FTM Fitness Part 2: Nutrition for YOU
I've been working on this page off and on for a couple years now, and the problem has always been trying to distill the mountain of information I've waded through into something simple and easy, a concrete plan that interested parties can pick up and run with. On the other hand, I don't want to simplify it to the point where you don't know why I'm giving you the advice that I am. So I tried to reduce it to the most important bits, and at the end of the section there's a TL;DR that summarizes it even further. Onward!
THE MISSION OBJECTIVES
1. Men have more bulk in their arms and shoulders than women, so you need to put on muscle in your arms and shoulders. Other muscles are nice too, but shoulders are what will help you pass.
2. Men have less subcutaneous (below-the-skin) fat than women, and practically none on their hips, so you need to lose body fat.
Step 1: What to Eat
Whole grains, vegetables, lean meats, (sound familiar?) and LOTS AND LOTS OF PROTEIN.
Protein is what muscle is made of, you cannot gain muscle mass without it. If you lift weights without consuming adequate protein, you will not build muscle, end of story. Your body needs the raw material to make muscles out of, and that material is protein. On the bright side, protein has only 4 calories per gram and, like fat, will keep you feeling full afterwards.
The rule of thumb that bodybuilders use is one gram of protein per pound of *target* body weight. So regardless of whether you're 100 lbs soaking wet and trying to be a trim 160, or 210 lbs and aiming for the same, you're both going to be consuming the same amount of protein. And honestly, you may not be able to get that much protein into you, which -- unless you're going absolutely balls-to-the-wall on your weight lifting regimen -- is probably alright. I aim for at least 100 grams of protein a day, and I'm satisfied with the rate at which I put on muscle.
The only drawbacks to protein:
1. As a food source, it tends to be more expensive ($$) than carbs or fats since it's usually found in meat, fish, and eggs. Beans are a much cheaper source of protein, so if you enjoy them you are quite lucky indeed.
2. Being in meat, it often comes hand-in-hand with a lot of fat, saturated and otherwise.
3. Theoretically, excessive amounts of protein can damage your kidneys, but you would have to take it really, really overboard -- which someone always tries to do, which is why I'm mentioning it, even though it shouldn't apply to you unless you decide to eat nothing but a dozen protein shakes a day.
You will be your own best judge of what protein sources you like and can afford, but for comparison:
1 scoop of protein powder - 26 g (will vary somewhat, but that's for the kind I use)
100 g of lean beef - 21.4 g
100 g of chicken breast - 21.2 g
100 g of tilapia - 20.1 g
100 g of extra lean ham - 18.9 g
1/2 c greek yogurt - 12 g
1 cup oats - 11 g
1/2 c cottage cheese - 10 g
2 tbsp peanut butter - 9 g
1 cup milk - 8.3 g
1 egg - 6.3 g
1 stick of string cheese - 6 g
Find other protein sources
The good word on protein powder
If you're having trouble meeting your protein quota, then protein powders are a great way to boost your protein intake. Going to the supplement section of your local Walmart or sporting goods store, you may feel overwhelmed by the selection available, but they basically work on two axes: what kind of protein it is (whey, soy, rice -- whey protein is a milk byproduct, so unless you're vegan it's your best choice) and how it's been flavored (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc). Hardcore bodybuilders have Strong Opinions about casein, creatine, linoleic acid, etc etc etc, but for our purposes, any of them will do fine and you should probably make your decision based on taste -- you need something you'll be willing to put in your mouth on a regular basis.
For what it's worth, I use Body Fortress's whey isolate powder, because it's cheap, you can get it at Walmart, the specs are decent, and it's actually pretty tasty. Their vanilla mixes with anything, and the cookies-and-cream flavor is surprisingly good on its own. (Protip for making smooth and creamy shakes: don't use ice, use a frozen banana.)
There are tons of websites with ideas for protein shakes, and even recipes that involve cooking with protein powder. If you get bored of mixing it with milk, the sky is the limit.
The rest of your diet should consist of (and I'm going to keep hammering this until it becomes second nature) mostly vegetables. In addition to those 100+ g of protein, you should also be getting 20 grams of fiber per day. Beyond that, consume fatty foods and sugars in moderation, let your body tell you when it's full, and you will probably do alright for yourself, without having to resort to calorie-counting.
Eating for your workout
The good folks at bodybuilding.com recommend eating 30-40 grams of complex (re: whole grain) carbohydrates and 30-40 grams of protein an hour before your workout. Basically, toss some oatmeal in a protein shake, or have a muffin with your shake.
After a weight-lifting workout, you want to get a protein shake into you as soon as possible. Shakes are preferable to solid proteins (ex: fish) at this point, because liquids are easier for your body to put to use right away.
