“So, Matt, I heard on the google that if I were to eat a low fat, high protein bar every day at 9:47 am and nothing else until…” Stop right there! You’re making this way too complicated.
Variations of this question pop up at least a couple times a week. We all want to find that special thing that will just cut the fat off of our bodies without any extra effort, because lets be real here: its not easy to lose fat.
So you might be asking yourself, what do I need to do to lose weight? Can I take a supplement, or is a certain food going to make me magically lose body fat? Well, no, that is only possible in the land of fairies and wizards. The real world is much harsher.
Finding a magical remedy somewhere on the internet isn’t going to do you any good if you sit on your ass eating chips every night while watching Dancing with the Stars.
Losing fat isn’t complicated, but it is difficult. We know how to do it, for the most part, we just have to actually set out and do it. To be as simple as possible, if you eat fewer calories than you burn in a given day, you will lose weight. The opposite of that is true as well, if you eat more calories than your body burns in a given day, you will gain weight.
A good analogy here is your bank account using money as calories. If you deposit more money than you withdraw from your bank account, the account will grow. Your body will do the same… eat more calories than you burn, and you will grow. Obviously this is true the other way around too. Withdrawing more than you deposit will shrink your bank account in the same way that burning more than you eat will shrink your body.
So hey it may be cool to have a fat bank account, but it’s not as cool to have a fat body.
Now that we have a fundamental understanding of what it takes to lose weight, we need to focus on what is way more important, and that is losing fat.
Weight loss versus fat loss is as simple as this…
Weight loss = water weight, muscle loss, fat loss, loss of a limb, etc.
Fat loss = burning and losing fat
When anyone mentions that they want to lose weight, any fitness professional worth their salt understand that their client wants to lose fat, and that is an important distinction.
When fat loss is our goal, there are two key items nutritionally that we want to pay attention to: protein and added sugars.
Up first, comes our best friend protein and its effects on lean body mass.
Protein sources include lean beef, poultry, eggs, seafood.
Protein helps replace worn out cells, transports various substances throughout the body, and aids in growth and repair.
When we work out, we make microscopic tears in our muscles. Think of protein as the construction crew. After the tears have been made, protein comes in and fills those tears, repairing the muscle and helping you grow stronger while increasing muscle mass.
During periods of low caloric intake, protein will preserve lean mass while the body burns fat. Essentially, we lose fat but maintain our muscle if we eat enough protein while cutting calories.
So how much should we eat then? There are a few calculations that can be made (1–2.2 g/kg/day) or we can focus on simple numbers. For women, we are aiming for 70-90 grams of protein per day. For men, that number is closer to 120-150 grams per day. To achieve this goal, we can use the palm of our hand to measure out our protein. We are looking for 1-2 palm sized portions of protein at each meal like 4-8 ounces of poultry/fish/ lean beef, or 2-3 whole eggs, or 1 scoop of most protein powders.
Main protein sources (lean beef, poultry, eggs, seafood) are low in carbs and fat, therefore being high in protein and low in total calories. What this equates to is a small withdrawal of calories from your total calorie bank, with a big deposit into muscle strength and development.
Next is something that we want to avoid at all costs when trying to lose fat: Added Sugars.
There are natural sugars such as lactose (milk), fructose (fruit), and honey that can be eaten in small quantities in their whole, natural form. Natural sugars added to other foods though are, well… still added sugars! I don’t want anyone reading this to run around saying I said honey is good for you because it’s natural.
It’s the refined (and added) sugars that we want to steer clear of. Added sugar is essentially sugar that has been extracted and tampered with. It comes in many different forms, and their only purpose is to make foods taste better at the cost of your waistline. Added sugar essentially means added calories.
These added sugars hide in prepackaged foods, and 1) make food taste sweeter (super addicting) and 2) make them shelf stable. Shelf stable foods are preserved for long periods of time using sugars and other chemicals such as sodium. There is a saying that if a food can stay on a shelf for a long time, it will remain in your stomach for a long time. While not true on its own, it does paint the picture that these foods will help pack on body fat.
Think of your calorie intake as a budget. You first spend money on rent or mortgage first, then bills and necessities, while your leftover money is saved for entertainment. You can think of food in the same way. Spend calories on necessities such as protein, whole grains and veggies first while added sugars are the not so often tickets to the movies or ball game (go Tribe!!).
When you look at the ingredients on a nutrition label, keep an eye out for these common names for added sugar:
- anhydrous dextrose
- brown sugar
- confectioner’s powdered sugar
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
- pancake syrup
- raw sugar
- white granulated sugar
Extra Credit: Companies will use multiple different types of sugar to avoid being required to place sugar as the main ingredient on their label. If they use 3 different kinds of sugar, together sugar is the main ingredient, but separated something else (such as flour) will most likely take their place as the main ingredient.
With all of that on your mind, let’s get some takeaways going…
1 // Weight loss is directly correlated to calorie intake.
- Calories in = Calories out = Maintenance
- Calories in > Calories out = Weight Gain
- Calories in < Calories out = Weight Loss
2 // Protein has a profound effect on body composition. Eat your lean protein to maintain lean muscle mass during periods of fat loss, or to gain muscle in periods of weight gain.
3 // Added sugars are in everything. Stick to natural, whole foods as often as possible. Compare your food label to the above list to determine if your food has extra sugar compounds.