A Better Approach to Dieting

Back in 2012 I set about to lose as much body fat as I could; I lost over 30lbs of body fat/water but regrettably some lean mass too.
I did this by training 3 times a week and dieting HARD!
I took my carbohydrate intake down to around 50-75g per day (a mixture of starches and fibrous carbohydrate sources) and cut a bunch of calories all week and then had a cheat day on Sunday. This would consist of eating as much of whatever I wanted, all day!
I don’t need to go into why this is not a good idea, right?
By the time I got to Sunday I would be fully depleted of glycogen (Stored carbohydrate, AKA fuel).
So what the hell is wrong with that? It worked for me, right?
Well, yes and no, it really depends on how you look at it, on the one hand I did lose a lot of body fat, on the other hand I also lost a lot of lean mass (Muscle) and what I haven’t told you is that this approach is quite possibly the least healthy way to go about losing weight (and that’s exactly what it was, weight (A mixture of water/ body fat and lean mass).
You see, drastically restricting carbohydrates will sooner or later empty your muscles of Glycogen- the preferred fuel for most cells, derived from Glucose from starchy carbohydrate intake.
Glucose pulls fluid into your cells and keeps them hydrated. Restricting your cells of this vital energy source will result in dried up and fragile cells, NOT GOOD!
This is where it becomes difficult for these cells to do their job...

  • ATP production (Cellular energy, without which movement is not possible)

  • Repairing and disposing of damaged organelles

  • Maintaining a solid cell wall structure

And how did I perform during my workouts? 
I couldn’t tell you to be honest; I have eradicated the memory of each and every one of those workouts, because they SUCKED!
You see, glycogen is the preferred fuel source for most types of exercise, stores could last for anywhere from 30 – 90 minutes approximately, depending on the intensity of the exercise.
Athletes that experience total depletion of glycogen stores during training refer to this state as ‘Hitting the wall’ or ‘Bonking’ and will experience a drastic decrease in performance.
During bouts of intense training in a glycogen depleted state the body can breakdown protein to produce glycogen for energy, however this is no good thing. Protein is a valuable commodity within the body, it being the foundational building blocks of muscle tissue, bone tissue, skin, hair and a host of other tissues. Not only that, the kidneys have to work extra hard to eliminate the by products of protein breakdown.
Did I keep the weight off? 
Not all of it truth be told, no.
Why? Because this approach is not sustainable. It was hard work, not enjoyable and very taxing! The simple fact is that if you train with any kind of intensity you're going to need the fuel to do so, and you’re going to have to re-fuel if you want to recover efficiently and train equally as hard the next time. Your nutrition should correlate directly with your training schedule/ volume. For sedentary individuals carbohydrate intake of course won’t need to be as high and conversely for those with a greater training volume your intake will have to be relatively higher.
So how do I lose body fat without cutting carbohydrates? A better approach to dieting.
With the introduction of myriad apps to log your daily food intake, gone are the days of endless food weighing and calorie counting. (The FatSecret app is brilliant)
These days it couldn’t be simpler to keep a record of everything you put in your body. So here is my suggestion for a better approach to dieting.

  • Start by establishing the amount of calories you need to maintain your current bodyweight; see last week’s blog here to find out how.

  • Next, spend the first four weeks making your diet as healthy as it can be, (following your calorie targets and monitor body weight throughout) with this simple rule; If it didn’t once have a face, look like it did when it came from the ground or a plant/tree or it comes with added ingredients... Don’t eat it!

  • Once you’ve established this healthy baseline you will be coming from a far greater place to start your diet. After the first four weeks start by shaving 10% off of your weekly calorie total. If you followed the first step properly your calories will naturally be lower on the days you don’t train due to less energy expenditure, these will lower again as will calories on your training days.

  • The next step is to take your starchy carbohydrate intake (Sweet pots/ Potatoes/ Rice/ Quinoa/ Swede/ Turnip/ Gluten free oats etc) and limit it to your post training meal. By doing so you will achieve three things. 1. Your muscles after a workout are like a sponge, they need to absorb both protein and carbohydrate to repair, adapt and avoid the breakdown of proteins. 2. By limiting carbohydrate to post workout only you reduce the risk of ‘spilling over’, meaning; eating excess carbohydrate that is stored as fat. 3. Allowing your body to burn fat at other times by keeping insulin levels (released in response to broken down carbohydrate in the blood stream) stable and consistent.

How much carbohydrate then?
This depends on many factors including training intensity, training duration and muscle mass percentage to name a few.
However, as a rule of thumb, here are some macronutrient guidelines to follow for reducing bodyfat;
Protein> 1.8-2 grams per kg of bodyweight
Fats> 1-1.2g per kg of BW
Carbohydrate> 1.4-1.6g per kg BW *post training.
Below is an example of a female weighing 75kg, training three times a week (3 x 1hr resistance training) taking into account a 10% reduction in calories over the week.

Fig.1 Caloric and macronutrient targets.

Fig.1 Caloric and macronutrient targets.

By keeping a nutrition log and monitoring performance, bodyweight, body fat and muscle mass you should increase and decrease calories and or macronutrients where appropriate.
Take home.
You have to be patient! Quick fixes seldom work and you might end up doing more harm than good!
Concentrate on eating healthily most of the time and don’t beat yourself up when you slip up. Pick something you like doing, be it lifting weights, running, swimming, whatever... and then do it, tailor your calorie and macronutrient needs around your training schedule.


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