Nutrition, as we all know, plays a hugely important role when you’re looking to lose or gain weight and/or change your body composition. With this blog, we’re aiming to provide you with some helpful insight and tools to optimise fat loss in your training, focusing on key guidelines and the most important information that you need to understand.
The Basics - What do you need to know as a minimum?
Please find below what we consider you need to know as a minimum when looking to achieve fat loss goals through training, nutrition and other lifestyle factors
- Energy balance and how to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure
- What macronutrients are
- How to measure body composition
- Holistic considerations for fat loss
- The importance of NEAT
- Example day of Food choices
- What to eat pre, during + post-workout
Energy balance and how to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure
Conventional wisdom over the past couple of decades has gone back and forth on calorie-counting and how effective it is when it comes to weight loss. Whilst it remains a hugely debated subject, when you dive down into the deep science behind calories they really do matter. Although it’s super important to consider where your calories come from it’s also crucial to understand how many calories are coming in.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then it’s important not to consume too many calories. But how many is too many? The below formula can be used to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and from here you will be able to work out approximately what you need to consume on a daily basis.
TDEE = BMR (basal metabolic rate which is the amount of energy you require to complete the basic daily functions) + Activity Factor (The amount of calories burned through daily activity/exercise*)
* 1.2 = Sedentary
1.375 = Low activity throughout day
1.55 = Moderate activity throughout day
1.725 = High levels of activity throughout day
1.9 = Athlete
If you consume more than your TDEE, you are likely to gain weight over time. If you consume below your TDEE, then the reverse is true and over time you are likely to lose weight. It's important to note that every single person’s TDEE is different and it is crucial that you work out your own personal TDEE to create your meal plan.
What are macronutrients?
We obtain energy via calories, which come from three sources, referred to as macronutrients.
- Carbohydrates. Providing 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body. Once consumed they are turned into glucose to fuel our activity and are are fundamental for training performance. Brain cells rely completely on glucose, meaning carbs are absolutely essential for brain function. However, not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbs, like white bread and sweets, should be avoided, as they provide a quick burst of energy, but do not satiate hunger in the long term and can lead to a “sugar crash”. Complex carbs, on the other hand, fill you up for longer and are more nutritionally-dense, as they are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Good sources include wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
- Protein. Like carbohydrates, protein provides the body with 4 calories per gram, however it plays a different role to carbs and will only be used by the body for energy production in extreme circumstances. When working out regularly, consuming adequate amounts of protein is essential, in order to promote the recovery and growth of muscle tissue. Although meat is often the first thing to spring to mind when protein is mentioned, it is found in a much wider variety of foods than you may realise. Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, tofu, broccoli and grains like quinoa and buckwheat are all great sources of protein that come without the health, ethical and environmental concerns that surround meat consumption. Include different protein sources in your diet, like pulses and cereals, to make sure you get the full range of 9 essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein needed by the body)
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram. The popularity of “fat-free” and “low-fat” options in supermarkets may have you believing that fat should be avoided – but the truth is, your body needs fat! It uses it for energy, insulation and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Moderate your consumption of saturated fats, and instead opt for healthier sources like nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. Fats are much more calorically dense than carbs and protein, providing 9 calories per gram, so we need less of them in our diet
How to measure body fat
It’s important to track your progress in order to ensure your fat loss strategy is working. There are a number of ways to track your progress:
- Devices such as smart scales
- A DEXA body scan which is seen to be the gold standard in body fat measurement
- Callipers - find a professional who can measure your body fat for you using skinfold measurements using callipers
- Progress photos - sometimes the easiest and most effective way to see that you have changed
- Circumference measurements - waist, chest, arms, etc
Holistic considerations for fat loss
It's highly important to realise that in order for you to obtain results - especially when it comes to fat loss - you must take a holistic approach. Consider all of the below points and aim for a balanced and sustainable approach.
