What to eat to lose weight and get in better shape?
Kes, what should I eat to lose weight? Ah, here we go again, the million dollar question I get asked on a daily basis working in a gym. If only it was that easy. Eat this to lose weight, eat that to build muscle blar de blar de blar.
Unfortunately it’s not that black and white. Why? What if you don’t like the foods I suggest? What if you’re allergic to certain foods or have intolerances? What if you’re vegan, vegetarian or believe in certain religions that stop you eating certain foods. (Not saying you can’t get in better shape if you’re vegan, vegetarian or religious)but you see my point.
Shortly after this question usually what follows is; Surely if I just eat less then I’ll lose weight right? Well yes, in theory if you eat less and move more you’ll lose weight. But the problem with this approach is after the first few weeks of dropping loads of weight eventually you’ll stop.
But why Kes? I’m not doing anything different, it was all going so well at the beginning. Now I can’t lose weight. This is usually what I get if people decide they’re going to cut calories and eat nothing but tuna and salad for 3 weeks. Urgh! How boring, couldn’t think of anything worse. Oh hang on, maybe I’ll chuck in some plain chicken and broccoli to mix things up a little. Yuck!!!
So the problem with low calorie diets is just that. They are too low in calories. Sorry to bore you with science but think of your body as a survival mechanism. It likes a state of homeostasis. (To stay the same) it does this by keeping your blood sugar stable. Our bodies keep us around 70-110 per 100ml of blood. If we eat too much our blood sugar will go above that level so our body releases certain hormones (insulin)to bring it back down again. Same as if we were to eat too little, (usually the case from low calorie diets) our body releases glucagon to increase our blood sugar to get it back up again.
Now here’s the really boring part but bare with me because the more you understand, hopefully the less likely you are to make mistakes. When we eat too much, mainly from carbohydrates, our body breaks down these carbs into glycogen which raises blood sugar and then the body will store. It does this by releasing insulin. Think of insulin as a carrier. It picks up sugars from the blood and stores it in 3 places. Muscles, liver and fat. Now the more sugars your muscles and liver can hold, the less will be stored as fat.
Now here’s the thing, your muscles have a limit on how much sugar they can store. This is why a solid weight training programme is key for weight loss. (Cardio is not as effective but still needs to be done for health benefits as well as burning extra calories)
The more you use the sugars in your muscles, the more they will store. Like a sponge. If you don’t exercise and use your muscles they will constantly be full of sugars and so the excess sugars floating around the blood will be stored as fat.
Unfortunately fat has almost an unlimited storage capacity because it will much rather store energy there than it would in the muscles. Why? Again apologies for the boring science. Muscle is a very active body tissue. You use muscles for every movement in your body, therefore they burn more calories (metabolism)so the more you use your muscles, the more calories they burn and the more they can store. Now imagine if you had bigger muscles, this process would be even better! This is why it’s easier for men to lose weight than women, because generally men hold more muscle than women.
Now I’m not saying this can’t work for women. It absolutely can! Nothing changes, women can still build muscle but not as much as men so don’t worry about looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger from weight training (Had to google that spelling ha!)
So the main aim is to retain muscle through a solid weight training programme and eating enough protein whilst losing fat. Not weight as weight implies muscle and fat. We just want to lose fat.
So back to the original question. If you eat too little your body will release glucagon which will take energy from your muscles making them smaller (which we now know is a bad thing and will make it harder to lose weight) and release it into the blood stream to get your blood sugar stable again. Remember the body always wanting to be stable.
Ok so what should I do? The answer is to eat little and often with good quality foods providing enough carbs, fats and protein in each meal. (I will show you how much you need to eat later on) Eating at regular intervals will sustain your muscle mass and keep your blood sugar even. This will enable you to make small adjustments in your diet to make sure you keep dropping weight.
Remember too much of a change in diet, either a massive increase or a massive cut in calories will put your body in a state of alert and will naturally adjust its metabolism to get back to a stable state. To make sure this doesn’t happen you shouldn’t make much more than a 15% cut or increase in calories. So don’t be a fatty and keep your hands out of the biscuit tin! And don’t skip meals!
Right, enough of the boring talk. Here’s what you need to eat.
Work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) to do this you need to multiply your body weight in pounds by 10. For example if you weight 180lb x 10 = 1800kcal.
Your BMR is the calories your body will burn if you just layer in bed all day. Remember someone with more muscle mass will have a higher BMR.
Then you need to work out how many extra calories you need because of working, moving, exercising etc. You do this by multiplying your BMR by half and adding it to your total. For example 1800 x 0.5 = 900. 1800 + 900 = 2700kcal.
So now we know how many calories you need to consume per day we now need to work out how many carbs, fats and protein you should eat. (Macronutrients/Macros)
Carbs = 50% of daily calories
Fats = 20%
Protein = 30%
There is 4kcal in 1g or carbs and protein and 9kcal in 1g of fat.
So carrying on from our example of weighing 180lb.
Carbs = 50% of 2700 = 1350/4 = 337.5g
Fats = 20% of 2700 = 540/9 = 60g
Protein = 30% of 2700 = 810/4= 202.5g
So a person weighing 180lb should eat;
2700kcal per day
Ideally you should eat every 3-4 hours to keep your blood sugar stable and to stop any muscle breakdown. So for the average working person this would be 4 meals per day which should look something like this
So you need to divide the calories and macros by 4 and that will give you how much you need to eat per meal. Realistically it’ll be very hard to hit these numbers bang on but it gives you an idea of how much you need to eat per meal and per day. The closer you get to consistently hitting these numbers the better the results will be so try your best!
You’ll need a food diary (MyFitnessPal) and a set of digital kitchen scales to weigh your food. I’m sure if anyone who has bothered to read this will think it’s a lot effort to weigh food for every meal and keep a food diary but I can honestly say after a couple weeks it becomes second nature and you won’t even realise your doing it.
In reality getting in shape and losing weight isn’t easy. If it was then everyone would look like a fitness model. All it requires is a little bit of effort/commitment and knowing how much to eat and when to eat it. (I’ve done that part for you)
Now it’s up to you. Just ask yourself how much you want it. If your determined and committed enough you’ll do it. If not you’ll slip back into your old ways putting on pound after pound year after year until your health suffers and forces you to do it anyway. My advice, do it now! You won’t regret it!