Since my post last week about The 3 Crucial Habits of Getting Back in Shape, I have had several people message me asking why they are so hungry after setting up their MyFitnessPal accounts. So it dawned on me that the little tricks us fitness pro’s know about setting up our food trackers aren't common knowledge. By reading this article, you will learn:
The easiest way to calculate you calorie needs in your tracker,
How to adjust for weekly exercise so that you don’t have to input your workouts, and
How and why the different body types typically need different amounts of carbs/protein/fat, etc.
To kick things off, let’s first talk about what your calorie need should be set as on MyFitnessPal. I will take you through the steps necessary to compute this, so simply write down your values as we go. Some of you will be able to use the first number you calculate, while some may need to consider the later steps to get a more accurate number for you personally.
Step 1: Take an accurate weight measurement and multiply it by 10
Most people are under the impression that they need to “eat less” in order for them to “lose more” (and the default settings of MyFitnessPal will typically do this), but unfortunately this just isn’t the case. In my experience training the last 12 years, more people have gained weight by undereating than overeating, so I want you guys to consider that in relation to your own eating habits. As and example, let’s use Sally, a 150 pound female working out 0-2 times per week (sedentary) and looking to lose fat. Sally would start by measuring her weight (making sure to weigh first thing in the morning, after using the bathroom, but before showering). Next, she needs to do one simple thing...add a zero. This would mean that her goal would be 1500 calories per day. Simple right? If she is eating less than this in an attempt to lose weight, then she is probably undereating and telling her body to store fat because she is physiologically "starving". There have been several experts including one of my favorites, Charles Poliquin, who have statistically shown that this method of determining caloric need is so accurate that it is often unnecessary to spend a lot of money on expensive tests or fancy calculations to figure out what your baseline calorie need should be. Your caloric need is essentially your "energy" need, but of course nutrient content does come into play, so that will be explained in step three. There are of course exceptions to this. For some people that have been trying the basic recommendation, or the strategies mentioned later in this article with no progress, it can sometimes be more convenient to just get tested. A simple resting metabolic assessment to see if your burn rate is much higher or lower than it should be can be performed at several locations around the country. Send us a note through the Contact Us page to get help finding a facility near you if this is necessary. However, for all of you just starting, it is much more applicable to start here and just multiply your accurate weight by 10.
You might think that 1500 calories seems like a bit much for a 150 lb. person, but I assure you that it isn’t. I will elaborate on the logic of that statement later in this article. A very common mistake made by people just starting out comes from not recognizing that most large weight loss studies are on morbidly obese individuals. These studies are credible in that population, but you have to recognize their key assumption. The term “morbidly obese” let's us know that they are not studies performed on normal people like us. You want to realize that these test groups were literally dying due to their weight when the interventions started! For this reason, the test subjects were calorie-restricted to the 1000-1200 calories per day you'll typically see. This causes breakdown of EVERY tissue in their bodies, including the muscle we are wanting to maintain for non-obese people. Lucky for you, you are taking initiative early and will never get far enough to be so drastic :).
Step 2: Consider your total weekly exercise hours in your calorie calculation.
Magazines, instagram models, and all other types of media sources are often seen recommending “Carb-Cycling” or other dietary cycling to get maximal results. The problem here is that cycling of any specific nutrient is an advanced way of tweaking an already healthy nutrition plan. It is much more realistic to get your body used to being regularly nourished first. This strategy will allow the stress of being malnourished to subside so your body will start letting go of its "emergency energy" we know as fat. Carb-Cycling strategies are based around intensity and duration of exercise, so instead, we will evenly distribute the amount of energy that you will need for your workouts throughout the week. Some days you will be eating more than you will burn and some days you will be eating less. The thing to remember is that, as long as your body never feels it is physiologically "starving", you will be able to maintain dietary habits that are not dependent on the specific day you are exercising.