- Nutrition - the main subject of this blog (Energy In)
- Exercise - a tool to create energy expenditure (Energy Out)
- Sleep - recovery for body both physically and mentally (Energy-preserving)
- Social - self esteem, feel good factor, positive hormone usage (Energy-building)
- Stress - zaps energy, is important to recognise the long term effects of stress (Energy Out)
- Relationships - feeling of being, feeling of love, feeling of giving back (Purpose, Energy In)
> Fat is your body’s preferred source of energy, as it yields the highest amount of energy per gram consumed
> When performing aerobic exercise, the primary fuel used by the body is fat. However, it is important to vary the training techniques and styles you use to ensure you build or maintain muscle as well as burning fat. It is the muscle which will give you strength, leading to increased fitness and thereafter increased capacity to do more
> There are 9,000 calories in each kg of fat, which is useful to know when thinking about the time you commit to losing fat - it takes time and consistency
> It’s important to structure your exercise regime to include both anaerobic exercise (predominant glycogen use) and aerobic exercise (predominant fat use). This is where NEAT comes in and is crucial to long term fat loss - more on this below
What is N.E.A.T and why is it so important?
As we’ve already discussed, your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is very important if fat loss is your main objective. TDEE can be broken down into 3 distinct categories -
> Basal Metabolic Rate (60-75% of your TDEE). This is the amount of energy needed to support the daily, involuntary functions of the body.
> Thermic Effect of Food (10% of your TDEE). This is the energy used by the body to convert food into energy to be used at the time or stored as fat for later.
> Thermic Effect of Physical Activity (the remaining energy expenditure - 15-30% of your daily caloric output). This can be split into 2 types: planned exercise (your standard workout) and Non Exercise Activities (NEAT) such as walking, typing, gardening and even fidgeting.
NEAT accounts for the vast majority of an individual’s non-resting energy needs. Your metabolism is always burning energy, however the more active you are, the more energy you burn. For this reason it’s important to take a wider view on how ‘active’ or ‘inactive’ you are. If you train (planned exercise) 5 times per week, but have a desk job, drive to work and watch TV for 5 hours when you get home each day, your fitness may be high but your NEAT will not be! This may explain why you are working out often, but not seeing the results you desire. Studies show that lean men and women tend to walk, stand and generally move more during the day, which accounts for an additional 350 calories being burned than their less lean, more sedentary counterparts. To put it another way - being in a 350 calorie deficit each day for 10 days would result in losing 1 pound of body fat.
Another fat-loss focused benefit of high NEAT is an increase in an enzyme called LPL (Lipoprotein Lipase) that is essential for converting fat into energy. When you remain sedentary over long periods of time, your LPL levels can decrease, reducing the body’s ability to burn fat.
Increasing your NEAT doesn’t have to be difficult. Standing up is one simple form of NEAT that can help increase your daily expenditure of calories. Research shows that sitting for extended periods can be detrimental to your health. According to the Nation Academy of Sports Medicine, a 65kg person would burn roughly 102 calories an hour at work whilst sitting at a desk. The same person would burn 174 calories if they simply stood up whilst working.
Some studies show that environmental factors such as the industry that you work in can have a large impact on NEAT levels. For example, those working in manual labor tend to have high NEAT, whereas wealth and industrialisation seems to decrease NEAT.
SFL recommendations for how you can increase your NEAT levels
> Use a standing desk
> Play with your kids
> Make sure you always go for a walk at lunchtime
> Track your steps. Aim for 10,000 per day. Get off the bus or tube a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way
> Hoover your carpets and scrub the floors!
> Try to walk or cycle when you have to run an errand
> Consider walking or restorative yoga to help you relax - this way, you remain active whilst calming the nervous system and soothing stress. It’s a win-win!
> Walk to do your weekly food shop instead of getting it delivered
> Use the stairs instead of the elevators in the tube
> Stand up on the tube
> Get off the tube one stop early and walk the rest of the distance
Oats + protein shake
Eggs + rye bread
Ham + eggs + rye bread
Smoked salmon + eggs + rye bread
Almond butter + rye bread + protein shake
A post-workout protein shake is a good way to refuel with protein and carbs (protein to grow muscle, carbs to get energy back and overall to manage hunger and make good food choices throughout the day).
