The fitness industry is filled with hundreds of different types of diets which makes it hard to decipher which work and which don’t. By far, the most important thing to consider about your nutrition, is finding a method that suits you best, that you’ll be able to stick to for a prolonged amount of time.
Diets aren’t just quick-fixes; they’re a change in your lifestyle.
The most commonly known methods of dieting include the likes of the Atkins diet, ketogenic dieting and high protein diets. Diet is just another word for your nutritional habits, and it’s important not to get caught up in the overwhelming amounts of media which advertise the “best” types of diet. Habits are modifiable, which means your nutrition is too; any method that suits your preferences and allows you to still make progress is your most sensible option.
WHAT YOUR BODY REQUIRES
Your body runs off three types of fuel – protein, fats and carbohydrates. Each of these three fuels are referred to as macronutrients; they all contain a specific amount of calories per gram and each play a vital part in fuelling the body daily.
There is a certain amount of protein your body requires to maintain the muscle mass on its frame and support functions including organ growth, enzyme creation and hormone production.
If you begin to eat less than this amount frequently, as a result your frame will start to lose muscle and could lead to insufficient support of the body’s normal functions. Protein consumption should be between 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of lean body mass (LBM), which is the amount of mass on your frame, minus your body fat percentage.
In terms of fats, a guideline of 0.35-0.5g per pound of LBM is suggested. For those at a higher body fat percentage, it may be sensible to stick to the lower range of the spectrum to minimise the risk of calorie over-consumption. Once a body fat percentage of 20 or below for women and 15 or below for men has been achieved, an amount of fats towards the upper limit may be more suitable. Fats help to protect our vital organs, while also supporting growth and proper functioning of nerves and the brain.
EAT WHAT YOU ENJOY
As long as you consume adequate amounts of protein and fats to support the needs of the body, you’re free to choose the remaining amount of carbohydrates based on personal preference. Bearing in mind that a calorie deficit will be required to lose fat, and a calorie surplus will be required to gain muscle, you should adjust your carbohydrate intake accordingly.
A great way to achieve a well-balanced diet you enjoy, is by tracking all of the foods you eat in a normal day, and then refining your choices to make the total amounts of each macronutrient fit into your requirements (this method is referred to as “If It Fits Your Macros“, or IIFYM). There are no specific foods that are perfect for dieting; every food contains calories, and every calorie is made up of macronutrients.
POPULAR DIETING METHODS & FAT LOSS
Well known “diets” such as the Atkins diet or ketogenic diets simply work due to a calorie deficit. A reduction in carbohydrates to such low amounts as suggested by these diets, will result in the body using fats as its primary source of energy (fats doesn’t mean fat; it simply means the fats you eat, not the fat on your body). Our bodies usually utilise carbohydrates for fuel, however when there is a lack of carbohydrates, our body still needs fuel to maintain its normal functions, so fats take the primary spot of energy expenditure when carbs reach a very low point. When we keep one of the three macronutrients (in this case, carbs) to a very small prescribed amount per day, it makes it extremely difficult to actually reach near our calorie requirement for the day; so by default following such a dieting approach will put you in a calorie deficit and will result in fat/weight loss.
This may sound great, however if your deficit is too much, you’ll start to lose muscle, even if you’re eating enough protein; as the body is only capable of metabolising fat at a rate of 1-1.5lbs per week safely. As a result of this, many people believe that because they follow these dieting approaches and lose weight quickly, they’re losing fat. When in reality, muscle is likely being metabolised. Muscle is denser than fat and can be metabolised quicker, so fast weight loss is actually not necessarily a sign of good progress.
To ensure you lose fat and maintain as much muscle as possible, try to stick to a deficit no greater than 500kcals per day (3500kcals per week) which can lead to a rate of 1lb of fat loss per week. Remember, just because your weight decreases, it doesn’t mean your body composition is improving. Decrease your body fat percentage rather than being so hung-up on a specific amount of weight loss, and do this by sticking to a smart deficit.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
To recap: work out how much protein your body needs and stick to a sensible amount of fats. Fill the remainder of your calories with carbohydrates and don’t shy away from foods you enjoy.
As long as you’re in a sensible deficit of <500kcals, you’ll minimise the risk of losing muscle while losing fat. Don’t aim for weight loss, aim for fat loss.