With our example 150 lb female, Sally, we assumed that she was sedentary, so we multiplied her weight by 10. In the case of someone that is exercising more regularly, the multiplier will actually be different:
Calorie Multipliers for Weight Loss Individuals
Sedentary (0-2 exercise hours/week) = 10-12
Moderately Active (3-4 exercise hours/week) = 12-14
Very Active (5-7 exercise hours/week) = 14-16
These values should be taken into consideration for anyone that is beyond the first few weeks of their program and is ready to consider working out more often. So with Sally weighing 150 lbs, she would normally need somewhere between 1500 and 2400 calories/day depending on her total exercise hours per week. Big range eh? That's why we have to be consistent with the amount of exercise that we perform in relation to our nutrition. Being sporadic will prevent your body from adapting how you want it to, which equals less fat loss.
Q: So once I know how many calories I should be taking in, as long as I'm getting that amount by the end of the day I should be good right?
A: Wrong. The name of the game here to not let your body ever get to a point that it's starving...not even any point in one day.
Like most of you, I skipped breakfast for most of my life. Whether it was because I "would rather sleep than eat" or because I "just wasn't hungry", the cause was actually the same thing. When our bodies are undernourished, we don't have the ability to produce enough stomach acid upon waking. This results in feeling full too early or even being uncomfortable after breakfast. Add to that a typical American breakfast of toast, oatmeal and/or cereal, and you have essentially eaten a full day's worth of starchy carbohydrates in one meal. To resolve this, you'll want to plan out your meals to be more evenly distributed. For Sally, I would recommend taking her 1500 calories per day and dividing it up into four equal parts (375 calories). Three of those parts would be how much she should aim for in each meal. The last part would be the total amount of her snacks eaten between meals. MyFitnessPal makes this easy because the "Snacks" meal heading does not split it up into different parts of the day.
Total Daily Calories / 4 = Size of 3 Meals + Total Snack Calories
Doing this will keep you from eating less energy earlier in the day when you are most active and needing it to get around, and limit you later in the day when you are winding down. A lot of people live by a "no food after 8pm" or some similar credo, but those strategies are essentially trying to force you to do the same thing as what I'm suggesting...eat more evenly through the day so that you don't binge at night before bed because you are hungry. Try for well-balanced meals having good amounts of proteins, fats and carbohydrates every meal so your body never goes without what it needs in any part of the day. Not only that, but you also won't have to yo-yo your calories based on exercise days and non-exercise days.
Step 3: Know how your body type responds to different kinds of food
We all know that on this path to success we have to cut out (or at the very least limit) junk food, but how much of the good stuff are we supposed to eat? When it comes to your macro-nutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), different body types have been shown to be more responsive to different percentages of each. Your body type, also known as your somatotype, has to do with how your body burns or stores fat and how you look as a result. The three types most commonly referred to are Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph, while other types are typically hybrids of two of these three.
Ectomorphs are the "naturally skinny" people. They are the ones that can seem to eat anything and still never gain a pound. To most of you, these are the people you hate! Haha, but don't be so quick to judge because they come with their own set of problems. While they don't put on fat as easily as the other types, they have a much more difficult time gaining muscle as well and can be just as unhealthy on the inside as the next person. Unfortunately, since it doesn't show in their physique, they are usually just as frustrated as the next person because "nothing they do seems to ever change anything". There are few things an ectomorph should remember when trying to use dietary tracking to change their health and body composition:
They are more tolerant to carbohydrates than the other types, so their diets will need higher amounts of carbs in order to lose, maintain or gain than one would think.
They are typically more efficient at burning fat (which is why they don't store it everywhere like the other types), so they need less fat in their diet than the other types.
Just because they aren't storing fat "all over" their bodies doesn't mean they aren't storing it around their internal organs where it causes the most damage, and
Their resting metabolism is generally higher than others, so calorie-restriction will make it easier for their bodies to go into a "starvation" stress response than they would assume.
