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Utilizing Body Composition Analysis in Nutrition Consulting

By Diet, Nutrition

If you work as a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, you’re probably very familiar with the importance of knowing your clients’ weights. After all, their body weight is likely one of the first metrics you obtain on your quest to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.

However, your clients’ body weight alone is not enough to tell the full story.

Just as any good nutritionist knows that calorie counts aren’t enough to determine the quality of your clients’ dietary patterns, you should also know that a number on a scale simply isn’t informative enough to determine your clients’ wellness. Body composition analysis has the potential to take your practice to the next level by providing tangible, specific information about your clients’ body fat and muscle percentages that helps you create actionable plans for them.

Why nutritionists and registered dietitians should be using body composition measurements 

Body weight needs context in order to be a useful number. So, many nutritionists typically evaluate their clients’ health by using their weight to find their Body Mass Index (BMI), a value that is determined using one’s height as well.

BMI is useful in some contexts, as it can help generally categorize whether or not someone is overweight or obese. Unfortunately, BMI does not take into account all the differences between individuals, nor does it fully indicate health risks on its own. For example, BMI doesn’t tell you how much body fat someone has, and it doesn’t take into account individual differences based on age, culture, and location. This is important, because all of these factors and more can make a huge difference in what a person’s weight says about their health.

Ultimately, this means that only using weight and BMI to determine the wellness of an individual can cause you to miss the “big picture,” which may negatively impact your ability to help your clients achieve their goals in a healthy manner. If you want to design a targeted nutrition plan, these metrics alone may not provide sufficient information about a client’s overall health and fitness levels.

You may already take this into consideration at your own practice, since many nutritionists and dietitians use measuring tape to take their clients’ physical measurements at different points throughout their wellness journeys, which can reveal how their body composition is changing beyond the scale. But taking this idea one step further, body composition metrics may be able to give you a more accurate understanding of how your client’s body is transforming in reaction to your program. These insights can assist you with mapping out the best steps to take next.

What body composition data can tell you about your clients

Body composition data can help nutritionists to evaluate their clients’ nutritional status through a more holistic lens.

It’s especially important to keep your clients’ body composition in mind when making a nutrition plan because, just as with weight, their body composition metrics can change based on genetics, environment, lifestyle, and age. When used in conjunction with other tools of the practice, such as medical history and reported food intake, body composition data provides detailed info that gives you a better understanding of your clients’ current nutritional status, which may help you to create a more targeted action plan to address their specific health and nutrition needs as individuals.

Common issues that body composition metrics may help nutritionists to pinpoint include:

  • Declines in bone density
  • Declines in muscle mass
  • High percent body fat

Doctors can also use body composition data to help them assess the risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Ultimately, body composition data provides an analysis not just of weight gained or weight lost, but of multiple factors, which can help you understand how their weight is correlated to your clients’ overall health.

Muscle Mass 

One of the most important health factors that can get overlooked when using weight and BMI is one’s muscle mass, which is the amount of lean muscle tissue that you have in your body. This metric can be used to evaluate progress in a weight management sense, since muscle tends to weigh significantly more than fat tissue, meaning that a client may be making plenty of progress gaining muscle but not have their progress show on the scale (or vice-versa).

Knowing your clients’ muscle mass can also help dieticians to identify issues like sarcopenia (muscle wasting) in older adults, so that you can decide whether a more targeted nutrition intervention would be appropriate.

Body Fat Mass 

Another piece of body composition data that you can use as a nutritionist is your client’s body fat mass, or the amount of fat tissue in their body.

Body composition analysis show you how much fat (or adipose) tissue your client is holding, and it can also differentiate between types of fat (i.e. the visceral fat that surrounds the organs in your abdomen versus the subcutaneous fat that lies close beneath your skin).

This is extremely important because these two different kinds of fat tissue are both linked to a variety of outcomes, but visceral fat is much harder to detect than subcutaneous fat without body composition analysis technology.

Percent Body Fat

Body composition analysis also yields information about the amount of muscle versus fat tissue your clients carry, which can be used to evaluate exactly how much progress your clients are making in their health — not just in their weight — goals. It’s a more in-depth analysis than the use of body weight measurements alone, especially considering how muscle and fat impact your weight differently.

Other useful information you can get from body composition measurements

Finally, body composition metrics can also be used in a variety of other ways to address a client’s overarching health needs. For example, using DEXA scans, dietitians can take a look at their clients’ bone density, which can help you to assess them for undernutrition and, if necessary, set up the appropriate nutrition interventions, which are especially important for older adults suffering from osteoporosis.

Nutritionists and dietitians can also use body composition measurements to see how much of their client’s total mass is made up of water, otherwise known as their Total Body Water percentage. This tool can offer clues to the amount of sodium a client is consuming, as salt consumption can cause your body water percentage to change.

How nutritionists can use body composition measurements to improve their services 

Putting it all together, here are some concrete examples of how your nutrition practice (and your clients!) can benefit from the implementation of body composition measurements.

Identifying specific areas that clients want to improve 

Having information on someone’s weight is a good start for helping them get to their goals, but knowing their body composition can give you more specific guidance on how to approach their program. Even better: having someone’s body composition metrics also gives you the opportunity to better educate your clients about how the nutrients they eat contribute to their body composition, ultimately allowing them to take a more hands-on approach with their own health.

For example, many of your clients may come in wanting to lose weight, but knowing their ratio of fat tissue to muscle tissue can reveal whether more specific goals are more appropriate. If a client wants to get fitter but is already at a healthy weight, you may choose instead to work on body recomposition goals, such as losing fat and gaining muscle, rather than focusing solely on weight alone, which could put your client in danger of becoming underweight.

You can use body composition data to help guide your nutrition plan (i.e., recommending more protein to combat muscle loss and fewer carbohydrates for fat loss, rather than focusing on total calorie intake alone). Your clients can also use that information to approach their own health through a more balanced, health-first lens.

Adjusting total caloric needs

Knowing your clients’ body composition metrics can provide you both with a better understanding of their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories that your clients burn on a daily basis. This is imperative data for determining the number of calories they should be eating for their goals without over- or underestimating their unique needs.

BMR can be estimated using many different calculations, but these calculations are not always completely accurate. For example, relying only on calculations based on weight and height can skew results and lead to inaccurate numbers, especially since many of these population-based calculations do not take into account differences in physical activity level, body composition, or sex. In other words, these calculations may be relevant to the populations that they were based on, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll be accurate for your client.

Instead, nutritionists may do better to use calculations that take body composition into account, since differences in body fat tissue and lean muscle tissue can alter the number of calories you burn on a daily basis.  In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that lean body mass is the strongest determinant of BMR, since muscle requires more energy to maintain, and that body fat mass, physical activity level, and nutrition play their roles on a smaller scale. So, using your client’s body composition metrics to calculate BMR may assist you in creating a more accurate estimation of your client’s needs.

Identifying over- and under-nutrition for goals and for health 

Knowing someone’s body composition metrics can also help nutritionists and dietitians get a better “big picture” view of someone’s nutrition status, which can be applied to both their fitness and health goals.

For example, someone who is not eating as many calories as they need may experience a loss of muscle mass that could be masked if you’re only looking at the number on a body weight scale. Malnutrition is linked to various health risks, such as muscle loss, which are relevant in a broader health sense, so it’s important to screen for it when possible.

Tracking client history 

Finally, keeping track of a client’s body composition changes over time can give you in-depth insights into your clients’ progress. Knowing how someone’s muscle mass and body fat percentage have changed over time can:

  • Give you a more accurate understanding of how well your program is working
  • Help you identify areas that could be improved


Helping your clients to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals requires a distinct combination of lifestyle improvements on their part and careful monitoring of key metrics on your part. By implementing the use of body composition measurements in your nutrition practice, you may be able to give yourself and your clients better information about their bodies.

The Importance of Carbohydrates in Muscle Building

By Diet

When it comes to health and fitness, there is a lot of bad advice out there. There are two common misconceptions about body composition and diet:

  1. Decrease carbohydrates for weight loss
  2. Only increase protein for muscle growth

However, these two rules of thumb are not absolute truths. Carbohydrates and protein are nutrients that both play important roles in body composition, yet they both have stereotypes that aren’t 100% accurate.

If you want to gain muscle mass, then yes, you will need a lot of protein. But you’ll also need a fair amount of carbohydrates, and that shouldn’t be shocking or scary.

Protein automatically gets the credit for building strong muscles, but let’s not forget about your carb intake.

Depending on your body composition goals, you’ll need to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates you consume.

When someone wants to lose excess weight, the first thing they do—or the first thing they’re told to do by their friend who acts as their personal trainer —is to adopt a low-carb diet. This can definitely lead to fat loss, but cutting carbs shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule in body composition, especially when it comes to gaining muscle.

Carbs usually aren’t restricted if muscle growth is the goal. It seems like weightlifters and athletes know some things about carbohydrates that the general public doesn’t: carbs aren’t the enemy to achieving your body composition goals.

Like a lot of things in life, there are carbs that will help you reach those goals and carbs that will prevent you from reaching those goals. Out of the various types of carbscomplex carbohydrates play a largely important role in building muscle mass.

Carbohydrates and Building Muscle Mass

Think about it: building anything takes a lot of time, energy and resources. Building muscle is no different. The body requires a lot of energy to power through workouts that result in bigger, stronger muscles. Where does the body get most of that energy? Usually from carbs.

Energy from Complex Carbohydrates

Out of all the energy sources for the human body, researchers have found that carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the human diet. This means that carbs aren’t just for athletes. Carbs are a great source of energy for anyone’s daily activities, including exercise.

You can think of carbohydrates as a source of fuel for the body, otherwise known as calories. As we’ve previously learned, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs.  Simple carbs are a quick, sporadic source of energy, while complex carbs are a good source of steady energy.

If you’ve ever heard of an athlete eat candy before a game or training session, that’s because simple carbs, like white sugar, are one of the fastest ways to spike energy. However, this energy kick cannot be maintained for long. Complex carbs may not be as readily available for immediate energy as simple carbs are, but they’re more efficient and healthier. Complex carbs provide sustainable energy, which means the energy is constant and there’s no “crash” like with simple carbs. 

One of the main reasons why complex carbs sustain energy throughout the day is because they take longer to digest. Simple carbs like fruit are easy for the body to break down and get rapidly digested, so they don’t provide energy for a long period of time. Complex carbs like starches are slow to digest and therefore slowly provide calories, giving you continuous energy for a longer period of time. 

Because of their slow-release properties, complex carbs should be the largest component of daily energy intake.

Isn’t Protein More Important Than Carbs for Building Muscle?

When you think of building muscle, you may think of a high-protein diet. Protein is extremely important in building muscle because the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) help repair and maintain muscle tissue. Essentially, protein helps you recover from workouts because muscles slightly tear during exercise.

If protein is so important, why put an emphasis on carbs? Well, complex carbohydrates don’t get enough credit when it comes to the important roles they play in muscle gains.

