The Science of Nutrition
What is nutrition? Nutrition is simply the total of all organic and inorganic matter consumed by the body orally to fuel its actions.
Nutrition provides the raw materials for the body’s metabolism to generate energy and conduct all of its functions. It essentially consists of Macro-Nutrients, Micro-Nutrients, insoluble fibers, and Water.
And, Anabolism and Catabolism are two important sides of your metabolism that will help you in weight loss and weight gain over time.
The Homeostasis & The Negative Feedback Loop
The human body always attempts to maintain a state of balance between all of its functions. This balance point is called Homeostasis.
Every time the body is forced to deviate from this point, it begins a chain reaction of opposing forces in an attempt to bring the body back.
These opposing forces are called the negative feedback loop. It is only possible by understanding how it operates; we can understand how the body will respond to different nutritional approaches in your weight loss or weight gain journey.
It is an overarching principle of all human function that fundamentally determines all of our processes.
Difference Between Anabolism and Catabolism
All of the metabolic processes in our body can be broadly classified into anabolic or catabolic activities. These are the 2 types of metabolism:
Anabolism and Catabolism
Anabolic activities are all the processes that build tissues to gain muscle mass. In contrast, catabolic activities are all the processes that destroy tissues.
But due to the negative feedback loop, the trigger for anabolism is catabolism and vice versa.
For example, muscle-building (anabolic) is done in response to putting the muscles through mechanical stress (catabolic).
Similarly, fat-burning (Catabolic) is undertaken to supply fuel (anabolic) to the muscles.
In order to maintain a healthy body, the body must have a perfect balance between anabolism and catabolism.
All metabolic and bodyweight issues can primarily be traced to imbalances of anabolism and catabolism in your lifestyle.
Ultimately when the anabolic processes exceed the catabolic processes, the body will gain weight in fat and muscle, the exact ratio depending upon nutrition and the triggered exercise stress.
Similarly, when the catabolic processes exceed the anabolic ones, the body will lose weight once again in the form of both fat and muscle, depending on stress and nutrition.
Still Confused? Don’t worry!!
Anabolism and catabolism are regulated by the endocrine (or hormonal) system. Therefore, understanding nutrition requires an understanding of the endocrine system. Let’s understand this via hormones.
The primary anabolic hormones are testosterone, insulin, and growth hormone.
Anabolic hormones are secreted in response to the intake of nutrition and traumatic catabolic stresses. While these hormones will build muscle and organ tissues, they will also build fatty tissues.
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone that is responsible for all male characteristics. In addition, it is secreted in response to exercise stress and builds muscle tissues.
Insulin is secreted in response to rising blood sugar levels and will essentially transport nutrients from the bloodstream to various body parts.
Without insulin, nutritional intake would never reach the target tissues. It is also the primary hormone that builds fat.
Growth hormones control the rate of the processes in the body, indirectly boosting metabolism while primarily building connective tissues.
In an ideal situation of weight/muscle gain, we want a high level of testosterone and growth hormone with a low to medium insulin level to build lean muscle and recover properly.
The primary catabolic hormones are cortisol and glucagon. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and controls the fight or flight reflex.
It is secreted in response to stress and makes all of the body’s resources available for immediate action.
Cortisol allows the body to be focussed and energetic. However, chronically elevated levels can have far-reaching negative effects, including tissue degeneration, muscle loss, and extreme stress.
Glucagon is secreted in response to extremely low blood sugar. It releases energy for use from the various tissues of the body. Thus, a high level of glucagon is necessary for fat loss to occur.
In an ideal situation for weight loss, we want low cortisol levels and high glucagon levels to prevent muscle loss and promote fat loss.
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Metabolism, Calories, Weight Loss & Weight Gain Science
Metabolism is simply the total of all the processes of the body, both anabolic and catabolic.
The thyroid hormones and leptin regulate it. The metabolism requires a certain level of energy to operate, called the Metabolic Rate (MR).
The bare minimum required by the body to support vital functions is called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
If calories are lower than the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the body will develop serious diseases.
BMR is directly proportional to muscle mass and general health.
The Metabolic Rate (the calories required to maintain balanced homeostasis) is simply BMR + Daily Activities.
Here is a simple way to calculate the daily total caloric requirement:
BMR= Fat-free mass in kgs * 22
MR= BMR + A * BMR
Take Value of Variable A from here –
- Sedentary person, A= 0.25 (No exercise, spends most of the day sitting)
- Active Person, A= 0.5 (Either 1-2 hours of hard weekly exercise, or works a standing job like the postman or school teacher)
- Very Active Person, A= 0.75 (Either 3-5 hours of hard weekly exercise, or works a physically demanding job like construction or courier)
- Extremely Active Person, A= 1 (Either 6+ hours of hard weekly exercise, or a professional athlete practicing more than 20 hours a week)
As you can see, a person with a higher BMR burns more calories at rest and burns more calories from daily activity.
Therefore, one of the foundations of fat loss is attempting to raise and maintain BMR.
However, when calories are dropped too dramatically below the requirement (>15% of MR), several things begin to happen in the body’s attempt to lower the caloric requirement.
1. The body starts reducing general levels of energy to minimize daily activity.
2. The body reduces the resting temperature of the body to conserve energy.
3. The body reduces the rate of all chemical reactions to conserve energy.
4. The fat cells become resistant to breakdown. (All of the previous points are regulated by leptin, a hormone that elevates metabolism. The body stops producing it to achieve these adaptations. Thyroid hormone secretion also reduces.)
5. The body starts reducing muscle mass and organs to lower the BMR.
Due to this, it is important to drop calories slowly every day, within rational limits, and raise metabolism as much as possible.
Those with a damaged metabolism will have first to restore it to make a difference with healthy dieting.
So, drink at least 3 litters of water every day, irrespective of your lifestyle. Plus, quit alcohol and smoking for some time.
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The Bottom Line
Focus on one thing – Try to focus on one thing at a time. When calories are greater than the MR, the body is primarily anabolic, leading to weight gain. When it is lesser, the body is in a primarily catabolic state leading to weight loss.
Due to this highly complex equation, it is extremely difficult to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. Although, it is not impossible, and both are happening to some degree always.
But majority effects you will see at a time for either weight gain (anabolism) or weight loss (catabolism).
Honestly, you can never see equal results for both at the same time. You are simply wasting your time by looking in two different directions at the same time.
Pick one direction and walk in one direction; once you achieve a goal, you can aim for the other direction as well.
Don’t get lost in the Negative Feedback Loop – In all of this, it is important to remember that no matter what exercise or dietary practice you use to transform your body, high metabolism is the ultimate key to your success.
Your metabolism will adapt to any diet and workout routine in a few weeks. But, make sure you are not overeating for weight gain or eating extremely little for weight loss. They both will mess up your metabolism.
E.g., For anabolic effects, increasing 100 calories per week in your Daily Calorie Intake for the next 5 weeks is safer than instantly increasing 500 calories in a day.
Vice versa for catabolic effects, decreasing 100 calories per week in your Daily Calorie Intake for the next 5 weeks is safer than instantly decreasing 500 calories in a day.
Misleading eating habits can trigger the “negative feedback loop.” Therefore, it is better to add one thing at a time, be consistent, and be mindful while eating to make sustainable progress in your fitness journey.