One of the common approaches to weight gain or weight loss is the caloric formula, which is the belief that simply subtracting calories burned from calories eaten gives you your net gain or loss. This formula, while an important tool, is woefully oversimplified, and when used alone it can really lead to poor results, whatever your goals might be.
"Calories Eaten - Calories Burned = Gain or Loss"
Before really digging into whether the formula is accurate, I feel it’s important to first point out that it is misleading. Many people believe that calories=weight, which they don’t. Calories are a measurement of energy, i.e. a particular nutrient contains a certain amount of energy per gram. And, different nutrients have different energy capacities. When folks wrongfully interpret calories as a measurement of weight, they tend to avoid all calories indiscriminately, rather than understand that calories are not created equally. 500 calories of broccoli have a different impact on your body than 500 calories worth of French fries. In the same vein, certain types of calories affect certain people differently. If I eat 500 calories of rice, and someone else eats the same 500 calories of rice, our bodies respond differently to those calories. In short, calories are not equal, and are not a measurement of weight.
Now let’s take a look at the “calories eaten” side of this equation. As mentioned above, calories are not created equally, and neither are people’s responses to similar calories. Beyond what’s noted above, eating fewer calories doesn’t always lead to weight loss. The body is going to look for an equilibrium, meaning it is going to adjust to what it’s given. For many, decreasing caloric intake might lead to one, or both, of two options:
1 - The body begins storing more food as fat in a desperate attempt to hold onto as much energy as possible. Since it’s getting fewer calories, it’s going to try to store energy.
2 - The body begins to feel sluggish as it tries to restrict energy output. Since the body is getting less energy, it’s going to try to expend less energy. For those looking to lose weight, this problem now compounds on itself, since less energy to use means less effective workouts or activities, and less tolerance of activity before release excess cortisol (more on that below).
Simply looking at calories eaten as a complete portion of the caloric equation is a severely shortsighted and ineffective approach. Calories are not the same, don’t affect people the same, and the body doesn’t respond to a decrease in calories as a stimulus to simply drop weight.
On the flip side, calories burned is also an incomplete picture. If I tell you that I burned 1,000 calories during my workout, you actually know very little about the ultimate outcome of that workout. Take, for instance, a marathon runner vs a powerlifter. They both might burn 1,000 calories during a training session, but the effect of that workout is very different. In one case, the burn was nearly entirely aerobic, depleting the muscle completely. In the other case, the work was completely anaerobic, meaning explosive strength/power based, tearing the muscle and setting it up to grow. The end result of that 1,000 calories worth of work is very different in each case. One might deplete both fat and muscle, while the other builds muscle and burns fat.
From another standpoint, the idea that more calories burned equals weight loss can lead many towards overtraining. If someone thinks the equation simply needs more calories burned, they can easily put themselves in a position where they over-train and release cortisol (a stress hormone), which causes increased blood pressure, fatigue, disrupted sleep, moodiness, and weight gain.
Ultimately, the caloric formula is a tool that can be used to illustrate some overarching principles, but it really is not a comprehensive picture. It is not enough to count calories if your goals are to gain muscle or lose weight. I could go on for a few more pages on this, but in an attempt to be succinct, I’ll just say that calories are not equal, on the eaten or burned side of the equation. Planning for nutrition and training regimens have to take into account the quality of the diet and the effect of the workout, beyond their total caloric value.
Where should we start with Carbohydrates? Once proclaimed to be the needed energy source of athletes and the fuel that is required for a successful start to your day, carbohydrates have now gotten somewhat of a bad rep as of recent years. From concerns that it is not the best energy source for endurance athletes to it is going to make athletes that are involved in the more power and strength sports such as football and baseball overweight, it has become the nutrient under the spotlight.
Without getting into too much depth today I wanted to answer some commonly asked questions. Are carbohydrates bad for us? Do they make us gain body fat? How do they affect our athletic performance? These are a few of the questions that as coaches we hear from our athletes on a regular basis. And if you have been unsure as of how to answer them make sure to read below.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Yes, as far as calories in and calories out, you will maintain the same bodyweight if those numbers are kept equal. Notice how I brought attention to the word bodyweight? I did not say your lean body mass and fat mass will stay equal, I said bodyweight! This is something that drives me nuts when talking to others in the nutrition community that harp on the calories in and out equation. You might keep the same bodyweight by following the math, but I guarantee you will not keep the same lean body mass and body fat percentage if this is your only approach. If you think having a sweet potato compared to table sugar where they equal one another from a caloric and carbohydrate standpoint are the same, then we can’t be friends.
