Ok, I know what you are thinking reading that title, “You don’t know me! how do you know i’m not eating enough, Sean?” Well, here’s my question to you, do you ACTUALLY know how much you are eating every day, really, do you? Be honest with yourself here. Do you track all your food and calories every day? My guess is that most of you reading this don’t meticulously track your food or calories, but most of you reading this have some sort of aesthetic goal in mind. Most of us come to the gym every day because, yes, it’s fun! But let’s be honest, we want to look good naked. The only real way to make meaningful changes to your body composition is to start tracking what you are eating first and foremost to see where you are at. When people do this, 9 times out of 10 they come to me and tell me how many calories they are eating and I tell them it’s too little…that’s right most people who have been doing this health and fitness thing for awhile, especially, CrossFit are not eating ENOUGH.
First, let’s define what is eating enough. This is going to be different for everyone. We are all built different, with different genetics, allergies, gut bacteria etc. This is also why I hate fad diets like keto or paleo. It casts a wide net saying everyone should eat this way and everyone will see the same results…That’s a topic for another blog. We all have something called a Basal Metabolic Rate, also commonly switched with Resting Metabolic Rate. For the purposes of this blog, we are going to say they are the same thing. Your BMR is a measure of how many calories you expend just living, and I mean just living, like bodily functions while at rest. Now you might be thinking how the heck would I know that? I’m so glad you asked! The only accurate way to test your basal metabolic rate is to go to a research center get strapped up and have a plastic tube shoved in your mouth while laying down. It looks like this:
Now most of us don’t have access to this test or don’t have the time or money to get it done. How else can we figure out our RMR or BMR? The only other way is through a math equation that has been made from years of research and gives a generalization based on your inputs. Let me reiterate, it is a generalization so it won’t be 100% accurate. Most body fat tests will give you this number as they have the calculations programmed in. Again, these numbers are not 100% accurate. Most people are astounded at what there RMR or BMR actually is. Mine for example is, a 5’8” ,173 lb, 27 year old male is roughly 1900 cals and this has nothing to do with my fitness level or anything, it’s just based off my height, weight, age, and some other miscellaneous numbers for the calculation.
What does this mean to me?
So what does this mean? It means that at a absolute bare minimum to survive I need to eat at least 1900 cals a day or suffer metabolic and hormone issues. Eating anything less than that is going to set me up for massive failure and health issues down the road. Let’s look at a 5’3, 145lb, 34 year old female. Her number comes out to roughly 1500 cals, again that’s just to live lying down in bed. When we take into account all of us are on our feet working all day and working out we need to be eating way more than that, even if our goal is weight loss, because, again these numbers are just our numbers to survive doing absolutely nothing. Under eating is only going to mess you up more in the long run. So now the question is, how much should I be eating for my goals?
How to Calculate
There are a couple ways to look at this, but I like to use data, I’m a big numbers guy. Precision Nutrition has a great calculator that takes into account not only your BMR but your daily activity and workouts and gives you how much you should be eating based on your goals! Whether that’s weight loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance. I cannot stress enough that these numbers will be generalizations, but they are a great starting point for most people and after working with it you can adjust as you feel.
Now, we can put our calculations to the test!
Model 1, Me, a 27 year old male 5’8” 173 lbs who is highly active, I need to eat at least 4000 cals to not gain or lose weight but have high levels of athletic performance. I was curious though as to what if I said I have low levels of activity and didn’t work out? It said I needed to still eat at least 2600 cals, and that’s if you’re not active at all…probably a lot more than you thought right? Well, what if I wanted to lose 5 lbs in a month, which I would argue is aggressive but for this, it works. I would need to eat 2000 cals. Yes you read that right, I need 2000 cals to lose weight even if I’m not active at all meaning in actuality, with my current activity levels to lose weight, I need to eat 2700 calories to lose weight. More than you thought, right?
Model 2. Female, 34 year old 5’3” 145 lbs. Let’s say she just wants to be athletic, not lose or gain weight. She has a desk job and works out 1 hour a day 4-5x a week. I want you to guess how many calories this person should eat… the actual answer? 2400 cals a day! Yes, 2400 cals to just maintain weight, now if this person had a strenuous job on top of this workout schedule it would be even higher. Now if she wanted to achieve some weight loss. Same example as in our male subject, 5 lbs in one month. She has the same measurements, job, and workout routine…again take a guess….1800 cals! That’s only if someone’s job isn’t active and only working out for 1 hour a day. If she had a more active job or worked out more than 4-5 hours a week it would be higher. Eating anything less than 1800 in this situation is actually going to hurt you and not help you with weight loss. Less is not better for weight loss, people!
Tell me the Truth!
There’s this pervasive notion in the health and fitness world that if you just eat less you’ll lose more weight. FALSE! That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Let’s go back to that BMR we talked about earlier in the blog. It has an amazing way of changing depending on how much or little you eat. If you continually under eat it slows down. So here you are thinking. “I’m just going to eat like 1600 cals” and your metabolism is like “We are starving! We need to slow down so we can store this!” By eating less than what your daily needs are using these calculations above, you are actually doing the opposite of what you want and storing more calories. This is just cold hard science. Don’t believe the Insta influencers or the random array of doctors talk shows of the world. Trust science. Science says eat at least enough to fuel your daily activity. If you want to be healthy and not have negative cascading effects on your body like poor sleep, irritability, inability to lose or gain weight, no drive in the gym, and constant injuries. If you are currently feeling like this, I implore you to track your food for a couple days and compare that number to what the calculator says you should eat. Here is the link to the Precision Nutrition Calculator if you are interested in how much you should be eating for your goals. My guess is you are under-eating. Remember, the only way to know this is if you actually track your food, otherwise you are just guessing and throwing darts in the dark.
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Happy Eating! – Coach Sean