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Nutrition

Dieting Is Budgeting

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Dieting Is Budgeting

I was recently discussing the topic of nutrition and fat loss with a client and came up with a simple analogy to explain the process: dieting is budgeting. Since budgeting is a skill that a lot of us have already, I thought that this would be a valuable analogy to allow for the reappropriation of that existing skillset. A good analogy is a great way to reframe the way you think about something, and being in the right mindset to approach a process is important to set yourself up for success. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this analogy holds up well when explaining a number of important dieting concepts - let’s explore this a bit further.

First, let's start with the basics. Your calorie expenditure is like your income, and your calorie consumption is like your is like your monetary expenditures. What happens when you spend more money than you make? You accumulate debt; in this analogy, debt’s the same thing as body fat. It also tends to accumulate slowly over time, eventually becoming an insidious problem. One day your debt can suddenly feel insurmountable, just like one day realizing how much fat you’ve gained. Debt is hard to pay off all at once - you need to make sure you’re still allocating enough money for bills, food, and other basic needs. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to crash diet too hard. You need to make sure you’re ingesting enough food to meet your micronutritional needs (vitamins, minerals, etc). Ultimately though, you need to create a surplus and start paying down your debt - that is, you still have to eat at a caloric deficit to drop fat.

With that idea in place, how can you reframe your approach to dieting to actually kick start a successful fat loss diet? Think of it like this: with budgeting, you can’t make money magically appear out of thin air. So, when you increased expenditures in one area, you have to reduce expenditures in another area; you can take this same approach to eating. If you have a really heavy meal (aka splurge on a big expense), then that’s okay, but you’ll have to cut your budget elsewhere. Otherwise you’re going to “overspend” and go into “debt,” which, again, means that you’re going to add fat. Most people choose to balance this out on a daily basis, but you could certainly also do it over the course of a few days or a week. So, if your overeat one day, you can cut extra calories the next day, or something of the sort.

Alternatively, as a means of budgeting, you can increase your income with some other revenue stream like a second job - this job is exercise. If you want to be able to spend more money, you need make more money. If you want to be able to eat more, you need to expend more. However, I caution taking this to an extreme; it’s much easier (from a time investment standpoint) to cut spending than it is to get a second job. It’s also much easier to eat less food than it is to try and exercise away a bad diet. As I’ve said many times before, you accomplish the same thing by running three miles as you do by skipping out on eating a plain bagel.

Another component of this analogy is the idea of a passive revenue stream. Everyone loves making money with an upfront investment that really pays off in the long run. This equates to building muscle mass, and is why I advocate prioritizing resistance training over other forms of exercise for fat loss. When you build muscle mass, it increases the amount of calories you expend both at rest and during exercise - it’s like a multiplier to energy expenditure for everything you do. Ideally, you layer exercise that mostly just accomplishes energy expenditure on top of this, but the muscle mass itself will do quite a bit on its own.

So, let’s summarize:

  • Calorie intake is like money you spend

  • Energy expenditure is like your income

  • Debt accumulation is like fat accumulation

    • To pay down debt, you need to make more money than you spend; to lose body fat, you need to expend more calories than you consume

  • You can cut expenditures or you can increase income (balance your budget from either or a combination of both); you can reduce calorie intake or you can exercise more (balance your energy budget from either or a combination of both)

  • Passive revenue is like muscle mass

Try to take these concepts and use them the next time you’re making decisions about what to eat, how much to exercise, and how to balance these aspects of your health and well-being. Good luck!

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Dieting and Weight Loss

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Dieting and Weight Loss

One of the first things that people ask me when I tell them that I’m a strength and conditioning coach is “what diet should I do to lose weight?” Recent social media trends have made people more aware of the different diets out there, ranging from vegan, to paleo, to keto. All of this emerging information on dietary restrictions and regimens is good because the prolific posts tend to help people become much more informed about nutrition in general. However, they also leave a large majority of consumers confused about which diet reigns supreme.

The diet that’ll lead to your weight loss is the one that works for you. A diet shouldn’t be looked at as purely a constraint used to lose weight - diet is defined as the foods that a person or community habitually eats. Simply put, a diet that works for you may differ greatly from the person next to you.

