Taking Control of Your Dietary Composition Part 3

The energetic yield from a pound of fat is 3500 calories, so if you want to lose a pound per week, you must use 500 calories more than you ingest each day for your goal to become reality. Conversely, if you’re looking to gain muscle mass, you should operate at a surplus by ingesting more energy than you expend. And maintenance requires matching the two to maintain equilibrium. So, taking control of your energy balance is relatively straightforward: If you determine the amount of energy you need to maintain your current level of fat stores, you simply adjust that number according to your objectives.

If you have monitored your energy intake for an extended period and know how much you should take in to achieve your goals, you’ve taken the important first step in putting a sensible nutrition plan into place. But you still have work to do. To use a parallel analogy, it’s like you’re in the process of developing a budget based on your earning potential and you now know how much you make and how much you’d like to put away for the future. This leaves the amount you can spend each day and the next step is to determine how to use that allotment prudently. For example, if you have $100 available and desire a night out on the town, you might opt to go to a movie and then eat a moderately-priced meal instead of eating an expensive dinner that leaves little left for anything else. Similarly, when you apportion your daily caloric allotment, you should attempt to do so in the most sensible manner possible.

Carbohydrate, fat and protein are the macronutrients that comprise foods and these chemical compounds are responsible for the energy that is contained in what we eat. For example, average values of energy content for each macronutrient conveniently rounded to whole numbers (i.e., Atwater General Factors) are four, four and nine kilocalories per gram for protein, carbohydrate and fat, respectively. Each of these macronutrients is also used by your body for other purposes, so in addition to the total energy that they contribute, the right balance is crucial. And this is where many people make a wrong turn.

In the last installment, I explained how the United States Department of Agriculture has developed recommendations for macronutrient consumption based on the total amount of calories you consume. Unfortunately, these ranges are rather broad; for example, they suggest that 10-35 percent of your total energy intake comes from protein. This means that if you are taking in 2,000 calories per day, anywhere from 50 to175 grams of the macronutrient would be needed to satisfy this mandate. But protein requirements can also be gauged according to how much you weigh. For example, it is typically stated that we should ingest 0.8 grams for every kilogram of our bodyweight (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). However, this longstanding recommendation is generally considered conservative especially for those who are physically active because in addition to normal protein turnover within the body, strenuous activity mandates that some is used for fuel. Consequently, it is common to see recommendations for protein intake as high as two grams per kilogram for athletes and those who engage in regular exercise.

Some dietary regimens are based on the notion that extremely high protein intake is conducive to fat loss and there are a number of facts that appear to justify this approach. First off, when protein is combusted within the body, all of its chemical energy is not utilized because unlike carbohydrate and fat, it also contains nitrogen. Our bodies cannot burn nitrogen, so we convert it to urea, which is excreted by the kidneys. What is more, discounting carbohydrates that are high in fiber, our ability to efficiently digest protein is generally less than what we can accomplish with carbohydrate and fat. Collectively, these two unique attributes of protein mean that taking in a given quantity of calories from this macronutrient could create a net energy deficit compared to the same caloric ingestion from carbohydrate and fat. But before you sign up for this approach, look at the big picture. The difference in digestive efficiency between protein and the other macronutrients is relatively small and unlikely to make a significant difference with respect to fat loss. And unlike carbohydrates that can be efficiently stored as glycogen and cashed in later to satisfy energetic demand, protein operates much differently. For example, once you have ingested enough to satisfy structural requirements and any energetic need that is present, excretion of excess amounts creates a burden on the kidneys that can be problematic if a predisposition for renal disease exists. And excessive protein excretion also increases calcium output in the urine. But an even bigger problem with high-protein diets results from the fact that the excess protein you ingest takes the place of another macronutrient that you could be using to greater benefit. So, instead of eating a moderately-priced meal and also enjoying a movie, your night on the town is relegated to overindulging at the restaurant and little more.

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com.







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