Reducing body fat and building muscle can be a very difficult maze to map. Today there is a huge range of diets and plans available anywhere and everywhere. With the rise of social media, we have seen many fitness models and bodybuilders produce their own diet and training regimes all to make an income from what they love. Some of these diets and programs are great, some not so much. So what should you look for in a diet plan? Well, first of all, it really is about getting back to basics!
There are a few ordered steps that need to be addressed in order to establish an effective plan. These steps are viewed as a hierarchy by many reputable, science-based training and nutritional experts. Not only will they help you to know what to look for in a diet, but they will help you to understand which stage needs more attention, before you move on to the next.
1 - Caloric Intake: This stage applies to everybody! Especially those starting out on their weight-loss journey. It is absolutely fundamental to ensure you have addressed this step before moving on to any other. In this step, you need to assess if the amount of calories you are eating is right for you. This is dependent on many factors including weight, height, body fat percentage, activity level, training age/experience, training frequency/intensity, goals and lifestyle factors. We burn calories all day, every day, however, increasing activity level can increase this energy expenditure. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume, and if you want to gain, you will need to consume more than you burn. A well designed diet or nutritional plan will assess you as an individual and guide you on how much to eat in terms of caloric intake.
2 - Macronutrient Split: ‘Macro’, short for macronutrient, refers to the types of foods that make up calories. These are Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates. Each gram of macronutrient holds a specific number of calories and a specific function for the body. If a diet does not address the macro nutrient split, you can safely say that it is not a well-designed diet, as macronutrient split is one of the big influencers of body composition. It is important to address each macronutrient to maximise results, based on your goals and training style. The more specific you are, the more accurate your results. Each person needs a specific number of proteins each day. This should not change too dramatically unless you have gained a significant amount of muscle (in which case you would have already been increasing protein intake and adjusting as you grow), or unless you are a competitor of fitness or bodybuilding and are on a very low calorie plan (deficit). A well designed plan will calculate your protein intake and adjust your fat and carbohydrate intake according your goals.
3 - Micronutrients: Micronutrients are the chemical elements or substances required in small amounts for the normal growth and development of living organisms. These are essential vitamins and minerals. In this stage you need to assess the quality of the food. Does the diet or plan provide a variety of vitamin and mineral dense foods, or is it restrictive and boring? There are some issues that arise from restrictive and boring diets. First, a restrictive diet can never be healthy as it does not offer the complex range of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. Nor are you likely to be able to stick to the diet because you may become vitamin and mineral deficient, fall sick, get bored, succumb to cravings and lack energy.
4 - Nutrient Timing: Nutrient timing is addressed in many diet plans. However, it is not essential in achieving your desired body composition. Firstly address your caloric intake, macronutrient split and micronutrient intake. Nutrient timing can be of use when in a deficit or surplus of calories. We can use Nutrient timing for specific functions like aiding recovery, improving performance and maximising muscle protein synthesis.
5 - Supplementation: Finally, we are all familiar with the supplement industry! It is huge and rightly so. Supplements are a great tool for most. They can be used to address deficiencies in the diet, improve performance and aid recovery. However, they will not be the deciding factor in your weight-loss success. Supplements will NEVER replace real food. The idea really is to SUPPLEMENT your intake. For example, if you are struggling to eat your totals of protein each day, or simply would like to make a nice tasting smoothie, go right ahead and add your protein powder. Supplements are not necessary; they are more like an accessory. Research your supplements and decide if they are the right ones for you and if really need them.
So please do not be fooled, you will not grow muscle and lose body fat because you sipped a protein shake after a workout. Instead, your long term results will come from ensuring your caloric intake is in alliance with your goals, you eat the right portions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, you are in optimal health, you are consistent with your training program and you give yourself TIME! Remember health and wellness is a lifelong need. Make it your goal to be healthy for life. Look for a sustainable lifestyle by prioritising what is most important. By following this method, you will ensure you are on the right path; the path to success.