Nutrition 101 for Dummies – The Basics of What You Need to Know

Nutrition/diet is one of the most highly debated topics in my field, as if it were religion. Athlete and non-athlete alike, it is AS important if not MORE than your actual training. Just like training, there has to be a purpose or a reason for what you put into your body. Physical goals of putting on muscle or loosing fat, or a psychological goal of satisfying food cravings are reasons for “doing something”. All have purposes and all can be abused. Holy Wars at various times have certainly been waged against carbs, animal flesh, and fat. But before there was social media, before there was the internet, and before people were so consumed with THEMSELVES, what did we as humans eat? It is such a basic question you might (maybe not due to this generation being so lost) think that it is rhetorical. Well, we ate what was available of course. I did not live in the early 1900’s, or the 1800’s and since you’re reading this I assume you did not either, but I think without argument I can say that McDonalds, Coca-Cola/Soda (Coke), soy “health”, Frosted Flakes/Cereal, Pasta, Fat-Free Milk, Veggie Burgers, and Snickers bars did not exist. Do you know coincidentally what ALSO didn’t exist at that time? Diabetes, obesity, cancer, sleep disorders (on a large scale), etc, etc. “How could we have survived” is probably what you are thinking huh? What if there was not such a thing as “diet” or “cardio” and it was more “food” and “living”. What would “food” look like? Animals that roamed freely on land or in the sea, vegetables and starches that grew from the ground. Fruit or Fat that grew from trees. Weird concept right? Things that occurred naturally, and STOP if your immediate thought was a vegan from whole foods. I am talking about beef, bacon, spinach, olives, avocados, apples, coconut, and potatoes to name a few.

I sit here and write this drinking a Blood Orange IPA from Lattitude 33 brewing in San Diego, CA (you have to live right) but wanted to write this due to a few questions I have received lately from people in the gym and strangers alike. The first thing we need to establish is what food actually is, and food is broken down into 3 macronutrients which can be broken down into micronutrients.

Protein (PRO) – The primary structural and functional component of EVERY cell in the human body. Vegans pay attention. This isn’t my view on it, this is scientific fact. (anemia anyone?) Proteins are used for growth, development, and repair of cells. These molecules are made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. 4 calories exist for every gram of PRO.

examples: beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, and other animal sources

Carbohydrates (CHO) – Largely the most debated issue inside of nutrition, however CHO are NOT AN ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT, however for athletes, very crucial (if your primary movement pattern occur in classes, you’re not an athlete). They supply a quick way for ATP resynthesis which ultimately allows muscles to contract. CHO are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. 4 calories exist for every gram of CHO.

examples: glucose, rice, spinach, carrots, broccoli, apples, berries, honey, tortillas, tomatoes, and anything that is a fruit, vegetable, or starch.

Fat (FAT) – Similar to CHO, fats contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Fat is an ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT, the molecular make-up is similar to CHO but the fatty-acid chains contain more carbon and hydrogen than oxygen; they serve as a higher energy source than carbohydrate. 9 calories exist for every gram of FAT.

examples: olives(oil), coconut, butter, almonds, animal skin, etc.

Every time we consume food, we ingest food the breaks down in our stomach into these macronutrients (excluding fiber). Depending on energy levels (BMR and Activity), amount of muscle tissue, the demands determine the use of the macronutrients. Repair, energy, growth, sustainability, etc are uses.

The single largest factor to weight gain (good or bad) is the demands of the body and what is needed. What drives this single factor is hormone response. Hormone response is derived from activity level (intensity), micronutrient/mineral needs, sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system needs and activity, and basic maintenance of your current weight/lean body mass level. The 2 hormones that have the biggest role in this process are insulin and cortisol.

—Insulin – A hormone secreted by the pancreas. It’s main role is to facilitate the uptake of glucose (sugar/carbohydrate broken down) into cells for later usage. The reason for secretion of insulin is a high level of blood sugar, so anytime we have a higher level than normal (which is lower than you think) insulin will secrete so we can have energy for later usage. The 3 places in our body where energy is stored are the muscles, the liver, and fat cells. The only one of those 3 that exponentially grows; fat cells. The bigger our muscles the more storage for energy, the smaller our muscle cells the less storage (lift anyone?) With that being said, when our liver and muscle cells are topped off, the overflow is into our fat cells. Insulin is important and without it we would die, however it is abused far too much.

—Cortisol – An adrenal hormone (adrenaline), is a catabolic hormone (breaking down of nutrients) and primarily helps the body aid in carbohydrate metabolism when the body perceives the body has low stores of glycogen (glucose/sugar) to help supply “energy”. Cortisol is secreted by the Adrenal Cortex and responds to “low blood sugar” and STRESS. Stress knows no difference; physical, emotional, hormonal. Cortisol is secreted regardless of TYPE of stress.

Maybe we are asking why these are so important?

To make a long story short we are a culture of high stress, high carbohydrate lives. Our bodies’ response to high stress levels is to secrete more cortisol so that we have the blood sugar levels to respond, and if we have too high of blood sugar levels than our bodies respond by secreting insulin to store it for later use. See the problem? Wake up too early (shock/stress) to go to a job where we sit (inactivity) and are stressed by non-physical factors (bosses, not meeting deadlines, feeling inadequate), which causes a blood sugar spike, which causes storage for later use, which causes weight gain, which causes cortisol to spike again, which causes insulin to spike again….which causes sleep issues, which comes with weight gain/obesity, heart disease…so on and so on. Do you see the problem? I hope so.

This is the 101 version, and was written to bring light to the basics of nutrition (from my point of view). I get too often:
– How do I loose weight?
– I have been working out twice a day, why am I still overweight?
– What is the easiest way to put on muscle?
– What do you eat, how do I look like you?

The answer is every time; IT DEPENDS. There is not one answer, just like training it is a complex situation that requires detailed decision making and is not “move more and eat less”. That logic has lead the US the be the fattest country in the world. If in one sentence I could give you the key it would be this:
“Eat real food, nothing processed; Functionally move (squat, pull, run, jump), and sleep more”
Top 10 “diet/health” facts that you need to comprehend

1. Fat doesn’t make you fat.

2. It is NOT about calories in and calories out; you eat 2,000 calories of table sugar, and I will eat 2,000 calories of chicken, broccoli, olives, and apples. Will we look the same?

3. Cardio does not make you skinny, lifting weights does not make you big. Genetics and eating right, determine body composition.

4. “Sleep makes you lazy”, not. Sleeping is the most fundamental aspect to someones health. Lose sleep, lose the ability to recover and become healthy. 7 hours+ EVERY NIGHT

5. Your bootcamp class does not make you hard, nor as fit as our military warriors.

6. Acai bowls are NOT healthy

7. Supplements are for athletes ONLY (read above if you think you’re an athlete)

8. Skinny does not mean healthy

9. Sit ups do not produce abs

10. Craft beer is healthy

3 comments on “Nutrition 101 for Dummies – The Basics of What You Need to Know”

  1. Cris Reply

    Fantastic read right there!!!! Fabulous & such simple advise! Thank you for the read!!!

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