Some of the ways that complex carbs help to build muscle include:

1. Carbs help regulate muscle glycogen repletion

You may have heard of glycogen stores before. Glycogen is a form of glucose that is stored for later use. When the body needs energy, glycogen kicks into gear and acts as a ready fuel source. 

Carbohydrates and glycogen go hand in hand because carbs are stored as glycogen. When carbs are low, glycogen stores are low. When carbs are consumed, glycogen stores are full.

Since glycogen is used for energy, it’s important to replenish those stores. This is why researchers recommend to consume carbohydrates immediately following exercise; it replenishes glycogen stores for future use.

2. Carbs prevent muscle degradation

One concern about low-carb diets is muscle loss.

A Netherlands study compared a low-carb diet to other diets and found that restricting carbs results in protein loss. This is because restricting carbs causes an increase in the amount of nitrogen that get excreted by the body. Nitrogen is a component of amino acids (the stuff that forms muscle proteins), therefore nitrogen loss indicates that the muscles are breaking down.

3. Carbs help muscles recover from exercise

The role that carbs play in recovery goes back to glycogen stores. Immediately after exercise, athletes need to replenish their glycogen stores in order to prevent glycogen depletion.

Glycogen depletion, when glycogen stores have run out, causes gluconeogenesis. This is when the body forms glucose from new sources to compensate for the lack of glucose from carbohydrates. When this happens, the body turns to sources like fat and protein to fill this need. Protein acts as the last line of defense when energy is required, meaning that energy accessibility is running very low.

When the body breaks down protein to make more glucose, it takes from the muscle, causing them to waste away. 

Gluconeogenesis is more common in carbohydrate-free diets, so be sure to consume healthy carbs to prevent this.

Replenishing glycogen stores with complex carbs is important to prevent protein breakdown and muscle wasting.

Why Athletes Consume a Lot of Carbs

There are many reasons why athletes don’t adopt low-carb or carb-free diets. They know those good carbs are a necessary nutrient to help them power through training sessions, resulting in muscle maintenance and growth.

Some of the reasons why athletes consume a fair amount of carbs include:

1. Carbs prevent muscle weakness

By now, you understand the importance of glycogen stores. Some glycogen is even stored in our muscles.

When you use those muscles during exercise, you tap into the glycogen stores in that particular muscle. When you lift weights with your arms, for example, you’re accessing the glycogen in your biceps.

Some athletes take advantage of glycogen by loading up on carbohydrates (by consuming carbs a day or more before a workout) to maximize the muscle glycogen stores. This can delay fatigue and even improve athletic performance, making for a better workout and stronger muscles.

2. Carbs improve athletic performance

Out of the three macronutrients, carbs are the most efficiently metabolized.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports all share the position that high carbohydrate availability is associated with improving performance during high-intensity exercise.

Why? Because carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can be broken down quickly enough to provide sustained energy during high-intensity training. 

Both carbohydrates and protein will both provide 4 calories per gram. But it is much easier for your body to digest and use the calories from a gram of carbohydrate than it is a gram of protein.

Research has shown the link between nutrition and athletic performance is greater than initially believed.

3. Carbs repair muscles

During exercise, muscles slightly tear. Muscles feel sore after intense exercise because of this minor damage that allowed the muscles to exert more force than during regular activity.

After exercise or during rest, the muscles need to be repaired and rebuilt. Just like for building muscle, protein and glycogen is needed for that muscle repair.

The importance of glycogen for muscles can’t be over-emphasized, and in order to maintain glycogen stores, carbohydrates are needed.

What Happens to Muscle When Carbs are Low

With the popularity of low-carb diets, it’s important to discuss the major concern that muscle mass is at risk of deterioration when carbs are low.

Now that we know how important carbs are to build muscle, let’s discuss some of the possibilities when carbs are restricted.

Muscle is Broken Down For Fuel

The body looks to complex carbs as its main energy source. When carbs aren’t available, the body breaks down protein, i.e muscle, for fuel. 

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, which is a readily available source of energy for when it’s needed. Dietary protein, however, isn’t really meant to be stored in the body specifically as an energy source.

When the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy, it does so to access the amino acids (the building blocks of protein). The amino acids are then broken down into glucose and used for energy.

Carbs help to prevent this process encouraging protein sparing, which means they conserve muscle tissue by providing energy instead. When carbs are present, the body will use carbs first and foremost for energy. When carbs aren’t available, muscle gains that you have worked so hard to achieve can be lost.

Replenishing glycogen stores by consuming complex carbs prevents this muscle loss.

Decreased Athletic Performance

Decreased energy due to low-carb consumption may affect athletic performance. When glycogen stores are low, athletic performance is decreased.

Muscle strength can be compromised and fatigue increases when glycogen stores are low.

It’s widely accepted that athletic performance is somewhat dependent on carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, consuming carbs before the workout for energy and after to replenish glycogen stores are important contributors to improved exercise performance.

Complex Carbs for Muscle Gains

Everyone knows that protein is important for building muscle, but without carbs, the gains just aren’t the same. Complex carbs are vital for sustained energy, athletic performance, and overall muscle building.

However, the type of carbs and when they’re consumed are also vital to experience these benefits.

When to Consume Complex Carbs for Muscle Building

The time of carb consumption also impacts athletic performance and muscle building.

It’s important to consume complex carbs before an intense workout so that glycogen stores are full enough to fuel the training. Consuming complex carbs immediately before a workout could lead to digestive distress, so try to limit complex carb consumption to up to a few hours before an intense workout. If you’re short for energy before an event, lean towards simple carbs.

After exercise, it’s important to consume complex carbs to replenish those glycogen stores for later use.

Balancing Carb Consumption

The amount of complex carbs you eat depends on your body composition goals. Generally, very low carb consumption (<5%) is used for weight loss, while adequate carb consumption (55-60%) is used for muscle gain.

Athletes may pile on the carbs as they are required to train day-in and day-out. So it makes sense that they should consume a higher carb diet than the average person because they have higher energy needs. For non-athletes, it’s generally suggested to adopt a more balanced diet. Even if you’re mostly sedentary, you should still consume some carbs to fuel your daily activities.

If the goal is to build muscle, we now know to eat all three macronutrients, including a fair amount of carbs.

Take Away

    • Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for humans. The body uses this nutrient for energy and stores them as glycogen for later use.
    • Athletes rely on carbs for sustained energy, preventing fatigue, and enhancing athletic performance.
    • Carbs are important for muscle building because they’re protein sparing, which means the body looks to glycogen for energy instead of breaking down muscle tissue for energy.
    • Consuming carbs post-workout can prevent muscle loss and help repair muscles.

    The moral of this story is that carbs, just like every other macronutrient, have a place in improving your body composition. In the end, it takes a well-rounded diet and a smart routine to build muscle.


Lacey Bourassa is a health and wellness writer in Southern California. Her areas of expertise include weight loss, nutrition, and skin health. She attributes her passion for healthy living to her plant-based diet. You can find out more about Lacey at

How Glycogen Impacts Your Body Composition

By Diet, Health
  • There are three classes of carbohydrates: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
  • Replenishing glycogen stores by consuming carbohydrates is beneficial for recovery after exercise, as well as sustaining activity for an extended amount of time.
  • If you follow a low-carbohydrate eating pattern, ensure that you consume enough protein each day.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about carbs and its role in your nutrition. We want to help clear up some of the confusion. Read on to learn about carbs and its role in energy production i.e glycogen, why you should consider healthy carbohydrates, and what you want to be aware of if you are following a low-carb diet.

Glucose, Carbs, and Sugar

Glucose, carbohydrates, sugar – all words that we’ve heard of when it comes to our body and diet. What about glycogen? What is it?

Glycogen is a branched polymer of glucose, or in simpler terms, made of many connected glucose molecules.

Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy, and when all of the glucose isn’t needed, it gets stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. On the other hand, when you are not consuming enough glucose or you need more energy, glycogen is released into the bloodstream to the muscles and used as fuel.

Let’s dive into a bit of chemistry. Glucose is a form of carbohydrate (also called saccharides), which has three main classes. They are:

  • Monosaccharides – contain one sugar unit
  • Disaccharides – contain two sugar units
  • Polysaccharides – contain multiple sugar units

A lesser-known group called oligosaccharides also exists, but to avoid confusion, let’s focus on the three.

Monosaccharides are often called single sugars and are the building blocks for the bigger carbohydrates. Examples of monosaccharides include:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose

These three monosaccharides combine to form many of the different types of sugars found naturally in food. Carbohydrates or sugars are converted to glucose during digestion, and the body uses the glucose for energy.

Fructose, also known as fruit sugar, is found in fruits, berries, honey, root vegetables, and some grains. Galactose is a sugar that can be found in milk and yogurt.

When two monosaccharides are joined together, they create a disaccharide. Disaccharides include:

  • Sucrose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose

Sucrose is one glucose and one fructose combined and is commonly known as table sugar. Lactose is the combination of one glucose and one galactose. Lactose, also called milk sugar, is found in all dairy products and mammals’ milk. Maltose contains two glucose molecules and can be found in germinating grains such as barley, as well as in malt.

Polysaccharides are very complex and made up of long chains of monosaccharides and disaccharides. They could contain anywhere from ten to several thousand monosaccharide chains. Polysaccharides include:

  • Starch
  • Glycogen
  • Cellulose

You may have heard of the term “starchy carbohydrates,” and that’s where you can find starch. Starchy carbohydrates include food such as potatoes, corn, and rice. Foods that contain cellulose include fruits and vegetables (along with skin such as apples and pears), wheat bran, and spinach.

As previously mentioned, when there is too much glucose in the body, it gets stored as glycogen in the muscles or liver. This is a process called glycogenesis. Insulin (a hormone in our body) will recognize that glucose and energy are present in high amounts and will help convert glucose into glycogen.

Glycogen and Muscles

Most glycogen in the body is stored in the skeletal muscles and is an important source for muscle contraction. Once the glycogen is used in the skeletal muscles, your body will then begin to utilize the glycogen in the liver.

However, the storage capacity of carbohydrates in the body are not as high as fats or proteins. It’s essential, especially with active individuals, to refuel these stores but specific carbohydrate intake needs can vary from person to person.

When it comes to long-term endurance, your body is reliant on pre-exercise glycogen availability. Replenishing that glycogen after exercise will shorten the time needed for recovery.

study was done on ten endurance-trained individuals to examine whether muscle glycogen availability correlated with fatigue in repeated exercise. Participants were involved in two different runs: An initial run until exhaustion (70% of VO2max), followed by 4 hours of recovery, then another run until exhaustion. Participants received either a low-carbohydrate or high-carbohydrate beverage at 30-minute intervals during the 4-hour recovery.

Results of the test showed that increasing carbohydrate intake during short-term recovery increased glycogen repletion. In turn, this enhanced the participant’s ability for repeated exercise, and they experienced less fatigue.

