you burn then you will lose weight and if you eat the same amount of calories as you burn then your weight will remain the same. This is the number one priority and underpins the whole of the diet process. If your goal is muscle gain then a calorie surplus is essential and gaining a significant amount of muscle is very unlikely unless you are in a surplus. If you want to lose fat then a calorie deficit is essential and so if you must eat less food if fat loss is your goal. An easy way to work out how many calories you need to be eating to meet your goals is to work out how many calories you eat at the moment and if you need to lose weight then subtract that number by 500-1000 and if you need to gain weight then add 500-1000. This should lead to between 0.5 and 1kg of weight loss or gain per week which is a good start for most people. Calorie balance is probably responsible for around 40- 50% of diet success and so a diet that does not account for calorie intake is one that is likely not going to work. In the same sense, if your diet only accounts for calorie intake then you are still missing out on a lot and accounting for some of these other principles can make a huge difference.

The next priority is macronutrient intake. The macronutrients we will be looking at are fats, carbohydrates and protein. Alcohol is another macronutrient one but has no benefit to performance or body composition and so we will not be talking about it from now on. Protein is the most important nutrient for performance and body composition as it helps build or maintain muscle mass. My guidelines for protein intake can be found in my blog “How much protein should you be eating?” but most people should try to consume between 1.5g and 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body mass. The leaner you are and the more training you do, the more you should err towards 2.2g/kg and the more body fat you have and the less training you do, the more you should aim for 1.5g/kg. Carbohydrates are the next most important macronutrient and provide energy for our training. Generally, you should consume between 1 and 3 grams of carbohydrate depending on activity levels and training goals. The more active you are, the more carbs you need. Fats are the last macronutrient and are essential for health. They play a very minor role in performance but are very necessary still. As long as you are getting above the bare minimum needed for health then fat intake can vary quite significantly. If you are getting at least 25g of fat in your diet then you should be fine but some people have up to 150g of fat or more in their diet and look and perform great. Macronutrient intake is probably responsible for around 30% of your diet success and so a diet that takes into account calories and macronutrient intake already accounts for around 80%. This is not 100% though and there are smaller details which can still make a small but significant difference.

The next most important principles are very similar in rank. These are micronutrient intake/ food composition and nutrient timing. The first one we will be looking at is nutrient timing. The two main considerations for nutrient timing are meal frequency and timing of nutrients around training. Protein intake distribution is the most important consideration for meal frequency. In order to maximise muscle gain and minimise muscle loss, you should look to take in protein at least every 3-5 hours because if you wait longer then you will be risking muscle loss. Therefore I would advise you spread your protein intake fairly evenly over 4-6 meals throughout the day. When looking at timing nutrients around workouts we will mainly be looking at carbohydrates. Pre-workout carbohydrate intake is probably a good idea as it can help top up glycogen stores in muscles to help maximise performance. Intra-workout carbs are also a good idea as they can delay fatigue and help prevent muscle loss when taken with protein. Carbs and protein are also a good idea post workout to prevent muscle loss, increase muscle gain and restore glycogen stores in muscles. Taking all this into account, you should probably have a moderately sized carb intake with a normal amount of protein and fairly low fat between 1 and 3 hours pre workout; drink a high carb, moderate protein, no fat shake during your workout and a high carb, moderate protein, low fat meal after your workout. Another note is that you should eat most of your carbs within 6 hours of your workout.

Food composition is another small detail but small details still matter. What we are talking about here is where we are getting our food from. This means what kinds of fats, what kinds of proteins and what kind of carbs we should be eating. What we aren’t going to talk about is organic food or natural foods etc. as these are things that really matter not a lot when looking at maximising performance or body composition. When we look at sources of protein, we should mainly be looking for animal proteins from things like milk, eggs and meat. These protein sources are much higher quality as they contain all the essential amino acids. Plant sources are still fine and there are plenty of strong, muscular vegetarians and vegans out there but if you want to get the most out of your protein intake then you should mainly be looking at animal proteins. Most of your carbs should come from low gi sources. These are things like fruits, whole grains and sweet potatoes. Around your workout, however, you should look to get your carbs from sources like sugary cereals, sports drinks and sweets. One of my most recent blogs was on fat sources so hopefully this won’t need too much explaining but I’ll give some quick basic guidelines. Most of your fat intake should come from unsaturated fats and a smaller proportion should come from saturated fats. It is important to remember that both food composition and nutrient timing are only responsible for 5-10% of diet success each and so are finer details. Get the basics of calorie and macronutrient intake right before you think too hard about these things.

The final and least important principle and one that most people don’t need to think about is supplementation. I’ll start off by saying that a lot of supplements don’t work as well as they claim to and the ones that do work probably account for less than 5% of diet success altogether but if you really want an optimal diet then these are some supplements that have been shown numerous times to be beneficial to performance and body composition. The first is whey protein. Whey protein is a very fast absorbing protein making it perfect for intra and post-workout. It is also fairly cheap and so is a fairly safe bet. The supplement is creatine. Creatine has been shown to improve body composition and performance in the gym, especially in strength training. You should look to take between 5 and 10 grams per day and should probably stick to creatine monohydrate as most of the creatines are fairly untested. Casein is another protein supplement but is almost the opposite to whey in that it is extremely slowly digesting. It is great to have before bed or before a long period of not eating to help prevent muscle loss. There are other supplements that may prove to be useful but right now, these are the main ones that have been shown repeatedly to improve performance and/ or body composition.

So there is my fairly basic guide to nutrition. Obviously there is a lot more detail to go into but would be too much to talk about in one blog but maybe I will break down each priority in a bit more detail in some later blogs. I hope you enjoyed taking in this information and find it helpful when coming up with a nutrition plan or when deciding whether your matches your goals.

Speak to you guys again soon.


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