When the topic of weight loss or weight gain is brought up, there really is so much information out there that it can be come extremely confusing. There are a thousand different diet platforms, “doctors” with the secret methods, and bro scientists. This overload of he said/ she said can skew what really works and what is complete nonsense. The reality of the topic is actually quite simple and does not have to be over complicated. What weight management really comes down to is calories consumed and activity level. This can be broken down even further and made more specific in relation to sports as well versus someone just trying to lose weight.
How Calories are the Most Important Factor of Weight Management
In the most simple form of the sense, if you were to eat less calories than your body needed to maintain your current weight, you would lose weight. If you were to eat more than that variable then you would gain weight. That is why most people that are overweight are sedentary, it is pretty easy to eat more than your body needs when you never really use any. However, there are macro-nutrient (protein, carb, fat) goals that need to be addressed, as well as micro-nutrient (vitamins, minerals, water) goals that need to be met. So, with that being said if someone came to me and wanted to lose 10 pounds, and had no other goals like muscle gain etc; I would figure their basal metabolism (amount of calories burned in a day based on weight, age, activity) and make them eat less calories than that. If a client felt like they were very underweight and needed help gaining a few pounds, I would prescribed them a meal plan that was just above that basal rate. There is no magical method to this, it just comes down to basic science and human physiology, or simply calories in and calories out.
In the situation that a client is given a workout program or is already on one, they need more calories to maintain because they are burning more through physical exertion. With their calories, I would give a recommended goal (2,500 kcal for example) and keep them on that for a week. If they lost weight and that was their goal I would continue them on that number, if they stayed the same I would adjust the amount lower (2,200 for example), and if they gained weight I would lower the calories as well (2,000 kcal for example). Everybody is different and will have different recommendations, but it is based around the same concept of managing calories in and calories expended.
When things are more specific, for a football player or powerlifter, when performance is also a goal; they will require a little more than just calorie maintenance. They will need prescribed macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient goals because their bodies will have specific needs to perform at their best. For example, if a powerlifter was just given a 3,000 calorie goal and made all of those calories come from taco bell burritos, he would probably not perform as well if he had eaten a balanced diet with specific macro-nutrient goals. He would need a prescription of 3,000 calories that was broken up into 40% protein/ 40% carbohydrate/ 20% fats (this is just an example). All of those calories would need to be 85%-90% whole foods with some room for other foods. Micro-nutrients will matter just as much in performance sports as well because the body will need the proper vitamin and mineral balances to perform at its best. This is the main reason that the content of the calories will actually matter for an athlete. Reason being, if the athlete were to only consume donuts to hit their calories then they won’t be getting any nutritional value, but if they consume fruits and vegetables along with protein sources and good fats they will be getting all of the micro-nutrients they need.
To conclude, the number one manipulative variable in relation to weight management is calories in and calories out. In the simplest form the method of calorie reduction or increase can be used for weight loss or weight gain, however they does not mean the body composition will be the greatest it could be. When working towards a certain body composition or sport performance, then macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients are the key to getting the desired results. The whole process does not need to be over-complicated nor is there any secrete method/pill/diet that will get you where you want to be.