Dietary Guidelines For Carbohydrates

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americanscarbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. So, if you are eating around 2,000 calories per day, your calories from carbohydrates would be between 900 and 1,300. This also translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate content can be found on food packaging nutrition labels. The label will show total carbohydrates, which includes starches, fiber, naturally occurring sugar, as well as added sugar.

If you’re curious about carbohydrate content for foods that do not have a label, such as fruits and vegetables, U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central makes it easy to search for specific foods to see their nutrient breakdown.


Glycogen and Fat Mass

You may have talked with a family member, friend, or coworker who decided to follow a low-carbohydrate diet to lower their fat mass and improve their body composition. Low-fat diets were well-known toward the end of the 20th century, but now low-carbohydrates are taking over in popularity.  The rise of the ketogenic diet has created a negative reputation for carbohydrates, but it’s the type of carbohydrate that makes the difference. Choosing healthier, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes can actually make you feel full longer compared to simple carbohydrates due to the fiber content and slower digestion. Simple sugars are digested quickly and also spike blood sugar shortly after consumption. Simple sugars are found in refined sugar, such as white sugar, and don’t provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals like complex carbohydrates.

So is reducing the intake of carbohydrates the way to go when you’re seeking fat loss?

One study compared the effects of a restricted carb vs fat diet on fat loss. Participants first started with a 5-day baseline diet that consisted of 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 15% protein. Then they were randomly assigned to either a 60% reduction of dietary carbohydrate (low-carb diet) or an 85% reduction of dietary fat (low-fat diet) for six days. The results showed that, calorie for calorie, restriction of dietary fat led to more fat loss than the limitation of carbohydrates.

When comparing the baseline diet and low-carb diet, participants showed an increase in body fat loss and fat oxidation, as well as a decrease in insulin secretion when following the low-carb diet.

Another study showed similar results after participants followed a plant-based diet for 16 weeks. The intervention group (prescribed the plant-based diet) were limited to 20 to 30 grams of fat per day but had no limit on energy or carbohydrate intake. The control group was asked to maintain their current diet for the 16 weeks, which included dairy and meat products.

Results found that increased consumption of carbohydrates and dietary fiber, as well as decreased amounts of fat in the plant-based diet, showed reduced body weight, fat mass, and insulin resistance in overweight individuals.

These studies utilize carbohydrates coming from fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Very few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates will result in weight gain. The bulk and fiber that comes from these foods can help you feel full longer, and on fewer calories.

What If I’m Following A Low-Carbohydrate Diet?

ketogenic-type, or low-carbohydrate diet, has been a popular eating pattern among individuals for some time. If it’s going well for you, keep doing what you’re doing! 

When it comes to following these kind of eating patterns, most of your calories will come from fat at about 50% for the day. You are also typically consuming 20% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, and eating various amounts of protein. Even though your brain and muscles prefer glucose as its primary energy source, if that depletes, then it will rely on other sources for fuel.

Ketosis occurs when glycogen stores have entirely run out and are not being replenished. During ketosis, your liver oxidizes fatty acids into ketones. Your body can then use ketone bodies as an alternative energy source.

It’s crucial during this time to ensure that you are consuming an adequate amount of protein. Amino acids in protein assist with continued fat oxidation once glucose availability is limited. It’s recommended to consume between 1.3 to 2.5 g/kg of protein if you are following a low-carbohydrate diet.

You may find yourself getting tired quicker during exercises compared to someone who is not following a low-carbohydrate diet. During exercise, since you are limited on carbohydrates, your body has increased fat oxidation for fuel. This increases the brains uptake of free tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid and is the precursor to serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired.

Your body also has elevated ammonia production due to the higher consumption of protein. Ammonia is another factor that promotes feelings of exhaustion.

If you are active and follow a low-carbohydrate diet, consider saving your daily carbohydrates for before, during, and after an exercise so your body can utilize them as your energy source.

Wrapping Up

A lot of information has been discussed and studies broken down, but overall you’re in charge of how you eat so that it aligns with your goals. Glucose may be the body’s preferred source of energy, but it can utilize fat and protein as energy if needed. It’s also important to note that a specific eating pattern that works for someone else may not be the best fit for you, and vice versa. Eat in a way that feels right for yourself and your body!


Lauren Armstrong is a Registered Dietitian with several years of experience counseling and educating individuals seeking chronic disease prevention and a healthier lifestyle. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and completed her dietetic internship at Michigan State University.

Nutrition Tips to Support Your Journey Towards a Healthier Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

Why Weight Loss is Hard | Fat: Good or Bad?| Carbs and Weight Loss Essential of Protein |Diet and Lifestyle 

By now we all know that finding a healthier version of yourself depends on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten the full truth when it comes to being healthy. We are fed the narrative that weight loss depends on spending 10 hours in the gym and eliminating one source of calories in our diet while doubling down on another. Admit it, every time you try a new fad diet, or commit to an exhausting new workout routine, you lose weight initially, but then eventually lose steam and transform back into your former self. Healthy, sustainable weight loss seems like something you just don’t have the willpower to do.

But, this is simply not true. We don’t have to overcomplicate the story, or feel guilty, to find a healthier version of ourselves.

Let’s break it down into every aspect of what you can do to simplify your outlook on achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Why is Weight Loss so Difficult to Maintain? 

Maintaining a healthy body weight has always been associated with self-discipline and willpower. You count calories. Do portion control. Work out first thing in the morning three times a week.

Although weight loss may be accomplished by submitting yourself to these rigid, disciplinarian tactics, the minute you’re frustrated with your co-workers or get sick for a week, portion control goes out of the window. Exercise can easily take the backseat when you have kids ages 3 and 5, go through some financial stress, or have an aging parent to take care of.

The reality is that shedding the unwanted pounds is not the hardest part of weight loss. It’s keeping the weight off for good despite life’s occasional curveballs.

Is long-term weight loss really possible? Or should you resign yourself to the fact that you’ll eventually regain what you’ve lost?

Does it all boil down to having loads of willpower? Or is there more to self-control that’s involved in long-term weight loss sorcery?

Actually, no. Biology is at play. Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, says the difficulty in keeping the extra weight off reflects biology and not merely a pathological lack of willpower. Specifically, when we lose weight, leptin (the hormone responsible for food satiety) actually goes down when we lose weight.

However, all hope is not lost. We can aim for sustainable weight loss by using a few key strategies.

The Basics of Nutrition

When we think about adopting a new weight loss regimen, it’s important to remember that calories in and calories out ultimately dictate our weight loss. Therefore, diet is our best friend when it comes to finding the perfect balance to a nutrition program.

However, diet is not simply about calories. Food is where we get everything that our body cannot make for itself. The makeup of our diet keeps us from being malnourished, susceptible to illness, depressed, and unable to perform at the gym.

In order to understand exactly where our calories come from and what we need to consume to be healthy, we need to understand the basics of nutrition and the reason we need a balanced diet.

What are Macronutrients? 

What you eat can be broken down into 3 macronutrients: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Unless you have a specific medical condition, you need all 3 to maintain proper health and functioning. Without sufficient amounts of any of these sources, your body will not operate at peak condition. And without a proper balance of these nutrients during a diet program will hinder the success you achieve in reaching your goals.

When trying to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories from these nutrients than you expend. For example, if you determine that, between your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity (from moving, eating, and exercising), you burn 2,000 calories per day, to stay the same weight you’d have to eat roughly 2,000 calories every day. However, to lose weight, you would have to place yourself into a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit indicates that you are eating fewer calories than you burn per day — i.e., in this case, potentially restricting intake to only 1,800 calories per day.

But as we already mentioned, though calories consumed versus calories burned ultimately determines success or failure in the weight game, is it all that matters?

Well, it depends.

If your goal is simply to lose weight, regardless of whether it be fat- or muscle-weight lost, then yes, calories are all that matter.

However, if you’re attempting to improve your body composition by losing Body Fat Mass and gaining Skeletal Muscle Mass, then no, calories are not all that matters. Balancing your macronutrients properly does.

Why fats were considered bad

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top.

The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.”

Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seems familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase by almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, the same as carbohydrates and protein.

What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

Can Eating Fat Make You Gain Weight?

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is that we use them interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs on a given day. It is necessary for survival, and losing too much of it is bad for your health, as is explained in this 2013 study.

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from. Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower.  So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories.  This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger.

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them.  And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse. Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

So I can eat start eating “fat” now?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat.  While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far.  This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low-fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible for your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free.  You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.

What Are Carbs and Why is it Important?

We just discussed that emphasis on high carb intact made American’s gain more weight. So, carbohydrates are bad, right?

While carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately because they are presumably fattening and unhealthy, some cultures with high-carb intake don’t have the same high obesity rates as the U.S. – where one-third of adults (and 17 percent of children) are obese. This is in contrast to Japan where white rice and noodles are dietary staples.

What are we to make of this? Are carbs truly evil? Or should you embrace more carbs in your life?

Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates act as the main source of energy because they are easily broken down into sugar (glucose to be specific) once they reach your bloodstream and are then transported to cells, tissues, and organs. Think of glucose as fuel.

Carbohydrates are classified into two types:

  • Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into your bloodstream for instant energy because of their simple molecular structure. Think milk, honey, fruit juices, and table sugar.

  • Complex carbohydrates

These carbs take longer for the body to break down into glucose because of their more complex molecular composition. Grains such as bread, rice, quinoa, and pasta are examples of complex carbs. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, and winter squash fall in the same category.

Not all carbs are created equal, and some have a greater effect on your insulin levels than others. For people with diabetes or insulin resistance, this is particularly important.

A food’s Glycemic Index (ranging from 0 to 100) indicates how a certain carbohydrate will affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods that digest quickly are high on the index, while those that digest slowly are lower on the index.

Foods that are high on the GI scale, like potatoes and white bread, are quickly broken down. This is what happens when you go through an abrupt sugar rush but eventually crash down minutes later. Foods with a low GI, like sweet potatoes and whole oats, are digested gradually, resulting in a more predictable, steady rise in blood sugar levels.

The Verdict on Carbohydrates

Although low-carb diets were found out to be more effective than low-fat diets for weight loss, there are also conflicting research findings describing the existence of metabolically benign obesity — obese individuals who are not insulin resistant, have normal levels of circulating insulin, and have zero signs of early atherosclerosis.

The main point is you don’t have to go low-carb, zero-carb, or high-carb to accomplish long term weight loss.

Based on recent research findings and established facts, it makes more sense to be more mindful of the specific types and amount of carbohydrates (and the other macronutrients!) that make up the bulk of your daily diet.

It’s very hard to deny the role carbs play in keeping you full, energized, and feeling good overall.  To a large extent, humans were designed to consume carbohydrates as an energy source, and when that source is limited and/or cut off, your body will not appreciate it – and it will let you know.

Should you cut carbs out of your diet? If it’s part of a general overall caloric reduction to lose body fat – which does work – combined with increased exercise, then yes. But simply hacking out an entire macronutrient source – any source – is not only going to be incredibly demanding on you but also ineffective and unsustainable over the long-term.

