Paleo, Atkins, Low Carb, South Beach, Zone, Gluten Free, Vegan, Macrobiotic, Primal, Pritikin, Blood Type, oh my! Who wouldn’t be confused!? I had to get a degree in Nutrition to be able to understand this second language.
I remember a day in 1998 when I was a little baby, freshly graduated from Penn State. I was standing in my teeny tiny kitchen in New York City eating an H&H bagel with Smuckers raspberry jam on it. I had read in a magazine that this is what the models eat to “fuel up and stay skinny” (because it has “lots of carbs for energy and no fat”… true story!). You know how there are some moments in your life that you remember crystal clear? This one stayed in the record books because I stared at my bagel and said: “I know that you’re supposed to be good for me, but why do I feel so terrible all the time?” I had a moment of panic because I realized that even with a college degree, I had no idea how to eat in order to feel and perform well. How on earth is the rest of the world supposed to figure it out if I can’t figure it out? That day I felt a huge responsibility to figure it out…and help you to do the same.
When it comes to what you eat, the truth is that all of the diets above are effective, based on science, and serve a goal. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my goal?” Personally, my goals are:
- Eat to support my energy, brain and mood. In other words, I eat to feel well.
- Eat to support my physical performance.
- Eat for body composition. 80% of what your body looks like is dependant on your diet. Therefore, I eat to create lean muscle mass and keep my body fat low-ish.
Broadly, there are 4 different ways to approach your diet. The thing to remember is that you first have to decide what your goal is. Based on your goals, choose one of the strategies below:
- Weight loss
- Optimal health and energy
- Lean muscle development (Me! Me! Me!)
After nearly 20 years of being a guinea pig to every (oh yes, every) diet plan out there, I have finally come around to understand this:
The human body is a machine, just like a fancy car. I like to think of myself as a Mercedes Benz S Class Coupe, but who’s getting specific? The fuel you put inside determines how well it performs. Assuming high-quality food, the next critical factor is the macronutrient breakdown of each meal.
Every food you eat has a combination of the 3 macronutrients (macros) protein, fat and carbohydrates. A food is categorized by the macronutrient that is predominant. For example, nearly everyone believes that peanut butter is considered a protein. Nope! Nut butters have waaaayyy more fat than protein. While they do contain some protein, they are actually considered a fat. Beans are the same: most people think beans are a protein. Wrong again! Beans do contain some solid protein, but they have way more carbs.
Alrighty, here is the secret saucy sauce that you’ve been waiting for. The key to eating for your goal is to identify the percentages of macronutrients in your daily diet. This fine-tunes the fuel you’re putting into your fancy car so that your car performs the way you want it to.
If your goal is weight loss, I suggest a breakdown of: 40% carb, 40% protein and 20% fat
If your goal is energy and optimal health, I suggest a macro breakdown of: 40% carb, 30% protein and 30% fat
If your goal is to gain lean muscle, I suggest: 45% carb, 35% protein, 20% fat
If your goal is physical performance: 55% carb, 20% protein, 25% fat
There is a website and app called My Fitness Pal. It is my favorite resource for tracking my macros each day. There is a little picture of a pie chart on the bottom right side of the Diary screen on the My Fitness Pal app. With that you’ll be able to see the breakdown of macros – Carbohydrates, Fat, and Protein. This is where the magic happens. This sweet little pie chart allows you to eat whatever you want and still reach your goals.
In theory, you could eat fast food all day and still reach your goal. BUT, keep in mind that you will feel like crap, will be missing out on critical nutrition, and will slow down your progress. You will also find workouts hard, recovery difficult and many more grump days than normal. Your skin won’t look as good, your energy will be all over the place and you might be setting yourself up for diseases later in life. Catch my drift? Therefore, yes, you can eat whatever you want and still reach your goal. But it doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me. That is the beauty of the “macro counting” approach to diet. I am a big fan of using this method to reach goals. In my opinion, if you don’t follow what you’re eating, how do you know what you’re eating!?
Because so many of you are desperate for guidance on this topic, I decided to offer my Inner Circle friends an awesome freebie: two weeks of diet guidance using My Fitness Pal! My Inner Circle is very special to me because I consider it my posse, my personal community of friends that I make extra effort to help. If you are reading this post before April 15th, and you want to be a part of my Inner Circle, you can share your email with me HERE. Please know that this email list is special and I want to know that I’m communicating with the folks that really want to hear from me. Please only share your email address with me if you truly want to be a part of my world.
The final piece to this puzzle is to know how many calories to eat. There are many ways to calculate this, but to keep it simple, use this:
If your goal is weight loss: Multiple your current weight by 12 (calories per pound). This equals your total calories per day if you are moderately active (30 minutes of dedicated exercise per day). If you are more active or have more muscle, you may need more calories – aim for 13-14 calories per pound of current body weight.
If your goal is energy and optimal health, multiply your weight by 15 calories per pound. Please note: the biggest key to eating for optimal health is to choose superfoods. Be sure you are focusing on fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and a mixture of health fats and proteins.
If your goal is to increase lean muscle, multiply your weight by 15-20 calories per pound.
If your goal is physical performance, multiply your weight by 20-23 calories per pound.
Phew! That was a boatload of information! Don’t get overwhelmed. What is your goal right now? That’s all you need to know. It’s really simply when you sit down with a calculator.
So, let’s end where we began. What diet plan is “the best”? The one that addresses your goals! The brilliance of following your macros is that you can be Vegan, Paleo or Gluten Free. Then, simply track your macros to turn your Pinto into a Mercedes.
I’m endlessly curious to hear what you think. Let’s have a little chat, shall we? You go first. Leave a comment below and let me know what’s on your mind!
Happy eating friends!