The source of carbohydrate must been considered when discussing if it is a nutrient that is going to be beneficial to our health and performance or have a negative impact. Most of us would know that candy and soda are going to be a poor source of carbohydrates, but some might not know what a good source would be. Good carbohydrate sources would include starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, tropical fruits such as bananas and a few grains such as oats or rice.
The choice in carbohydrate that is good for you will depend on a few things. Mainly the energy you exert throughout your day, but there are also other things to consider. Are complex carbohydrates, which will be absorbed slower by the blood stream, a better choice than a simple carbohydrate that would be used if you are looking for a quick energy source? Faster absorbing carbohydrates would be white rice compared to a slower absorbing source such as sweet potatoes. How much fiber does your diet need? The more complex a carbohydrate is will usually lead to there being a higher amount of fiber. Also there will be a greater amount of water, vitamins and minerals found in complex sources for the most part.
No nutrient, including carbohydrates are bad for us. It comes down to making good choices. No nutrient should be demonized and if someone makes that calm I would strongly disagree. No nutrient makes us fat either, this again will include carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are easier to blame for overweight issues we see because the body is very poor at storing carbohydrates compared to protein and fat, but they by themselves do not make us fat.
When the right source of carbohydrates, in the right quantities, are consumed, the body uses that energy and those nutrients to accomplish the more physically demanding tasks such as would be found while playing sports. So let your athletes know that carbohydrates are a good source of nutrients, just make sure they are getting them from the right source.
During my time in this profession I have had many young men tell me that they could not gain weight, it was impossible and only an act of God would suffice. Well I’m here to tell you that that is a load of you know what. Just like anything else in life, it comes down to how much work you are willing to put into it. There are two problems facing the supposed hard gainer. First and foremost they need to be eating enough quality food to actually put on weight. This would seem to be pretty straight forward, but most are missing the boat on this one. Second and just as important they need to be on a quality strength and conditioning programs.
Below you will find 10 simple tips for how to gain some quality size.
1. If you are eating all the right stuff and have not gained weight in the last month eat more of what you are eating. If you are eating three eggs, eat four instead. Having a quarter cup of rice, eat half a cup. Just having half an avocado, eating the whole thing. See if just adding more will do the trick.
2. If you are not eating the right things here is a small cheat sheet.
Protein-Eggs, Chicken, Turkey, Milk, Salmon, Steak
Carbs- Sweet Potatoes, Bananas, Rice, Red Potatoes, Black Beans
Fats- Eggs, Cheddar Cheese, Avocadoes, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Almonds, Salmon
Fruits- Bananas, Strawberries, Oranges, Grapes, Pineapples
Vegetables- Broccoli, Spinach, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Carrots
If you eat a lot of the things on this list you will gain weight.
3. Maybe all the meals are right, but you are missing what should be in between. Some might be able to gain weight with only two or three meals a day, but other need more. Here are a few options.
A. Jerky, Pecans and Banana
B. Hardboiled Eggs, Blueberries and Oat & Banana Cookies
C. Greek Yogurt w/ Homemade Trail Mix
4. Make sure to get a protein, fat and carbohydrate source at each meal. Missing either would be a big mistake when trying to put on size.
5. Meal Prep! If it is important to you, put in some effort! Don’t watch a 30 minutes of television that evening and spend some time prepping your food for the next day. Hard boiling a few eggs take a few minutes and putting a banana in your bag takes seconds. Putting some almonds in a plastic bag doesn’t take too long either. A little effort goes a long way.
Here are some tips I wish I had back in my day from a strength training prospective.
6. Stick to the basics! And don’t only stick to them, master them! Learn how to clean, squat, bench, deadlift and press properly. No, just doing bicep curls does not count as a training session. Stay away from machines and isolation exercises, you will thank me!
7. More is not always better when trying to get your weight up. Extra strength training sessions and large amounts of conditioning will put a quick stop to your efforts. Three or four solid strength training will work great.
8. If size is the goal, the majority of your training should focus on hypertrophy. There is still plenty of room for your 3-6 rep range, but you better be bumping it up a notch as far as reps are concerned if you want to put on size. 8-12 reps should do the trick.
9. Here is a question. When does your body actually build muscle and gain size? Is it when you are in the gym training? No, it is actually when you are home relaxing or better yet sleeping. When you train you are beating your body up. It will need a nap or two and 8+ hrs of shut eye a night to reap the benefits of all that training you just did. Get to bed early!
10. Be Consistent. This goes for everything in life and putting on size is no different. If you really want to put on size you have to be consistent with both your nutrition and your training. Don’t skip meals or training sessions and get to bed on tie every night.
There you have it. Ten tips for putting on size. Now get to work!
So gluten, that spiral shaped protein found in wheat, has been demonized by many experts in the field of nutrition and everyone else that thinks they know anything about nutrition. Is there a middle ground or is gluten the devil in disguise? Yes there is kind of a middle ground, like most cases, it is not so black and white.