Protein and Weight Loss

So how does protein fit into the picture? Well, as mentioned above, protein is one of the 3 basic macronutrients you find in your food.

To break it down further, proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids, however, 9 of these amino acids are called “essential” — meaning you need to eat them because the body can’t produce them on its own. You can get these essential amino acids by eating protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, and fish, as well as vegetarian/vegan options, like nuts, seeds, beans, and tofu. Generally, you cannot get all the essential amino acids from just one food item, so eating a variety of animal and plant-based proteins is recommended.

But that’s not all.

Besides being something you eat, protein has its fingers in just about every structure and function of your body. For example:

  • Antibodies: these proteins fight foreign “invaders” of your body, like in allergic reactions.
  • Repair, maintenance, and structure: proteins are the main building blocks of your muscles, bones, skin, and hair.
  • Hormones: chemical messenger proteins allow cells and organs to communicate. For example, Growth Hormone — which can affect your muscle gain and fat loss results — and Follicle Stimulating Hormone — a hormone important to your sexual health — are both protein hormones.
  • Enzymes: while all proteins are not enzymes, all enzymes are proteins — and proteins are catalysts (“kickstarters”) for chemical reactions in your body.
  • Transportation and storage: some proteins carry important molecules where they’re needed — think hemoglobin (red blood cells) carrying oxygen to cells, then carrying carbon dioxide away.

Clearly, protein serves many roles within the body. Therefore, not getting enough protein in your diet can have serious consequences for your health. Without enough protein, your muscles may begin to atrophy (waste)– taking Lean Body Mass (LBM), strength, and energy with them.

Any injuries you suffer will take longer to heal, as well. This is because wound healing relies on good nutrition, and good nutrition includes adequate protein. A strong connection between protein deficiency and slow wound healing has been shown.

Finally, not eating enough protein impairs your immune system, placing you at a greater risk of infections while reducing your ability to fend off disease once it takes hold.

Now that you know everything you never wanted to know about protein’s roles in the body, take a look at a few of the positive effects of increasing your protein intake and how that can relate to your body composition goals.

  • Appetite

Eating more protein helps suppress hunger and appetite for longer than eating the same amounts of the other macros (fats and carbs). This means that eating 100 calories from protein will leave you more satiated than 100 calories from either carbohydrate or fat sources.

  • Metabolic Rate

Eating more protein has also been shown to increase your Energy Expenditure — i.e., the number of calories you burn each day. Several studies found that people eating high protein diets ended up burning more calories for several hours after eating.

  • Body Composition

In addition to the points made above, eating higher amounts of protein can have positive effects on your body composition through more direct pathways. As alluded to earlier, protein is a far-spread component of your body. Consuming higher amounts helps protect your non-fat (read: muscle) body mass.

The Protein Verdict

To maintain your current muscle mass — or improve it — you need to eat enough protein. But you also need to eat fewer calories than you expend — and that’s not always easy.

The good news is, getting a higher percentage of your daily calories from protein can make all of that a little bit easier. It can help you reduce your appetite, improve your metabolism, and change your body composition, but don’t overdo it. Consuming 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight can cause adverse health problems in the long run. The best advice is to find your daily protein recommendation, and then bump it up slightly, while reducing the calories you take in from non-nutritive foods, such as processed foods or sugary drinks.

What’s the Best Diet for Weight Loss? 

Life is all about balance, and it is important to remember that you need all three macronutrients to function properly. As we learned, protein does not just pack on muscle, it also acts as hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Carbs are essentially the only energy source that our red blood cells can use, and without enough fat in our diets, we might gain weight by eating more filler foods!

Our bodies are well-refined machines that do not thrive on fad diets. They thrive when we obtain balance and variety in our diet. Ultimately, the best diet for weight loss is not complicated or high-tech. Focus on whole, unrefined foods, reduce red meat consumption, and eat plenty of vegetables. But, your food doesn’t have to taste boring. In fact, a rigid diet full of boring salads may make you more likely to rebound into unhealthy eating. Try a salad with leafy greens, quinoa or brown rice, sweet potatoes, avocado, black beans, and a homemade cilantro lime Greek yogurt dressing. You may be surprised how good healthy eating can taste!

What About Lifestyle? 

Of course, there are other components than a diet that may hinder your weight-loss goals. In order to help you turn your weight loss story into a success story, you should consider the following:

Build a Community of Accountability: 

Think Jenny Craig, Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), and Weight Watchers. Or even that health and wellness spa near your workplace.

Not convinced?

In a presentation at the 2016 Society of General Internal Medicine Annual Meeting, researchers at the Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus revealed their findings after monitoring 65,000 overweight or obese people who joined Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) between 2005 to 2010. They found out that consistent participation in the program motivated overweight participants to sustain their new healthy weight after a year of massive weight loss.

These findings demonstrate that spending more time with a community who supports each other even after you reach your weight loss goals is one of the best ways to keep the weight off. The American Psychological Association even agrees.

Getting Enough Sleep

Have you noticed how you’re hungrier than usual when you only slept for five hours the night before? Before you know it, you’re reaching out the pint of ice cream in the fridge.

It turns out that being sleep-deprived  leads to higher ghrelin (the hunger hormone) levels and lower leptin. Plus, there’s already an association between lack of sleep and obesity.

In addition, not getting enough shut-eye also makes your immune system go haywire. When you’re sick, you don’t feel like exercising, right?

Prioritize getting enough sleep for a week and notice how you feel and think about food intake, exercise, and your energy levels in general.

Consider HIIT if you’re pressed for time

Too busy to do your morning run or the usual hour-long swimming session? Enter the short, explosive moves of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The reason why HIIT has become so popular is that it’s been proven to really work by improving VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a neat HIIT guide by the American College of Sports Medicine. If you’re not motivated enough to take a break away from your workstation (browsing Reddit on your phone doesn’t count!), this short video will!

The Takeaway

Long-term weight loss is definitely possible if you rethink the way you view what healthy weight loss truly means. Instead of fretting over calorie counts and the number of jumping jacks you’ve done, pay special attention to the quality of your food intake and physical activity. Balance is always better when it comes to sustainability.

Remember, it is not about willpower, it’s about finding something that makes you feel good. Working out and eating food that fuels our body shouldn’t be done out of guilt. Love yourself and love your body, no matter where you are on your journey to health.

Summertime Grilling: Healthy BBQ Suggestions for Enjoying Good Food

By Diet

Once the sun starts shining and the days become longer, it can only mean one thing: it’s time to party!

Summer is practically synonymous with backyard hangs, picnics in the park, and, of course, lots and lots of grilling. But with all of those indulgent summer eats on the table, you might be wondering whether you can have fun in the sun and stay on track with your health goals.

Luckily, you don’t need to compromise on your healthy lifestyle to enjoy grilling and partying with your favorite people. Read on for healthy BBQ ideas to add to your menu this summer.

Healthy eats to serve up at your next BBQ

Grilled fish

Grilled meats are a quintessential staple at most summer hangouts. But if the idea of serving up the same old hot dogs doesn’t appeal to you, try grilling fish instead!

Fish is generally leaner than red meats, which is ideal if you’re trying to minimize your intake of saturated fats, which can negatively impact your heart health.

Even better, many kinds of fish are actually chock-full of healthy fats instead, so you can still enjoy the succulent indulgence of grilled protein!

To maximize the nutritional benefits of your meal, choose a fish like mackerel, salmon, or tuna, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that support your heart and brain health.

You can grill your fish whole or cut them into individual filets. Cook them with lemon and herbs for a delicious main dish that’ll leave everyone in your party hungry for more.

Turkey burgers 

Even though beef patties are a favorite during BBQ season, poultry-based alternatives like turkey burgers can be a better choice if you’re looking for ways to eat healthier.

Like fish, turkey tends to have less saturated fat than red meat, which makes it a smart choice for your heart health and any body composition goals you might have.

In fact, a meta-analysis of several studies found that red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, while poultry consumption was associated with a lower risk.

You can jazz up turkey burgers with exciting toppings, like sriracha mayo, pickled onions, or sliced avocado.

Chicken skewers

When loaded with a mix of lean proteins and vegetables, skewers are a great way to get a balanced meal — all on one stick!

Skewers are also a great way to increase the amount and the variation of the vegetables you eat, which has a ton of benefits, ranging from reduced risks of numerous cancers to improvements in happiness and well-being.

Chicken, bell pepper, tomato, and onion skewers are a lean, heart-healthy classic. For delicious flavor in every bite, marinate your chicken pieces in a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices before throwing them on the grill.

Keep in mind, skewers are highly customizable to your personal taste, so feel free to experiment with using other lean proteins for them if you aren’t a fan of chicken, such as shrimp or turkey.

Pro tip: to get the most nutritional variety out of your meal, try loading up your skewer with fruits and vegetables of many different colors.

Pasta salad 

Pasta salads are a summertime favorite for a reason! They provide you with carbohydrates, making them more satisfying than salads made with vegetables alone. Plus, many pasta salads can be made ahead of time, to make prepping dinner easy once it’s time to party.

You can flavor your pasta salad with all of your favorite summer vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and peppers. Give it zest with lemon juice and a healthy dose of fat from a moderate amount of cheese, such as feta. Olives taste great in pasta salads as well!

To make your pasta salad even more nutrient-packed, consider substituting a whole grain for the pasta, such as quinoa, bulgur, wheat berries, or farro.

Corn “ribs” 

Another great option for lowering your calorie count during BBQ season is to swap your usual grilled meats with plant-based alternatives! For example, if you love chowing down on ribs, try replicating that handheld goodness with corn instead of meat.

This process involves cutting ears of corn into lengthwise strips and throwing them into the oven or onto the grill, where they’ll start to curl and take the shape of ribs.

Season your “ribs” with your favorite dry rub to really amp up the sweet and salty flavor. You can’t go wrong with a mixture of brown sugar, herbs, garlic powder, cayenne, and smoked paprika.

Grilled fruit salad

It might sound a little unusual, but grilled fruit is guaranteed to be one of your new favorites come July! When they’re thrown on the grill, the sugars on your favorite fruits start to caramelize, adding a deliciously succulent depth of flavor to an already fantastic treat.

To make grilled fruit, simply place large slices of your favorite fruits on the grill. (Smaller pieces can be cooked on skewers). Firm fruits like pineapples, watermelon, cantaloupes, mangoes, and peaches are great options but feel free to experiment with any of your other favorites!

For instance, grilled figs brushed with balsamic vinegar are a popular appetizer.

Homemade salsa 

There are few things that say “summertime” quite like a fresh, zingy salsa — and the best part is, salsa is even more delicious when you make it with your own fresh ingredients!

To make a simple salsa, simply dice tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and the peppers of your choice, then mix them with plenty of lime juice, salt, and pepper.

If you like your salsa spicy, you can experiment with adding hot peppers to your salsa, like jalapenos and habaneros. Some people enjoy adding sweet elements to their salsa, such as mango and papaya.

