Get it right (calculating calories)

Get it right (calculating calories)

This is not to be missed. As we hit the 4th part of our endurance journey with Mark Wolff, we look at the importance of our nutritional foundation. This includes a wide range of aspects, most notably your rest and active days. So how do you calculate your nutritional requirements?  


David Katz: Welcome to the fourth part of our endurance journey. Mark Wolff has been taking you on an odyssey when it comes to everything about nutrition, and how you utilise nutrition as part of your endurance journey that you do go on. What’s very important when looking at nutrition and diet, it’s not necessarily about just looking at how it combines with sport, it’s fundamental to your wellbeing and your health.               

Mark, you’re joining us now, we’ve looked at various aspects of the endurance journey, most noticeably recently looking at the importance of tests and blood tests and what you can take out of those. Taking all that information now, people really need to then look at focus on nutrition, where do they start?

Fundamentals of structuring a meal plan

Mark Wolff: I think that’s the first thing. You get your blood results, are there deficiencies in your bloods? Do you need to go on medication? Do you need to supplement or can you structure your nutrition around those levels that can actually ultimately help boost those deficiencies, and make you more sufficient in areas where you lacking. Definitely nutrition there plays a very crucial role, but I think one of the most fundamental things is working with athletes, many of them do not understand how to properly structure a nutrition plan or a meal.

That really is crucial because every single day we are responsible for feeding ourselves; whether it’s recovery meals, whether it’s meals for pre-training or pre-racing and through the day, a lot of people are very busy at work. Very often people tend to skip meals, there’s different diets out there that people are trying, but no one really understands exactly how to tackle nutrition that needs to be unique for them.

DK: Where would they start? If you want to start planning your daily nutrition, what would be your starting point?

Factors to consider first

MW: To be quite honest, I think you’ve first got to understand what kind of a person are you. Are you an athlete, are you a couch potato, do you do strength training? Are you a runner, are you a cyclist, are you a triathlete, cross-fitter etc. Every single different person requires a different approach to their nutrition because macros will change, without a doubt, based on what a person does.

The first thing is that’s one aspect of it. The second thing is, are you already lean? Do you have low body fat, are you overweight? Are you trying to lose excessive body fat? Are you trying to increase lean muscle mass? Are you trying to break down body fat simultaneously? There’s a lot of different goals. You need to define what exactly it is that you want, and then you need to work the nutrition around that specific goal.

What your ‘rest metabolic rate’ tells you

The way I do that is quite simple. Every single human being has what we call a ‘rest metabolic rate.’ That is the amount of calories you would burn off in a state of rest. If you’re doing absolutely nothing, there’s a formula that we utilise which is based on whether you’re a male/female and your age and of course your weight. We can calculate a rest metabolic rate and work out how many calories you’d burn off on a daily basis, in a state of rest, of course.

The question is, once you’ve done that, where do you move to? It’s not so simple just working out that because some people have slow metabolisms, some people have fast metabolisms, so it’s not like I can say, this is the exact amount of calories a person will eat. It needs to be calculated quite specifically for an individual.

How to calculate calorie requirements

The next step is, we’ll work out then what kind of physical activity a person does. If you take the rest metabolic rate of a person and then you look at the person being active, all of a sudden they’re increasing that calorie burn rate on a daily basis. The level at which that calorie burn rate is increased depends on the duration of activity they’re doing, and the intensity of the activity that they’re doing.

Those two numbers need to be calculated together so that we can work out quite accurately that when a person is training and when a person is not training, we know roughly how many calories that person will be burning off on a non-training day, and how many calories a person will be burning off in an average training day. Some days when it comes to a normal endurance athlete, some days they’re burning off way more than other days. I’m just trying to set the foundation as to where we’re actually starting.

Calculating calories (a working example)

If you look at myself, just as a simple example, 47 years old, close to about 64kg at the moment in weight, and probably burning off in the region of around, I would say on a rest day, around 1,600 calories.

My training activity is quite high. I do put in quite an average amount of hours per week and I probably burn off then, taking that activity level into account, I probably burn off an average of between; I would say 2,800 to about 3,500 calories per day.

The thing is, if I’m trying to lose weight and maybe increase a bit more lean muscle mass or try and maintain, I definitely am going to eat in a calorie deficit, without a doubt. You cannot eat a calorie excess if you’re going to want to lose weight. You need to be in a deficit.

DANGER – don’t go into too much of a calorie deficit

The problem is that many athletes are in too much of a deficit. The deficit is so excessive that in actual fact they’re doing a lot of damage and a lot of harm to their bodies. In some cases their calorie intake is excessive because when they’re training, when they’re burning off a lot of calories, sometimes they think they’ve earned a larger amount of calories. What actually happens is they land up taking a lot more calories than they burn off and they don’t lose weight or lean up, they end up gaining weight.

The thing is that if you are eating in quite a deficit, it’s not just about has your body got the right amount of fuel to fuel you for an event, so you’re lacking energy etc for a training session. Your body requires very specific nutrients to be able to repair itself, to recover itself and to be able to rebuild itself so that you can actually adapt to those training sessions and get stronger over time.

Get your macro nutrients right (carbs, proteins & fats)

Very often if you’re not taking in the right amount of nutrients and if you’re not taking in, I would say the right percentage of macros. When I’m talking macros I’m talking about the macro nutrients which are carbohydrates, proteins and fats and that is also slightly different for every individual. Then you will not benefit from your training as much as you should and in fact you can actually hamper yourself from the point of view of injury.

Let’s say you’ve got a protein deficit, you can actually trigger injury at some stages because your muscles aren’t repairing themselves. You can land up fatiguing yourself if you’re not getting in enough carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores after you’ve done intense sessions. It becomes quite complex and all these things need to be taken into account.       

There’s many sports nutritionists and dieticians out there that can help any individual, but if you’re not sure where to start, I would say go to an expert and ask for advice. That’s the foundation. When it comes to sports nutrition.

I’m not talking about the fuelling during an event, I’m talking about you’re an active person, how do you eat around your training? That’s so crucial because to me, that is really the highest percentile factor that needs to be taken into account when you’re embarking on this endurance journey.

Make your calories count (for better results)

DK: Mark, I think that’s fascinating and very good point. I want to ask you just briefly as well because of course there has to be that deficit, but it’s important to understand when we’re talking about calories, that there’s a big difference between consuming the right calories, and calories that could be not as healthy or as productive for your system.

MW: I agree with you 100% and that’s why I mentioned the macro nutrients; being carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each of those are broken down into what I determine to be ‘healthy’ carbohydrates, ‘unhealthy’ carbohydrates, ‘healthy’ fats, ‘unhealthy’ fats, and obviously also a good protein. The thing is the quality of the food that you’re eating, is probably also the most crucial thing that you need to take a look at.

Not only the quality of the food that you’re eating, but the way you prepare that food also needs to be taken into account. Preparing food by boiling, steaming, roasting, grilling etc, these impact food very differently in each process. That food is going to impact your body very differently as well. We’ll get into that at a later stage when it comes to the podcasting. I think the next step is to actually now go into the macro nutrients and determine how you should be structuring your protein, carbohydrates and fat intake.

DK: Mark, I think that’s going to be very formative and also just to add in there, possible supplementation that you’d do around that. I know a lot of people debate, can you get enough from your food without having to add additional supplements to your diet, be it magnesium, Vitamin C, calcium etc. We’ll save that for next week, fantastic information there for you to mull over. Please do join Mark Wolff and myself on the podcast. If you do have any more questions, you can always email Mark at coach@32gi.com.

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