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Nutrition Guide to Maximise Fat Loss

1 January 2010
Written by: davejt.com

Image credit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

For sustained, long term results, fat loss plans need to take a holistic approach. In terms of nutrition this means making small lifestyle changes to how, when and what you eat, as opposed to the popular “fad-dieting” which often leads to a person’s weight yo-yoing which has a stressful affect on the body. The following discusses calories, metabolism, food, timing and provides a sample nutrition guide.

Calories – the maths behind it all

In terms of calories, government guidelines recommend females to consume 2000 calories per day (2500 for males). This is however only an average as each person’s requirements are different depending on many factors such as weight and day to day activities for example. Taking this as a guide we can say that this is the number of calories needed for a female to maintain their current weight with their usual day to day activities. So in order to lose weight a calorie deficit must be made, simplistically this can be achieved in 2 ways:

  • Consuming fewer calories per day but keeping activity levels the same.
  • Introducing exercise to burn calories, whilst keeping calorie intake the same.

Or a combination of the 2 above is often used. And as a general rule the calorie deficit should be around 100-200 calories below maintenance level (2000 calories for a female).

So how can we calculate calories from our food intake?

Most foods these days come with a breakdown of such information. However calories can be calculated from the amount of protein/carbohydrate/fat a food contains:

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

These numbers show that by eating more fatty foods you can reach your calorie target in no time. But then fats are bad right? Wrong not all fats are bad (more on fats later).

Metabolism

Now we understand what calories are and where they come from, the next step is to understand what metabolism is and how we can maximise our rate of metabolism throughout the day.

Metabolism in simple terms is how quickly our body can burn calories. People with a low metabolism burn calories more slowly than people with a high metabolism. This is something that is built into our genes as different people will naturally have different metabolism rates, and in terms of fat loss a higher metabolism will work to your advantage. However we are not, as many people believe, stuck with slow metabolism. There are many things you can do to increase your metabolism thus helping your body become more efficient at burning calories.

Firstly eat more meals (more often). Eating more frequently throughout the day will increase your metabolism. Ideally you should aim to eat 6 meals: breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, dinner and evening. This doesn’t mean to say that each of these meals needs to be big meals, but by constantly giving your body what it needs you can keep your body processing food thus raising metabolism and also preventing it from going into starvation mode.

Starvation mode: This is when you have a long period without food, and you become hungry. Your body is made to survive so when it hasn’t been fed for a sustained period of time it does all it can to survive by finding it’s energy source from somewhere else.

So if you do not provide the body with fuel (food) it will find it from somewhere else. It will breakdown your muscle because its much easier than breaking down fat. Also, it keeps hold of the fat because there are a higher concentration of calories in the fat (9 calories per gram) which it feels its going to need as you are ‘starving’ your body. This leads to loss of muscle with no loss in fat, making you a skinny fat person!

So not eating actually makes you fat!

After a time of starvation mode, and you feeling hungry, when you do decide to eat there is a tendency to then “over-eat because you are hungry”.

And just like under-eating is bad, over-eating is too, as it actually decreases your metabolism. This is why the portions of food, you’re now eating more often, need to be adequately sized. Which is where the phrase “eat little and often” comes from.

Secondly drink lots of water. Drinking lots of water is essential as it helps flush your system and suppress your appetite between meal times. Drinking cold water is preferred as this will cool your body down which will then burn calories heating it back up.

Thirdly do exercise. Not essential to fat loss as a good diet will always achieve the desired results. However adding in a few exercise sessions a week can definitely speed it up and is an easy way to create a calorie deficit. A quick note on exercise:

  • Cardio
    • Generally takes 20 minutes of sustained cardio before your body starts burning fat.
    • Your body will only burn calories whilst you are doing the cardio exercise.
    • Interval training will burn more calories than steady state cardio.
  • Weight training
    • 20 minutes of weight training directly before cardio will decrease the amount of time your body needs to do cardio before it burns fat (decreases (a) above).
    • Has an after effect – i.e. your body will still be burning calories hours after you have finished your weight session. Just for knowledge, this is called EPOC or Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption.
    • Building muscle increases metabolism (more muscle leads to less fat).

Food

Carbohydrates

For simplicity we will split carbohydrates into 2 types:

  • Simple carbohydrates
    Simple carbohydrates are those that are released quickly into the body thus providing the body with an instant “kick” of energy. These are basically your sugary foods. E.g. sweets, cakes, white bread, white rice, white pasta, chips etc... The problem with these types of carbohydrates is that because your body breaks them down and uses them so quickly, when it doesn’t need this instant energy it decides to store it, and unfortunately it gets stored as fat!
  • Complex carbohydrates
    Complex carbohydrates are the opposite of simple carbohydrates, and provide the body with a slow and sustained release of energy which is more useful to the body whilst we’re going about our day to day activities. Foods high in complex carbohydrates are those such as brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta (see the pattern here), sweet potatoes etc...