And, of course, chunks of avocado can make a pico de gallo salsa even more flavorful and exciting — and also adds a healthy fat into the mix!

Portobello mushrooms 

If you’re looking for a savory, satisfying vegetable option that holds up well on your barbecue, look no further than the portobello mushroom! Portobello mushrooms are a summer sensation because they’re firm, rich in umami flavor, and take on those signature smoky notes once they’re thrown on the grill.

Even better, mushrooms are packed with nutrients like Vitamin B. Studies have found that higher mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers!

You can use grilled portobellos as a vegetarian alternative to burger patties, eat them on their own as a delicious grilled side, or throw them into salads!

Air-fried chips and dip 

Snack foods like the chips you buy at the store are convenient to munch on while waiting for the main course.

Unfortunately, they’re often loaded with manufactured ingredients, many of which are not good for you in excess. Even a single snack item, such as a serving size of potato chips, has been found to contain an average of 6-15% of a child’s daily recommended calories, fat, sugar, and sodium for the day.

As a result, the consumption of these so-called “ultra-processed foods” has been linked to an increased risk of several health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

If you want more control over the nutritional content of your snacks, making your own homemade versions of family favorites allows you to better control the ingredients that go into them.

For example, you can make your own chips by baking or air-frying thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle them with a moderate amount of salt and/or other spices, such as pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika.

And here’s an air-frying bonus: you don’t have to make your chips out of potatoes! Try making them with vitamin-rich vegetables instead, such as sweet potatoes or kale.

For even more healthy goodness, swap the mayonnaise and sour cream in your dip recipes for plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has a very similar flavor and texture to sour cream, but it’s packed with protein.

Greek yogurt is also a great source of probiotics, which support your gut health.

Infused water 

If you’re hosting a party on a hot day, you can’t forget the cold, refreshing drinks! However, you might want to think twice about offering folks the usual canned drinks and alcohol.

Both alcohol and soft drinks like soda tend to contain “empty calories” — in other words, calories without any significant nutritional benefits. Soft drinks can also be dehydrating when consumed on their own, which can be dangerous when combined with soaring temperatures.

Instead of going big on soda, try your hand at making your own refreshing beverages by infusing fruits, vegetables, and herbs into a jug of cold water.

If you want something invigorating and refreshing, add citrus slices from lemons or limes to the water, plus your favorite soft herbs (basil and mint are great options here).

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, your favorite summer fruits like watermelon or strawberries go great with water, especially when you serve them with mint-infused ice cubes!

Whole grain buns 

If you’re serving the usual grilled meats and main dishes, you can take the nutritional value of your meal one step further by choosing whole grain buns instead of white flour ones!

Unlike baked goods made from refined white flour (in other words, the usual buns that you find at the store), whole grain buns naturally retain the fiber and nutrients that come with wheat.

Their superior nutrition profile also means that they are digested more slowly than refined bread, which tends to be better for your blood sugar levels.


Summer cookouts are all about spending time with your loved ones while chowing down on delectable foods. Try adding some of these healthy BBQ ideas to your next party spread. They’ll make you feel great without compromising your body composition goals!

Can a Cheat Day Nullify a Week’s Worth of Gym Work?

By Diet, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on January 11, 2021, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on February 17, 2016.
  • Fat gain or loss is determined by how many calories you take in and how many calories you use in a day
  • Water weight can come from increased glycogen, an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates
  • A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of hard work

Your hard work is paying off with your diet and workouts, and you keep making progress. The weight loss goal is in reach, and you decide to treat yourself. It might be a snack, a cheat meal, a cheat day, or even a weekend. When Monday comes, you weigh yourself for your weekly weigh-in, and you can’t believe it: you’ve gained 5 pounds.

First, the bad news: no the scale isn’t lying to you, you’ve gained 5 five pounds. Here the good news: it is not 5 pounds of fat.

If it is not fat, what is it? Are cheat days a good idea for your diet and fitness plan?

What are cheat days?

First, a quick overview. What exactly is a cheat day?  “Cheat days”, despite the negative connotation, are planned breaks from your diet plan. Rewarding yourself with scheduled breaks from your diet plan, may help you stick to your diet plan, build better habits, and achieve long-term success.

What you plan to indulge in on your cheat day depends on the individual’s tastes and appetite, but the key idea is to let loose and enjoy yourself with something that isn’t on your diet plan.

Not every diet will allow for “cheat days”. The Paleo diet, for example, eliminates entire food groups and doesn’t allow for any breaks from the diet plan. But no matter what diet plan you are on, incorporate meals that you can look forward to helping make the diet plan sustainable.

What are the benefits of a cheat day?

Cheat days can be a great tool to help motivate you to stick to your diet plan. Use cheat days to build a positive relationship with food. View your favorite dessert or comfort food as a reward rather than a coping mechanism.

Something that you should keep in mind is that a cheat day isn’t a license to binge eat. Binge eating on your cheat day may lead to eating-related issues and hurt your ability to self-regulate.

Contrary to popular belief, binge eating does not boost your metabolism. It may have the opposite effect. Just like your diet, it is best to approach it with a plan and the focus on the long-term.

How often should you have cheat days?

There is no hard and fast rule on how many cheat days you should have. Or even if you decide between a cheat meal or day. Ultimately, it depends on how well you self-regulate and what your goals are.

It’s so easy for your cheat day to become a cheat weekend, and then a cheat week. Before you know it, you are back to your old eating habits. It is important to understand what will help you stay motivated.

The goal is to develop a sustainable, long-term plan. What you should consider are your body composition goal, and how fast you want to reach them. Think about how the extra calories (if any) from your cheat meals will impact your goal.

Why does a cheat day cause you to gain weight?

A cheat day causes some large weight increases, but weight because of water, not fat. Depending on what kind of diet you were on, loading up on carbs on a cheat day can increase your weight noticeably.

If you were trying to lose fat, you likely were trying to cut carbohydrates out of your diet. It’s a very popular technique, and diets structured around low carbohydrate and low caloric intake are about as basic a diet as they come. The Mayo Clinic notes that a diet targeting low carbohydrate intake makes up about 60-130 grams of carbs a day. Some popular diets—such as the Atkins Diet—target extremely low levels of carbohydrates, as low as 18 grams a day. This will help you lose weight and some of it.

But once you increase your consumption of carbs, you may see a subsequent increase in water weight.

How much water weight can you gain from cheat day?

If you’re consuming 60 grams of carbs a day, you’re holding onto approximately 210 grams of water. That’s about half a pound of water.

But if on a cheat day, you decide to eat and drink whatever you want and load up to 300 grams of carbohydrates (the average number of carbs eaten by men, according to the US Department of Agriculture), you would retain around 1kg of water or 2.2 pounds. If you were on a 60 carbs/day diet, you could be a pound and a half heavier already. If you went up to 400 grams of carbs, you could add on 2 ½ pounds of water.

Why do carbs cause you to retain water weight?

The reason your body retains water after you consume carbs involves your body’s favorite energy source: a molecule called glycogen. Glycogen is an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates. Your body loves glycogen because it’s an easily accessible energy source that provides a lot of energy. Glycogen also has an interesting attribute: it bonds well with water. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrate in your body, there are about 3 to 4 molecules of water bonded to it.

But glycogen is far from the only substance or factor that can cause your body to retain extra water. Excess sodium can also cause your body to hold on to the water on top of the water held onto by your glycogen. Once you factor in the effects of food, your hormones, and your unique body composition, it is easy to see why your weight fluctuates so much.

But once you return to eating a low carb, low-sodium diet, your body should naturally shed the extra water weight you gained.

Can you gain pounds of fat overnight?

You can’t gain a pound of fat in a day, or even 5 pounds in one weekend. Biologically, it would amaze us if you did. You are very much aware of how difficult it is to lose fat quickly, but don’t laugh when I tell you, in theory, it is as “difficult” to gain fat.

Fat gain or loss has a lot to do with your energy/caloric balance–how many calories you take in vs. how many calories you use during the day. If you are using more energy than you take in, your body gets some energy it needs from your fat stores. If you’re taking in more energy–eating beyond your body’s needs–then the opposite happens: you build fat stores.

A common theory in the health and fitness world is that there are around 3,500 calories stored in a pound of fat. The theory goes that if you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 every day of the week, in 7 days you’ll lose a pound of fat. Conversely, if you overeat by 500 calories a day, you can gain a pound of fat in a week.

500 Calories x 7 Days = 3,500 calories/week or 1 lb/ week

The point is, it TAKES TIME to gain or lose fat. (Of course, it is much easier than you think to overeat 500 calories a day. A large blended coffee-flavored drink once a day will do it.)

To gain a pound of fat, you would need to add about 500 calories a day on top of your normal diet, every day, for about 7 days. This makes gaining any significant amount of fat from even the craziest, all-out cheat days unlikely. To gain 5 pounds of fat in a day, you’d have to eat about 17,500 calories on top of your daily caloric limit. Not even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can consume that many calories!

If you are curious to see the effects of your cheat day, take a body composition test before and after your cheat day to see the changes to your body water levels.

Do cheat days ruin your progress?

A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of consistent workouts and healthy eating.

Cheat days can help keep you stay motivated long-term if you practice mindful eating. But remember, this doesn’t mean you can get carried away on cheat days. It is important to always stay within reason and it will go a long way to help you develop healthy eating habits that you can sustain.

Do not stress about any sudden weight gain after a cheat day; it’s not fat but just water weight. Just make sure after you’ve had your fun, you get back on your fitness journey and keep working towards your goals. Changing your body composition and losing weight is a long-term process, but if you do it right, you’ll have long-term results!

Bottom line: it’s OK to indulge once in a while!

The Influence of Muscle and Fat on Your Body Weight

By Diet, Nutrition

If you’re trying to lose weight, the chances are that you have a “goal weight” in mind.

With so many of our conversations about health centering around factors like obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and overall fitness, it seems that we’re always looking for ways to get healthy and reach what we believe is our ideal weight.

After all, the best way to make sure that you actually reach a goal is by making it measurable in the first place, and your weight is a great way to see how much progress you’re making.

But what’s going on beyond the scale?

There’s a lot more to being healthy than just knowing how much you weigh. Your weight can be a crucial indicator of your health, but that final number might not show you the whole picture.

If you want to talk about weight (or weight loss), it’s vital to have a solid understanding of the two most significant contributors to your weight: muscle and fat tissue.


The Two Different Tissues Contributing to Your Weight

There are a couple of components that make up your body weight, but the two types of tissue that can be the biggest indicators of your health and fitness: muscle and fat.

Let’s Talk About Muscle

Your muscles are the tissues in your body that are responsible for strength and movement. They also help to support your bones and contribute to your energy metabolism.

There are three different kinds of muscle:

  • Cardiac
  • Smooth
  • Skeletal

When it comes to body composition and body weight, we’re mostly talking about Skeletal Muscle Mass. These are the muscles that you can typically change through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise. Traditionally, we work out and grow these muscles (or neglect them and let them atrophy). Think biceps, triceps, abdominals, glutes, etc.