Protein bar + banana
Small Greek yogurt (FAGE TOTAL)
Hard boiled eggs
Almond butter/eggs/smoked salmon/chicken slices + rye bread
Half your lunch
Sashimi + edamame salad
Chicken + mixed salad (quinoa, squash, broccoli, green beans)
Baked salmon + sweet potato + green beans
Protein box from Pret, Crussh, Detox, Press, poke bowls, etc.
Last night's dinner in Tupperware pack lunch (see examples below)
Chicken + roasted green veg + olive oil + tahini
Baked salmon + broccoli + sweet potato
Cod + butter bean salad
Importance of Food Choices for Weight Loss:
1. Ensure you never miss breakfast as it provides an important opportunity to obtain a good amount of protein which you will need throughout each day to support muscle and general maintenance. It will also help you feel fuller for longer.
2. Focus on a balance of carbs, proteins and fats e.g. eggs, rye bread, avocado and cherry tomatoes.
1. Lunch is ideal about 4 hours post breakfast to maintain steady blood glucose level and keep hunger manageable.
2. Balanced mix of carbs, protein and fats.
1. Try not to eat past 9pm to give the body time to digest and make efficient use of calories.
2. Protein & veg can be a good dinner option as carbs are less important before a night's sleep. Carbs are a crucial macronutrient and they are important to eat throughout the day when you are most active to keep and maintain energy levels.
Now you are probably asking: what should I eat before and after my workout?
It all depends on individual habits, goals, circumstances and what time of the day you are planning to work out. But here are some general guidelines that apply to pre and post-workout nutrition to make the most of your workout and your recovery.
1. Consume the right nutrients before and after exercising, as this is the key to make sure you are properly fuelling your workouts while helping your body to replenish and recover after a gruelling session. Remember that a good quality nutrition not only will fuel your body, but it will also give you the right vitamins, minerals your body needs at cellular level in order for you to be able to perform at your greatest potential.
2. Leave some time for your body to digest food prior working out. For most people the perfect time is 1-2 hours. This will depend on your metabolism and how big your meal is. Try not to eat immediately before your workout because during exercise, blood is rushed to the working muscles and taken away from digesting your food, which can cause you to experience some GI discomfort.
3. Do not skip carbs before your training, as they are fuel for your muscles which are your engine during your workout. Stick to natural sources of carbs and avoid anything processed.
4. After your workout, it is important you feed to muscles right to help them recovery from that gruelling session you’ve just had. As the body has used up energy stores (glycogen) you need to replenish them with carbs. You also need protein to help your tired muscles rebuild and repair and aid protein synthesis. If you skip a meal after your workout, you will miss on this anabolic affect and encourage protein breakdown, which over time leads to a loss of muscle mass. It’s recommended to eat within 1 to 2 hours of a training session.
5. Keep your foods as natural as possible. Cut out as much as possible any processed foods, sugary drinks and juices and simple carbs like pastries, white bread, pasta and sweets.
Here are some suggestions for pre-workout snacks/meals:
If you are working out in the morning:
· Your normal breakfast – eggs (any way you like them) + brown toast + avocado
· Greek yogurt with berries
· Protein shake with berries + milk/unsweetened nut milk
· Bircher muesli
· If you’re training soon after you wake up, a banana or a handful of nuts will do the job
If you are working out at a different time of the day:
· Same as the above
· Your lunch
· Protein bar
· Greek yogurt and nuts or seeds
Notice that each of these suggestions (except the last one) include some protein as well as carbs. Carbs are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs, but also will give you the “pump” to make the right amino acids available for your muscles to repair. If you go for a banana as pre-workout you may consider taking BCAAs during your workout.
Here are some suggestions for post-workout snacks/meals:
· Chicken breast + baked sweet potatoes
· Salmond + carrots + green beans
· Protein shake + reek yogurt + unsweetened almond milk
· Beef + broccoli + brown rice
· Tuna Nicoise salad (tuna + eggs + Lettuce + cherry tomatoes + olives + hard boiled eggs + new potatoes)
· Quorn bolognese