Tuesday, 14 August 2012

How many calories is the right number of calories? (part 2)

So following on from the last epic blog post where the seemingly simple task of establishing how many calories should be consumed in a day turned into the longest post on this blog so far, we probably should now move on to look at how that information is used in conjunction with personal weight loss or fitness goals. (The first part of this post can be found here How-many-calories-is-right-number-of calories)
Some of what follows will appear to be "stating the bleedin' obvious" to some of you, but you would be amazed with the number of people I have met this year who's approach to losing weight or eating to provide fuel for sport is based on nothing more thought through than a vague notion to either just "eat less" or "eat more, but not carbs, because carbs make you fat" I have to admit that earlier this year I probably fell into both of these categories at different times based on whether it was when I simply wanted to lose weight or when I started to decide to get serious about getting fit. 

I think it's fair to say that whilst I made progress with both losing weight and getting fit again, I didn't really think about whether losing weight quickly would make the process of getting seriously fit more difficult or whether having no real strategy for eating to provide fuel for training would actually be holding me back or even causing a loss of lean body mass (muscle) On reflection I think at different times one or more of these things was happening, which undoubtedly made the road to increased fitness and lower weight more difficult than it needed to be. Hopefully the nutrition focused posts on this blog will help others to formulate a thought through approach to weight loss, increased fitness or both.   

So, you have established your maintenance level of required caloric intake per day using the guidelines in the previous post or one of the other available formula's, the next step is to adjust your calories according to your primary goal. The principles and calculations of calorie balance are simple: To keep your weight at its current level, you should remain at your daily calorie maintenance level. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by reducing your calories slightly below your maintenance level (or keeping your calories the same and increasing your activity above your current level). To gain weight you need to increase your calories above your maintenance level. The only difference between weight gain programs and weight loss programs is the total number of calories required. See I said we would be stating the obvious!

A negative calorie balance is essential to lose body fat, note that we are referring to fat loss, not weight loss. Fat loss is what we want to achieve not muscle loss!

Calories not only count, they are the bottom line when it comes to losing fat. If you are eating more calories than you use or burn, you simply will not lose any fat, no matter what type of foods or food combinations you eat. Some foods do get stored as fat more easily than others, but always bear in mind that too much of anything, even "healthy food," will get stored as fat. You must be in a calorie deficit to burn fat. This will force your body to use stored body fat to make up for the energy deficit. There are approximately 3500 calories in a pound of stored body fat. If you create a 3500-calorie deficit in a week through diet, exercise or a combination of both, you will lose one pound. If you create a 7000 calories deficit in a week you will lose two pounds. The calorie deficit can be created through diet, exercise or preferably, with a combination of both. Because we already factored in the exercise deficit by using an activity multiplier when we calculated our maintenance calorie level, the deficit we are concerned with here is the dietary deficit.

Reducing calorie intake, How low is too low?

Cutting calories too much slows down the metabolic rate, decreases thyroid output and causes loss of lean body mass (muscle), which for anybody who is losing weight as part of a sports training programme is probably not going to be a good thing. So the question is how much of a deficit do you need? There appears to be a specific cutoff or threshold where further reductions in calories will have detrimental effects. The most common guideline for calorie reduction for fat loss is to reduce your calories by at least 500, but no more than 1000 below your maintenance level. For some,   lighter people, 1000 calories may be too much of a reduction. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that calorie levels never drop below 1200 calories per day for women or 1800 per day for men. Even these calorie levels are extremely low.

A alternative way to determine the safe calorie deficit would be to account for  body weight or calculated  maintenance calorie levels and Reduce consumed calories by perhaps 15-20% below maintenance could be a good place to start. A larger reduction may be necessary in some cases, but the best approach would be to keep the calorie deficit through diet small while increasing activity levels.

Example  A:
Your weight is 120 lbs.
Your maintenance calorie level is 2033 calories
Your calorie deficit to lose weight is 500 calories
Your optimal caloric intake for weight loss is 2033 - 500 = 1533 calories

Example  B:
Your calorie deficit to lose weight is 20% of calculated calorie maintenance level  (.20% X 2033 = 406 calories)
Your optimal caloric intake for weight loss = 1627 calories

Take care when reducing, or increasing, your calorie intake and try to remember to do it gradually

After calculating your own total daily energy expenditure and adjusting it according to your goal, if the amount is substantially higher or lower than your current intake, then you may want to consider adjusting your calories gradually. For example, if your determine that your optimal caloric intake is 1900 calories per day, but you have only been eating 900 calories per day, your metabolism may be sluggish. An immediate jump to 1900 calories per day might actually cause a fat gain because your body has adapted to a lower caloric intake and the sudden jump up would create a surplus. The best approach would be to gradually increase your calories from 900 to 1900 over a period of a few weeks to allow your metabolism to speed up and acclimatize.

