Every day we are bombarded with fitness and supplement adds adorned with beautiful twenty somethings with perfect bodies proclaiming that with this secret pill, or that new never seen before fitness gadget, or with this recently uncovered Eastern European diet plan a body just like theirs can be had with little or no effort. Once embarking on the new secret diet or after the $120.00 bottle of pills has disappeared most people are left with little or no change and a misplaced realization that they just can't lose weight "no matter how hard they try". The truth of the matter is that weight loss can occur and a healthier body can indeed be yours once you arm yourself with a workout, diet, and lifestyle change based on science rather than fad and fallacy.
The 1st Law of Thermodynamics simply states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed (conservation of energy). Energy is actually converted from one form to another, rather than energy being created out of nowhere. What this means to someone looking to slim down and tone up is that the body will convert stored bodyfat to energy needed to run the bodies daily energy needs if the caloric level taken in (i.e. food consumed) is below the bodies basic energy needs. This universal fact negates the need for special "secret" diet pills, special "fat burning workouts", or flimsy exercise gadgets. What it does impose is the need to monitor ones energy requirements and adjust ones diet accordingly. For most men a diet of 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day will result in significant fat loss over an 8 to 12 week period. For women the same can be said for diets around 1,000 to 1,300 calories per day. Obviously the higher the daily output of calories the more calories that are being burned, but do not read this to mean that it is either good nor necessary to live your life on the treadmill or bicycle in order to hasten the fat loss you are looking for. The truth of the matter is that exercise should be used in conjunction with a well balanced calorie deficient diet made up of 45 to 65% carbohydrates, 10 to 35% protein, and 20 to 35% fat (Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, USDA, 2002/2005). These percentages are based on an exhaustive study undertaken by scientists from the United States and Canada and was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Health Canada; U.S. Food and Drug Administration; National Institutes of Health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Defense; Institute of Medicine; the Dietary Reference Intakes Private Foundation Fund, including the Dannon Institute and the International Life Sciences Institute-North America; and the Dietary Reference Intakes Corporate Donors' Fund. These sponsors included both private and government entities which would arrive at an impartial assessment of the nutritional needs for proper functioning of the human body. Protein requirements were set at 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight for adults, meaning that the average person needs only around 45 to 65 grams of high quality protein per day for normal body functioning. This negates the need for high priced protein powders, special amino acid pills, or special high protein diets. Instead the diet, even when training for muscular growth, should be centered on complex carbohydrates. The reason for this is that the body burns sugar during intense exercise. Because this energy source comes from glycogen which is sugar in our blood stream and stored in our muscles and liver we must supply our bodies with enough of this, again in the form of dietary carbohydrate, to supply our muscular system the quick energy needed for intense muscular contraction, which is of course the reason for training with weights in the first place. The body can and does create energy from protein and fat, but it is a much less efficient process in terms of supplying quick energy for intense muscular activity. Another benefit of a high carbohydrate diet has again to do with the storage of dietary carbohydrates, once converted, as muscle glycogen. Because glycogen is stored in the muscle with water at a ratio of 1:3, and muscle is 70+ percent water, a diet high in complex carbohydrates coupled with adequate water intake leads to a more hydrated muscular system which in turn has the ability to contact more completely, recover more quickly, and appear healthy and fuller. As for carbohydrates being converted to fat more easily than protein, again the truth is much different than the popular line of thought. The truth again has to do with the amount of energy, i.e., calories, that macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat have. Protein has 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates has 4 calories per gram as well, and fat has 9 calories per gram. When it comes to the amount of excess calories that can be converted to fat, roughly 25% of each gram of protein is burned in the conversion to stored energy in the body (fat), carbohydrate burns about 20% of excess in the conversion to body fat, and excess dietary fat is converted with almost no loss of energy to the conversion process. From these facts it can be seen that too much fat in the diet in terms of calories per gram and amount of energy needed to convert excess to stored bodyfat, is the real culprit in our societies ever expanding waistline. These facts, however should not be seen as a reason to severely limit ones intake of healthy fats (poly and monounsaturated fats) as these fats serve several important roles in cardiovascular health, the production of hormones, and other essential roles in human metabolisim.
In order to meet the bodies demand for macro and micro nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals a diet should include as wide of a variety as possible on a daily basis in order to meet your nutritional requirements and should include plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meat and fish, nuts, and low fat dairy. There is no secret food that will in and of itself hasten your weight loss and there is no magic supplement that will make you leaner and more healthy without any dietary and lifestyle changes. You must make the choice to change your diet and include the proper amount of exercise to add muscle and lose body fat.
- Shane, Provstgaard
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