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Weekly Wellness: Calories for adults

weekly wellness
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Our weekly fitness column, “Weekly Wellness,” is back again. This week, Matt Gallagher, from MFC Sports Performance in Darien, talks about why watching your caloric intake number isn’t the only way you need to look at calories.

In the last article we took some time breaking down the vital macronutrients that the body needs for daily sustenance. I also conveyed my thoughts on trendy dieting, and how it can be a very dangerous situation for your health at worst, and at best, will likely result in crash dieting and a dramatic weight loss/re-gain cycle that will wreak havoc on your metabolism.

For this week’s wellness topic, I will pass along my thoughts and experiences that I’ve had with caloric intake for the adult population. Now please, keep in mind, I am not a certified nutritionist. I have, however, helped many adult clients achieve a physical goal through healthy dietary planning that is easily sustained and provides great nourishment and freedom in food selection. There are several key points to keep in mind when planning a diet for yourself.

First, calories are definitely not created equal. This is where knowledge of macronutrients is extremely important in planning and creating a diet for yourself. It will require some experimentation and persistence, but you need to do your best to determine how many calories you want to eat from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. In my experience, it is best to start with a healthy blend of all three macronutrients using your favorite healthy foods instead of cutting out or significantly reducing one macronutrient. Remember, cutting out or significantly reducing one macronutrient is an extreme dietary position that should be avoided if you hope to maintain a healthy metabolism over time. 

Second, you need to determine how many calories you should consume each day for optimal performance. Notice I said optimal performance, not weight loss. Why? When you focus on how you feel from your nutrition, you shift your attention from what a bodyweight scale says to how you mentally and emotionally respond to food. When you eat a food or meal that makes you feel fantastic afterwards (great energy, mental clarity, no energy dip or sugar high), you have achieved an immediate improvement to your health. All of these immediate nutritional successes will yield a long-term physical body transformation.  

If a meal or snack makes you feel slow, sluggish, tired, irritable, etc., or just plain hungry, then something needs to be changed so that you are left with that satisfactory, healthy, high energy feeling that food is intended to provide for you. Just to break this down even further and make this as simplistic as possible – mere seconds of pleasure on my tongue from a high sugar, fat, or sodium-loaded snack or meal is not worth the lack of digestion, gas, mental fogginess, and sleepy feeling that follows that meal (which usually lasts way longer than the time it took to eat it).

(Note:  If you are looking for a great source to track your nutrition, I recommend My Plate by Livestrong.com.  They have a huge food database and it is free to set up an account.)

Third, when you reduce your calories over time, you also slow down your metabolism. When you increase your calories over time, you actually speed up your metabolism. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but it is scientifically proven to be true. Couple calorie restriction with very limited daily caloric physical output via a sedentary lifestyle, and you have a recipe for disaster. This is why caloric restriction is detrimental to your physical transformation efforts. Long periods of caloric restriction results in a very slow metabolism, possibly to the point that you can damage your thyroid and need drugs to get that thyroid functioning properly again.

Almost all of the adult clients I have trained come to me because they want to lose fat. The funny thing is, after we spend some time breaking down the dietary habits that led to this situation (being 20, 30, or 50 pounds overweight), this person begins to realize that they really are not eating very many calories each day at all. 

Here is an example – a gentleman I worked with a while ago was a very large man. At 6’8” and 295 pounds, and based on proper caloric formulas to determine ideal caloric consumption, this mountain of a man was actually eating almost 2,000 calories below the recommended intake our formula provided. He was quite literally living on less than 2,000 calories per day at this height and weight. He was under-eating the wrong foods for so many years that his metabolism was dangerously sluggish and slow. 

People do not come to me complaining that:

  • Their metabolisms are too fast and they are starving all the time.
  • They can’t seem to get enough food. 
  • They can’t seem to increase their bodyweight. 

If that were the case then personal trainers would be out of business. It is the exact opposite of this situation. In order to properly address a person’s slow metabolism, I alter this person’s nutritional intake (I ask them to eat foods from mother nature herself and in way more quantity than they are used to) and physical output to take an extremely slow metabolism to a slow metabolism, then to an average metabolism, then to a roaring fast metabolism over time. I build their metabolism to a high level. If we can get to this level, then a physical transformation has occurred and a much leaner, stronger, fit body is achieved. If a trainer knows what he or she is doing, he or she will not have you in a deprived, restricted caloric state. He or she will do everything possible to help you to feel like a million bucks from every meal you eat, with tons of useable energy that can be used for physical exertion (working out).

The Takeaway:

There is so much more I would like to write about on this topic, but I do not have the room for it in this article. To summarize my thoughts and convey my experiences on this usually confusing topic, let me leave you with several key points: 

  • Do not ever restrict calories if you can help it.
  • Use nutritional resources like MyPlate on Livestrong.com to understand your macronutrients and total calories.
  • Get an even mix of all three macronutrients to avoid extremism in dieting. 
  • You should feel fantastic after you eat food – not slow and wanting to nap.
  • Most likely your metabolism is slow if you are overweight and you must do everything you can to increase that metabolic capacity over time.  

I hope this can help in your understanding of metabolism and caloric demands of the body!  

Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com

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