by Chad Kerksick PhD January 23, 2012 4 min read
A few months back I indicated I was going to develop a series centered upon energy, calories and how it relates to weight loss, weight gain, body composition, etc., but one thing lead to another and it still hasn’t been completed. As an enthusiast of exercise and fitness, you need to be made aware that at the end of the day, favorable (or unfavorable) changes in your body composition ultimately comes down to how well you balance your supply and expense of calories throughout a 24-hour period, day in and day out. You will find a number of websites, articles, and people talking about some magical strategy, but at the end of the day science has proven time and time again it’s about calories or energy supply. Don’t mistake me, I don’t like how simple it is either, I really don’t. But when it’s all said and done this is the most important factor.
Take for example a scenario where a guy at the gym wants to lose some weight and he read that protein suppresses appetite and that more calories are burned after eating equivalent amounts of fat or carbohydrate. Individually and collectively, both of these factors can go on to promote a favorable balance of energy that should stimulate weight (and fat) loss. But if this person takes the mindset that because they are eating a grilled chicken breast or 90% lean beef, both great lean sources of protein, that they can eat an extra one or better yet if they happen to turn it into a sandwich with bread, some form of spread, then it becomes possible that more calories are being consumed which are realized and will impede your results. I’m not refuting science! In fact, a great number of studies now consistently show that when a restricted calorie diet is followed and one diet contains mostly protein and the other diet contains mostly carbohydrate, the people consuming the mostly protein diet will see better weight and fat loss and also see greater improvements in valuable markers of health such as glucose, insulin, cholesterols and fats in the blood. To be clear this scenario isn’t accurately depicting the environment with which this research is conducted but rather two things which can happen quickly: 1) because something is “healthy” people think you can eat more of it with no consequence and 2) you “forget” about adding things like ketchup, mayo, cheese, pesto, fancy breads, etc. all of which provide added calories.
These study results do not say that a person who eats a diet mostly in protein but consumes 20-25% more calories when compared to someone who eats less calories will still have these favorable results, and this is the important factor to understand. No better combination exists than to daily combine some form of exercise with a diet that restricts the amount of calories you consume. Keep it simple and stick with that. If you get one more minute of exercise today than yesterday and eat one less calorie each day than you did yesterday you will lose weight. This article is not intended to argue for one form of exercise over another or one diet or another, rather it’s serving as a reminder of the most important principle that people overlook. It’s overlooked because it’s not flashy or exciting, “eat less calories than what you burn, ho hum!” If you are one of the few that does this day in and day out, you’ve likely seen positive results, if you haven’t then you need to reassess your diet and exercise habits and make certain you are eating and burning what you think you are because studies indicate that this likely is an area where significant error can be introduced.
Although obvious, this principle and mindset is often forgotten. This line of thinking needs to be front at center and be executed daily, each day, for the best results. Sure you can take off days for a break, a football game, gathering of friends, etc. but the world is a tricky place which preys on your lust for flavor and taste. “Bad” foods taste SOOOO good for a reason and daily recognition of this needs to be carried with you. Plates of food at places where their slogan might be “size matters” or “everything is bigger in TX” might not be the best places to frequent. Then if you’re one of those who then says, “I’m not going to change what I eat or be a slave to my diet” that’s fine, just don’t also be the person who is utterly lost and confused why you can’t lose weight and complain to everyone you know that you are somehow “special” in the fact that your body just doesn’t want to lose weight. My advice is simple: plan, execute and take baby steps. Celebrate the small victories of not getting a 2nd helping or 5 extra minutes on the treadmill instead of saying you’re going to run an extra 3 miles or only eat steamed broccoli and grilled chicken for dinner each night. These small victories will add up and become bigger and bigger, hopefully just in time for swimsuit season.