Written by Tim McComsey, RD, CPT
TRYM Fitness Owner and Sunwarrior Contributing Writer
Eating is a fundamental part of life; however, our motives and the desired end results can be very different. Who is right and what information can you trust with all of the noise about nutrition floating around in the break room and the internet? Let’s clear up the fog on weight loss and gain by teaching you the healthy way to approach your body weight goals. There is a science to eating to gain or lose weight and it requires examining the key factors necessary to achieve these very different but important goals. Here’s how to choose the right fuel to keep your body healthy and reach your personal fitness goals.
EATING TO GAIN WEIGHT
Eating to gain weight is not as easy as it sounds—you can’t gain the right type of weight by just sitting around downing burritos and ice cream. Gaining healthy weight involves adding muscle mass and minimizing your fat gain. Building muscle requires a positive energy balance. Meaning you must consume more calories than you burn. Here are five important things to keep in mind if you’re trying to gain muscle weight:
- Adjust your calorie intake. Figure out how many extra calories you should eat to gain muscle mass. This number depends on how many calories you burn each day. Once you figure out how many calories you burn each day, add between 250–500 calories per day to your total intake.
- Eat more protein. In order to build muscle, you need complete proteins. These are typically found in eggs, meat, fish, cheese, milk, and most other animal products. However, there are complete proteins to be found in some plants, including Sunwarrior Protein, quinoa, hemp seeds, moringa, and chia seeds. As often as possible you should consume complete proteins.
- Round it out with carbs. Your body needs a daily dose of complex carbohydrates to gain muscle. Loading up on carbohydrates allows your body to tap into glycogen (energy) stores within your muscles while you are working out. If you do not eat enough carbohydrates, your body will not have energy reserves and will break down your muscles instead. The ideal type of carbs is low-glycemic carbohydrates. These complex carbohydrates are a sustained energy source that burn slowly as you work out.
- Eat your veggies. To ensure optimal physiological functioning, it is imperative to eat up to 10 servings of vegetables a day—they contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables also provide an alkaline load to the blood—they generate a slightly higher pH value in the body and offset the acid loads delivered by proteins and grains. Keeping your blood balanced prevents the loss of bone strength and muscle mass, which would detract from any healthy weight you’ve gained.
- Eat often. As you can imagine, eating enough protein and carbs to gain healthy weight would be very difficult on a typical North American diet of three meals per day. You should strive to eat every two to four waking hours from the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed—that could add up to as many as four to seven meals per day. This regular feeding stimulates your metabolism and balances your blood sugar throughout the day.
EATING TO LOSE WEIGHT
When most people think about losing weight, they picture eating miniscule amounts of food, going on “crash diets,” or working out for hours every day. Not only are those plans unhealthy, any early weight loss won’t last. The good news is that there are healthy, worthwhile ways to lose weight—and the weight will stay off. The principles behind healthy weight loss are similar to those for weight gain, with a few important changes.
- Eat fewer calories. Similar to the calculations we did above for gaining muscle mass, people who want to lose weight need to adjust their calories in proportion to their daily intake to a negative calorie intake. There is no magic number, but you should aim to subtract between 250 and 500 calories, depending on your body’s natural ability to lose weight. Again, it is trial and error. Try starting off on the lower end of the range and see how your body responds.
- Don’t stop eating. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to eat every two to four waking hours. At the end of the day, you still may have to eat up to seven times to get the nutrients your body needs. To lose weight, you need to eat balanced meals, including complete, lean protein with each meal. Eating protein every time you eat will stimulate your metabolism (burn more calories), improve your muscle mass and recovery, and reduce your body fat because your body burns more calories digesting protein than other types of food.
- Take it easy on the carbs. When trying to lose weight, you should minimize intake of highly-processed simple sugars and hi-glycemic carbohydrates except during exercise. You should strive to eat carbohydrates only when you earn them—if you exercise, you can eat whole grain, unprocessed carbohydrates within three hours of your workout. If you don’t work out, then there are no starchy carbohydrates for you—only fruits and vegetables. It is important to remember that you are controlling your carbohydrate intake not eliminating them.
- Keep the green stuff coming. To burn fat, you must consume vegetables every time you eat. Vegetables destroy free radicals, fight cancer, neutralize acid, and provide micronutrients that your body needs to survive.
- Know your fats. Only about 30% of your diet should come from fat. You need a balance of saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat—around 10% of each—to optimize your health, body composition, and performance.
Food is fuel, and with the proper fuel you can achieve your fitness goals, whatever they may be. Many people attempt to gain weight in order to have the strength to do certain jobs, perform general physical activities, or to have a well-developed muscular form. Those goals require a diet constructed with lean muscle mass gains in mind. For others, losing body fat and improving overall fitness and energy is the goal. Whatever your goals are, abide by the 5 rules and you’re already on your way.