What do you do if you do go to the trouble of working out your optimal calorie intake based on BMR and all of the other stuff in this and the last blog post, and you find you should be eating more than you currently are? Don't be afraid to eat more, if the calculations say you should eat more!

Speaking from personal experience I can honestly say that it is possible to continue to lose fat and eat the required number of calories to keep your body fit and healthy. You may find that you train harder because you have more energy and you may find that you become stronger because your body won't be eating into your muscle reserves, which will in turn allow you to train harder and the overall result will be a reduction in the weight of fat in your body.

Don't be tempted to continue eating to few calories, if you do, chances are you will be lacking in energy to exercise properly and any reduction in weight will probably be a reduction in the weight of your muscle mass which can't be a good thing can it?   

Of course if the calculations say you are eating to much, then I'm afraid there are only really three courses of action available;

  • Eat less, down to the calculated level
  • Exercise more and burn more calories until you reach the calculated level, or;
  • Eat less and do more exercise to bring net calorie consumption down to the calculated level.  

You will have to track progress closely to make sure that the calculated calorie target is the proper level for you. You will know if you’re at the correct level of calories by keeping track of your caloric intake, your body weight, and your body size (try monitoring waist, chest and neck size) . If you don't see the results you expect, then you can adjust your caloric intake and exercise levels accordingly. The bottom line is that it’s not effective to reduce calories to very low levels in order to lose fat. In fact, the more calories you consume the better, as long as a deficit is created through diet and exercise. The best approach is to reduce calories only slightly and raise your daily calorie expenditure by increasing your frequency, duration and or intensity of exercise.

The content of this post and the previous post are based on my experiences over the last eight months and research I have done over that period. I have shared them in the hope that the content will help to inform other peoples weight loss and nutrition for training strategies, however they should not be the only point of reference for somebody looking to inform their own weight loss programme. If you are in any doubt about what is right for you, please seek professional help and guidance, it will save you time and get you better results in the long run than an uninformed or misinformed nutrition strategy. 

As always thanks for taking the time to read more of the random ramblings of the Pixie and I hope you will be able to pop back again some time in the future.

Dha weles diwettha


Monday, 13 August 2012

How many calories is the right number of calories?

I'm sitting here writing this the first paragraph in this post, having just written the end of the post, yes I know that doesn't make sense! Let me explain, the thoughts and information in this post turned into a post that was so big that I have decided to split the post into two or three "bite size chunks" (what is it they say about eating an elephant?) therefore, dear reader I just wanted to give you this information at the beginning of the article rather than have you get to the end and wonder where the end of the article is - hence the need for this first paragraph being written after the rest of the article!  


So lets get on with the blog post..........

If I had a pound for everytime i have recently been asked "how many calories do you eat a day?" I'd be a richer man. This question is usually followed by "do you think that would be right for me?" I then have to explain that I don't know because I don't know certain things about the person............

Being as focused as I have been for the last few months on achieving significant weight loss and increased fitness levels, I have become very familiar with the concept of counting calories in and measuring calories out (calories burnt through activity). The purpose of this exercise is simply to understand and manage the amount and type of food consumed to ensure that sufficient food is consumed to provide fuel for training without eating more than is actually required and therefore avoiding gains in % body fat levels. Measuring calories in and out can also be used to good effect where simple weight loss is the aim.

Measuring calories consumed and calories burnt through activity is fine but it becomes very much less effective if the incorrect " net calorie target" is used. So how do you know what the correct number of calories is? I'm sure many people just pick a number and try to lose weight or maintain weight using what is in effect a guess as their calorie target, or worse still they may know somebody who has lost weight by sticking to a calorie target and they use that persons calorie target because it worked for the other person.

What we actually need to know and understand is how many calories does our body need each day in order for it to function healthily without gaining or losing weight. Once we know this number we can then work out what our calorie target is going to be taking into account our sports and weight loss goals.

Basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the minimum calorific requirement needed to sustain life in a resting individual. It can be looked at as being the amount of energy (measured in calories) expended by the body to remain in bed asleep all day!