If you are eating healthy but still having trouble losing body fat, you may have to start counting calories for a while. This applies mostly to people with a medical/genetic predisposition to weight gain (PCOS, for example) or who are very close to their body's "ideal" weight, at which point it's going to resist giving up any more body fat. If neither of those apply to you, feel free to skip to the next page and start reading about exercise.
Calorie counting involves figuring out how many calories you burn in a day, and then keeping a comprehensive record of how many calories you consume. If you're trying to lose weight, you should aim for a 500-750 calorie deficit per day. -500 calories per day = 1 lb of fat loss per week; -750 = 1.5 lbs. This is considered the healthy rate at which to lose weight.
Calorie counting is not particularly easy -- it takes a kitchen scale, a lot of nutrition charts, and a lot of time on your hands. I certainly don't have the stamina to do it all the time. However, I think it can be very useful for short stretches to help you get a sense of how many calories are in any given food. Mass has nothing to do with it -- a whole zucchini has about 20 calories, whereas a single slice of cheddar has 110. Knowing that, you'll be more careful of how many slices you cut yourself for a snack.
A program I found that makes it considerably easier is VidaOne. It's got a free 1-month trial if you want to use it for a bit, but I actually found it worth paying for in the end. I don't use it all the time, but when I go on a health kick and want to keep close tabs on what I'm eating, it is invaluable. (And if you don't want to pay for it, google turns up many other options.)
So how do you know how many calories should you be eating for weight loss/gain/maintenance? First, you have to figure out what your baseline is -- how many calories you need to consume to stay exactly at the weight you are now. Then gaining or losing weight is going to be a matter of consuming more or fewer calories than that.
You start by finding your BMR (Base Metabolic Rate), which is the number of calories your body would burn if you literally sat on the couch and did sweet fuck-all for the entire day. You can calculate your BMR here. Your sex, in this case, equates to your hormones. Your metabolism doesn't care what's in your pants or what's in your head -- it's influenced by what set of sex hormones have the reins -- so if you're on testosterone, put yourself down as male, if not, tell it you're female. You're not going to get accurate results otherwise.
I am currently 5'10", 142 lbs, 29 years old, and on T, so my BMR is 1642.
But nobody literally sits in one spot without moving a muscle all day, so the next step is to figure out your actual calorie expenditure, which is based on how active you are.
Harris Benedict Formula
To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
My mode of transportation is walking or biking and I work out about three times a week, so let's say I'm moderately active and multiply my 1642 BMR by a coefficient of 1.5, which gives me 2463 in calories per day. Theoretically, if I eat 2463 calories per day I will stay at precisely the same weight, and if I eat about 1950 calories a day I will lose 1 lb per week. You can break that up into three main meals of 500 calories apiece, with another 450 allocated to snacking throughout the day, or do smaller meals more often. My meals usually only run 300-400 calories, but my schedule also allows me to come home and snack whenever I feel like it.
You run into trouble with calorie-counting when eating anything you didn't cook yourself, which can make it hard not to be a total antisocial killjoy when you go out with friends for food or drinks. The way I manage it is by leaving about 1000 calories in the bank, so to speak, when I'm eating out, because it's a rare thing to get out of a restaurant meal with under 800 calories. You may not be able to get an accurate count for the day, but budgeting 1000 calories for a meal out will keep you from go way over target.
Now in reality it's never that simple, because metabolism is a fiendishly tricky thing to pin down. Yes, it depends on age/weight/height/sex/activity, but it also depends on your body composition (muscle is more "expensive" to maintain than fat, so a 150 lb dude of solid muscle is going to burn more calories just sitting on his ass than a 150 lb dude of solid fat), genetics, hormone levels, stress levels, and diet. The best we can do is get a ballpark figure (mine being about 2460 calories a day) and work with that. If you find that cutting 500 calories off that isn't taking the weight off fast enough, you may need to recalculate.
Unless you are absolutely tiny, you shouldn't be going below 1600 calories a day -- that shit is dangerous.
Here are some screencaps of a day in the life of VidaOne: calorie total || calorie breakdown || nutrient breakdown
- Eat 100-150 grams of protein per day. Supplement with protein shakes/powders if you have to.
- Eat vegetables the rest of the time. Go light on sweets and processed food.
- Drink a protein shake with a 1/4 c oatmeal in it 1 hour before your workout, and drink another protein shake ASAP after your workout.
- If you're still having trouble losing weight, try keeping track of your calorie intake.
- If you're cutting calories, aim for a 500-750 calorie deficit per day, no more.
Places to start looking for healthy food:
13,000 high-protein recipes on Food.com
Low carb on-the-go
(Basically my motto is "when in doubt, google it")
FTM Fitness Part 3: Lifting Heavy Objects and Putting Them Down Again