I hate the word diet. It makes me angry. Not because I have anything wrong with the actual function of the word, what it means.. but what people think it means. When I hear diet, I bet I hear something completely different from you. You hear your co-worker or friend talk about the new diet they are trying. West coast, Atkins, beach body, cayenne lemon juice (wtf), etc. Diet to most people means a shortcut, a cure to being lazy. Diet isn’t a 30 day miracle trend, it’s not a fad thing that will spontaneously generate the results some ad said in a magazine. A diet doesn’t exist. It is imaginary.
Diet is a lifestyle, plain and simple. If you look at diet from a temporary, magic answer point of view, you will fail. Sorry to burst your bubble. In order to obtain your goals and eat properly, you have to change your scope. You have to start looking at the things you eat, and asking yourself if it contains the proper nutrients you need to obtain your goals. You don’t just go around pouring piss and vinegar into your car and hoping it will run, do you? Why would you do the same to your body?
Ok. So that is out of the way. Now, lets look at some of the basics of a proper diet.
What is a Calorie?
Marketing and advertising would make you think that Calories are magical, tangible objects that live in your food and turn you into a fatass. It is baffling how often Calories are brought to the front, labeled on packages in bright circles. Calories are portrayed as metered things, tangible units of things. It’s not really all that complicated though.
A Calorie is a unit of measurement. That’s it. Like a degree, a pound, an inch. Not that scary, huh? Calories are a unit to measure the amount of energy foods contain. Once you understand what a Calorie is and realize that it is just means a certain amount of fuel for your body, you are on the right path. Different macro nutrients have varying amounts of Calories. This information is important when understanding the food choices you make.
Calories break down like this:
Fats – 9 Calories per gram
Carbs – 4 Calories per gram
Protein – 4 Calories per gram
Fats are very Calorie dense. This isn’t a bad thing.. I’m sure all your life you have heard that fats are bad. You see 0 fat, low fat, less fat all over the place. Fat has been vilified, turned into the devil. Fats aren’t bad for you. Fats are actually good for you. You need fats to survive. The misconception about fats is due to the fact that they are very Calorie dense. They have over double the amount of Calories as a similar serving of carbs or protein. This means that the spoonfull of peanut butter you ate has a lot of Calories. Remember, fats aren’t bad, but they are Calorie dense, so be cognizant of the amount of fat you consume and the amount of Calories it contains (this can be a good thing if you are bulking).
Carbs. Another villain. You constantly see low carb, no carb, carb free, etc.. Carbs aren’t evil either; they provide essential energy to your muscles (in the form of glycogen). We need to understand the difference between Simple Carbohydrates (aka shitty carbs) – the kind found in sugar, candy, donuts, etc and Complex Carbohydrates (aka good carbs) – the kind found in sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole wheat, etc. You want the food you eat to contain complex carbs. Simple carbs have no place in a proper diet (with very few exceptions). Learn the difference between foods that have a good carb profile.
Protein. If you have read any bodybuilding or fitness forum, you have seen protein mentioned at least 700 times. You see protein shakes everywhere, ads for ULTIMATE WHEY BLASTER 8000, and a million other supplements that promise a godlike physique in 30 days or less. The whole topic of protein shakes and supplements will take its own post (the TL:DR is that you probably don’t even need the shake you are drinking right now. Supplements should be taken to SUPPLEMENT a diet!). The basic gist of protein is this: It is primarily found in dead animals, or things that dead animals make. This means meat. You are consuming the flesh of animals to gain their power. Protein does a lot of stuff. It is essential in building muscle, as well as keeping you satiated. Protein breaks down into amino acids through digestion, which then get carted off to rebuild muscle.
When you look at food, you have to look at it in two ways. Food has a Caloric content, and a nutrient content. Like, for example: Peanuts have a ton of protein, so they must be good for you right? But they also have a ton of Calories, so they must be bad for you, right? When determining which foods to eat, you have to look at the two things separately. The Caloric content of a food does not determine how “healthy” the food is. Sure, it can provide some indications, but still; you can be nutritionally starving but still eat 5000 Calories. Know how to differentiate between the two and you are on the right path.
Use the above macro breakdowns as a guideline when figuring out what to eat. Learn to count macros instead of calories, and eating becomes much easier. When you know you have to eat 150 grams of protein in a day, it makes it hard for you to eat shitty foods and still come in at your deficit. The same goes when bulking; Its hard to hit 3500 Calories a day when you are eating salads and broccoli for every meal.
Calories in vs Calories out:
All too often you hear people talk about carbs will make you fat, fats will make you fat, etc. You hear about how evil carbs are, or how fat free is your savior.. this isn’t exactly the truth. As we discussed earlier, each of these macro nutrients has a different caloric content. Use those contents in order to plan and structure your meals based on their caloric content.
