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Add one kilogram of lean muscle mass per month

Here's how I added 6kg of muscle in 6 months this year. I thought you might like to know!

How scientific should your approach to nutrition be?

Here's an article I wrote a while back which seems to have vanished from the site I submitted it to. Whatever, screw those guys I'll just post it here instead!

I'm a recent convert to the IIFYM aka "If It Fits Your Macros" theory on nutrition, which basically says you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight, as long as you end up at the appropriate amount of calories from proteins, fats and carbohydrates. With that being said, here's the article... starting... NOW.

Depending on your goals, you may or may not require a very thorough and scientific approach to nutrition and calorie counting.

Nutrition plays a big part in any fitness program, whether you are trying to burn some fat and get into a healthy weight range, or trying to gain weight and lean muscle mass. How complicated it has to be depends a lot on how specific your goal is, and what sort of time frame or deadline you have set in which to reach it.

For people who simply want to get into better shape, be more lean and become healthier, you can expect some results just by cutting out junk food, drinking water instead of soda and starting a basic exercise program with walking and perhaps some bodyweight resistance exercises. For people with more specific or more ambitious goals, a more thorough approach will be required.

As an example, if you want to look like a bikini model you need to eat like a bikini model, and if you want to look like a competitive bodybuilder you will need to eat (and train!) like a competitive bodybuilder.

As a personal trainer I often tell my clients; if you want to look better than average, you need better than average nutrition. If you want to look like a fitness model, you need virtually flawless nutrition. For many people who have more ordinary goals, it's sufficient to have just "good" nutritional habits from day to day, with the occasional treat or cheat meal when they really feel like it. Combined with an effective training program and some patience this is enough for most people to progress towards their goal of improved health and fitness.

So before we continue I'll just reinforce the previous point, it is not always necessary for the average person to have highly strict and restrictive eating habits in order to achieve some results from a fitness program. However, those with more lofty ambitions or those who have reached a plateau where results seem to have become fewer and further between may need to look closer at their nutrition and develop a plan specific to their goal.

Whenever I am asked for advice from someone who feels like their progress has stalled, one of the first questions I ask will be "what is your daily calorie intake?". More often than not, they will not be able to answer this question, or even know what their daily target of calories should be. Most people feel that because they are working so hard in the gym or on the track they have earned the results that they desire, but without knowing your current intake of calories and being able to compare it to your required amounts, how can you really have any strong expectation of the specific results you should achieve? When you have a specific goal and time frame in mind, nutrition really is just as important, if not more important than exercise alone.

For these people it is not enough just to train hard - they need to take a very scientific and mathematical approach to nutrition. It is necessary to know the required amount of calories, and make sure their actual intake of calories is correct. This can be determined by calculating a maintenance level of calories and adding or subtracting depending on your goal (ie weight loss or weight gain). It's important to keep in mind, if the daily calorie intake is too low the body will attempt to store and conserve as much energy as possible, which makes it very difficult to achieve any fat loss regardless of how hard you might be training.

Having determined our maintenance and target levels of daily calories, we also need to ensure that the ratio of calories from protein, carbohydrates and fats is correct as well. Further to this, we should be concerned with the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats, sugars to other carbohydrates, and the amount of dietary fibre consumed daily.

Every person is a unique individual and will achieve their best results from a different ratio, but taking 40% of calories from protein and 30% each from carbohydrates and fats is a good place to start. If necessary, each individual can experiment with slightly higher or lower carbs than fats and decide on which ratio works best for them.

There are numerous calorie and macronutrient counters available online, including many free resources.

Why you are not reaching your goal weight.

I made a post on my TUMBLR because there seems to be so many people doing it all wrong with starvation diets and so forth. Hopefully a couple of 'em will read this and get the right idea!

IIFYM: If It Fits Your Macros

This “If It Fits Your Macros” or IIFYM approach to eating seems to be really growing in popularity so I am going to go over the facts as I see them for educational purposes.

First off, for those of you who just don’t know, “macros” is short for “macronutrients” and refers to the ratio of calories sourced from protein, carbohydrates or fats within your total daily intake. Unless you’re one of those fortunate people who seems to be able to just get it right by intuition, if you have a specific body composition goal (for example; reduce body fat, increase muscle mass) in mind, you are going to need to consume the right amount of calories each day, with the right balance of macronutrients.
In short, “if it fits your macros” has become the default answer for a lot of people to any question along the lines of “can I eat [insert type of food] and still lose weight?” In other words “eat whatever you want, as long as you end up hitting your nutritional targets”.

Generally speaking, I like this approach. But lets look at the pros and cons to see how it really works out.

The Good.

Obviously the best part is that you get to eat whatever the hell you want, rather than following some restrictive, boring “diet plan” some clown marketing person has come up with. Bottom line, if you’re not enjoying what you’re eating, you’re going to struggle to keep to the plan. So by eating the foods that you enjoy and even the odd treat thrown in, you’re far more likely to stick to the plan long term.

Now as far as the science goes… here’s the theory in rather simple terms; on a daily basis, you’re either eating (a) enough food to gain weight, (b) enough food to lose weight, or (c) precisely the right amount of food to maintain your current weight. Pretty simple right? Regardless of the amount or frequency of meals, high or low GI, etc etc, you are either getting the correct amount of calories to achieve your goal, or you are not. Simple!  Of course, as the body uses different types of calories for different purposes, you need to get the balance of macronutrients right as well. Not necessarily down to the last percentage point, but somewhere in the vicinity.

The Bad.

This of course means that you have to do your homework, and actually learn about your calorific and macronutrient requirements, as well as the breakdown of calories in the foods that you eat regularly. I really think you should be doing this anyway though, if you really want to be in control of your destiny in as far as reaching your fitness / body composition goals.

Of course nothing in life is as simple as “just eat whatever you want”. You CAN eat whatever you want, but of course the more empty calories (aka junk food) you consume, the harder it is to end up arriving at your nutritional targets. So, with careful planning you might be able to sneak in that treat in the mid afternoon, but you’ll need to compensate at other times of the day with meal choices that are higher in protein and lower in fats and or sugars.

The ugly.

So the bottom line is, hit your correct amount of total calories, with the correct balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates. All three of these macronutrients are important, and a surplus or lack of any one of them will hamper your efforts in achieving your goals.

This next part seems to often be overlooked by proponents of the IIFYM philosophy; it’s easy to say “meal times, glycemic index and so forth are not important as long as you hit your macros”, BUT you also want to make it through the day without feeling like you’re starving, right? So it is often best (depending on your targets and your goals, of course) to choose foods that will keep you feeling full for longer, and contain less calories in a larger serving size. Junk food is called junk food because it tends to be the opposite, aka large amount of calories in a small serving, but even “junk food” won’t make you fat if your total energy intake is not inappropriate.

So there you have it, people. Actually, I would have said “make it fit your macros” is probably a better choice of phrase, because if you want to indulge in some treats, you do have to make allowances for it.

Want more?

This is quite an old entry and who would have known when I wrote it that I’d go on to become a well known IIFYM or (as we now call it) Flexible Dieting specialist. If you’d like a lot more information in line with current best practices, head on over to the Online Coaching page and drop your details in the box.


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