Now that you understand that you can't out train your diet and how incredibly important nutrition is achieving your health and fat loss goals, we're going to take a look at what matters most: calories! I'm sure you've heard the phrases "calories in vs. calories out", "burn more than you consume" and "move more, eat less" which are all gross oversimplifications of the law of thermodynamics which states: energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred.
When it comes to weight loss, this is the most important thing you can understand. Very simply, you MUST expend more energy than you are consuming!
Now I know what you must be thinking....
"That's TOO simple!"
"There's got to be more to it!"
"That can't work for everyone all the time...what about hormones, stress, (fill in the blank)!?"
Well, you're absolutely right! I agree!
There are plenty of external factors that will affect each individual's rate of fat loss such as the quality of foods you consume, undiagnosed hormonal issues, high levels of stress, genetics, lack of sleep and I'm sure there are plenty more factors. But these are all small rocks compared to caloric intake.
Does this mean I have to track calories?
Yes. And no. Well, it really depends on your personal preferences but the two easiest methods for attaining a caloric deficit would be 1) counting calories OR 2) just making better food choices.
Personally, I hate tracking calories. It's a pain in the ass, it's a lot of extra work, and I'm a pretty busy guy. Ain't nobody got time for that!
But it's also important to know that I make really, REALLY good food choices 90% of the time. Like REALLY good. Most of my meals are meat and vegetables but when I go out I know I'm on top of my calorie deficit and eat what I want....which is still pretty good in most cases. Ice-cream is my jam, though!
But for some people who just haven't the slightest clue what their daily caloric intake is, counting calories can go a LONG way towards keeping you honest until you reach your goals. Or at least have a good idea of where your daily intake is. Calorie trackers, pen and paper, or even emailing to an accountabilibuddy will work just fine.
P.S. - If you don't have an accountabilibuddy, we will be your accountabilibuddies. :-)
The other option, is to really hammer making good food choices or at the very least focusing on eating low calorie. Not NO-calorie because, well, food gives you energy to do things like be social, daily living, work, train, and save Gotham.
Quality, Quantity or Both?
The next question I'm going to answer is 'does what you eat matter'? In essence, yes. But when it comes to strict weight loss, it isn't nearly as important as quantity.
Let's take a look at a day of healthy eating and a short run with a calorie surplus of a 27 year old, 5'4'', 135lb fairly active female with average fitness. Let's say her BMR (basal metabolic rate) or caloric maintenance level is 1,416 calories/day....
Healthy Diet With Caloric Surplus
2 eggs (72cal), 1 cup oatmeal (166cal), 8oz skim milk (91cal), 8oz orange juice (110cal)
Snack #1 (240cal)
12oz protein shake (240cal)
10oz spaghetti and turkey meatballs (250cal), 1 med apple (103cal), 6oz Greek yogurt (120cal), 5-6 celery sticks (3cal)
1 medium banana (105cal), 8oz skim milk (91cal)
Workout = 2 mile run at a 10:00min/mi pace (-107cal)
12oz protein shake (240cal)
4oz baked chicken breast (216cal), 1/2 cup green beans (22cal), 6 strawberries (13cal), 1 large sweet potato (159cal), 8oz skim milk (91cal)
-1,523cal (expended: BMR + exercise)
As you can see, it's totally possible to be doing everything 'right' and eat like a boss and STILL gain weight. Sigh.
NOW let's take a look at that same woman with poor eating habits but eating less calories...
Poor Diet with Caloric Deficit
Workout #1 = 3 mile run at a 10:00min/mi pace (-161cal)
2 sausage links (124cal), 1 donut (190cal)
Snack #1 (447cal)
Grande Frappucino (447cal)
Workout #2 = 40 min total body strength training (-352cal)
2 slices cheese pizza (544cal), 1 chocolate chip cookie (48cal), 12oz soda (150cal)
Snack #2 (270cal)
4oz Ben & Jerry's Speculoos Cookie Core icecream (270cal)
-1,929cal (expended: BMR + exercise)
And here, you'll notice that you can eat like crap and still LOSE weight. But before you go throwing that whole 'you can't out train your diet' thing in my face it is important to know if you want to lose body fat and look good naked the QUALITY of the food is of the utmost importance! Protein and vegetables!
I wanted to use these examples simply to show you how important it is to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. I totally understand that food choice is personal preference but I'm NOT saying that you should go out and crush a whole pizza to your face then nothing for the rest of the day because it fits your calories for the day. Unless that's your jam. I don't judge. But the quality of your food is important for other things like your health...because bing sickly and diseased probably won't help you achieve your goals either.
- If you want to lose weight, you MUST be in a caloric deficit.
- Things like hormones, stress, genetics, and quality of food matter....but not as much as quantity!
- You don't necessarily have to count the calories, but the calories count!
- And if you want to build muscle and lose fat, the quality of the food will matter.