Although there are many more factors to consider before following a specific diet, this post will focus on the essentials.
Knowing the factors ahead of time eliminates/reduces the need for trial and error. Time is of the essence, and the adequate evaluation of all factors will ensure that the right plan is selected at the onset.
Regardless of the specific end goal, any level of dietary change will affect body composition, both inside and out.
Some may want to change their diet to eat healthier; however, there will be inadvertent impacts on metabolism and the overall body.
RESTING METABOLIC RATE AND BASAL METABOLIC RATE:
When it comes to the resting metabolic rate and the basal metabolic rate, the two terms tend to be used interchangeably, and while they are both important factors, there are a few differences. Both rates are measured the same way; however, highlighting the minor differences will better illustrate the importance of both the resting metabolic rate and basal metabolic rate.
The resting metabolic rate (RMR) can be defined as the energy needed for the body to function at rest (be it for eating, walking short distances, sweating, shivering, or using the bathroom, for example).
The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories that the body needs to perform vital functions, be it digestion, breathing, regulating body temperature, pumping blood, growing hair and skin, and so on. The basal metabolic rate makes up 70% of calories burned every 24 hours.
The most important contributor to the basal metabolic rate is the portion of someone’s weight that does not come from fat, so it is the portion of someone’s weight that comes from pure muscle mass. Muscle mass contributes to the basal metabolic rate in that it increases the burn rate at rest. Someone with more muscle mass will burn more calories at rest, thus increasing their basal metabolic rate while doing any non-exercise-related activity.
The number attributed to resting metabolic rate or basal metabolic rate represents the number of calories burned at rest within the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). That being said, the basal metabolic rate will be lower since it measures the body’s caloric requirements at complete rest, whereas, the resting metabolic rate would be a little higher since it includes any non-exercise-related activity. The number of calories calculated from the resting metabolic rate is usually used to determine total daily calorie needs.
A diet that does not take into account these two metrics (basal metabolic rate and resting metabolic rate) is not accurate and likely to be very arbitrary and poorly constructed. It is important to ensure that we eat enough, and of course, even more so when exercising.
Long-term under-eating can significantly slow down metabolism, and reversing this damage takes a lot more work than simply measuring metabolism before starting any plan.
Measuring the resting metabolic rate can be done through a calorie tracker app by tracking calories on an average day and on a more active day to get a range for both. Not all applications are perfectly accurate; however, this beats proceeding blindly headfirst into the newest hottest diet trend without any forethought. Even with a slight variance of 200-300 calories through tracking with an app, it is better than not being aware of this metric (use for data, not for obsession).
ACTIVITY LEVELS / CICO (CALORIES IN. VS CALORIES OUT):
Activity levels increase the total “calories out” from the CICO (calories in vs. calories out) equation. Considering “calories out” (calories burned or calories burned through all types of activities, or calories burned through actual exercise) ensures that proper nutritional needs are taken into account when crafting a diet or nutrition plan. If someone is highly active, their nutrition needs will differ from someone less active.
Of course, someone who is highly active will benefit from a diet higher in certain macronutrient groups than others.
Macronutrients are essentially nutrient categories such as protein, carbohydrate, or fats. Activity levels not only affect the total amount of calories needed in a day, but also affect the speed at which each macronutrient is broken down (processed) by the body. This impacts the proportions of each macronutrient needed in the diet.
While this post focuses on macronutrients, we cannot forget vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). Activity levels also affect water intake and supplementation needs. If someone is highly active, their metabolism is likely higher, so their rate of processing certain electrolytes, sodium, minerals, and all other vitamins is a little faster, which means the replenishment rate should match this processing speed.
Another factor to consider around CICO (calories in vs. calories out) is how each macronutrient group is processed by the body, how each is stored, and how much energy is used to break down that particular macronutrient category (protein, fat, or carbohydrates). Although there are general guidelines, this truly varies from person to person.
Of course, any amount of excess in any macronutrient category (protein, fat, carbohydrates) can be stored.
The types of macronutrients that convert to energy more easily are carbohydrates and protein. Only in optimal conditions does the body turn to fat stores for energy, otherwise, the body just uses dietary fat (not fat stores) for energy when it gets to that point. This is the exact reason why “calories in vs. calories out” is a more scientific way to choose the right diet (rather than trying to manipulate the body to use certain macronutrient groups first as energy when this is very difficult to maintain in the longer term).
Many fad diets call for extremely low-calorie intake and do not take into account individual activity rates and metabolism. Fat loss occurs in a calorie deficit that is sustained over some time, crash diets fail to account for the sustainability factor and for the nourishment factor.
In terms of how many calories each macronutrient group is worth: fat has 9 calories per gram, but carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram.
