We hear it all the time, but the most important thing you need to focus on when it comes to losing weight is calories. I’m constantly being asked, “when is the best time to eat a meal? Should I be eating 3 a day? Or 6?” All of these questions tend to be irrelevant for most people, and this is because you need to be focusing on how many calories you’re consuming, not how much food.
Calories matter the most.
Since studying my sports nutrition course, and following people like Eric Helms, Alan Aragon and other nutrition experts, I have come to discover that a lot of things we are told and what we see every day in fitness magazines simply aren’t relevant to us if we’re not eating the correct amount of food everyday.
If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re still consuming more calories than you’re burning during the day you’re not going to lose anything. Now it isn’t as simple as saying losing weight relies on calories in versus calories out, however calories are an important tool to measure. It doesn’t matter whether you have a post workout meal or you have 6 or 2 meals a day, it all comes down to how much you’re consuming during the course of the whole day.
Let’s say you do have a meal after your workout. It consists of 500 calories. Now what if that post workout meal actually increases the amount of calories you consume because you wouldn’t usually have that meal? Those extra 500 calories have now prevented you from losing weight. So instead of asking about how many meals to have, or what’s the most important time to eat during the day, the first thing we want a focus on is calories and how many you’re consuming during the day.
How do you measure calories?
A good way to get started with calorie counting is to actually start measuring your calories every day, just for a week, to get an estimation on how much you’re eating. Now this is pretty easy to do if you eat packaged foods because most of the calories are written on the nutrition labels. The labels say how many serving sizes are in what you’re eating and what the calorie content is.
Let’s say you’ve just eaten a packet of chips. You can look at the back of the serving label and see how many servings are in that packet of chips and then determine how many calories you just had. Usually a large packet of chips can contain anywhere from 400 to 600 calories (yes, that’s a lot) and that’s just what most of us have as a snack. When you start look at all the food labels and write their content down you’re going to become aware of how much food you’re consuming during the day.
Another good practice to do (which I prefer) is to use apps. Because we have our phones, and we’re becoming so tech savvy, there are very cool apps like myfitnesspal which you can use to track your daily food intake. This way you guys know exactly how much you’re consuming per day. It’s even better because these apps tell you the amount of calories in everything. If you don’t know how many calories are in an apple the app will tell you. If you don’t know how many calories are in a piece of rump steak, it will tell you. Just getting a general understanding of how many calories you’re consuming during the day is going to help you determine whether you’re losing weight or if you’re gaining weight because you’ll know how much you’re consuming.
Estimating the amount of calories you need
So now you know how many calories you’re consuming during the day by measuring through myfitnesspal or by reading food labels. You’re going to realise that if you aren’t losing weight you may be consuming more calories than you’re burning. But how do you know how many calories you’re going to need to consume every day in order to lose body fat? A simple calculation you can do is to get your body weight in kilograms and times it by 25. So for example if you’re a 75 kg male you need to consume 1875 calories a day. But that’s just a rough estimate. If you’re consuming 2200 cal a day from what you’ve measured, and your body weight isn’t fluctuating at all, it’s probably because your calorie consumption is maintaining your bodyweight. After you know how many calories you need to maintain your bodyweight you want to determine how many calories you need to be consuming every day to lose body fat. Subtract the number you calculated earlier by 10% to determine how many calories you need to lose weight. So 1875 by 10% equals 1688 calories. This is the simplest way to find out exactly how much you should be eating each day in order to help you with your weight loss.
Reducing your calories
Once you know how many calories you need to be eating roughly everyday you need to determine if you are going to exercise more, or are you going to reduce the amount of calories you’re eating in order to lose weight? Doing more exercise or eating less are two simple ways to create a calorie deficit. What I would suggest first is to reduce the amount of calories you’re eating. The reason I suggest this is because it’s much easier to take away 500 calories from your food as opposed to burning an extra 500 calories in the gym. Let’s say that you were having a snack every day that was a packet of chips; one whole bag of chips is equivalent to 400 to 600 calories so all you have to do is remove that bag of chips every day and that’s an extra 400 – 600 calories you’re not consuming. That could be the single tipping point that helps you start reducing body fat. It’ll be a lot easier to not eat those chips as opposed to going to the gym and grinding out three or four sessions of cardio a week just to burn an extra 500 cal. Knowing we are short on time means some of us just don’t have the energy or ability to be able to go into the gym every day and burn a lot of calories. So if you’re short on time I suggest consuming less food.
Managing your portions
Another good way to reduce your calorie intake is to manage your portions sizes. A lot of us will eat off big plates and from big bowls and what that actually does is trick our mind into thinking that you’re more hungry than you really are. Let me tell you about a study where scientists conducted a study in which they gave moviegoers two different servings of popcorn; one was a bigger size and was a smaller size. Both of the popcorn sizes that the moviegoers were given were old and stale but they were free, so everyone took them. The scientists weighed the popcorn before and after the movie and discovered that the people who were given the bigger serving sizes of popcorn consumed more popcorn. It didn’t matter whether the popcorn was stale, people were still happy to consume a big box full of it. So just imagine how you can trick your mind into eating less just by consuming smaller serving sizes. By using smaller plates, small bowls and smaller cups you will trick your mind. You may not think it, but it will work for you, and I suggest you try it. If you use a small bowl and you have the same amount of food you would usually put in a big bowl you will automatically think “there’s a lot of food in there” and you will feel fuller afterwards. You may even reduce the amount in the bowl. This is a tip that I use regularly and it really helps with eating less.
Another good way to manage portions is to use the hand rule. You can use your hands to measure the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats you’re consuming. This is going to be covered more in another blog post but for now you can use this infographic below to see how you can manage portion controls (courtesy for Precision Nutrition)
Getting control over calories
Once you got your calories under control, and you’re losing weight, then you can start focusing on step number 2, which is called macronutrients. I’m going to cover macronutrients in another blog post but I want you to start thinking about them. I’ll give you a quick summary – calories are made up of macronutrients and macronutrients are made up of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Once you have a management on your calorie intake then you can begin to focus on your macronutrients and how can get the best ratio of macronutrients in. This will help you keep and build muscle, maintain energy during the day and is the most effective way to burn body fat. But until then focus on your calorie intake.
What to do next
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Stay Strong. Live Long.