Nutrition – The Elephant in the Room

May 6th, 2015: 0200 hours

Warning: This is a longer post and has a fair amount of nerdy, science shit. If you are into the science, please continue. If not, there is a tl;dr section at the bottom (too long; didn’t read). Also, after I undertook tackling nutrition, I realized that this is too broad and deep a subject for one post. More posts on individual subjects within nutrition are coming. This is very introductory.

Nutrition is simultaneously the single-most important and the single-least understood facet of physical fitness. It’s impossible to outrun, outfight, or outwork your plate. My research is scientifically based so let’s check some numbers, shall we?

There are 3,500 calories in a pound. Therefore, if you want to lose/gain a pound in a week, you must burn/earn 3,500 calories than you ingest. If you eat 500 calories less/more per day than you burn, you burn/earn a pound a week (7 days x -500 cal/day = -3,500 calories). That’s the simple version. No matter how you eat, if you burn 3,500 calories more/less than you ingest over whatever period of time, you lose/gain a pound. How do we burn fat and not muscle? I’ll get into that in a future article. For now, this is introductory based on getting smaller or bigger, depending on your goals.

Let’s start with the first step of this equation — how do I burn/earn 500 extra calories a day? Simply put, the two venues are diet or exercise.

First, we must figure out how many calories you burn in a day just being you. There are two lines of thought here. The first is that by calculating your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories you burn by simply existing in your current state on this Earth — in your day-to-day activities, this is how many calories you burn. Here is a link to a calculator, but, honestly, just Google it and you can find a calculator with ease. I pimped the calculator for MyFItnesPal because that is the site I use for food logging. We’ll cover that in a second, too (seriously, this is a really long read — tl;dr section at the bottom).

(Note: I’m tired of using slashes for losing/gaining weight. This article will be written from the perspective of trying to lose weight. If you are trying to gain, a lot of the same principles apply — just reversed.)

Once you have your daily BMR, you have a starting point. Subtract 500 calories from that number, and you have a daily goal for a weight loss. You can achieve that through diet or exercise. Using a site like MyFitnessPalyou can see how much you eat every day and what your calorie count is. Quick prediction: most of you eat more calories than you think. Track every single bit of every single thing you eat every day for a few days. If you don’t want to track long term, fine, but people generally have more success when they track. Do it for a few days just to get a general picture.

Once you have determined how much you eat every day, subtract 500 calories. Eat at that level for a few weeks until you can eat less and less until you reach 500 calories under your BMR. At that point, you will see weight loss in the realm of one pound per week. Some people can go from 4,000 calories per day to 1,800 overnight through sheer willpower. God bless those people. That shit sucks. That shit is super difficult. If you don’t have the willpower of a badger, stick to the longer-term approach I listed above.

The second train of thought regarding your starting point revolves around Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). The actual term TDEE belongs to Eat to Perform. Their calculator is here. Eat to Perform has a great explanation of TDEE on their site, but for those of you who hate science/reading, here is the summary: Your body burns more than your BMR on a day-to-day basis. Carrying laundry down the stairs, picking children off the floor, and mowing the lawn all impact your daily calorie burn outside of BMR. This is especially true for athletes and/or people who work out frequently and/or super intensely. TDEE is a number that may more accurately reflect your daily calorie burn.

The same process for losing weight from TDEE applies as BMR — eat less than TDEE and you lose weight. The theory is different and if you actually want to understand the science, Google is your friend.

A picture of LEOs winning for a mental break:

Want to be fit yet?

Method 2: Exercise.

It’s important to note that exercising for more calories only really works for losing weight. You can’t exercise more calories into gaining weight — kind of. The type of exercise matters. Yet again, we’ll get to that later (a post on exercise is coming).

In order to burn an extra 500 calories a day, you could exercise enough to burn those calories. But burning a high number of calories through exercise is tougher than you think. Possible? Certainly. Suck ass? No doubt. From the Mayo Clinicwhat I consider a reputable source, you can see a table showing 1-hour blocks of various exercises and the calories burned. The table also shows weight classes for the individual performing the exercise. Click the damn link, it’s good information.

As you can see from the table, it’s not an easy task to burn 500 calories every day through exercise alone. Think you can manage that activity level? Be my guest. Just understand it’s, generally, easier to do it through food.

Another mental break:

If you don’t want to be fit yet, turn in your badge.

So what should you eat?

Basic principles of your diet:

  1. Vegetables.
  2. Vegetables.
  3. Vegetables.
  4. Umm… Vegatables.
  5. Meat.
  6. Fruits.
  7. Some dairy.
  8. Small amount of whole grains.
  9. Fuck processed (i.e. pop, candy, chips, etc. The crap you already know you shouldn’t eat.)

I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 priniciple: eat quality 80% and eat your snickers and pizza 20% of the time. Hate to break it to you, Coppers, but you probably need to cut down on your alcohol intake. You probably already know that. Weight lifting is a better therapist than Jack Daniels or Bud Light (or his filthy cousin, Busch Light). Eat mostly vegetables and meat with some fruit and a little of everything else. A stand-alone post on macro nutrients is coming down the pipe (talk about a rabbit hole you can’t get out of), so be patient on advice regarding your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake.

Summary — TL;DR:

  1. Find your BMR or TDEE and start subtracting/adding calories as your goals desire.
  2. Diet makes up the majority of your fitness success/failure.
  3. Eat real food — more vegetables and meat. Less pop and straight shit.

Final feel good for the post:


Workout for 5/6/2015:

  1. Front Squat 5×5
  2. Bench Press 5×5
  3. Bent-Over Row 5×5

Quote of the Day:

“My heroes are those who risk their lives every day to protect our world and make it a better place – police, firefighters, and members of our armed forces” — Sidney Sheldon.

Prayers to the families of the officers who were killed in the line of duty this past week. We all bleed blue for you.