What should I eat? Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I was asked that. My answer? It depends.
First off, we have to start with how many calories you burn each day. The easy rule is your weight x 10 = your BMR. (Basal Metabolic Rate). No, that’s not very accurate but it’s a start. At the gym we use a state-of-the-art Body Composition Analyzer to find out for sure. Next we need to know how much you burn through exercise and movement and divide that into a daily average.
Then we add your ADL (Activities of Daily Living). How much you move each day in general and taking into account work – is it an office job, or construction? Plus, we factor in your SDA (food digestion is called Specific Dynamic Action). All that put together gets us a start by letting us know how much to feed you.
Now, a calorie is not just a calorie. Meaning this – let’s say we do the math and figure out that you need to consume 2,200 calories a day. Great, but you cannot just eat twolitres of ice cream per day and call it good (I wish). It doesn’t work that way.
You see – ice cream (for example) is all simple carbohydrates and fat. It burns at a certain rate and offers certain things to the body, mostly just fuel. Fuel in excess turns to fat no matter what the source and simple carbohydrates go almost directly to fat.
This is where the food choices you eat matter more than just the calories in that food. It is what you eat that really counts – protein, carbohydrates and fat. We have all heard of them, but many folks have no idea what they really are.
Protein is what we use to build new tissue – replacement parts if you will (one of the books I wrote is called If Your Body Were a Car, You Wouldn’t Treat it This Way – so I use that analogy a lot). Without complete proteins we cannot heal or replace tissue like skin, bones, even brain tissue. We must have protein to heal and to grow. Protein provides four calories per gram and actually can be used as fuel if carbohydrates are not present. Protein is meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and is in dairy and a few alternates like Tofu.
Fat is a slow burning fuel and very calorically dense at nine calories per gram. So we need less of it by weight because it offers more fuel. Fat is essential for cellular health, joint health and brain health (your brain is 78% cholesterol). Fat is any oi, or butter, nuts and seeds, avocados, etc.
Carbohydrates are pure fuel – like gasoline. If you eat too many carbs, you build a bigger gas tank, simple as that. Like protein, carbs have four calories per gram. The most over abused carb is sugar and second is refined wheat. To put it simply – we eat too much of that stuff. Vegetables and fruit are also carbs and they are the best kind of carbs.
Every different diet plan, from vegan, to ketogenic, to raw food, to intermittent fasting can all be proven to be ‘right’ through research and that’s the problem. They cannot all be right, so the question becomes what’s right for you. And again, the answer is – that depends. It depends on your lifestyle, your habits, your digestion, your health, your age, your gender, your heritage and more.
The best thing you can do is pick a base starting plan and give it enough time to really be tested. Adjust according to how your body reacts and find the best plan for you. Trying a new fad diet every few months will never work and moderation always makes the most sense.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.