Super excited to jump into my first specific topic on this blog, and what better way to provide you guys with valuable content than discussing basic nutrition! This is a pyramid that’s circled around many times, but I recreated it because I think it so clearly outlines the making of a healthy diet, and what you should apply into your own nutritional regimen to reap the best possible results. Whether you’re a complete beginner when it comes to nutrition, or if you’ve simply been confused by all the conflicting data available online, this guide can be incredibly useful for where to shift your attention to when approaching your nutrition to maximize your results. I’ll briefly break down each layer 1X1, and explain its individual placement on this scale.
Total energy balance is the most important factor in determining our body composition (Strasser 2007), and understanding the amount of energy our body needs is useful for simplifying fat loss and muscle gain, when a caloric deficit/surplus is important for the desired result. For people with specific body composition goals, or simply just trying to a healthy amount of food for their personal body, understand proper energy balance is the important factor in supporting that goal. If you want to gain weight, you must be in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you expend). Consequently, if you want to lose weight, you must be in a caloric deficit (eating fewer then you expend).
Next on this list are macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), each of which are incredibly important for supply our bodies with readily available energy and other essential health benefits. Proteins and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9 calories per gram. After factoring in your daily energy balance requirement, utilize macronutrient targets to help you reach that caloric intake while hitting your minimum essential nutrients (0.7g protein/ lb of bodyweight, 0.4g fat/ lb of bodyweight). Carbs are not an essential macronutrient, and therefore can be prioritized after your protein and fat requirements have been accounted for. More on each of the macronutrients in a future post.
Unfortunately with all of the attention given to macronutrients, micronutrients are often neglected in the one’s nutritional approach, which is a serious mistake for those looking to maximize their health. Micronutrients are composed of various vitamins and minerals that are needed in smaller doses to support the body’s main functions, and have shown to be critical in prevention and treatment of disease (Shenkin 2006). A healthy diet should be filled with fruits, vegetables, grains, and other nutrient-dense foods that supply high levels of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Once you know the amount of calories/macronutrients are required to reach your body composition goals, base your individual food choices around a healthy supply of micronutrients. While it is technically possible to track your recommended intake for each micronutrient, I recommend instead simply basing your diet around a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fat sources. Doing so should pretty much cover each of your requirements and keep your body running at a high-efficiency.
Nutrient timing is another consideration for those looking to maximize muscle and strength gains. While it is not ESSENTIAL to spread out meal frequency over the course of a day to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, 4 meals of ~30-40 has shown to elicit higher rates of MPS and contribute to additional goals (Phillips et al 2013). Again, this is more of an advanced consideration, but once the below areas have been covered, it is something that can be applied to your nutritional regimen. If it fits into your dietary preferences and schedule, a pre-bed meal should also be worth trying for those looking to maximize muscle growth overnight, with one study showing a meal of at least 40g of protein prior to sleep maximizes muscle protein synthesis levels while you sleep (Tromellen and van Loon 2016)
The final nutritional branch worth consideration after ALL of the 4 areas below have been covered are dietary supplements. Supplements should be used to supplement an already nutritionally rich diet, and just that. Both your money and time should be spent on maximizing your nutrition with each of the other layers, and if you’re still unable to hit certain nutritional requirements and like the convenience of a certain supplement, then it may be a product worth consideration. Again, I’ll discuss supplements more in-depth in future posts, but the most important thing to remember is that they will not magically change your physique, so please put them at the lowest level of importance in your nutritional regimen.
Practical applications: For beginners seeking to understand the proper principles of a health diet, it is important that you understand total energy balance, macronutrients and micronutrients, and effectively apply your personal requirements into the overall context of your diet. Once those have been covered, it is worth considering protein timing and dietary supplements to fill any holes and/or maximize health and performance results. As always, this is simply meant as a guide to approach your nutrition, and it is not something that has to be strictly monitored 24/7. Enjoy your diet, consume the foods you enjoy with friends and family, and utilize these balance techniques to maximize your fitness goals.
I hope you guys find this chart helpful! I remember when I first started out, I came across a similar post and instantly started to change my dietary approach to match my goals. I’m a big believer that sharing content is what helps us learn and grow as human beings, so I’m always happy to condense my knowledge into a simple infographic. Is there something you think I missed that’s worth consideration on this pyramid? Let me know down below!