It takes roughly 3500 Calories to make a pound of fat. If your TDEE is somewhere around 2500 Calories, that means that you would need to eat an additional 500 Calories a day for a week in order to gain a pound. The math is the same on the other end; if you are trying to lose a pound, you have to eat at a deficit of 3500 Calories. Lets take the same person at a 2500 Calorie TDEE, they would need to eat 500 Calories less a day to lose the same pound. This number slides and can be modified as well.. if you want to gain/lose half a pound, modify the number accordingly.
So, what are these macro nutrients I have been talking about? Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats are found in varying amounts in nearly every food we eat. They each serve a different function in the body, but to keep it short, you need all of them in order to function efficiently. Carbs are not 100% essential for life, but they are vital if you are trying to grow muscle.
Proteins are generally found in dead animals and the stuff that dead animals make. Meat, dairy, eggs, etc. Protein can also be found in some grains/legumes/nuts (lentils, beans, cashews, etc). Protein is the building block of muscle, as it is broken down into amino acids that are used to rebuild your muscle. Protein is very satiating, which means it will fill you up faster and keep you feeling full for longer.
If you have ever read any popular bodybuilding forum, you have heard everything under the sun as far as optimal protein intake is concerned. 1g per pound of lean mass, 1.5 grams per pound, 2 grams per pound, etc. It can often be confusing to someone making a lifestyle change to know what to do. Fortunately for you, there have been several studies done on optimal protein intake for building lean mass, I will summarize a few:
Tarnopolsky et al. (1992) observed no differences in whole body protein synthesis or indexes of lean body mass in strength athletes consuming either 0.64g/lb or 1.10g/lb over a 2 week period. Protein oxidation did increase in the high protein group, indicating a nutrient overload.
Walberg et al. (1988) found that 0.73g/lb was sufficient to maintain positive nitrogen balance in cutting weightlifters over a 7 day time period.
Tarnopolsky et al. (1988) found that only 0.37g/lb was required to maintain positive nitrogen balance in elite bodybuilders (over 5 years of experience, possible previous use of androgens) over a 10 day period. 0.45g/lb was sufficient to maintain lean body mass in bodybuilders over a 2 week period. The authors suggested that 0.55g/lb was sufficient for bodybuilders.
Lemon et al. (1992) found no differences in muscle mass or strength gains in novice bodybuilders consuming either 0.61g/lb or 1.19g/lb over a 4 week period. Based on nitrogen balance data, the authors recommended 0.75g/lb.
Hoffman et al. (2006) found no differences in body composition, strength or resting hormonal concentrations in strength athletes consuming either 0.77g/lb or >0.91g/lb over a 3 month period.
The take-away from all of this? Studies suggest that you only need roughly 0.82g/lb. All of those people that told you that you have to eat 2g/lb to see them gains were mistaken. What does this mean for you? I still tend to advise people to aim for 1g/lb, up to ~180g. Why? There are several reasons, food labeling isn’t precise, most people don’t count macros as accurately as they should, etc. Also.. for all of the science and technology we have.. we still don’t fully understand all of the mechanics behind building muscle. I tend to err on the side of caution and would rather eat slightly more than I need than slightly less.
Tips and Tricks:
Try intermittent fasting. No. Really. Do it.
Drink lots of cold water.
Caffeine is an appetite suppressant. If you are feeling hungry, drink a couple cups of coffee.
Sugar Free Sweet Pickles are a secret weapon. Find them and try them.
Keep yourself busy. If you are feeling hungry, go do something. Write something, play a game, etc. Keep yourself occupied and you will not notice it as much.
Take some additional fiber, toss some in your drinks, etc. Fiber helps you feel full.
Diet drinks are fine, but try to avoid gum/mints, etc. You think it would keep your mind off of it, but it actually stimulates your appetite.
Fats are your friend. Find a way to sneak them into everything. Making a protein shake? put a few TBSP of oil into your drink. Toss some peanut butter in your shake. Put oil on your sandwiches. Eat lots of peanut butter/almond butter, etc.
GOMAD – Gallon of Milk a Day. Roughly 2500 Calories in a gallon of milk. Drink it through the day.
You will feel like you can’t eat much food at first. This is normal, just make your self eat a little more every time. Eventually you will condition yourself to eat more.
A trick I like to do: make yourself eat a spoonfull of peanut butter whenever you do some act. Like, every time you get up to use the bathroom, on the way back to whatever you were doing, eat a spoonfull of peanut butter.
Bulking doesn’t mean you can eat shitty foods. Still eat clean foods.
Sprinkle Casein on your food. If you are eating yogurt or cereal or something, chocolate casein adds some good flavor and a nice amount of protein.