Simple Tips, Tricks, Hacks & Swaps
Intro to Macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates & Fat)
Although I'd love if more people ate more plants, I also recognize that not everyone is ready, or even interested in this change. These swaps are not all 100% vegan, but are intended to show you how a few swaps in your meals can lead to better nutrition without the extra calories, and in some cases carbs and fat.
Below, I've included a few of the more common questions I get regarding nutrition. Just remember, every single person is different. Gender, weight, BMI, muscle mass, goals (fat loss vs muscle gain), etcetera, are some of the factors to consider when deciding where you should be at, nutrition-wise. These numbers are not meant to tell you what you should be eating, but rather an idea of where you should be at to meet your goals. Speaking of goals, this is also a factor in your dietary needs (bodybuilders need more protein than runners).
Before we get into the recipes, I'm sure you're curious what you should be eating in a day to meet your goals. For this, I've included a BMR calculator (more on this below) to get a idea of the caloric goals for your body. Remember, this is just an estimate. Also, because the most common questions I get are around fat-loss and muscle-gain, I've also included some simple swaps below from more common American Diet type foods, for healthier alternatives. Calories and macros (protein, carbohydrates and fat) are also listed in the comparisons.
How many calories should I be eating in a day?
The simple answer is, "it depends". I know that doesn't get you anywhere, but calculating true BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate, or, calories YOU personally burn just by being alive), should be done using expensive equipment with a trained professional. That being said, since most of us don't have access to it, here is a basic calculator to give you an estimate of where you should be. As a general rule of thumb, eat less than what your BMR is for fat loss.
Once you get your estimate from the calculator, set a goal for eating less than this many calories per day, regardless of how little or how much you're exercising.
Apps such as MyFitnessPal are great tools to measure your intake.
How much protein do I need per day?
The "standard" for protein intake has been suggested as 0.8-1.2 grams per kilogram (not pound) of body weight; However, other studies suggest that these numbers should be based on lean muscle mass, not total weight. Which, makes sense; why would you eat more protein (that fuels muscles) based on everything else that makes up your body (fat, skin, bones, organs, water, etc.)
This logic suggests that two people that are the same weight, should eat the same amount of protein. What one of those people had 50lb of lean muscle mass and was 35% body fat where the other person had 75lb of lean muscle mass and 8% body fat? Why would they eat the same amount of protein? What if their goals were different; one wanted to lose weight and the other wanted to build muscle?
This starts to get confusing when you start asking more questions; there are also other factors such as gender, time of the month (for women), bone density, etc. I'm not a doctor or dietician, but I will give you my own experience. At my time of writing this, I am 150.6 lbs, 12.2% body fat, and my skeletal muscle mass is 74.5 lbs (wahoo! about half of my weight is muscle!) I'm only consuming 70-100g of protein per day. I never "try" to get more protein, I just eat within my caloric goals, and those are the numbers I'm seeing.
The point is, I don't even "try" to hit a protein goal; I have a caloric goal (it's currently 1400/day), and as long as I stay near that, I'm fine. I personally feel America is over-obsessed with protein, yet has no idea the importance of fiber in their diets.
This photo was taken the same day I took the body fat composition test that yielded a 12.2% result.
For more information on the dangers of higher-protein diets, I highly recommend the book Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis.
Are carbs "bad"?
The short answer, no. But, don't get too excited yet; this requires a bit more of an explanation. First, let's define what carbohydrates are, then distinguish the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs.
Carbohydrates are your body's primary source for energy and one of the three macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat). They are all essential for life. Carbohydrates are made up of three main components; fiber, starch and sugar. Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is simple.
When people are asked what they think carbohydrates are, they usually say things like, "bread", "pasta", etc. Although these are examples of high-carb foods, they are not the only examples.
Simple carbs should be avoided, and include (but aren't limited to) the following:
Soda, Baked Deserts, Cookies, Fruit Juice Concentrates, Cereal, most processed foods
Complex carbs are packed with more nutrients, are more filling, and have been proven to be ideal for patients with Type 2 Diabetes because they help manage blood sugar spikes after meals.
Examples of complex carbs:
Fiber rich fruit (such as apples, berries, bananas, tomatoes, pears, grapefruit, etc.) vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains
In summary, eat more of the complex carbohydrates and less of the simple versions.
Ok, so what do I eat?
This is another complicated answer, depending on what your goals are. For basic fat-loss, or for people just starting out, use the BMR calculator, combined with a food-tracking app (as mentioned above) to stick within your caloric range. At this stage, your macros aren't as important as they will be for those with bodybuilding goals. Your ratio of carbs vs fat can vary depending on your goals as well.
We can discuss this more in depth with a Nutrition Consultation, depending on what your goals are, and where you're currently at, but according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, they recommend the following:
- 45-65% of calories from carbs
- 20-35% of calories from fats
- 10-35% of calories from proteins
Remember, calories from each macronutrient vary as well (I can't stress enough how much easier this will be for you, if you track everything with an app). Here's the breakdown:
- Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
- Fats provide 9 calories per gram
- Protein provides 4 calories per gram
Some people do better eating more fats, some with more carbohydrates, and some with more protein; this is once again dependent on goals an current status. I personally find meals that help me reach my protein goals, then figure out some ratio of carbs to fat that still align with my caloric goals. Since fat has more calories than carbohydrates per gram, I tend to eat more carbs than fat, just so I can eat more food and still stay within my daily caloric goals.
My biggest recommendation for anyone, especially those just starting out, is learn to cook at home! Eating out, even if it's a "healthy" restaurant, packs your diet with unwanted fats, calories, sodium and preservatives. Speaking of sodium, we haven't even begun to talk about micronutrients. We can save that for another time (MyFitnessPal also tracks this).
Below, I've included an idea of what some of the more common restaurant foods are, and how you can swap them out with your own foods at home.
Nutritional information and photos of restaurant meals were gathered from each restaurant's website.
Guacamole: 460 calories
Queso (small): 240 calories
Chips (small): 540 calories
Pomegranate Drink: 240 calories
Total Meal Calories: 2430 calories
Sourdough, 2 slices: 420 calories
Butter (1" x1" x 1/2" piece): 36 calories
Lemonade (1 glass): 150 calories
Hash Browns: 180 calories
Total Meal Calories: 1676