Nutrition. This is such a vast subject. Therefore, I have had to break my PT’s Top Tips for Nutrition up into several different articles each time focusing on one specific aspect – Part 1 on this Nutrition series focuses on the subject of Calories.

How to Work Out Your Optimal Calorific Intake

‘What should I eat?’ has got to be one of the most commonly asked questions on the planet, right? I don’t think a day goes by when a client doesn’t ask me some sort of question regarding their nutrition or snap me a picture of something they’re about to eat, either with the devil on their shoulder or looking for that reassuring, ‘proud PT’ pat-on-the-back. It is a highly emotive subject too. How often are we having conversations regarding the food we’ve eaten, are about to eat, the food we want to eat or the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) we are experiencing when somebody else has something that we now want?

So Why Listen to Me..?

For the past 12 years, I have been a Personal Trainer with a keen interest in everything to do with the body. More specifically, I have a passion for optimising human health which, to be done effectively, must be approached holistically – I want to live forever… and not as a vegetable; but actively, able to enjoy my life for as long as possible! An approach that has had me nicknamed ‘Hippie’ by my Graspp colleague, Coach Sale. With all this in mind, however, can there be anything above our nutrition in the hierarchy of ones’ health?

So, what qualifies me to give you any sort of advice? A wise man once told me ‘You can either read all of the books or find a man that has and have a conversation with him’. This is basically what I have done. I’ve been doing this for 12 years; having conversations daily, being asked questions I didn’t always know the answer to, going away and reading all of the research so that I was not left wanting again. I have a personal passion for my own nutrition as well as that which I have implemented with many of my clients, uniquely, based upon their circumstance, and then observed the results. It is these experiences that give me a foundation with which I can offer you some advice; whether you choose to accept it or not is up to you.

Macronutrients Will Dictate Your Body Shape…

Macronutrients or macros for short, are Proteins, Carbohydrates & Fats. They are so-called this because they make-up the primary building blocks of the foods we consume. It is these components that we manipulate when trying to control our calorific intake. Like it or not, the idea of Calorific Deficit is real! Eat more than we burn and you will gain weight. Eat the same as you burn and your weight will likely maintain. Eat less than we burn and we will lose weight, right? Unfortunately, the latter is not that simple. Chronic dieting and under-fuelled lifestyles have left many of our bodies either in a state of constant ‘fight or flight’, or worse still, with Metabolic Damage.

‘Fight or flight’ is a caveman instinct brought on by the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. No matter how tough we are, our bodies cannot persevere and ‘fight through it’ forever. Eventually, if our bodies do not get the correct fuel, we will be running off of the adrenaline-induced over stimulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (associated with accelerated heart rate, constricted blood vessels and decreased movement of nutrients through our intestines, not to mention an increased risk of cardiac disease & stroke). And, eventually, we will run out of puff. This is Adrenal Fatigue. Symptoms include extreme lethargy, insomnia, depression, inhibited libido, decreased testosterone, dry skin and numerous other undesirable issues. Any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you may want to take a look at your diet.

Now, this is not to say that if we don’t have Adrenal Fatigue then eating too little is fine. It is not. Whenever we are working within the bounds of our Sympathetic Nervous System (a heightened, raised state) then cortisol, our stress hormone, is released. This has numerous negative side-effects, including increased free-radical count (associated with cell membrane damage and wrinkles), increased fat storage (as your body is preparing itself for battle and may need all of the help it can get), and it is also highly catabolic (the opposite of anabolic – and a state in which we break down our own muscle tissue in order to fuel our bodies). Simply put, if we don’t put enough fuel in, our body has to find it from somewhere else, and as much as we would all like to believe in the fairy-tale – it doesn’t always come from our love-handles!

Metabolic damage, on the other hand, is when we have been surviving off of too little fuel for so long that our bodies have adapted to this lower rate of fuel consumption. Think of it like a clever car, and your car has now learned to run at 80mpg. Congratulations! Great if you’re an ultra-marathon runner; not so much if you’re trying to lose a bit of timber.

So How Do We Deal With All of This?

There are numerous calculations available to try and guestimate how many calories we should be consuming on a daily basis. You can take into account BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – The number of calories we burn at rest), calories burned from movement, the thermogenic effect of the food you have eaten and numerous other factors. It can get very complicated. Yet for a simple and really rather accurate rule to find out how many calories you should consume each day, I like to use this:

  • Ectomorph (Slim build, hard to put on muscle, hard to put on fat) – Bodyweight in pounds (lbs) x 16 -17
  • Mesomorph (medium build, athletic, easy to both gain & lose muscle or fat) – Bodyweight in pounds (lbs) x 15
  • Endomorph (Large build, easy to put on muscle, easy to put on fat) – Bodyweight in pounds (lbs) x 13-14

Add on to this any calories you may have burned during a workout and you really shouldn’t be too far off. To see if it’s right for you; weigh yourself at the start of a week, eat on average this number of calories each day for a week, then weigh yourself at the end. If your weight has stayed the same, alter your intake by 300-500kcals either way, depending on whether it is you are looking to gain or lose weight, and then repeat this process.

Reassessing Your Calorie Intake

If you find yourself shaking your head at the concept of consuming more calories in order to lose weight – then you are not alone! I was met with the same resistance from almost every one of my clients when I first implemented this with them, yet slowly and steadily they tried it and realised that maybe I wasn’t trying to sabotage their fitness goals after all!

Another key point to note when trying to gain muscle or lose weight is to be consistent with your intake of food. It doesn’t matter if you consume your whole day’s calories in one sitting or lots of little sittings throughout the day. Believe me – it really doesn’t! The idea of little and often speeding up your metabolism is true, however, if you eat all of these calories in just one sitting then your metabolism is sped up so much that it evens out – fancy that!

The reason consistency is key is that losing weight is a scary concept for your body. By diminishing its fat stores, it is like you dipping into your savings account (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Or, shoe on the other foot, building muscle is about as taxing a process as the body can possibly conceive (like getting a massive mortgage on a house – you’d want to have a stable income, right?). Therefore, your body will only do either one of these processes if it is confident in the knowledge of when its next meal is coming.

The body is an extremely clever organism with survival as priority number one; how you look in your Insta-selfies is unfortunately much further down on the list!

We have only just begun scratching the surface, but for now, let’s leave calorific intake there.

In my next instalment, I will be going into more depth about what it is these calories should comprise of and the optimal ratios of each Macronutrient.

As always, if you have any questions regarding anything that you have read in this article, please feel free to get in contact with me or any member of the team. Even if you disagree – we love a good debate!

Stay Awesome,

Coach Dorrington.

Author - Alex Dorrington - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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