A successful diet or nutrition plan is one that puts you at a slight caloric deficit and maintains enough protein intake so as to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. A slight caloric deficit should be around a 15-20% reduction in calories from the caloric intake needed to maintain your current weight. Your goal calories for maintenance can be found via our InBody body composition analysis or a DEXA scan - both of these tests will show your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body burns at total rest. An example: if my BMR was 2000 calories, my body would burn 2000 calories in 24 hours if I laid in bed and didn’t move an inch for said 24 hours. To get your maintenance calories, add in how many calories you burn daily from walking around, working out, and doing other day-to-day tasks. An Apple Watch or FitBit can estimate how many extra calories you burn daily. If you don’t have some type of watch or device to track this, 300-400 calories is a decent enough estimate for the typical San Franciscan for ‘active’ calories. Normally, protein intake is recommended to be at around 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, fats at ~30% of total calories, with carbs filling in the gap in calories. To begin planning your macros, weigh yourself and divide that number by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then, multiply that number by 1.5 to determine how many grams of protein you’ll need. To find your calories that come from fat, multiply your goal calories by 0.3. To convert calories of fat to grams of fat, divide that number by nine since there are nine calories per one gram of fat.

Study upon study has shown that when dieting for weight loss, a slight caloric deficit and sufficient protein intake elicit the best results. Multiple studies have altered the number of calories which come from fats and carbs - while maintaining protein intake and a slight caloric deficit - and the comparison between groups determined that the ratios of carbs to fat doesn’t play a significant role in weight loss. This isn’t to say that you can only eat fats and protein or carbs and protein to bring about weight loss, though. Carbs serve as our body’s main fuel source for the various energy systems in the body, and fats work to regulate hormone balances and neuronal activity in the body. So, it’s very important that when planning your macronutrient breakdown, you don’t leave one or the other out of your daily intake.

To put this all more simply, dieting for weight loss is like a cup of water. If you pour too much water in the cup, it overflows and spills. Think of the water spillage as extra calories that get stored as fat. If you fill the cup to the brim, you’ll be at maintenance. If you leave a couple of inches of space of the cup unfilled, you’ll be at a slight deficit.

With an efficient and correctly prescribed exercise program, attention to your macros, and consistency, the odds are very much in your favor that you will lose weight. Make sure to make small sustainable changes to your daily routine so that these changes aren’t lost after a couple of weeks. Throwing yourself into the deep end of dieting will not be sustainable in the long-term, so go with small behavioral changes for the best results!

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5 Tips for A Healthy Relationship With Food

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5 Tips for A Healthy Relationship With Food

1. Less Restrictions!

Magazine headlines constantly promise that cutting a specific food or food groups out of your diet will lead to weight loss. The most important factor in weight and fat loss is caloric intake. When calories are kept in check at a slight deficit, weight loss will come. Restricting certain foods may make it easier to keep calories well beneath a surplus, but this method sparks a flood of restrictive thoughts. The ‘I can’t have that’ thought bombards your mind and fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. This can be avoided through a healthy relationship with food, keeping calories at a slight deficit, and enjoying in moderation!

2. Calibrate Your Plate

A little portion size calibration in meals can go a long way in regards to hitting your macronutrient (carbs, fats, proteins) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) goals! Veggies should dominate half of any given plate because they’re the most nutrient-dense foods. Protein is up next at about a quarter of your plate, with fats and starches splitting the last quarter of the plate. This rough set-up can help guide meal planning and prepping, making it easy to hit your daily macro- and micronutrient goals.

3. The 80/20 Rule

Although this is used as a business principle, the 80/20 rule also applies to nutrition. Restrictive diets lead to unhealthy relationships with food, so the 80/20 rule exists to help those who don’t want to - or can’t - put too much time into their nutrition, but still want to stay on a path to a leaner build. The 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of the foods you eat are whole, healthy, and clean foods, while the other 20% may be ‘fun’ foods. So, if you eat five portioned meals, 4 out of 5 of them should be comprised of whole foods, while the other meal can be a small splurge. For someone who doesn’t want to constantly worry about the foods they’re eating, this simple tip may be a very helpful reminder!

4. Eat Half, Take Half

The large portions of many restaurants are usually around two servings, so why not save one?These servings make it more than easy to overshoot calorie goals. The ‘eat half, take half’ tip helps with portion control by suggesting that if the serving size from the restaurant is too large (usually more than 1.5 servings), eat half of the meal - then take the other half home. This tip can be extremely helpful if your favorite restaurant loves to serve up large meals, or if you need a little extra help with portion control in general.

