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Food & Nutrition Basics: Surplus and Deficit

Alright, ladies and gentleman, what we have here is a crash course on our diets and how we can manipulate them based on our needs or goals. This is a gross over-simplifiied, yet, effective way to structure our eating patterns to get what we desire out of the energy/food we consume.

There are many sites on the internet that are going to fill your head with "you need this supplement, or have to pay for this book and or diet, to get the results you want." Excuse my language please, I apologize in advance, but that is complete and total bullshit. That’s not what this article is for, if you prefer wasting money, by all means head back to Google and continue your search. In my opinion information such as living a healthy life or something that contributes to someone feeling good about themselves should be free plain and simple.

The shortcomings that most people seem to have when trying to reach any sort of goal involving diet is, they lack commitment or over-complicate things. When dealing with healthy individuals, lacking any sort of metabolic deficiencies, we have a properly functioning body that is able to either: a.) increase their body weight (assuming lean muscle mass) or b.) decrease their bodyweight, shedding unwanted fat, following a simple eating pattern.

Whether you are trying to gain or lose weight to get in better physical shape or feel a little better about yourself; you can easily manipulate your diet to reach your goals without starving yourself or obsessively dieting. Anyone in this world is capable of setting a goal and reaching it. It may take a little more time to do it the right way BUT the results will be much more maintainable, sustainable and easier on your psyche.

Soapbox rant over, let’s get into a few simple rules about our diets and the food we consume. A calorie is a unit of measure given to food based on the amount of energy needed to essentially "burn" (digest) the food. For each macronutrient we consume is an allotted amount of energy (calories)/g that is a direct indicator on the amount of energy it provides the body with. Our bodies utilize energy each and every second of every day for blinking, breathing, swallowing and all other body processes that go on throughout the day.

Ok, now let’s take things one step further, each individual has what is known as a BMR, which means a basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy (food) needed to keep your body functioning without including any physical activity or additional energy expenditures, which means specifically, if you consume the amount of calories needed to supply your BMR and do not have any additional energy expenditures added you will not lose nor gain weight because you are supplying your body with enough fuel to stay exactly how it is. Conversely, if you do not supply your body with the amount of calories (energy) needed to maintain your BMR, you will lose weight. Stay with me because this rule of energy in and energy out is extremely important in achieving our goals.

Let’s take a look at how our food contributes to our overall caloric intake. Within our energy intake (diets), we have what are known as macronutrients and micronutrients. We’re going to take a look at macronutrients first as they contribute directly to our overall total calorie intake. Don’t worry, I said things would be simple and they will be. There are just a few basics to cover to help you achieve your goals!

Back on topic, when talking about macronutrients we are talking about protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These macronutrients all come with them their own set kcalorie allotment per gram. This looks as such:

Fat – 9 calories/gram

Protein – 4 calories/gram

Carbohydrates – 4 calories/gram

There is another non-nutrient that contributes extensively to total calorie intake, alcohol, coming in at 7 kilocalories per gram. Alcohol is extra energy that does not contribute any nutrition to your body and if not consumed with caution can very easily blunt your goals of fat loss and living a healthy lifestyle. Another topic for another time, moral of the story, beware of alcohol’s ability to quickly increase caloric intake. I’ll write another article on the effects of alcohol at another time.

Very briefly, I would like to take the time to touch on micronutrients. Micronutrients are comprised of vitamins and minerals and are extremely important for overall health and meeting your diet goals. Although micronutrients do not directly contribute energy, they do play crucial roles in the facilitation of creating energy by acting as enzymes (catalysts) to endogenous (within the body) processes. They are also important for protein synthesis, fat oxidation, and overall proper functioning body. This is why nutritionists and dietitians stress eating a well-balanced diet, full of variety, consisting of nutrient dense foods.

​Think of your body as a self-regulated machine that needs fuel; food and the digested end result of food are the fuel. Again, another topic for another time, but just know that eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables was drilled into our heads as young children for a reason. And DO NOT buy into the misinformed notion of not being able to eat fruits or that fruits are bad for you.

