Finally, you need to think about the final piece of puzzle: the diet. Because whether you’re working out at home or in the gym, your diet is one of the MOST important factors for ensuring the maximum benefit from your training.
Likewise, diet is crucial whether you want to lose weight or build muscle — though the strategy will change.
Calories VS Carbs
Unfortunately though, while diet is the same no matter where you’re training, it’s also not all that simple. Specifically, there is a lot of argument regarding diet and views on the matter can broadly be split into two camps.
On the one hand, you have the group that claim ‘a calorie is a calorie’.
Their belief is that the only factor that matters when it comes to losing weight, is the number of calories coming in and the number of calories going out. If you track all your calories, you then simply have to make sure that you burn off more than you consume and you’ll lose weight. This makes sense, seeing as excess calories are stored as fat and when you have a calorie deficit the body has to burn fat to get more. So how do you eat a diet to support weight loss according to this idea?
Simple: you calculate how many calories you burn in a day (by wearing a fitness tracker, or by calculating your active metabolic rate) and then you make sure that you eat less than that. To build muscle conversely, your objective is to eat a lot of protein which the body can convert into muscle and to be in a caloric surplus so that you have extra fuel to use for growth. But then there’s the other school of thought.
This looks more at the way calories are used at different times. After training for instance, calories are more likely to be used to refuel glycogen. Likewise, some people will have different hormone balances than others, which will impact the way they burn fat. That’s why some people never seem to lose weight and others never seem to gain it.
These people recommend avoiding carbs and eating a diet rich in fats and proteins. This will support muscle growth, while the lack of carbs will prevent insulin spikes which can lead to fat storage. For building muscle, consuming lots of calories is important because you need insulin to build muscle and low calorie diets stimulate the release of myostatin — which breaks down muscle.
A calorie is not a calorie according to this crowd. More important is to avoid simple carbs and to eat nutritious meals at the right time, while maintaining a consistent blood sugar.
So who is right?
Well, both groups of course.
Maintaining a lower caloric intake than your daily burn will always lead to weight loss. The caveat is that you can never calculate how much you’re burning accurately. Why? Because the amount of calories you burn is dependent on your metabolism — which has to do with a range of factors, including things like blood sugar and testosterone.
You can’t deny the role of hormones: otherwise steroids wouldn’t make people become ripped machines and hypothyroidism wouldn’t cause people to lose weight. The trick is to eat below your estimated AMR, while at the same time doing everything you to can to encourage your body’s metabolism. Actually the best way to do that, is to make sure that you’re eating nutritious, natural and healthy foods, while at the same time working out and lifting muscle.
Remember: building muscle MAKES you burn more fat, even when you’re resting. That’s why running and using resistance training is so good for creating a lean and toned physique and when you combine this with the right diet, you are attacking your fitness and your health on all fronts. The hard part is just putting this into practice.
Monitoring all the calories coming in and out of your body takes a long time and is rather joyless, so for most people it will be sufficient to make a strong estimate instead. Likewise, you can make life easier for yourself if you eat a relatively consistent breakfast and lunch.
If you do that, then you’ll be able to avoid having to calculate how many calories are in those meals on most days — it will be enough to just guestimate how much is in your dinner and then add that to the total. Maintaining a consistent breakfast and lunch is much easier because these are functional rather than social meals — we tend to eat them when we’re on our own rather than out with friends.