I had the privilege of sitting down with Rex Wellness Center’s dietitian, Shelly Wegman, last week to talk a little bit about my own nutrition habits and diet concerns. I initially set up my meeting with Shelly to discuss how my diet may be affecting my energy levels, weight loss, and overall health. Prior to our meeting I was working to stay under a 1200 calorie limit. I used no information to come to this number other than what is readily accessible on the internet for caloric guidelines for women my age. So one of the first things we addressed was my caloric needs. With my schedule the way it is, teaching up to 15 classes per week, often playing 1-2 rounds of golf, and sometimes doing my own personal workouts in addition, she agreed that I might need to stick to closer to 2000 calories especially if I felt comfortable with the weight I was currently. So that led me to my first question. How can a diet of calorie restriction result in stagnant weight loss or even weight gain? Since we often get lost in the fancy lingo and scientific jargon, Shelly broke it down for me very simply. Your body has a baseline of how many calories it needs to survive and this is usually around 1000-1200 calories without exercise. This number can vary greatly based on age, gender, the amount of lean muscle mass, sleep, etc. The body has this baseline of calories and if it is too low, the body begins to conserve energy. When we exercise, our muscle breaks down, and if our body is conserving energy, it will not allow the muscle to repair and rebuild. Our body also needs fluid in order to rebuild and during this inflammation process, the body retains fluid. All of this often results in a stagnation of weight loss, weight gain, and lethargy. A person can often tell that they are operating in this state due to their lack of muscle strength and overall fatigue. So that explains some of what I’ve been feeling.
Next we talked about Macros. Hmmm. What exactly are Macros? Macros are short for macronutrients. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. They contain calories and calories equal energy. Micronutrients, conversely, are vitamins and minerals and contain no calories. Proteins contain 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram. A healthy, well-rounded diet contains a variety of healthy foods from each of these macronutrient categories but the percentages vary based on your own personal nutrition needs. Typically you will see 40-60% of calories coming from carbohydrates, 15-30% from fat, and 20-30% from protein. After speaking with Shelly about my personal nutrition needs based on the amount of exercise I do and classes I teach, we tweaked it slightly but stayed within those ranges. Since I have no dietary restrictions or allergies, this was fairly simple for me to manage. I usually use My Fitness Pal to track my calorie intake. Now I had a more solid understanding of not only calories, but macros, and luckily My Fitness Pal can track that too. The discussion of macros brought me to another question I had. On a regular basis, I encounter people who talk about protein consumption and how much they need versus how much that are consuming. How much protein does one really need? I often hear people say they need 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of body weight. That seems like an awful lot of protein to me. Shelly gave me a little clarity on this. First, the formula is actually .8-2 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight (or 2.2 lbs). And typically 2 grams of protein would be the VERY most protein and prescribed to only the most in need such as a burn victim. Even body builders wouldn’t need quite so much. Typically, the average person who is working out 3-5 days per week would need between 1 and 1.3 grams at the most. For someone like me, she recommended no more than 1.5 grams but I would be fine with 1 gram. So we will do the math using my body weight as the example. I am currently around 135 lbs. This equals about 61.36 kilogram. My range (1-1.5 grams per kilo) would be between 61 and 92 grams of protein per day. Always keep in mind that the protein that is not used will be eliminated and this puts additional stress on the kidneys. Also, the protein should be spread out throughout the day to maximize muscle building and performance. We should be consuming between 15-30% of our calories from protein. In my case, this would equal about 244 to 368 calories of protein per day. I hope this clarifies things a little bit when it comes to protein consumption.
The discussion of protein intake brought me to another question I had for Shelly: Does it make a difference when we consume our calories during the day? For instance, I have a client that tries to stay below 1800 calories. Throughout the morning and afternoon he will consume very few calories even with a workout or two in the mix. In the evening he has a bunch of calories left to consume and he eats them all at once prior to going to bed. So what does it matter when we consume the calories, just as long as we stay within our range? Well, it matters a lot. Shelly explained to me that our body works on a 24 hour cycle and it needs fuel throughout the day. When the fuel runs out, it begins to pull from its reserves. Much like consuming too little, the body begins to operate in a state of starvation and will not repair the muscles that it has broken down. When it does get the fuel later on, when it doesn’t necessarily need it, it will store all that excess that it doesn’t use. This can end up leading to the opposite effect and result in stagnating weight loss, weight gain, increased fatigue, and decreased performance. In order to maximize the muscle repair, muscle building, and performance, you must spread out the consumption throughout the day and ensure that you are getting the appropriate fuel when you need it.
I am in the process of setting up a follow up appointment with Shelly to discuss how the changes in my diet have improved my performance, weight management, and fatigue and I will follow up with another blog post. In the meantime, please email me with any questions or concerns and I will try to address them.