Versa Fit Club has kicked your fitness experience up a notch by dropping little bombs of knowledge on you so that you’re able to know more and navigate your way through an already difficult maze that is the world of health, fitness and nutrition. We kick off our article series with something basic that a lot of people seem to struggle with – Nutrition Basics: Namely calories, calorie counting and calorie setting.
WHERE TO BEGIN
An irrefutable rule of basic weight control, whether it be weight gain or weight loss, is that energy consumption needs to exceed the rate of energy expenditure for you to gain weight and vice versa for weight loss. In the case of nutrition, we calculate energy by the unit of measurement known as kilocalories (which we abbreviate to calories for short). Food is a source of fuel and energy for us and is, therefore, measured in calories. So how much food you eat depends on how many calories you consume and eating more than you technically need for your daily functions will result in net weight gain. The same rule applies for weight loss where if you eat less than your body needs to perform its day-to-day tasks, you will achieve a net weight loss. This principle is known as Calories In Calorie Out (or CICO for short). Make no mistake, this is the ONLY WAY to lose weight or gain it.
OK I GET THE IDEA OF CALORIES, BUT HOW MANY CALORIES SHOULD I BE EATING?
Of course, this will largely depend on what your goals are but the starting point of this is the same regardless of whether you are trying to gain or lose weight: calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Your BMR is the rate at which your body will use energy while at rest in a neutrally conservative environment. Calculating your BMR is a simple matter using one of several formulas designed to utilize factors such as your weight, height, age, sex, etc to determine what it is. You can jump on the internet and easily find one or, better yet, use the one on the Versa Fit page. For purposes of illustration, let us take a 25-year-old 60kg female who is 1,6m tall and determine her BMR. As I mentioned above, there are several formulas that one can use to calculate a BMR.
So, for this example we will use the most common formula known as the Harris-Benedict formula.
The formula for a female will go as follows:
655.1 + (9.563 x bodyweight in kg) + (1.85 x height in cm) – (4.676 x age) = BMR
for purposes of making this article complete, the formula for males is as follows:
66.5 + (13.75 x bodyweight in kg) + (5.003 x height in cm) – (6.775 x age) = BMR
If we input the values from our female example, we get the following outcome:
655.1 + (9.563 x 60) + (1.85 x 160) – (4.676 x 25) = 1407,98 (round off to 1408)
Our example woman therefore has a BMR of 1408 calories.
Once you have this sorted, the next step is to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) by multiplying your average activity level to your BMR. Below, you will see a listing that shows your average level of activity and number placed next to it which would be its represented value of that described level of activity.
ACTIVITY FACTOR GUIDE
Each of these have an underlying value that we assign to the level that you choose and through our interview/consultation process we will ascertain exactly what your scoring is on this underlying scoring scale. This is where the attention to detail and customisation comes in.
1 – Sedentary: You work a desk job and do not exercise (probably not many of you).
2 – Light activity: You work a desk job but do a bit of regular exercise. Or you do little exercise, but you work a job that is quite active (i.e. a nurse, teacher, etc.) where you are on your feet most of the day. Most of you reading train hard and are decently active.
3 – Moderate Activity: Most of you will probably fall in this category. Maybe you work a sedentary job but train like a madman. Or maybe you train moderately but also have a job where you stand on your feet all the time. Someone who does not train but works a hard-labour job would fall into this category as well.
4 – Very Active: You train most days of the week really hard and you also work a job where you are on your feet quite a bit. Overall, you are active throughout most of the day.
5 – Extra Active: You train hard and work a job that is also intense in nature. As an example, maybe you are a roofer, but you also go to the gym five days a week.
Let us say that our female example works in an office where she is seated for most of her time at work but does need to get up and walk around at the other times. She manages to get to the gym 5 or 6 days a week and trains hard for 45 minutes or more. This would most likely put her in the “1.55 moderate activity” level of the scale. So, we would take our 1.55 and multiply it to here calculated BMR as follows:
BMR x Activity Level = TDEE
In other words:
1408 x Level 3 = 2182,4 (round off to 2182)
So, for our lady to maintain her weight, she would need to eat 2182 calories worth of food on a daily basis.
AWESOME SAUCE. WHAT DO I DO WITH THAT NUMBER IF I WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT?
Strictly speaking, if you want to lose 0,45kg of body weight a week, you will need to take your TDEE and subtract 500 calories from your daily intake. However, many people will find that reducing such a large amount of food from the get-go to be quite shocking and unsustainable. It would be a much better approach to ease into it and start by reducing 250-300 calories.
Our female example would then be looking at a total daily calorie intake of around 1932 – 1882 calories if she were aiming to lose weight moderately and comfortably.
From then on, it is important to make a note of whether you are losing weight on a weekly basis or not. Keep in mind that the figures above are not ballpoint numbers but rather closely targeted estimates. So, if you are not losing weight, you may need to slowly reduce additional calories. Everyone is slightly different, and those slight differences can have slight impacts.
Once you have begun to notice a steady weight gain, keep doing what you are doing and try not to be too aggressive. Slow and steady wins the race.
SIMILAR RULES FOR WEIGHT GAIN?
Absolutely. However, keep in mind that the generally overwhelming reason for wanting to gain weight is to put on muscle so there are a few more things to look out for and keep in mind. The last thing someone wants when trying to gain weight is to put on fat mass. Therefore, going for a more moderate increase in calories is recommended (somewhere between the 200-400 calorie increase range). From then on, it is matter of close observation and making minor adjustments (whether these be slight calorie increases if nothing is happening or slight calorie reductions if you begin to gain unwanted fat).
As I said though, there are a more factors to take into consideration with weight gain (specifically looking for muscle) but the overall rules are the same: keep it slow, keep it steady.
IS THAT REALLY IT?
In a nutshell, yes, it is. Obviously, you undoubtedly have questions about food sources, macros and so on. Lucky for you, I will be covering all this in the next article instalment. But for now, these are the rules of weight gain and weight loss. It really is a simple matter of energy balance and exceeding it either by intake or expenditure. Clean foods, “dirty” foods, it does not matter in the long run. If you eat too many “clean foods” you will gain weight (and most likely fat depending on what you are doing and how much extra food you are eating). Similarly, you will lose weight if you are only eating dirty foods but using more energy than you are eating. Obviously, there are other factors to consider when trying to preserve muscle and maintain healthy body functions and so on but in the end all these other factors fit squarely into the rules of “Calories In Calories Out”.