What About Fat?

Fat, also known as adipose tissue, is another major contributor to your overall body weight – and it’s often the one that people are looking to get rid of when they talk about weight loss.

There are two different kinds of fat:

  • Subcutaneous fat, or the fat that lies beneath the skin
  • Visceral fat, which lies deep in your abdominal cavity and surrounds your organs

Despite the negative connotation, having a certain amount of fat tissue is actually necessary. Your body stores unused energy from your food as fat, so it can provide a reliable source of fuel when you need it. Fat tissue also acts as insulation to keep you warm and as a “cushion” to protect your vital organs.

Finally, fat is an endocrine organ, which means that it plays a role in releasing hormones and regulating your blood sugar.

The visible problem is excess body fat, which can lead to higher body weight and altered hormone release that can make the condition worse.

How Muscle And Fat Contribute To Your Body Weight

When it comes to weight, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle because they can both be controlled (and changed!) by your lifestyle.

Your Body Fat Mass (or the amount of fat you have in your body) is highly variable based on your diet and exercise. Since one of its primary functions is energy storage, your Body Fat Mass can change depending on whether you’re eating at a caloric deficit or caloric surplus.

This means that if you are at a caloric surplus, or eating more than what your body uses, the excess energy can be stored as fat, which leads to weight gain.

You also have a lot of control over how your Skeletal Muscle Mass contributes to your weight since these are the muscles that can grow with exercise. Because of this, the amount of muscle mass you have can be an indication of your fitness.

Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?

Not only do these two tissues have different functions, but they also take up space in your body in very different ways.

You may have heard the phrase “muscle weighs more than fat” before. What this means is that, while a pound of fat is going to weigh the same as a pound of muscle, they’re going to look very different.

Muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, so a pound of muscle tissue takes up much less space than a pound of body fat. This means you can be the same height and weight as someone else but look completely different and have different body composition because of the different body fat-to-muscle ratios—and this can also mean that the healthiness of your weight can vary.

Why Knowing Your Body Composition Is Just As Important As Your Weight

When it comes to determining their “healthy weight range,” a lot of people put the focus on their BMI, or Body Mass Index, which uses a general formula to decide how your weight compares with your height. But these two numbers don’t necessarily give you the whole picture of your health since it doesn’t show exactly how your muscle and fat contribute to that weight.

Take this study, for example: while evaluating the weight and body composition of college athletes, researchers found that 38 of the subjects had BMIs indicating that they were overweight, but only 4 of those subjects actually had excess body fat. This means that a higher Skeletal Muscle Mass may classify you as overweight on the scale!

There is more to your health and fitness than your body weight alone.

Understanding Your Body Composition

To understand how the weight on the scale relates to your body composition, you have to understand that your weight is broken down into Body Fat Mass and Lean Body Mass and where Skeletal Muscle Mass fits into that mix.

The definition of Lean Body Mass is your total body weight minus your Body Fat Mass, which leaves your Skeletal Muscle Mass as well as the weight of your organs, skin, bones, and body water. This measurement can give you an idea of how much of your body weight is made up of fat and muscle.

Not only is this important for having a grasp of how healthy you are, but it can also help with your metabolism, which can then go on to help you with any body composition or weight loss goals you may have. People who have more Lean Body Mass use more calories every day when they’re at rest to maintain those muscle tissues, so having a higher muscle mass is actually beneficial for using more calories daily and burning fat.

And on the flip side, excess body fat can pose health risks like heart disease, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome, even if you have a normal BMI!

You Can Improve Your Health Regardless of Your Weight

The right balance of Lean Body Mass and Body Fat Mass can help you to maintain your health and your capacity for functional movement outside of weight alone and is generally a better indication of your overall fitness.

The really good news about this is that it means weight loss on its own isn’t always the end-all-be-all of improving your health and quality of life.

For example, one study found that patients improved their knee pain by lowering their body fat percentage and increasing their activity, even when their body weight didn’t change significantly.

Key Insights for Goal-Planning

Knowing your body composition can give you vital insights into just how healthy you are—and that can mean a more clear path for making the right decisions for your health and fitness.

Having a “snapshot” of your Body Fat Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass—and how both of those components contribute to the final number on the scale—can help you determine what steps you should be taking to improve your overall body composition and health.

For example, if you find that your Body Fat Mass is high, but your Skeletal Muscle Mass seems to be in a normal range, you can focus more on cutting your fat through a combination of exercise and diet rather than just resistance training to build muscle.

This can also help you see that your progress doesn’t always show on the scale! If you’ve been hitting the gym hard and are feeling a lot more fit, but the scale hasn’t moved, you might be building muscle. Again, muscle takes up less space in your body than fat tissue, so this progress won’t necessarily show on the scale, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any progress.

Getting a body composition test lets you learn more about your body composition and can show that you’re building muscle to keep you motivated to continue.

How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Losing Fat

If you want to lose weight, you should lose excess fat tissue, not muscle mass. Studies have indicated that it’s important to focus on diet and exercise if you want to preserve your Skeletal Muscle Mass while losing weight.

To do this, you need to make sure you’re losing weight “the healthy way:”

  • Include a healthy balance of cardio and resistance training in your workout routine to burn calories and build muscle
  • Eat at a caloric deficit to burn through your extra fat stores
  • Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet to support and maintain healthy muscle mass


There’s more to your body weight than what meets the eye—although having a healthy body composition can definitely help with that! Knowing how your fat and muscle contribute to your weight can give you key insights into your health and help you plan out a more specific diet and exercise routine for your goals.


Erica Digap is a freelance writer specializing in nutrition science, fitness, and health. After receiving her BSc in Clinical Nutrition and working in the corporate diet industry, she decided to set forth and use her experience to inspire readers to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes, one healthy meal and workout at a time.

Carb Cycling: A Comprehensive Guide and Its Influence on Your Fitness

By Diet, Nutrition

Counting the number of calories you eat in a day is no longer effective for improving your fitness potential.

Eating healthy is often a more involved process than simply tallying the number of calories you eat in a day. There are also the actual nutrients in those calories that need to be considered, like your protein, fat, and, most infamously, carbohydrates. Low-carb dieting is highly popular for weight management, but many people find that it’s too restrictive to be a realistic,  long-term solution. Enter: carb cycling.

Here’s everything you need to know about carb cycling and how it can help you achieve your fitness goals.

What is Macro Counting?

“Macro counting” is an eating strategy in which you keep track of the number of grams of each macronutrient you eat per day. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) are all metabolized differently in your body. As such, each macronutrient also has a different calorie value per gram.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories/gram
  • Fats: 9 calories/gram

The three major macronutrients and their equivalent calories per gram. 

Not all calories are created equally, and several studies show that the macronutrient contents of your diet can alter your end results. Macro counting addresses the importance of understanding how food affects your body beyond simple calories in/calories out approach. While counting your macros tends to be more involved than simply adding up your total calories for the day, this method can give you better insights into how the food you eat is affecting your workouts and your body composition.

One of the most popular examples of a macro counting diet is IIFYM, aka the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet. This type of eating pattern generally allows for more flexibility in your daily eating plan, rather than strict restriction and elimination that go hand-in-hand with more regimented diets.

What is Carb Cycling?

Carbohydrates have historically been villainized as the culprits behind unwanted weight gain and fitness plateaus. However, the relationship between carbs and your fitness is a little more nuanced than that. Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source so your body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates that it can use to fuel your daily activities.  While weight loss is a benefit of low-carb diets, like the Keto Diet, they’ve also been linked to some concerning side effects like nausea, fatigue, dehydration, and limited exercise capacity.

This is where carb cycling comes in. This more advanced eating pattern has traditionally been used by athletes to optimize their athletic performance, and now it’s also being used as a method for weight loss.

Rather than slashing your carbohydrate intake to a minimum, as you would with a traditional low-carb diet, carb cycling involves switching off between lower-carb intake days and moderate-carb intake days. Carb cycling can look different for everyone, but the most popular option is to save your higher-carb days for the days that you are going to be participating in higher-intensity workouts. This way, you can make sure that you’re giving your body enough carbohydrates to fuel you through your most active days.

How Carb Cycling Affects Your Body Composition

So why try carb cycling in the first place? One major reason lies in its potential to help you build muscle while losing fat.

Low-carb diets are a successful method for weight loss (at least in the short term) for a couple of different reasons, including their potential to help improve insulin sensitivity, lower your calorie intake, and put you into a state of ketosis, or “fat burn.”

But low-carbohydrate diets can also lead to a loss of muscle mass during intense exercise. When you eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which then circulates through your bloodstream (aka “blood sugar”) to be used for quick energy. And, they can also be stored in your muscles and liver in another form called glycogen. But when you’re eating a limited amount of carbs, you have much less circulating glucose that can be used for energy to complete a high-intensity workout. Instead, your body has to use your stored glycogen for energy, depleting your muscles in the process.

By cycling your carb intake, you can prevent this muscle degradation by refueling your muscle glycogen stores with an adequate amount of carbohydrates on those extra-active days.

It’s also interesting to note how low-carb diets can impact some of the hormones that influence your weight management behaviors. Take leptin, a hormone that regulates your energy and hunger cues. There’s evidence that eating a low-carb diet is linked to lower leptin levels, which can notify your body that it needs to eat more, throwing a wrench into your otherwise carefully-planned diet. For many people, this means that they need to experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates to find the intake that will best support their fitness goals. Because of this, carb cycling can be a potential solution for many.

Is Carb Cycling Good for Your Fitness Goals?

Carbs provide quick, easy-to-use fuel when you need it most. So a downside to low-carb diets is they are not very well-suited for people who work out. However, with carb cycling, you can use higher-carbohydrate days to give your body enough fuel to finish those longer,  harder workouts that might be more difficult to complete when you’re taking in fewer carbohydrates.

Carb cycling could also be a useful tool for weight loss simply because of the low-carb element. Low-carb diets are proven to help you lose fat, making them similar to other calorie-restricted approaches. But, because carb cycling allows you to eat some carbohydrates when factored wisely into your eating plan, it could be a more sustainable approach. By carb cycling, you can approach nutrition from a more sustainable angle, and you won’t have to be as restrictive. Successful diets are the ones that you can follow for the long run, so carb cycling could be a viable option for anyone who wants to take advantage of better insulin sensitivity without eliminating carbs completely.

Are There Any Downsides to Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling could be an effective way to help you reach your fitness goals, especially when compared to stricter diets that do away with many carbohydrates. But on the flip side, this method is more complicated and involved than simply adding up the number of calories you ate in a  day. It requires thorough planning to ensure that you’re meeting the correct amount of carbohydrates (in grams) for your body while ensuring your exercise plan is working with your nutrition to get you the results you desire. This type of eating plan could feel overwhelming if you’re looking for a simpler way to monitor your food intake.

Another thing to consider is  carb cycling can come with some unpleasant side effects on low-carb days like fatigue, sleep problems, gastrointestinal distress, and mood issues. Carb cycling is not suitable for just anyone, either. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, as should anyone who is underweight, managing an eating disorder, or dealing with any adrenal issues.

