When you want to build muscle, maintain your current mass, or lose body fat, you will need to change your caloric intake and/ or caloric composition. How can you do that if you don’t know what you are currently taking in? Answer: You can’t.
I spent the better part of my competition career haphazardly cutting foods out of my diet when my fat loss stalled. Looking back at the order of the foods I would typically cut, there lacked method (from a food composition standpoint) to the madness. I would cut out an apple but leave in a banana. I would remove white rice but leave in brown rice. I would take out both brown and white rice but leave in sweet potato. These are all carbohydrate sources, with various amounts of fiber, yes, but they are still carbohydrate sources, and I could very well have made an even exchange of grams between the two foods or exchanged for additional grams of carbohydrates unknowingly.
I would also sometimes cut far more calorically than I needed to using this blind method; looking back I could have been more comfortable eating more calories as well as some of my favorite foods, for much longer than I did. Why didn’t I do that? Why did some exchanges or caloric cutbacks work and some left me puzzled? Because at that time I wasn’t practicing tracking macronutrients.
Most of you know I have taken this entire year off from competing to build roughly 4 or so lbs of lean muscle mass. Yes, that’s correct, 4 lbs. To build muscle naturally, it is going to take a lot of lifting the weights and the fork. That is why I sometimes have to control my eye rolls at the women who think they will bulk up overnight- it just isn’t going to happen without the conscious effort. To build this muscle, I had to make sure my body was in a caloric surplus. I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Layne Norton through my reverse diet where we increased my intake by an additional 800 calories per day while I cut back my cardio sessions to two short stints per week. Bret Contreras helped me gain strength (I started powerlifting) to help me build my muscle mass. Without knowing how much I was eating, I would never have been able to make the necessary changes to my physique. I would not know how much to consume to maintain, I would not know how much to consume during this time to build, and I subsequently would not know where to start my fat loss to cut. I would be hoping and praying and wishing things were lining up as they should. It is common to hear people say “I eat so healthy but I am not seeing results.” Who wants to play that guessing game? Changing your physique is hard work, don’t spin your wheels and waste your time!
Another big reason I believe you need to know the basic compositions of foods is so you can consciously make health and goal related decisions accordingly when faced with real life dining situations- like a party at a friend’s, a lunch date, appetizers with co-workers. In my opinion, you shouldn’t be skipping these events to lose weight. Taking willpower out of the equation, when you are at a restaurant you should be able to choose low-fat protein sources by glancing at the menu, align your restaurant order with your goals and macronutrient and micronutrient needs, and have a fantastic time with your friends without eating from Tupperware. Learn the compositions of foods, and you will be free to know how to fuel your body properly even if a situation that is less than ideal occurs.
Until I knew how to count macros properly, I was on my diet, or I was off. I ate according to my meal plan at the time and if I was out of something it set a panic through my body. With my perfectionist personality, I would get frustrated, and often eat whatever I wanted because “the day is ruined anyways.” Tracking helps me still have something when I’m hungry, and then alter the rest of my day accordingly to meet my needs. If I do want something of low quality, I can fit that in, and move on guilt free.
Don’t spin your wheels any longer. Figuring out what your body needs is so freeing and quiets the noise around you. There are so many articles with conflicting nutrition advice that it can be incredibly overwhelming. Keep it simple. Learn your macronutrients for your body, learn the basic compositions of foods, and you decide which quality foods suit you best!
As our motto says: get fit eating the foods you love with a training plan you enjoy!
I hope this tempted you to see what you are consuming!