There is also a third type of carbohydrate we can talk about, these are fibrous carbohydrates. These come under complex carbohydrates as they are broken down slowly, however also act as a cleanser to the digestive system, such carbohydrates come in foods like: broccoli, cabbage, carrots and other vegetables.

Protein

Protein is essential for the body as it’s used for building and repairing. Protein works with carbohydrates to help your body grow and help your body repair (return to a healthy state) after exercise. Foods high on protein are meats, fish, eggs, cheese etc...

Fat

Fats come in many forms and healthy fats are an essential part to a healthy diet. By increasing good fat (see below) levels we can keep our bodies healthier and also increase fat loss.

Bad Fats

Steer clear of Trans and hydrogenated fats. These types of fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and put your body more at risk of heat disease.

Saturated fat is also seen as a bad fat as again it does increase bad cholesterol, however it does have some uses in the body including protecting the liver from alcohol! So it’s important to get some, but only a small amount.

Good Fats

Fats that should be consumed as part of a healthy diet are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and essential fatty acids (EFA’s) – omega 3/6/9.

Monounsaturated fats are derived from plant sources, good sources are: olive, canola (rapeseed), and peanut oil as well as avocados, and some types of nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in grain products, fish & seafood, soybeans and fish oils. These types of fat do not increase LDL.

EFA’s (omega 3/6/9) are essential to the body, as they help in the immune system for example. Omega 9 is created by the body and thus is not essential as part of our diet. However omega 3 and 6 cannot be created by the body and thus need to be implemented into our diet. Omega 3 helps decrease levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Good sources are fish and fish oils, certain seeds and nuts (e.g. flaxseed), also found in meat and eggs.

Timing

Now we have discussed the maths behind calories, increasing metabolism and what to look for in foods we can plan how we integrate these components holistically to provide our body with the optimum conditions to lose fat.

The following are a few simple rules to apply to maximise fat loss:

  • Aim to eat 6 meals per day each on a 4:2:1 ratio of carbohydrates:protein:fat (in grams).
    • Meals should be about 2-3 hours apart.
  • Try to have some form of protein with each meal and at minimum have protein with 3 meals per day.
  • Carbohydrates throughout the day should be only complex carbohydrates, try to minimise intake of simple carbohydrates as these carry unwanted sugar.
  • Fruit in the morning - have your fruit for the day at breakfast time and before midday, no fruit after 12noon.
  • Cut down bad fats. Eat more good fats throughout the day – these will also help you feel fuller.
  • Protein in the evening – after your main meal, your evening snack should be mainly protein and/or fats.
  • Cut down on white potatoes as these are more simple than complex carbohydrates. Try sweet potatoes.
  • Eat lots of vegetables.
  • Unless you can find yoghurts which are low or have next to no carbohydrates which sugar & no bad fats then try to cut them out. If they’re high in carbs that sugar then have them in the morning only.

Sample Diet

Below is an idea of what you types of foods you should be trying to eat at different stages of the day, remember to drink lots of water/fluids throughout the day.

Breakfast:

  • Try to incorporate a protein source (e.g. scrambled eggs).
  • Try to have a balance of simple/complex carbohydrates (most cereals provide this).
  • Eat some fruit.

Mid-morning - SMALL SNACK:

  • e.g. 1 piece of fruit + handful of seeds/nuts (e.g. almonds are good)

Lunch:

  • Make sure you have protein (e.g. meat/fish sandwiches).
  • Try to make sure carbohydrates are all complex (e.g. brown bread).
  • NO CRISPS! NO CHOCOLATE! NO “healthy” bars as most of them aren’t healthy! (This goes for all meals.)
  • Try to add some vegetables in here.

Mid afternoon – SMALL SNACK (no fruit):

  • Maybe save half or 1/3 of your lunch until now.
  • OR Go for complex carbohydrates/fats here and protein is a bonus.
    • e.g. A bean salad or have some steamed vegetables.

Dinner time:

  • Don’t have a massive dinner, just have about as much as you had at lunch (maybe a tad more). They key here I think is to be satisfied, not full
  • NO chips/pizza/junk food etc.../white bread/white rice/white pasta/white potatoes etc...
  • Vegetables are your friend eat lots here they are full of the types of carbohydrates you want and are full of good nutrients and minerals.
  • Make sure you have some sort of protein - e.g. meat or fish (oily fish is good as has lots of good fats).
  • Try not have too much dressing on your food or sauces that are high in either:
    • Carbohydrates that sugar.
    • OR saturated fats or trans fats.
  • Aim to split the meal up on a 4:2:1 ratio of Carbohydrates:Protein:Fat (in grams).
  • No deserts needed, no fruits, no yoghurts.

Evening snack – SMALL SNACK:

  • Make sure this one has minimal carbohydrates as you don’t want them before you go to bed, as they wont be used by your body and are more likely to be stored as fat!
  • Go for high protein/good fats here:
    • e.g. cottage cheese/nuts/tuna.
    • Again no fruit here.


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