People with diabetes should also consult with their doctor before determining if carb cycling could be a fit for their lifestyles. Evidence for its use among those with diabetes is somewhat conflicting, though. While low-carb diets seem to be helpful for managing blood sugar, some experts believe people with diabetes and hypoglycemia should not try carb cycling.

Also, there is very little evidence as of now to suggest how well carb cycling actually works. More evidence-based research is needed to determine the effects of carb cycling on your health and fitness goals.

How to Start Carb Cycling

Familiarize Yourself With Different Kinds of Carbs

If you’re going to start watching your carb intake, it pays to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.

Your body can break down and absorb simple carbohydrates very quickly, so they can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates also tend to be processed more heavily than complex carbohydrates, which can strip them of other healthy nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, having too many simple carbohydrates in your diet can increase your susceptibility to conditions like weight gain, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contain healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They take longer for your body to break down and absorb, and they won’t trigger massive blood sugar fluctuations in the same ways that simple carbs will.

When it comes to carb cycling, it’s usually better to stick to more complex carbohydrates, both on low-carb and more moderate-carb days, to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. Some examples of healthy  complex carbohydrates you might want to add to your carb cycling rotation include:

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

It’s also important to note that these recommendations are general and not all-encompassing. It’s always a good idea to speak with a  registered dietitian or certified nutritionist to better understand your individual needs.

Experiment With What Works Best for You

There is no hard-and-fast definition of carb cycling, which means that what works best for you may not work for someone else Generally speaking, a typical low-carb day might mean restricting your carb intake to roughly 20-57 grams of carbohydrates (about one cup of brown rice). In contrast, a more moderate-carbohydrate day might see about 225-325 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. But again, this can vary.

The frequency of low-carb to moderate-carb days also matters. Many people who carb cycle schedule their moderate carbohydrate days on the days when they are exercising intensely. But there isn’t currently enough research to suggest that there’s an “optimum” number of days per week that one should eat low-carb versus higher-carb.

Ultimately, your macronutrient needs can vary widely based on the number of calories you eat per day, the frequency and intensity at which you exercise, and your current health status. You might need to do some experimentation to find the right cycle that fits your goals.

Use a Nutrition Tracker

One of the biggest considerations to keep in mind before you start carb cycling is the amount of math it can involve. Not only do you have to determine how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are in each food you eat during the day, but you also need to tailor your meal plan according to whether you’re following a high-carb or low-carb meal plan for that particular day.

 So nutrition trackers can be invaluable tools for anyone interested in carb cycling. . Plugging your daily food intake into a smartphone app reduces the amount of math you need to do and simplifies macro counting while ensuring you are eating the right number of calories for weight loss, maintenance, or gain (depending on your goals). Popular apps include:

Track Your Measurements and Body Composition in Addition to Weight

Because carb cycling seems to affect your body composition and weight in various ways, it’s important to track more than just your weight to get an accurate picture of your progress.

To better understand how carb cycling is affecting your body fat versus your muscle mass, take regular measurements. Start by measuring your biceps, waist, abdomen, hips, and chest to use as a baseline for tracking healthy progress. You might also be able to track changes to body composition outputs like  Body Fat Percentage, Skeletal Muscle Mass, Lean Muscle Mass, and Body Fat Mass—all of which can more accurately show you how your diet is changing your body more than a single number on the scale.

On a related note, it’s important to understand that changes to your body composition and weight can also lead to changes in your energy requirements. To avoid plateaus during your fitness journey, reevaluate your macronutrient intake every 8-12 weeks, as instructed by your dietitian, especially if you start to notice stagnation in your progress.


Carb cycling has been used as an energy optimization strategy by endurance athletes for years. But more and more people have recently begun to use this advanced strategy to take advantage of the fat-burning benefits of low-carb diets without burning out too quickly. It’s a fairly complicated diet that requires more research to understand its long-term effects, but it seems to be a promising method for weight management. Before you hop onto the carb cycling bandwagon, take some time to educate yourself on the types of carbohydrates and their individual benefits, and be sure to speak with a professional to ensure you can fuel your body properly using this method.

How Starving to Lose Weight Affects Your Body Composition

By Diet

You may have a few (or more) extra pounds you want to lose. What do you do? Naturally, like most people, you turn to tried and true methods of weight loss, diet, and exercise. You begin running or hitting the weights a few days a week. You start to tighten up your diet, omitting junk food and cooking at home more often.

For some people, the results from this process are not achieved quickly enough. We live in a world of immediate gratification. If you can’t hit your goals, like yesterday, what do many people do? Some turn to starvation diets, or extreme diets that restrict calories far below their daily energy needs.

They might drop pounds rather quickly, just look at the Biggest Loser for evidence of that. But what really happens to their bodies? What are the short and long-term health effects of starvation on body composition?

What our body is made of

Body composition is the term used to describe the components that make up your body: fat and fat-free mass. Fat-free mass is made up of everything that isn’t fat, such as protein (lean muscle, organs), water, and minerals (i.e., bones and iron in the blood).

To change your body composition, you can’t simply focus on the larger goal of weight loss. Instead, your goal is twofold: reduce fat mass while maintaining or increasing Lean Body Mass. But why should you focus on changing your body composition instead of weight loss?

Simply put, increasing lean muscle will give you the appearance of being thinner, even if the number on the scale doesn’t move. That is because muscle is more compact than fat. So focusing on body composition, as opposed to fat loss, can help you improve your overall appearance and reduce body fat while increasing strength.

Why we choose starvation

The standard model of weight loss is calories in vs calories out. If you consume more calories per day than what you burn, you will gain weight; by burning more calories per day than you take in, you will lose weight. Having a calorie restriction is important if you are trying to see the number on the scale decrease.

As discussed earlier, many people choose the all-or-nothing, die-hard approach to weight loss and opt for calorie levels far lower than what is recommended, prompting them to lose weight rapidly. Starvation diets may get you to “a goal weight,” but at what cost?

What happens to the body when it starves

Research indicates people who used starvation diets for weight loss, eating 50% of their energy needs for three weeks, did decrease their body weight overall. However, they also reduced their lean muscle mass by 5%. If the state of starvation is maintained chronically, lean muscle mass and organ size are decreased by 20%.

Likewise, a study on mice found lean mass and lean muscle mass were sacrificed during starvation; however, body fat stores were relatively the same in mice on a control diet and obese mice on starvation diets.

Weight loss via starvation causes individuals to lose significant amounts of lean muscle mass and Lean Body Mass, which encompasses water, bones, organs, etc. Reducing the mass of your bones is problematic, as that decreases bone density and can make you more prone to injury. Conversely, increasing Lean Body Mass increases bone strength and density, a common concern for many Americans as they age.

One study using human participants indicated dropping significant amounts of calories from the diet lead to significant weight loss and decreased lean muscle mass. However, participants also gained back nearly all of the fat they lost, within 8 years.

This prompts the discussion and understanding of an important topic- metabolism. More so, chronic starvation leads to changes in metabolism. Metabolism and resting metabolic rate are directly linked to Lean Body Mass. A person with greater body mass will require more energy to function day to day, thus will have a larger basal metabolic rate (BMR). As weight decreases, so does BMR.

This means that there’s a certain number of calories necessary to maintain your lean mass. If you go below this number, your body will be forced to break down these muscle stores in order to create energy.

Starvation diets have far-reaching negative effects on the body. Starving to lose weight changes the metabolism, reduces lean muscle, reduces bone density, and decreases strength.

Returning from a starving state

Perhaps you opted for an ultra-low-calorie diet, placing your body in starvation mode. You’ve lost tons of weight and are ready to return to “normal” eating. So far, your body has also responded by losing muscle and decreasing BMR. But something else interesting happens to the body after a period of starvation.

The body’s systems do not “reset” after starvation. What does that mean? The body tunes itself to focus on significant weight loss at the expense of body fat mass, lean muscle, and other lean mass. It reduced its basal metabolic rate. Yet, once a person returns to a normal calorie level, the body cannot adapt.

The body cannot adapt from dropping to an ultra-low caloric intake to lose weight and return to a higher caloric intake to maintain the weight loss. The body will store the extra calories as fat.

This is because the body is now primed to replenish the lost fat stores, not lean muscle, lost during starvation. Starving to lose weight makes your body more likely, in the long run, to replenish fat. It uses the new basal metabolic rate from starvation mode.

Lean individuals were more likely to gain more fat after starvation. To that end, the body’s system didn’t “reset” itself until all the body fat lost during the period of starvation was regained. This negates any progress made during this period.

One of the reasons this may be the case is because blood leptin levels decrease in individuals who lose a lot of weight via starvation. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety. It is produced by fat cells and helps to regulate energy balance and inhibit hunger. In short, it signals the brain that you are not hungry.

Yet, those who starved for greater weight loss lowered their leptin levels, putting them at risk of regaining the weight because the body wasn’t signaling the brain correctly. Low blood leptin signaled to the brain the body was not full or satisfied after eating, causing them to eat more.

Research indicates extreme weight loss by starving yourself is often not sustainable. Take that example of the Biggest Loser into consideration again. What happens once the show ends? Most of the contests gain a significant amount of the weight back.

Among a study of 14 Biggest Loser contestants, 13 of the 14 regained a significant amount of the weight lost within 6 years after competing. Furthermore, their basal metabolic rate decreased with the weight loss, as expected. Yet, once contestants put the weight back on, their BMR did not increase with the weight.

Recall the correlation between mass and BMR. Someone at a higher weight has a greater BMR. Yet, Biggest Loser contestants who lost weight and regained it had lower BMRs. Their BMRs were low, despite having again reached a higher weight. Simply put, contestants were now burning fewer calories at rest even though they had more mass.

Is set point theory a factor?

Some people indicate set point theory is the reason for this inequality. Set point theory posits everyone has a “normal” weight the body is “set” to. This relies on DNA, genetic effects, and environmental influences.

Thus, when trying to lose weight, the body works hard to maintain that weight, despite extreme measures. One way it does this is by slowing the metabolism, or rather decreasing BMR, and increasing hunger. Furthermore, once a person returns to a normal calorie range they can often experience collateral fattening, where the weight loss drives overeating to the point of regaining fat.

Weight loss causes the body to focus on weight gain because of the loss of weight to the fat-free mass. Remember, fat-free mass includes any mass on the body that does not have fat, such as the bones, organs, and lean muscle.

Because starvation leads to not only a loss of fat, but a loss of lean muscle, organ tissue, and skeletal mass, the body begins to work to regain the lost mass. This activates “collateral fattening,” which increases appetite.

Opt for safer and healthier ways to lose weight

Taking a starvation approach to weight loss is a short-term fix for a problem that requires long-term methods. However, this type of extreme caloric deficit can generate the opposite results of what you are looking for. Instead of aiding the body in dropping fat, it causes the body to catabolize lean muscle mass and lean tissue and bones.