Since ectos can tolerate higher carb intakes than the other types, they are allotted more variation in their carb selections. Fruits, grains, veggies, you name it. However, just like everyone else, their vegetable count should be higher than starchier carbohydrates in a 3:1 ratio at least. As for protein and fat, not as much may be needed than the other types, so quality becomes very important. Taking these factors into consideration, the basic macro split for ectomorphs is 55% carbohydrate, 25% protein, 20% fat. Let's say Spidey only has to websling twice per week, weighs 150 like Sally, and wants to get rid of some pesky pounds around his midsection. In this case, his dietary breakdown should be at around
1500 Total Calories per Day = 619 carb calories, 281 protein calories and 225 fat calories
Mesomorphs are the "Schwarzenneger" types that seem to be built like Grecian Gods, getting better with work due to their natural proportions. Don't worry though, these types have their own downsides and haven't been touched by the gods either. The things a mesomorph should consider are:
They are naturally more sensitive to insulin, so whatever they put into their bodies will go where the hormone tells it that it's needed. That means bad habits show up visually faster, though their clothes might not show it yet.
They utilize nutrients better overall, so their macros can be more evenly distributed.
Changes in their health are more visually noticed in the form of weight change or distribution from what their "normal" weight or build is because their resting metabolism is usually closer to what their hunger tells them.
For mesos, you'll want to take note of any small changes occurring in your physique, because they are usually telling you something that the other types wouldn't see. By keeping a close eye, you can stay ahead of your health before anything becomes a problem. Moderation is the name of the meso game, so variety of every type of macro is a plus. Most of my meso clients' biggest problem is with getting enough protein, so shooting for that ideal 0.8-1.0g/lb of body weight is the focus I would recommend for you guys. The macro split for this type is 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% fats. For a 200 lb. Thor saving lives (working out) three times a week and trying to trim up, we would expect
2400 Total Calories per Day = 960 calories of carbs, 720 protein calories and 720 fat calories.
The infamous endomorph is the body type that everyone feeling overweight "feels" like they are, but most people aren't naturally these stockier-built frames naturally. With true endomorphs, they'll know just from their large heads, hands and feet on shorter limbs that they aren't meant to be "skinny". These endos have a negative rap, but realistically they have some advantages that the ecto and meso crowds don't. Let's look at what they are working with:
They store energy by default, so both muscle and fat increase easier than the other types
They don't burn food for energy as efficiently as other types, so easily processed energy (carbohydrate) has to be more limited
It's harder to tell where hormonal changes are occuring because their "all over" fat is typically thicker than the other types, and
Their resting metabolism is usually slower relative to their size, so they can tolerate higher caloric deficits in weight loss, but gain weight easier with caloric surplus
For endos, you'll want to focus on the slower broken down energy and nutrient sources as your primary food intake. With carbohydrates, veggies are the staple because fruits and simple carbohydrates become available for fat fuel too easily. Shooting for a 5:1 vegetable to other carb sources would be ideal. Higher protein and fat contents allow your body to do more work metabolically, which leads to more fat burn! You'll want to put your focus on the variety of fats you take in. Ideally your cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, avocado etc will be where the extra fat in the diet comes from since the meats you eat will give you some good saturated fats alongside the protein they offer. Stay away from the hydrogenated vegetable oils like Pam and the sprays though, because they will do more harm than good. The macro split for endomorphs is 25% carbohydrate, 35% protein and 40% fat. If Hulk weighs in at 315, and wants to get rid of his party keg while smashing bad guys with the Avengers a couple times a week, his diet might look something like this:
3150 Calories per Day = 788 carb calories, 1103 protein calories and 1260 fat calories
To recap, before we just start cutting calories, we'll need to consider what our expected intake should be relative to our weight in Step 1. Second, we want to make tracking as easy as possible by not having to track our exercise or manipulate our calories accordingly. Using the exercise multipliers from Step 2, we can average out what we will need daily and make things a lot easier on ourselves. Lastly, by taking our natural build into considerations, we can adjust our macronutrient goals and prioritize our dietary strategies. Always remember that these strategies are just the first steps of normalizing your metabolism. Once we have attempted to normalize your metabolism, we can take how your body responds and determine what your next steps should be with a more personalized approach.
As always, it has been my pleasure to give you all some of the early tools to kickstart your health and fitness journey! I hope you have found it helpful and now feel empowered to get started like an expert!