Nutritional Science Pt. 1

Hello everyone,

For those of you who don’t follow me closely, do not be alarmed!  You are in the right place. I typically discuss programming, design, and GameMaker: Studio 1.x and 2.x on this blog. However, I am also an avid fan of weight lifting, nutrition, and interesting/progressive diets.

Us, as game developers sit way too much. We stay indoors excessively. A lot of us aren’t aware of what that is doing to our body, why it’s a problem, and/or what we could be doing to combat that! I am about to start a new diet and weight lifting routine, and thought that this would be a good opportunity to spread some non-development knowledge with my fan base! I hope that this can help you in some way. If you are not interested, feel free to ignore it, but I suggest that you give Part 1 a chance! Thank you!

This first segment is more like a physics class, but that’s ok! I’ll do my best to keep it simple. The laws of thermodynamics deal with the conservation, transfer, and entropy of energy. When talking about nutrition, we refer to units of energy as ‘calories’. A calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. A calorie is also equal to 1,000 small calories and is what we use to measure the nutrition in food. This is why the labels in some countries use ‘kcals’ instead of ‘calories’ (this distinction is simply to keep the numbers manageable, i.e. 90 kcals in a cup of skim milk rather than 90,000 cals).

Why do we care? Thermodynamics and the ability to count calories is the reason why we can predict how much weight we would gain or lose given a specific diet. The laws of thermodynamics say that if the number of calories that we consume is fewer than the number of calories that we utilize throughout the day, the body will lose weight due to metabolizing fat, muscle, etc. in order to retain that equilibrium. The opposite is also true- if you consume more calories than you burn, the calories will be stored as fat or be used to repair and grow muscle tissue. The body does not care or even understand the source of the calories. If a person burns 2,000 kcals per day, they would lose weight if they only consumed 1,000 kcals per day. That is true regardless of the 1,000 kcals came from a pound and a half of chicken breast or a half-dozen twinkies. In fact, if they continued that diet for a week, they would lose exactly 2 lbs of body mass.

Estimating Fluctuation In Body Mass
How do I know that? Well it takes roughly a 3,500 kcals deficit to metabolize a pound of fat. Given a seven day week, a 500 kcals daily deficit will result in losing 1 lb (500 * 7 = 3,500). The same can be said for a 1,000 kcals daily deficit causing you to lose 2 lb within a week (1,000 * 7 = 7,000 which is 3,500 * 2). And so on.

A 3,5000 kcal deficit is required to metabolize one pound of body fat

Alright, so now we know that we can calculate how much weight we will lose during a week by comparing our daily calorie deficit to the number of calories required to metabolize fat molecules. The hardest part of this process is determining your BMR (base metabolic rate) and taking into account your activity levels and personal metabolism. You can find fancy formulas for this all over the internet, but I tend to use the simpler ones and then adjust as you start to see results.

This calculator can estimate this value for you:

Ok, so what exactly is this number? It is the number of calories that your body burns each day to keep you alive. This doesn’t take into account standing, walking, or any form(s) of exercise that you may get throughout the day. This is simply the number of calories it takes to breathe and continue bumping blood throughout your veins. From here you can use a exercise calculator of some kind to approximate how much you are burning during your workouts and throughout your day. If you are unsure, just pick a number and record your weight gain/loss after one week of accurate calorie counting. Adjust up or down if you end up having a weight fluctuation that you didn’t anticipate.

Here’s an example: If my BMR is approximately 1,900 kcals per day and after I take into account exercise and metabolism I burn an average of 2,500 kcals per day (let’s keep the math simple here), the following numbers could be used to calculate weight gain/loss.

1,500 kcals/day = 2 lbs of weight loss within a week
2,000 kcals/day = 1 lb of weight loss within a week
2,500 kcals/day = maintain weight throughout week
3,000 kcals/day = 1 lb of weight gain within a week
3,500 kcals/day = 2 lbs of weight gain within a week

Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss
You may have noticed that I didn’t specify the amount of fat loss, but instead used the term ‘weight loss’ or fluctuation in overall mass. This is because our bodies can change weight due to water, fat, or muscle gain/loss. When our weight changes, that change is broken up across these different molecules. Our diet can greatly influence which molecules are metabolized! This is the main difference between the pound and a half of chicken breast against the half-dozen twinkies. Protein is an important macro-nutrient that promotes muscle retention (chicken is one of the best sources of protein on our planet). If you do not consume adequate protein while burning more calories than you consume, you generally metabolize equal parts fat and muscle tissue. This can often lead to a body type referred to as ‘skinny-fat’. This is caused by losing large amounts of weight without showing any change in body composition (your ratio of fat to muscle tissue). If you lose just as much muscle as you do fat, you will be indeed be a smaller version of yourself, but you will have the same proportions and overall shape. Often not the desired goal!

To maintain the most muscle during a weight loss diet you should consume adequate amounts of protein, incorporate weight-training into your workout routine, drink enough water, and get enough sleep. Some sites will say quite a bit more, but I find that between 0.6g and 0.8g of protein per lb of your body weight is enough to maintain muscle mass throughout a weight loss period. This amount will increase in proportion to how much heavy lifting you are doing while attempting to lose weight. Body builders need to consume much more protein than sedentary people. This is because it’s not actually your body weight that is important here, but actually your lean body weight (body mass – fat mass).

Example: 200 lbs * 0.6g = 120g protein/day

-Your body weight will fluctuate if your calories consumed do not equal your calories burned, regardless of calorie source(s).
-To metabolize one pound of fat, a 3,500 kcals deficit is necessary.
-A 500 kcals/day deficit will result in a 1 lb weekly body weight loss.
-Body composition is more important than body weight for a healthy body and overall appearance/aesthetics.
-Consuming adequate protein will prevent muscle atrophy during weight loss periods.

Diet is far, far more important than any form of exercise when it comes to losing body fat. Abs are certainly made in the kitchen. You cannot undo a terrible diet with any number of crunches or ab machines. Ignore the myths and the fad diets. The only thing that really matters in terms of body weight fluctuation is the laws of thermodynamics and your calorie consumption compared to your calorie expenditure. If you want to have a healthier body fat percentage, consume fewer calories than you burn, consume adequate amounts of protein, consider a weight lifting routine, stay hydrated, and rest.

In later segments, I will discuss macro- and micro-nutrients in detail, sample diets, more about muscle growth and protein synthesis, how hormones affect these processes, strength training, training for hypertrophy, nutrition supplements, and different approaches to weight training.


Nutritional Science Pt. 1

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