5. Track Liquid Calories

While nutrition trackers are great at keeping calories in check, we can’t forget to track liquid calories when we log food! Drinks like tea and black coffee have less than five calories per serving, so these don’t need to be tracked nearly as closely as other drinks. However, blended coffee drinks, creamer, milk teas, soft drinks, and juices may have a significant effect on calorie consumption. Blended coffee drinks can have upwards of 300 calories, so if you get one three times a week, you could be 3,600 calories in surplus by the end of the month. These drinks don’t need to completely avoided, but should be tracked as a part of your daily nutrition - or counted toward the 20% of your 80/20 split.

Try any one or a combination of these tips, and see which one is best suited to you and your lifestyle. Make sure its sustainable, and if it is, stick to it!

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Workout Fuel

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Workout Fuel

I get asked questions about what foods and when to eat before/during/after workouts (referred to as peri-workout nutrition) to maximize results in the gym quite a bit. It’s one of those details that attention is given to because everyone intuitively recognizes the value in sound peri-workout nutrition practices. However, it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think. In fact, the value of consuming specific nutrients around your workouts has shown to be less important than we once thought. Worry not - I’ll guide you through the relevant details to help make sure that you’re on the path to success. Also, keep in mind that I’ll primarily be talking about peri-workout nutrition strategies with respect to resistance training, unless noted otherwise.

First of all, make sure your priorities are straight - peri-workout nutrition should not be your highest priority. Make sure your caloric intake is set to a value that is appropriate for your goals. Do you want to build muscle or lose fat? If your calorie intake doesn’t reflect your goals, then it’s probably more important to devote your energy to making sure that’s in order before your worry about peri-workout nutrition. Are you consuming adequate protein to maximize changes to body composition? If you’re not ingesting 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day (this can be adjusted if you have very high body fat or very low muscle mass), then don’t worry so much about peri-workout nutrition. Consuming adequate protein throughout the day is far more important than consuming protein at a specific time relative to your workout. If drinking a protein shake after your workout happens to be an easy way for you to get in the protein you need to meet your goals, then more power to you.

Alright, let’s assume that your daily calorie and protein intakes are where they need to be to meet your goals. Then, is it better to consume calories before, during, or after the workout? Well, the answer is that either can work. Basically, it’s ideal to not allow a window of greater than 4-5 hours between the meals that sandwich your workouts. If you ate 3 hours before your workout, and your workout lasted an hour, then you probably want to consume something pretty soon after you finish. In fact, it’s even totally fine to workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, but just keep in mind that post-workout nutrition becomes significantly more important in this scenario. Let’s assume that you generally eat pretty soon before your workout. If you eat an hour before your workout, and your workout lasts another hour, then as long as you eat in the next 2-3 hours you won’t be leaving any gains behind (disclaimer: some people report GI distress when eating that soon before a workout. I’ve had numerous clients over the years who felt more energized eating shortly before their workout, but plenty of others who had upset stomachs as a result. Make sure you do what works for you).

Consuming calories during a workout is really only necessary during very long workouts. Personally, I do it sometimes because I make my protein shakes with a lot of water in them; it helps me hydrate during a workout, and I find it very convenient. However, this practice isn’t something I would say is necessary or beneficial aside from the practicality factor. Bottom line: make sure you’re not going too long on either end of your workout and you’ll be fine.

So, now that we know when, let’s tackle the what. Should you consume carbs, protein, whole foods, shakes, etc? Top priority is protein. The minimum amount you should consume pre- or post-workout is about 20g. If you are in your 60's or older, then 40g may be more appropriate. For some reason, age seems to influence the body’s response to ingesting a particular amino acid called leucine, which helps to trigger increases in protein synthesis (an important part of building muscle). It doesn’t particularly matter if it’s a shake or whole food either - this should be dictated by convenience and practicality. Protein shakes conveniently range from 20-30g per serving, so they can work just fine. However, shakes are only necessary if the ease of use is important to you. If you’d rather consume whole foods, then by all means, go that route. Your GI response should also be considered. If it’s most convenient for you to eat shortly before a workout, you may find protein shakes work well because they’re easy to digest. However, plenty of people can eat whole foods before their workouts without issue. What about carbs? Well, it used to be thought that you had to consume all of this stuff in a short window right after your workout. In reality, consuming calories within that window isn't particularly valuable, considering that studies have shown that doing so doesn't significantly alter results. However, it is important to consume carbs if you’re working out again relatively soon. For example, if you worked out at 6PM, and plan on working out the following morning at 7AM, then you probably want to get some carbs in before you go to bed to make sure performance in the workout the following morning is unaffected. Otherwise, eating fairly normally will probably take care of your carb needs. Even then, carbs aren’t totally necessary for all resistance training workouts. If you’re doing very traditional strength training in low to moderate rep ranges (basically under 10 repetitions per set), then carbs don’t matter a ton. You will eventually want to consume some, but you don’t deplete enough of your muscles’ stored carbs for it to be a huge concern. If you’re performing especially long or high-volume (high-repetition) workouts, then carbs become more important.