Individual protein requirements are also an important factor. Protein signals muscle protein synthesis. Protein synthesis triggers muscle growth and it can occur approximately 4-5 times a day, so athletes are advised to eat protein every time they eat, but so is anyone looking to increase muscle mass.
The total amount of daily calories will depend on the total activity and calorie expenditure.
In terms of those wondering if eating less on non-gym days is needed, absolutely not. It is not necessary to eat less than the total daily amount of calories needed at rest on non-workout days. Why? Our daily caloric needs are calculated at maintenance so deficits are not needed every single day to lose fat, the deficits are usually created on the higher activity days.
The “calories out” portion of the “calories in vs. calories out” equation can be increased by raising activity levels, increasing metabolism, and eating foods that are low-calorie dense, to name a few. Eating well is what it is about, it’s not always about eating less.
Hormonal issues being a consideration or factor in the right diet does not mean that the diet will cure the cause of the hormonal issue or that the original diet was necessarily the cause; however, it will help in mitigating the symptoms, which is still a factor to consider. Although this is not everything, it is still important to try to maximize the benefits of a proper diet for all aspects of health.
Diets are not the cause of the issues or the cure, but they can help or hinder, or at the very least, point us in the direction of what to look out for.
If someone is sensitive to insulin spikes, as it signals the uptake of glucose from the blood to the cells, they would need a diet that takes this into account. For the most part, excessive caloric intake goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. An example of using diet to mitigate insulin resistance (not as a cure, but as a mitigation strategy) would be a reasonable calorie deficit that is also manageable long-term. Why? Losing weight improves insulin sensitivity.
When the “fight-or-flight” response is activated, the adrenals will produce more adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.
While cortisol is a catabolic hormone by nature, as it breaks down protein, through its possible overproduction (via chronic /ongoing low-level stress), it can lead to excess calorie consumption.
The stress-obesity connection is due to the brain needing more energy-dense foods when stress becomes ongoing, so cortisol alone doesn’t cause weight gain, but it can cause people to seek some form of self-soothing.
Surges in stress do not necessarily lead to this response; however, longer periods of chronic stress can. This is the difference between a high peak in cortisol in a dangerous, yet short-lived, situation such as being chased by a wolf or a bear vs. daily, ongoing, hard to eliminate stress.
When chased by a bear once in a while, spikes in adrenaline and cortisol can speed the breakdown of fat, leading to weight loss.
That being said, the combination of excess insulin and low-grade chronic stress can lead to consuming more calories than needed on an ongoing basis over some time.
Acute stress (periodic high bursts of stress) is different from chronic stress (ongoing and seemingly inescapable). How is it different? The nature of both types of stress can affect the response since chronic stress can lead to increased appetite. Of course, the increased availability of convenient, yet high-calorie dense foods, accounts for the relationship between obesity and insulin driven by chronic stress.
The antidote is not intermittent fasting, pills, or supplements. The antidote is the holistic approach that combines coping (resiliency), sleep, nutrition, and exercise (and proper recovery).
Hypothyroidism is a decline in thyroid function where the brain does not instruct the thyroid gland correctly, which leads to the underproduction of this hormone.
Weight gain, brain fog, dry hair and skin, low tolerance to cold can be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
Is poor thyroid function a cause of weight gain or is weight gain only a symptom of poor thyroid function? Weight gain can influence thyroid function.
Some people benefit from thyroid-stimulating medication; however, from a diet and wellness perspective, a holistic approach is beneficial. The approach should minimize overtraining, periodize training load (using cycles of training), and focus on proper nutrition. It all comes down to managing stress and allowing for rest.
Higher testosterone levels often result in a leaner physique, particularly for men. Lower testosterone levels are usually linked to poor sleep and not eating enough. Managing sleep quality and nutrition is key.
While hormonal disruption does not cause weight gain, particularly in women; however, weight gain can cause hormonal disruption.
Again, estrogen does not cause weight gain, but if weight gain has already happened, this will cause fat cells to accumulate, insulin will spike, so will cortisol, then the estrogen levels will also spike. If someone has hormonal imbalances, tailoring nutrition and training towards its mitigation cannot hurt. How? Proper nutrition and higher weight loads, with lower repetitions, and of course, proper form.
Hormonal imbalances are not the cause of weight gain, but weight gain can cause hormonal imbalances, and if we are looking for proper diets to manage our weight, this is a consideration.
There are many more hormones at play; however, these are the main ones. Thinking analytically and critically is key to health, it is far better to consider all aspects than to follow just any diet blindly.
People with the same age, weight, goals, and height will still respond differently to the same diet as the factors to consider are far beyond what an online calculator can provide.
Karisa Karmali is a Human Resources professional by day and entrepreneur by night. Being the founder of Self-Love and Fitness, helping busy professionals and driven people level up athletically is her mission. Providing efficient fitness equipment and customized programs is how her mission comes to life. You can connect with Karisa on Twitter and Instagram.