Women, Nutrition & Weight Loss
Calories: In order to lose weight, you must have a negative energy balance. This simply means that you must burn more calories than you consume. While there are many factors that affect how many calories your body burns, the general equation for females is 655 + (9.6 x Weight) + (1.7 x Height)– (4.7 x Age). If your goal is to lose weight, you need a deficit of about 300-500 calories a day to safely lose that weight. If you want to tone up, that means that you’re trying to build lean muscle mass and this gives you an increased protein need. Your body needs the aminos in protein to repair and build muscle after exercise. Round your calories up to a whole number for simplicity and to account for the extra protein requirement. Aim to burn at least 400 calories a day with exercise. This will leave you with a caloric deficit but enough energy to build muscle mass as well. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns even at rest. If you’re worried about becoming too bulky or looking masculine, DON’T BE! Body builders and figure competitors work extremely hard to maintain their bodies. You will never accidentally become that toned without very specific strength training and a restrictive diet. If that is your goal, you need much more information than what is provided here.
Macronutrients are nutrients that your body requires a large quantity of. The three categories are Carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Lately carbs have been getting a bad reputation for causing weight gain and many nutrition plans aim to eliminate most sources from your diet. Carbs are absolutely necessary for brain and heart function. They serve as immediate energy sources for the body. BUT be aware that all carbs are not created equally. Most people think of breads, pastas, and cereals when they hear carbs but rices, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are also carbs. Aim to consume these natural sources rather than any processed version and you’re on the right track.
So how many carbs do you need? Recommendations vary slightly depending on which credible book or website you are on but 45-65% of your caloric intake is the healthy range. Your body needs carbs as its main energy source. When you consistently restrict this source at unhealthy levels you’ll find that your productivity decreases. You’ll start to feel sluggish and even have issues with concentrating. Your brain only uses glucose to function, therefore it is essential to have in your diet and spread throughout the day. Also it is the main source of energy when exercising. Proteins and fats take more time and energy to break down. If you don’t have the energy to exercise, you won’t be able to create a consistent deficit to continue weight loss.For those who are looking to lose weight, a healthy caloric deficit would be 1500-1700 calories a day. At 60% of your intake, this would be 225- 255g of carbs per day. Carbs equate to 4 calories per gram.
Protein requirement increases as calorie levels decrease. The more you exercise, especially strength and speed activities such as weight lifting, sprinting, basketball, the more protein you’ll need. At 25% of a diet of 1500-1700 calories this is 95-105grams, but you must increase this number to battle hunger and aid muscle recovery while calories are low. Aim for 120g of protein a day. Protein also provides 4 calories of energy per gram just like carbs. And all protein sources are not created equal either. Meats, fish, and soy are the only complete sources of protein, meaning they contain all of the necessary amino acids your body needs. Plant sources such as nuts, beans, and grains are great, but if you are only consuming these sources, you must increase your protein intake slightly higher and eat a great a variety of these sources throughout the day.
Fats should comprise at least 15-20% of your daily intake, 35% is the recommended upper limit in a balanced diet. It can be higher for elite athletes in high endurance sports. Healthy saturated fats are needed for brain and heart healthy. Some good fat sources include nuts, avocados, natural oils and fish. This source provides the most energy per gram at 9 calories. Fats, like carbs often get a bad rep for causing weight gain, but eaten in the right proportions, they are a great energy source and also help increase satiety and decrease overeating. At 15-20% of your intake, aim for around 40-50g of fat daily.
There is no one “diet” that is guaranteed to work for everyone. Diets in general have a high rate of failure because they typically restrict one area too much. Changing nutrition habits to eat more natural, whole foods within the recommended proportions will give you better long term results with weight control and overall happiness. Spread across 5 meals, using the same 1500-1700 calories as we have in previous paragraphs this gives you around 25g protein, 45g carbs, and 6g fat per meal and approximately 300-350 calories per meal. One big point to remember is that you are aiming for an overall caloric deficit. If one meal ends up being 400 calories, simply adjust at another meal. You do not need to stress about hitting the specific number overall. And if you have a day that you’re more active, it’s ok to add more calories as long as they are lean and nutritious. Add more green veggies or lean proteins. Dehydration can also mask itself as hunger. Aim to drink a gallon of water per day, every single day! This will decrease your likelihood of bloating as well. Your body stores water when it is not readily available. Eliminate juices and sugary drinks completely. The nutritional value of fruit is greatly decreased when processed in these juices and ends up being an added source of calories and sugars that you do not need in your diet. As your body changes and grows, your needs will too. If you are constantly hungry, it’s time to increase your intake. Without enough energy, your body will go into starvation mode and store fat and you’ll see a weight loss plateau, possibly even regain weight. Listen to your body!
Timing: Always, always, always eat breakfast. It is imperative to give your body energy and jumpstart your metabolism for the day. It gets your body out of the stagnant state it maintains as you sleep. You should aim to have your starchy carbs such as rice, grains, breads and potatoes earlier in the day and especially before and after your workouts. They give your body needed energy but at higher calorie cost. Since you will not be working out at night, there is not a need to have these items with your dinner or if you have an evening snack. The only carbs you will consume later in the day should come from veggies. Evening meals can be higher in fat and protein than the others. This is to encourage protein synthesis post workout and while your body recovers as you rest. It is also to provide satiety in the evenings when your starchy carb levels are lower.
Tracking intake: Download an app that allows you to track your intake on your phone. I really like MyFitnessPal. Remember to include any sauces that you add including mustard, ketchup, steak sauce. In general, try to limit these. They are another source of unnecessary calories and extra sodium. You will want to keep sodium intake low as higher levels cause you to retain water (water weight/bloat). Do not add extra salt or sugar to your meals. Any other spices are fine. Mrs Dash seasonings are good replacements. Adding onion and fresh peppers are also a great way to add flavor. Stevia is a natural 0 calorie sweetener that is becoming increasing popular. It tastes similar to diet sugar but there are no found side effects as there are with diet sugars. Walden Farms also makes 0 calorie syrups that you could add to flavor your yogurts and oatmeal.
Tracking Progress: Take a before picture that shows your full body from the front and side. Wait at least 2 weeks to take another picture. Comparing details day by day can be discouraging especially if you have a bad day. And remember it’s about overall deficit. You can have a bad day and still lose weight at the end of the week. You just have to get back on track and keep pushing yourself! When you do weigh yourself, do it naked, first thing in the morning after you use the bathroom and before you eat or drink. This gives you the most accurate reading. While it is not necessary, Fitness trackers are a cool way to track your exercise progress throughout the day and keep you motivated to burn more calories. MyFitnessPal syncs to the Fitbit and Apple watches.