Let’s recap:

  • The meals surrounding your workout should be about 4-5 hours apart
  • Consuming calories during a workout only matter if that workout length exceeds 2 hours
  • Protein is important in peri-workout nutrition, but total daily intake is more important
  • Carbs become more important with increasing workout length/workout volumes

That’s really all there is to it. Hopefully that makes peri-workout nutrition practices seems less obnoxious and complicated. Making sure these practices are sustainable and reasonable to carry out is perhaps the most important aspect of all. Thankfully, the things that truly matter with respect to workout nutrition are fairly easy to follow.

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

A few weeks ago, something dawned on me while my girlfriend and I were strolling through our neighborhood in the Sunset. We passed by our favorite local ice cream joint (which is located directly across the street from our gym by some twist of cosmic irony) and were overcome by temptation for the second day in a row. Normally we exercise more restraint, but alas, the ice cream won that day. Jokingly I said, “Well, as long as we workout more times in a week than we eat ice cream, we'll be okay.” I then realized that for most folks, they eat out far more often than they exercise. From that, an idea was born.

Here in San Francisco - where we take our food very seriously - the old adage of ‘move more and eat less’ isn't shown enough love. A lot of people engage in some amount of regular exercise, but the amount of it relative to the volume of food consumed isn't in the best proportion. I realized that most clients I have worked with go out to eat quite a bit more than they engage in vigorous exercise. As such, this version of the ‘move more and eat less’ challenge was born: on a weekly basis, try to get in the gym and perform vigorous exercise more times than you go out to eat.

Every challenge needs some guidelines to be effective. Although I don't want to make a rule set that's overly-specific or restrictive, some structure is needed to adhere to the spirit of the challenge. I'll make some suggestions below to help guide this process.

  1. The exercise session needs to be a minimum of 45 minutes in length, and it needs to be hard. Something like walking through the city doesn't count. Honestly, many forms of yoga or pilates wouldn't really qualify either. I'm not saying they have no value, but the level of energy expenditure is simply not high enough for our purposes. The exercise should increase your heart rate significantly and make you sweat (and not just because it's outside in the heat or in a hot room). If you can't engage in vigorous exercise for some reason, exercising to the level of a brisk walk for 90 minutes would also suffice.
  2. As far as whether or not a meal is considered “eating out” is a bit more subjective. However, a good rule of thumb is if you're selecting your meal based purely on taste, then it should probably count as eating out. If the meal is selected in an attempt to make it balanced and nutritious (and reasonably portioned), then it doesn't add to that count. So, if you cook a giant bowl of fettuccine alfredo at home, that's still “eating out.” Conversely, if you get a grilled chicken breast salad at the lunch spot near work, that's not “eating out.” I think you get the idea; it's about the spirit of how the meal is composed, not the technicality of who prepared it or where it was consumed. Additionally, every 3 drinks (1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) you consume in a week is considered eating out. So, if you drink a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, that's 7 drinks or 2 extra counts of eating out for the week. If you go out to eat and drink a few drinks, then you just ate out twice. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I consider it so impactful that I felt it was worth using our imaginations a bit.
  3. Tally up both of these things, and try to make sure the number of exercise sessions is greater than the number of times you eat out in a week - it's really that simple. Start by trying to do this for a month, but you can aim to make it more of a long-term lifestyle choice as well.

The beauty of this challenge is that it helps you understand just how much exercise is required to counteract poor nutrition habits. For most people, the sensible choice is to change both habits a bit: exercise a few more times per week, and eat out a few less times per week. However, if eating with tons of freedom is important to you, then you do have the option of trying to balance that out with a massive volume of exercise. As well, if you really don't want to exercise much (I recommend against this option the most) or have health issues that prohibit this, then you can be very strict with your eating habits. Try it out and see how it goes!

Hopefully this arms everyone with yet another tool in the battle to enjoy the finer things in life while staying healthy. If nothing else, it will provide you some perspective on your lifestyle. That's all for today… Cheers!


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