More so, this type of weight loss isn’t sustainable in the long-term. Those who choose starvation diets typically regain most of the weight within only a few years. It primes your body to gain fat easier in the long term and decreases your BMR, making it harder for your body to do what it naturally does, burn calories for energy. In the long-term, your body works harder to return to the overweight state it was in before starvation.

Instead of starving yourself, opt for healthier ways to lose weight. Think of the twofold approach to body composition and focus on fat loss and muscle gain. Choose a healthy diet within a healthy calorie range or healthy deficit and use strength training to increase lean muscle. Eating foods in low-calories and low fat may seem ideal, but remember to focus on the macronutrients.

The next time you are considering an extreme diet which may push your body into starvation, think again. Think about the negative effects it may have on your body now and in the future. At the very least, consider the likelihood that you will probably regain most of the weight that was lost. That, in and of itself, should point you to a more practical and safer approach to weight loss.


Martha Garcia is a freelance writer specializing in health & wellness, women’s topics, and travel. After experiencing several health-related challenges, she developed a passion for writing about health and making medical and scientific topics more understandable to others.

How to Use BMR To Hack Your Diet

By Diet, InBody Blog, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on March 15, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on October 16, 2015.
  • Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn at rest.
  • The safest way to handle a caloric reduction for fat loss is to reduce your intake by something marginal and being consistent.
  • To optimize your BMR for lean body mass gain, you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day.

When people decide they want to get into shape, the first thing they typically do is sign up for a gym. They start off with great excitement, vowing to hit the treadmill or weight room every day.  They keep this up for a couple of weeks, but when the changes don’t come, the enthusiasm wanes. Every day becomes three times a week. Three times a week becomes “I’ll go when I have time.” Before they know it, they’ve given up.

Sound familiar?

The reasons for giving up a fitness program are many, and not seeing results fast enough is one of the most common reasons to quit. However, many people forget one extremely important foundation for their weight loss program: their diet.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “six-pack abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true. You can train as hard as you want in the gym, but you can’t out train a bad diet. Regardless if your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat, if you’re not optimizing your meals to reach those goals, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

So how do you optimize a meal plan? There are many factors that go into meal planning, such as the type of nutrients consumed, the frequency of meals, and the selective use of fasting to name a few.  But a great place to start is to determine how many calories you burn a day. And it all starts with your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

You’re probably familiar with the 2000-calorie diet. This is a range set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993 for use on nutrition labels for packaged food.

Nutritional Facts

So what are your actual caloric needs? A good way to start is by using a BMR calculator, which will determine the number of calories your body burns each day to perform its basic, life-sustaining functions. This includes all the involuntary processes in your body such as breathing, digesting food, pumping blood, brain activity, and much more. There is no shortage of online resources and apps that will provide you with a BMR calculator.  Certain medical/fitness devices also feature BMR as an output during body composition analysis. However, there are a few things you should know about metabolism calculations before diving into the first option you find. Your caloric needs can be calculated in a couple different ways and with a few different equations, including the revised Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.  These equations calculate BMR using your weight, with some adjustments for height, age, and gender. However, if you fall outside average assumptions for height, age, and gender (if you’re an athlete, for example), these formulas may not accurately produce your metabolic rate.

For people who do fall outside the assumed ranges for height, age and gender, there is a third option: use the amount of lean body mass you have to determine your metabolic rate. This is what the J.J. Cunningham equation will do.  Using this method as a BMR calculator has a couple of benefits:

  • It won’t give you results that have been influenced by estimations derived from the typical representative member of your age and gender
  • As you increase lean body mass by developing your skeletal muscle mass, your caloric needs will increase, and the Cunningham equation will account for this.

Once you have your BMR in hand, you’re ready for the next step.

Total Calories and Dieting

Remember, your BMR is just the number of calories your body burns at rest and does not account for the calories you need to walk, talk, exercise, etc. When thinking about your caloric needs for a meal plan, you’ll need to convert your BMR to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can do this by multiplying your BMR by a factor that represents your estimated energy level. Those conversions are:

TDEE Maintenance Chart based on activity level

So, let’s take the example of a 171.1-pound male with 133.6 pounds of lean body mass and assume he is moderately active. Using the Cunningham equation, this person would have a BMR of around 1,679 Cal/day. Multiply that by the appropriate conversion, and you get 2,602.45.  This is how many calories this person needs to maintain his weight.

When trying to improve your body composition and body fat percentage, you must reduce fat mass and gain lean body mass. That’s why it’s very hard to change your body composition.

This also means that your diet must also match what your current goal is – losing fat mass and/or gaining lean body massThis is incredibly important. People who don’t do this often end up sabotaging their goals by setting fitness and meal plans that are at odds with each other.

The most classic example is this: “I want to get in shape, so I am going to diet (eat less) and work out more (increase energy use).”

This isn’t a bad plan – if you’re looking to lose fat. If you’re looking to build muscle and get stronger, it’s very unlikely that you will achieve this by eating less than your TDEE while increasing your activity level beyond what you’re is accustomed to.

Using BMR to Optimize your Diet for Fat Loss

Body fat percentageThere is a lot that goes into any meal plan, and it can get complicated quickly. From a dietary standpoint, you can count on one thing: if you want to lose fat, you need to run a caloric deficit. That means you need to take in fewer calories. If you’ve found your BMR and converted it to TDEE, you know what your body requires in a day to stay the same. That’s your starting point. You need to consistently consume less than your TDEE if you want to lose weight.

How many calories do you need to take out of your diet in order to lose weight? Theoretically, any amount that is less than your normal TDEE can cause you to lose weight; it just depends on how quickly you want to see results.

A lot of resources will tell you that you need to subtract 500 calories from your diet each day to lose one pound of fat per week. This is based on the premise that one pound of fat represents 3,500 calories, and that by reducing your caloric intake by 500 over 7 days, you’ll reach a weekly loss of 3,500 calories or a pound of fat. You may have heard this rule before.

However, hard-and-fast “rules” like these are tricky because although they’re usually based on facts (caloric reduction does lead to fat loss), they may not be advisable, recommended, or safe for everyone. Someone with a TDEE of around 2,600 calories might not have many problems dropping to 2,100, but someone whose TDEE is 1,400 will probably have significant difficulties living a normal life and exercising while consuming 900 calories a day for any length of time.

The safest way to handle a caloric reduction is to reduce your intake by something marginal – 200 or 300 calories a day, for example – and be consistent with this for a week or two. After a week, have your body composition analyzed to ensure you aren’t losing lean body mass. If you see your fat mass begin to drop, you can see by how much and adjust your caloric needs accordingly.

How can you cut calories safely? The first thing to do would be to cut any unnecessary snacks and treats in your diet – soda, chips, chocolate, alcohol, etc. Depending on how much of these existed in your diet before, this simple step might be enough to cause you to lose weight without making any other changes!

But what if you were already eating clean? Where do you cut calories on a clean diet? If you’re in this situation, you need to make sure that you are cutting calories from nutrient sources that you can afford to cut from. One nutrient group you should be careful to not cut too much from (if at all) is protein.

Protein helps ensure your weight loss is fat mass and not fat free mass or lean body mass.  Find out how much protein should you eat for your body here.

One way to do this from a dietary standpoint is to consume foods that are low in calories but high in protein.  Here are a couple of foods to consider:

  • Tilapia, one fillet: 111 calories/22.75 grams of protein.
  • Greek yogurt, 170g container: 100 calories/17.32 grams of protein
  • Boneless skinless chicken breast, 3.5 ounces: 165 calories/31 grams of protein

With proper caloric restriction, nutrition, and exercise, you’ll start to shed off the fat while retaining as much muscle as possible.

Using BMR to Optimize Your Diet for Lean Body Mass Gain

If your goal is to build lean body mass, then your caloric needs and dietary goals are going to be different than if your goal is to reduce body fat. Some aspects of the diet will remain the same. You still need to eat clean and avoid unnecessary calories like in the fat mass diet described above. But you’ll need to exceed your daily caloric needs if you want to gain lean body mass. Additionally, strength training is going to be much more important – it’s not like you can just eat your way to lean body mass gains!

Start with your BMR and convert it to TDEE by multiplying it by the factor that best reflects the amount of physical activity you have in a week. For the sake of consistency, we will use the previous example (1679 Cal/day) and exercise factor (x1.55) to produce a TDEE of 2,602.45. This is the amount of calories that must be exceeded in order to have enough energy to produce the desired results.

How much should you increase your energy intake by in order to gain lean mass? According to research, you need to consume approximately 15% more calories per day than what is required to maintain your body weight (that’s the TDEE).  So in this example, this individual should look to increase their caloric intake to about 2992.3 calories which, for convenience’s sake, could be safely rounded off to an even 3,000 calories/day.

How should you be adding these extra calories in your diet? The study cited above suggests that to maximize lean mass gain while minimizing fat mass gain, the increase in calories should be made up of both protein-rich foods and carbohydrates.

However, a word of caution about protein. Before you conclude that you’ll just increase your diet with nothing but protein, consider this: there is a point where eating more protein won’t lead to a measurable increase in lean mass. In a 2006 study of collegiate level athletes, no benefit in muscle or strength gain came from protein consumption that exceeded .9 g of protein per pound of body weight.

While protein is important, caloric intake is arguably more necessary. In the article cited above, the athletes consumed their required protein amount but failed to consume the total amount of calories appropriate for their fitness level, which led the authors to comment:

The low energy intakes observed in this study confirm previous reports that have shown that collegiate athletes generally do not meet their nutritional needs, specifically as it relates to energy intake. Caloric intakes of strength/power athletes should exceed 44 – 50 kcal·kgBM·day-1, however, the caloric intakes reported in this study (33.0 ± 5.5 kcal·kgBM·day-1) were below these recommended levels and likely impacted the ability of these subjects to make significant gains in lean tissue accruement.

Bottom line: you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day if you are trying to gain lean mass.

Final Thoughts

plate of fruits

As with any dietary plan, you will expect to see changes over time.  All this hard work has to produce results, right? So, how long will it take to see results? Unfortunately, that is going to vary for each individual. A good rule of thumb is to weigh yourself every 1 – 2 weeks.  If you are looking for a more precise analysis, you should get your body composition measured as well. Another important factor to consider: your BMR. Since your BMR is closely linked to your lean body mass, any changes will affect the number of calories you burn.

For example, if your plan is to gain lean body mass, and over a period of time you are successful in doing so, your energy needs are going to increase. This is why it is so important to be measuring body composition.

Conversely, if you lose some lean body mass as a result of going on a strict caloric deficit diet, your BMR will decrease. If you lose too much lean mass, but don’t take that change into account, you might take in more calories than you need, which could sabotage your goals.

Finally, a diet is much more than creating a calorie deficit. It’s important to use a BMR calculator or body composition analyzer to understand how much energy your body needs. Without this information, you won’t know how much food you need to add or remove to your diet in order to achieve your goals. With this information, you’ll see quicker results and reach your goals faster.