Moving right along, we’ve discussed macronutrients, micronutrients and basal metabolic rates. Now we’ll get into what I promised in the beginning - showing you how easy it really is to make little changes to your diet that will leave you achieving your diet goals and actually being able to stick to them. I’d like to also just take some time real quick to first dispel the negative connotation that comes with the word diet. We’re not dieting guys, we’re eating to achieve a goal, period. Your diet is the food that you consume. Think about it, when you go in to see your doctor does he say, “What does your diet look like? Are you trying to lose fat or gain muscle?” No, he does not, when someone asks you about your diet, they’re specifically referring to what you consume for energy not what sort of feeding protocol you may be trying at the time.

Eating with a goal in mind

That is all we’re doing, eating with a purpose. Here is all it takes to reach your goals – eat either under or over your total necessary caloric intake, done. You are welcome and goodnight! Seriously people, that is how you reach your goals, it really can be that easy. Physiologically, your body when given a caloric surplus will gain weight, when you give your body less calories than it needs, you will lose weight. Do not complicate the body, there are certain physiological responses that the body just does and this is one of them. Eat more than you need gain weight, eat less than you need lose weight. As long as someone does not have any sort of metabolic issues this is how the body works.

We already talked about our basal metabolic rates now we’ll put it all together and take into account how our bodies work when doing activity. For example, say you work in construction, a very rigorous career and during your workday, you expend an additional 1000 calories during your day.

Crunch the numbers:

We once had a BMR of 2000 calories without adding in the additional energy expenditure of work.

Now, we have a BMR of 2000 + an additional energy expenditure of 1000, thus, making total energy expenditure throughout the day 3000 cals.

What this means for us - to stay the same, once the additional energy expenditure has been accounted for you would need to consume 3000 calories a day. That is just to maintain, not lose or gain and not accounting for any other tasks throughout the day that would require additional energy. Therefore, if Joe the construction worker also goes to exercise after work he would then need to account for the even further added energy requirements.

Now that we have a base level of understanding we’ll take a look at each specific goal and please, if you have any questions drop them in the comment sections.

Weight loss

There are multiple ways that we can reach our goals of weight loss. Exercise, one of the easiest and healthiest ways to induce weight loss is my number one recommendation. Exercise not only aids in weight loss but it also improves overall health and is a great outlet for stress reduction. Exercise also triggers an endorphin release, which will make you feel good. There are so many benefits that to avoid exercise just doesn’t make sense to me. Exercise can be done anywhere and is as easy as going for a walk. People can lose weight just by including exercise and continuing to eat the way they do - as long as the exercise makes up for the surplus of calories. For example:

If someone needs 2000 calories to maintain and they eat 2100 calories, if they exercise or are active, creating an energy expenditure of 200 calories, they will then be brought down to a remaining caloric intake of 1900, thus creating a deficit! Math is fun!

Weight Gain

One of the main questions I get at the fire station and when working with a client is, "what can I take to gain muscle? I eat and eat and eat, yet I can’t get big!” My response to that is easy, eat more and they usually respond with “No that’s not it, I eat like 8,000 calories a day.” However, upon analyzing what they really eat throughout their day, they actually are eating just barely enough to maintain. The fact of the matter is the same as if you want to lose weight but the opposite. For weight loss, we eat at a deficit and for adding weight; we eat at a surplus, the end.

The best advice I can give to anyone trying to reach a goal in regards to weight is not to obsess over it. This is unless of course, you are a competing athlete in which case, you should likely hire a coach, a good one. Not a bullshit guru, or some fad sensation but a coach with credentials and practical working experience. So many other things in life will be all consuming of your time and energy.

Exercise and nutrition should be a positive force in your life, not something that adds to your stress. The goal here is to increase quality of life by living healthier. In further postings soon to come we will dissect macronutrient ratios that are best used in different settings such as carbohydrate to protein ratios for optimal recovery, muscle preservation, fat loss or adding lean body mass.

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