Wheat in itself might be harmless, it at least supposedly use to be. Throw in a little genetic alteration, chemically laced crops and everyone having a gluten allergy and all of a sudden consuming wheat is a death sentence. Everyone put down their pasta immediately or a cruel death is sure to follow! On the other hand there are many out there that still say having a diet full of whole grains such as wheat is crucial for good health. There are carbohydrates for energy, fiber for digestion, vitamins, and minerals and there is even protein!
So what are you to do with all these conflicting arguments?
There are many things to discuss concerning this topic. The gluten free craze is a nice place to start. Gluten free products are either products that would not have gluten in them in the first place for the most part or the gluten is replaced with something that just as unhealthy for you such as tapioca starch or the like. Yes there is an extremely small percentage of the population that has celiac disease, which is quite serious and would need to have a substitute for gluten, but they should probably just avoid gluten free products all together.
Take away point being that gluten free does not equal healthy!
So what about the people that do not have celiac disease or any other gluten allergy issue. Should they eat wheat? There are a few ways wheat can have a negative impact on our health, one being over consumption of wheat. Most of us have a very large amount of wheat in our diet from cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pizza for dinner which leads to an increase in the caloric storage hormone insulin. With decreased activity in many Americans this is a huge problem.
There is also that concern you might have heard about over GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It seems that every other government allows their citizens to know what is in their food, but ours. From the GMO debate, to the chemically laced wheat, we are eating wheat that might cause you to raise an eyebrow. Are these GMOs and chemicals what are actually causing the harm? That would be my guess, but research is yet to have a definitive answer.
Take away point being that the wheat you are eating might be a GMO and it is probably laced in chemicals. I’m guessing that is no good for your health.
So do I eat wheat? Yes, on occasion I do. I would prefer it to be GMO free and organic if I am going to indulge at my favorite pizza shop or bakery. For those that cannot tolerant wheat you can get the same nutrients found in wheat in other foods. You do not need to eat wheat to live, contradictory to what you might have heard.
Bottom line, if your body handles wheat find keep it to a minimum and make sure it is GMO free and organic. If it turns your body upside down, avoid it and avoid all the gluten free garbage out there.
The debate surrounding wheat is not likely to go away anytime soon with supporters on both side of the debate drawing a hard line in the sand.
Nutrition is an aspect of training that is overlooked by so many athletes. They think if they train hard results will speak for themselves. The results speak for themselves when you train hard and eat smart! Below you will find great sources of nutrients, meal and snack ideas and what to eat before and after games or events. This is by no means a one size fits all, but it is a great starting point.
Sources of Nutrients
Grass fed beef, organic chicken breast, omega three enriched cage free eggs, organic pork tenderloin, wild caught pacific salmon, organic turkey breast, wild caught tuna, plain Greek yogurt, dairy milk, organic lean ground turkey, organic buffalo, jerky, whey protein powder
Omega three enriched cage free eggs, wild caught salmon, avocadoes, wild caught tuna,
olive oil, nuts & seeds, olives, coconuts, almond butter, coconut oil
Fruits & Vegetables
Blueberries, bananas, strawberries, oranges, apples, pineapples, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, mango, kiwi, honeydew, pears, cantaloupe, grapes, plums, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, onions, yams, eggplant, spinach, carrots, pumpkins, butternut squash, zucchini, white potatoes, cauliflower, celery
Oats & Grains
Oatmeal, brown rice
Source of Fluids
Water, green tea, black coffee
Daily Example of Good Nutrition
Breakfast: 2 organic omega three enriched cage free eggs
1 cup of spinach, ¼ cup of mushrooms and ½ red pepper
½ cup of steel cut oatmeal w 2 tsp of organic honey
½ cup of blueberries and ½ cup of strawberries
1 cup of green tea
Snack: 2 scoops of whey protein powder
1 tbsp of almond butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of ice
Lunch: 6 oz organic chicken breast
½ cup of broccoli
1 cup of sweet potatoes cooked w/ 1 tbsp of olive oil & cinnamon
Snack: 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup of walnuts
½ cup of blackberries
Dinner: 6 oz wild caught pacific salmon grilled with lemon & dill
mixed greens with carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and avocadoes
1tbsp of olive oil & 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
** Drink water throughout the day**
Event Meal/Snack Planning
Protein- hard boiled eggs, jerky, whey protein shake, Greek yogurt
Fat- hard boiled eggs, almonds, walnuts, cashews, almond butter, coconut water, pumpkin seeds
Carbohydrates- bananas, peaches, celery, apples, strawberries, oranges
** Every athlete is different as it relates to pre/post event meals & snacks**