Taking Control of Your Dietary Composition Part 4

Given the prevalence of overweight and obesity in America today, it might be counterintuitive to suggest that fat loss is straight forward. But in previous installments, I've explained how manipulating the fat you have stored on your body is no different than setting up a budget to manage your finances. There are 3500 calories of energy contained in a pound of fat, so if you do the math, you can easily figure out how to keep your energetic ledger in check. And if you do so and make sure not to deviate drastically from the plan you have calculated, you'll ensure that you'll always be operating in the black. The take-home message is that it is essential to know how many calories you need each day in order to achieve your body composition goals. And the best way to figure this out is by trial and error. But once you determine this critical value, you must also decide how to allot your calories, which requires taking control of your dietary composition. 

The energy we ingest comes in three forms - protein, carbohydrate and fat. These chemical compounds have different structures, so while they are similar with respect to the fact that they supply the energy we need to survive, they each satisfy different other requirements in our body. The macronutrients are also dissimilar with respect to the amount of energy they provide as protein and carbohydrate contribute four calories per gram while fat gives us nine. This is why it is very easy to ingest more energy than you need if you eat a high-fat diet and don't do the math to figure out how to keep your portion sizes in check.

According to recommendations developed by the USDA, 10-35 percent of our daily caloric intake should come from protein. A more precise quantification can be made by calculating protein requirement according to body weight. For example, the long-standing belief is that we should ingest 0.8 grams for every kilogram we weigh (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). However, the current line of thought is that we need more; for example, as much as two grams per kilogram for those who perform vigorous endurance exercise. And even though it is often stated that a typical American diet that is well balanced should easily provide the requisite amount, recent research indicates this might not always be the case. For example, a study by Fulgoni in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that while the percentage of American males that consumes less protein than they require is low, a significant number of adolescent females and older women do not take in an adequate amount. This researcher also found that protein intake typically decreases as we age, which is problematic because protein is required to maintain muscle mass. Consequently, inadequate protein intake might contribute to the loss of muscle (sarcopenia) that is generally associated with aging.

Protein is essential for growth, so it is particularly important for adolescents and pregnant women. Protein is also used for tissue repair, which is why individuals who lift weights should make sure to consume enough. And timing is also important in this regard. For example, it has been shown that there is a small window for protein synthesis following a workout and this opportunity can be optimized by ingesting a protein meal immediately once you complete your workout. However, protein is also used as an energetic substrate so endurance athletes who use a lot of energy during training sessions without lifting weights actually require more. And it is important to note that in addition to protein, all exercising individuals should make sure they consume an adequate amount of carbohydrates because doing so will 'spare' the protein they ingest. This means that they will use the minimum amount as a fuel alternative.

Protein is required to gain muscle (or at least maintain what you have if you have reached your genetic limit), but this does not mean that the more you consume, the bigger your muscles will get. As with everything in your body, there are limits and if you take in more than you need, it simply means that you will be wasting valuable calories that could be used to make sure you get enough of the other two macronutrients. So, the trick is to take in precisely the right amount. And there are many renowned sources of protein you can use to fulfill this requirement including meats, poultry, fish and dairy products. What is more, there are a plethora of nutritional supplements that are also useful in this regard (e.g., whey protein powder, which some studies have shown is particularly beneficial for gaining muscle after resistance training). However, in addition to these known providers, there are sources that contribute what might be considered hidden protein; for example, foods that do not have the full complement of protein's building blocks (amino acids), but are useful nonetheless. Indeed, strict vegetarians that eschew the complete proteins mentioned above can easily get enough by combining foods that are not usually thought of as major protein contributors (e.g., vegetables, nuts, legumes and starchy carbohydrates).

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





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