Whether your goal is to gain muscle, lose weight or simply maintain your current weight, nutrition becomes a key to success. In conjunction with a proper fitness regimen, nutrition can be the boost you need to accomplishing your goal, but having a clear understanding of what you’re eating can be extremely difficult. What are those nutrition labels really saying?
All US and FDA approved nutrition labels will have the same general attributes and layout. Starting from the top, we have serving size. This is a crucial piece of information; it is outlining how much of that item contribute to the nutrients listed below. For example, many cereals are in serving sizes of ¾ of a cup, but when pouring a bowl of cereal, many people will pour nearly four servings! That’s four times as many calories as you may have anticipated eating. Measure everything you eat, it can be the difference between gaining and losing.
Below the serving size are Calories and Calories from Fat. Calories are actually reflective of kilocalories which are measured in a lab and depict the energy it takes for your body to break down that serving of food. I know what you’re thinking, “what kind of mad scientist decided that ¾ of a cup of cereal was an adequate serving?!” I know. I’d like to have a word with him too. Nonetheless, we have to take into account the calories per serving and track them to know how much more we can eat.
The calories from fat are related to the fat grams you see below it. If you multiply the grams of total fat by the amount of calories per gram of fat, you’ll find your total is eerily similar to your calories from fat per serving. That’s because that’s exactly what makes up that number. There are approximately 9 calories per gram of fat. Figure we are eating something with 10g of fat, we can safely assume our calories from fat will be right around 90 calories from fat per serving.
You will now see cholesterol and sodium. These are going to look terrifying, but don’t worry, they’re in milligrams. One thousand milligrams make up one gram, so don’t fret just yet. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate intake of cholesterol and sodium as they pertain to you, as there are several factors to consider when looking at your intake.
Our other two macronutrients are the next two down typically; they are total carbohydrates and protein. Total carbohydrates is then broken down into dietary fiber (which can be further discussed as insoluble and soluble fiber; read last month’s Filling Up on Fiber article for more information) and sugars. Sugars get a bad rap in nutrition and justifiably. When they are in non-natural foods or added in during production, they can cause a myriad of disorders and can contribute to weight gain. However, there are also natural sugars that exist in fruits and vegetables that are completely natural. They should still be eaten in moderation, but don’t often attribute to many disorders. Proteins are broken down and utilized for their amino acids as building blocks for muscle tissue among other tissues. You can find more information about amino acids in last month’s article BCAAs for Recovery. Carbohydrates and protein are both estimated to have 4 calories per gram. Figure we have 20g of carbohydrates and 10g of protein, along with our 10g of fat. We can calculate our carbs and proteins together since they have the same number of calories per gram; 30g x 4 calories per gram= 130 calories. Adding that to our earlier calculation of 90 calories from fat will give us our total calories per serving, 220. This is a rough estimate and may be slightly above or below the nutrition label.
Still not totally clear on what you should be eating? Ask one of our trainers for clarification, they’ll be happy to work with you to establish guidelines.