No one enjoys calorie counting. Perhaps because it makes a person feel as though they are harnessed by what they eat. Truth is, we want to be harnessed by what we eat until we can take off the training wheels. This means subconsciously knowing what we are eating and being aware.
Basic and straightforward facts, understand your food labels.
One gram of CHO (carbohydrates) is 4 kcals. One gram of protein is 4 kcals, and one gram of fat is 9 kcals. If we understand the math of what we are putting into our mouth we will understand where the extra pounds are slowly, over time, coming from. If you have a 4oz piece of chicken which is 24 grams of protein, 24grams x 4kcals=92 kcals in that chicken. In addition to as we age our resting metabolic rate slows down and the calories we burn at rest become less, requiring us to, do more.
Now that we know how to account for our foods macronutrients, we can better attain our daily caloric intake goals. If I want to lose weight, we would want to subtract 500-1000 calories off of our daily calorie count. If I usually eat 2000 calories a day, I will want to start with subtracting down to 1500 calories a day in order to see healthy weight loss. This balance will help preserve muscle and lose fat. Healthy weight loss would be noted as 1.5-2 lbs per week.
Things get even more interesting. Once you have your meal plan figured out, how do you know what macronutrient to subtract from? Everyone’s macros are different and based upon their height, weight, lean body mass, and activity level. Therefor, it would depend on the individual and their needs. Most always the first macronutrient that would be cut are fats. Fats are often used as a caloric ‘buffer’ or filler. Once fats cannot be cut anymore, CHO would be cut next. The last macronutrient we would want to cut is protein. This is because, as mentioned before, protein is the foundational building block and what our body uses to literally make adaptations and physical changes to our DNA.
Back to that fuel gage we were hoping our bodies had, to tell us when we are on empty. It is linearly reflected on how active we are. Our muscles hold about 400g of glycogen, which it uses to make ATP, contract, and all that fun stuff. It’s using energy and burning calories. 400g is the winning number we look at as ‘tank is full’. Our bodies use that throughout the day slowly, but often deplete it after a hard workout. When our muscles are full on glycogen, anything else we eat gets stored as fat.
This means our muscles are on empty after a hard work out at the optimal time to refuel is directly after a work out and the hour or two to follow. This is because our muscles take up whatever we eat like a dry sponge absorbing water. Given the correct portion sizes, this fuel (CHO and proteins) does not get stored as fat! It goes directly to our muscles. It is the best way to save our work out, like processing it into a hard drive in the body, as well as, being the most effective way to refuel.
When we eat outside of our workout window, thus being anytime a few hours after, food gets distributed in its respected places (liver glycogen, glucose in the blood, glycogen in the muscles, and triglycerides, such as adipose fat) rather than just going to our muscles. This is why outside of the few hours after our workout it is important to eat low glycemic foods and protein. These things slowly release into our blood stream, which prevents large spikes in insulin (reference my blog on insulin). This also helps us to feel full longer.