BMR can be responsible for burning up to 70% of the total calories expended, but this figure varies from one individual to another. Calories are burned by bodily processes such as respiration, the pumping of blood around the body and maintenance of body temperature.

BMR is the largest factor in determining overall metabolic rate and how many calories you need to maintain, lose or gain weight. BMR is determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as:

  • Some people are born with faster metabolisms; some with slower metabolisms.

  • Men have a greater muscle mass and a lower body fat percentage. This means they generally have a higher basal metabolic rate.

  • BMR reduces with age. After 20 years, it drops about 2 per cent, per decade.

  • The heavier your weight, the higher your BMR. Example: the metabolic rate of obese women is 25 percent higher than the metabolic rate of thin women.

  • The greater your Body Surface Area factor, the higher your BMR. Tall, thin people have higher BMRs. If you compare a tall person with a short person of equal weight, then if they both follow a diet calorie-controlled to maintain the weight of the taller person, the shorter person may gain up to 15 pounds in a year.

  • The lower your body fat percentage, the higher your BMR. The lower body fat percentage in the male body is one reason why men generally have a 10-15% faster BMR than women.

  • Starvation or serious abrupt calorie-reduction can dramatically reduce BMR by up to 30 percent. Restrictive low-calorie diets may cause your BMR to drop as much as 20%.

  • Physical exercise not only influences body weight by burning calories, it also helps raise your BMR by building extra lean tissue. (Lean tissue is more metabolically demanding than fat tissue.) So you burn more calories even when sleeping.
What can we take away from all of this information? Well the really big thing to remember is that whatever an individuals BMR is, this is the minimum number of calories that are required by that persons body to remain fit and healthy. Significant variations from this number will probably end up with one of two results, poor health or increased weight. 

It's all well and good knowing that their is something called BMR, but how does the ordinary man or woman on the street work out what their own BMR is? 

There are many different formula's you can use to determine your caloric maintenance level by taking into account the factors of age, sex, height, weight, lean body mass, and activity level. Any formula that takes into account your lean body mass (LBM) will give you the most accurate determination of your energy expenditure, but even without LBM you can still get a reasonably close estimate and a reasonably close estimate has to be better than guessing how many calories your body needs?

A reasonably accurate method for calculating the number of calories a body requires to maintain existing weight is to BMR using multiple factors, including height, weight, age and sex, then multiply the BMR by an activity factor to determine the actual daily calories a body needs. BMR is the total number of calories your body requires for normal bodily functions (excluding activity factors). Remember, this includes keeping your heart beating, inhaling and exhaling air, digesting food, making new blood cells, maintaining your body temperature and every other metabolic process in your body. In other words, your BMR is all the energy used for the basic processes of keeping the body healthy and keeping you alive.

For people who regularly participate in sport or are in structured training programmes, it is very important to remember that the higher your lean body mass is (or the lower the % body fat figure is) the higher your BMR will be. This is very significant if you want to lose body fat because it means that the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, and it requires a great deal of energy just to sustain it. It is obvious then that one way to increase your BMR is to engage in strength or weight training in order to increase and/or maintain lean body mass. In this respect it could be argued that strength training helps you lose body fat, albeit indirectly.

Well this has turned into a very long post and I can hear you all shouting at the screen now "just tell me how to do the calculation and stop rambling on about all the other stuff" ok, here we go, the Harris Benedict equation is a calorie formula using the factors of height, weight, age, and sex to determine basal metabolic rate (BMR). This makes it more accurate than determining calorie needs based on total body weight alone. The only variable it does not take into consideration is lean body mass. Therefore, this equation will be reasonably accurate in all but the extremely muscular (will under estimate caloric needs) and the extremely over fat (will over estimate caloric needs).

Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X wt in kg) + (5 X ht in cm) - (6.8 X age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X wt in kg) + (1.8 X ht in cm) - (4.7 X age in years)

Note: 1 inch = 2.54 cm.
1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs.

You are female
You are 30 years old
You are 5' 6 " tall (167.6 cm)
You weigh 120 lbs. (54.5 kilos)
Your BMR = 655 + 523 + 302 - 141 = 1339 calories/day

Now that you know your BMR, you can calculate how many calories you need to consume each day based on your known levels of regular exercise/activity by multiplying your BMR by your activity multiplier from the chart below:

Activity Multiplier
Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)

Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)

Mod. active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)

Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)

Extr. Active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, i.e marathon, contest etc.)

