Whether you're trying to lose weight, start a business or improve your relationships, there are always certain key principles of how things work, principles that you'll need to learn if you are to be successful at producing a positive outcome in your chosen endeavor. And as mentioned above, weight loss (and body recomposition in general) is also guided by underlying principles that you can learn and apply in order to improve your results and get the physique you want.
Learn and adopt these principles and you can massively reduce your progress curve and achieve the results you're after. Fail to adhere to these principles and you're doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again - and to stay the same.
Without further ado, here are the principles...
Whether you want to lose weight and keep it off or to gain weight and build muscle, you'll need to learn the concept of energy balance. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy is always conserved, it cannot be created or destroyed. We humans take in energy in the form of food and its macronutrient contents and we expend energy by movement, heat generation and other bodily functions.
Since energy cannot be created nor destroyed, if we take in more energy than we expend the surplus either has to be excreted or it has to be stored in the body as either glycogen or triglycerides in adipose tissue (i.e. body fat). On the other hand, if you take in less energy than you expend, your body will have to tap into the its energy stores.
It's critical that you understand this: bodies cannot break the laws of physics. If you take in more calories than you burn, you WILL gain weight. If you take in less calories than you burn, you WILL lose weight. And, of course, if you take in as many calories as you burn on average, you will maintain your current body weight. Again, this is cold, hard, irrefutable science.
Of course, most of you probably know a person who seems to be eating less and exercising more but somehow the weight on the scale just won't go down no matter how hard they try. While usually this happens because the person is in fact underestimating their caloric intake and overestimating the amount of calories they burn, another explanation lies in the fact that the human body is smart.
The body's main goal is to maintain homeostasis (i.e. dynamic maintenance of the current state) and it will try very hard to remain in the state that it is in. So when you try to reduce your caloric intake in order to lose weight, your body finds ways to reduce your Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) - the energy you expend for everything you do that does not involve sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. In other words you intuitively slow down, move less, sit more and conserve energy in general. Less NEAT means less calories burned which offsets the effect from the reduction in your caloric intake thus leading to maintenance of homeostasis.
So while bodies cannot break the laws of thermodynamics, they do change the rules of the game so to speak. But rest assured, this method of maintaining homeostasis only works to an extent. Proper diet and regular exercise can and will successfully get you in a caloric deficit (i.e. consuming less calories than you're burning). You just might have to go at both a bit harder, that's all.
The importance of having a sufficient protein intake
Hopefully by now I've convinced you that if you want to lose those extra pound you'll have to consume less calories than you burn. And if you're trying to bulk up and build some muscle, you'll have to eat more calories than you're burning. Either way manipulating your energy balance is going to be the key to making your weight manipulation endeavor successful.
But, of course, body weight isn't everything. After all, if your goal is to gain weight, you probably want to gain mainly muscle - not fat. And if your goal is to lose weight then you probably want to shed the unwanted fat - not lose precious muscle mass. Either way, your protein intake will be a key factor to success.
A sufficient protein intake is mandatory for both a positive state of protein metabolism (i.e. protein synthesis surpassing protein breakdown leading to muscle growth) and for preserving lean muscle tissue when cutting. More specifically, you need to make sure that you're getting at least 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or that would be 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). You also might want to increase your protein intake a bit above those numbers when cutting since more protein will be oxidized for energy when you cut down on carbs and fats in a cutting phase.
A final caveat when building muscle is that while eating at a caloric surplus and consuming sufficient amounts of protein allows for muscle hypertrophy, proper training is what stimulates that muscle to adapt and grow. Training is also very important when trying to lose weight as it alters the way your body uses nutrients and thus helps preserve muscle mass and shed more fat instead.
The importance of having a sufficient micronutrient intake
While calories in versus calories out a.k.a. energy balance is the key principle to weight manipulation, if you have too much or too little of certain important micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body won't respond favorably and it'll ultimately lead to deteriorating health.
So while specific guidelines on micronutrient intake are out of the scope of this blog post, you should make sure that you maintain a proper healthy micronutrient intake to keep yourself in good health and to reach your body recomposition goals.
All areas of life are guided by underlying principles and health and fitness are no exceptions. Learn the principles described above, adopt them, live by them and you WILL transform your physique to one others admire and envy.
If you're struggling to achieving your goals and you feel confused regarding how to build a healthy, balanced meal plan, I can help you!