Your BMR is 1339 calories per day
Your activity level is moderately active (work out 3-4 times per week)
Your activity factor is 1.55
Your total daily calorie requirement = 1.55 X 1339 = 2075 calories/day

Looks and sounds like a complicated load of bother to go to , just to work out how many calories is the right number of calories to consume on a daily basis, but trust me read the middle of the post a couple of times and it will make sense. Understanding this stuff, made a huge difference to both my weight loss and my training performance.

So, now we have arrived at a reasonably accurate estimate of how many calories our body needs to remain healthy which takes into account our normal lifestyle and regular activity levels, we can now look at how we adjust that figure to meet our personal weight and fitness goals. That,  I think should be a subject for a separate blog post, as this post has ended up being a bit longer than I intended.

As always thanks for taking the time to read the (very long) ramblings of the Pixie and hopefully you will be able to pop back to the blog in the future to see what else the Pixie has learnt on his journey to l'etape 2013.

Dha weles diwettha


Monday, 6 August 2012

July Training Update

Well July is over, although it felt like October at times due to rain and the cooler temperatures we got during the month, and as I am off on holiday in a couple of weeks I thought I'd try and get July's training update done before the end of August.

I guess one of the highlights of this months progress is the fact that I reached the personal weight loss goal that I set myself in January. As of the last week in July I had lost 5 stone and 2 pounds since the middle of January 2012 and now weigh a little under 12 stone. Yes, I'm actually quite pleased with that result - Its surprising what little things reinforce the change this has had on me, such as finding that I now need to check that a large size shirt isn't actually to big for me (I was a "snug" XXL in January)      

If you have read other posts on the blog you will know that I am working with Simon from Total Cycling Performance in respect of my training programme and that first impressions are that Simon's "Smarter Not Longer" philosophy in respect of the amount of time spent training is paying dividends. I can safely say since I have been working to to the training programme that Simon developed for me that I am stronger and have more endurance on the bike. Climbing is easier, average speed is going up and stamina is definitely improving.

Towards the end of the month I changed my working hours to facilitate being able to utilise Monday mornings solely for training and specifically longer rides on the bike. This in combination with the other changes to my training programme has seen me going up to 3-4 hours in the saddle, with only quick "water the flowers" stops and this type of time in the saddle is now fairly comfortable.      

The introduction of High Intensity Interval training into the programme has been both amusing and excruciatingly sickening. This element of my training programme is probably the one that I look forward to completing each week, quick fire sessions at maximum possible performance, followed by short "recovery periods" (trust me this phrase is an outright misrepresentation of what happens - "contemplation period" would be more accurate as all I seem to be doing is thinking about the next maximum performance session) completed over a 20 minute period can only be described as being hell on earth.

Why are the interval sessions amusing? without fail I always find it amusing that as a 50 year old man with a fairly responsible job, capable of making my own choices in life, that I choose to do this to myself at least twice a week. It's also amusing for the neighbours, because I always have the garage door open with the bike facing onto the drive and twice a week the neighbours can stand on the road or in their front rooms and watch a pixie on a bike torture himself to within 30 seconds of falling off in a heap of vomit and sweat.

So what was the month like in numbers?

  • 32 training sessions completed during the month
  • Total training time was a little under 32 hours (so a little over an hour a day   on average)
  • Average heart rate during all training sessions was 129 beats per minute
  • Average maximum heart during all sessions was 154 beats per minute
  • 13,300 calories burnt as a direct result of training sessions (so just under 4 pounds lost due to exercise completed)
  • Total weight loss 6.8 pounds
  • 425 miles covered on the bike

  • As predicted in Junes training update, the amount of weight lost is now slowing up as my nutritional focus switches to a more carbohydrate focused diet to provide much needed energy for training. The bulk of this months weight loss was actually achieved early in July and it took most of the month to lose the last 2 pounds to sneak in under the 12 stone target.

    What is interesting is that my body shape is continuing to change and whilst my weight is stabilising at around the 166-167 pound mark I am continuing to inches off of my waist and chest, Simon predicted this would happen - Maybe he knows what he is talking about! :) 

    What am I looking forward to this month? Most of all I am looking forward to sitting in an airline seat and not feeling as though somebody allocated me a child's seat.

    As always thanks for taking the time to read the Pixies ramblings and hopefully you will be able to find the time to visit the blog again in the future.

    Dha weles diwettha


    (Didn't think you were going to learn some Cornish today did you! - it says "see you later" )