If you’re trying to lose weight, your biggest concern throughout the day is probably that you’re eating too much. Sometimes this is the case, but what if you’re actually not eating enough?
When we hear that we need 2,000 calories per day, we need to understand how general that guideline is. Your needs could be anywhere from 1,200 to 3,000 or even more. Certain Olympic endurance athletes, for example, may need 8,000 or 10,000 calories per day.
This is because human beings are all very different. Even before you factor in athletic training, we’re all different heights, weights, and compositions with different genetics and different lifestyles. Even two people of the same height and weight will have different needs because of those differences in age, muscle mass, body fat, and more.
Obviously, 2,000 isn’t the right number of calories for all of us.
It can be frustrating if you’re restricting your calories and aren’t losing any body fat. You can’t be sure about what your body actually needs unless you test it.
Fortunately, that’s easy to do.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) Testing
Your resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy you need to sustain your body at rest. It’s the number of calories your heart, brain, lungs, cells, and other organs use to keep you alive. This is a much larger number than most of us think it would be. Even for those with active lifestyles and regular exercise routines, RMR accounts for the majority of your daily caloric expenditure.
This number, the RMR, is different for everyone depending on a variety of factors:
- Height and Weight
- Body Fat Percentage
- Lean Muscle Percentage
- Activity Level
- Certain Health Conditions
The resting metabolic rate test is simple. There are a few preparatory steps you take within the 24 hours leading up to the test, including avoiding food and exercise at least six hours prior to the test. The test itself takes just a few minutes and involves breathing into a machine.
When you know your RMR, you can factor in how many calories you burn during the day via exercise and normal activity. That’s the number you need to consume to maintain weight. In this way, knowing your RMR can make a big impact on your dietary choices, whether you’re looking to lose body fat or build lean muscle.
However, you can also use your diet to positively impact your RMR.
RMR and Your Diet
You can work to intentionally increase your RMR, and your body will benefit from it. You’ll burn more calories throughout the day, making it easier for you to maintain lean muscle and avoid excess body fat. Maintaining a healthy body fat percentage decreases your risk of health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
There are several ways to improve your RMR:
- Build Lean Muscle: Muscle requires more energy to maintain.
- Eat Enough Food: Drastically cutting your calories in an attempt to lose weight can actually have the opposite effect: if your body isn’t getting enough to meet the RMR, your metabolism may slow as your body tries to conserve energy—it gets afraid of starving!
- Decrease Body Fat: People with higher body fat percentages tend to have lower RMRs.
The right nutritional plan will help you do all three of those things. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:
Number of Calories
Many people mistakenly believe that the more you cut calories, the quicker you’ll lose weight. This isn’t true, as mentioned above. To lose body fat, you’ll want to create a caloric deficit—but not such an extreme deficit that your body thinks it’s starving. This is why knowing your RMR is critical. It allows you to plan your diet appropriately, so you can feed your body what it needs.
An advanced exerciser looking to increase muscle mass may benefit from eating a surplus of calories in a carefully-planned nutritional program.
This study found that “An increase in dietary protein favorably affects muscle and strength during resistance training.” How much protein you need depends upon your body (height, weight, lean muscle mass, etc.) and your goals. NASM makes the following daily recommendations for protein:
- General Guidelines for a Typical Healthy Adult: 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight
- Adults Who Do Endurance Exercise: 1.0 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight
- Adults Who Do Intermittent Training (soccer, etc.): 1.4 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight
- Adults Who Do Strength/Power Exercise: 1.6 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight
Where you fall in those ranges may also depend upon your fitness level and the intensity and duration of your exercise sessions. The quality of the protein also makes a difference:
“…the rate of digestion and/or absorption and metabolic activity of the protein also are important considerations. For example, different types of proteins (e.g., casein, whey, and soy) are digested at different rates, which may affect whole body catabolism and anabolism and acute stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, care should be taken not only to make sure the athlete consumes enough protein in their diet but also that the protein is high quality.”
Carbs aren’t bad! High-quality carbohydrates like we get from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are important for maintaining liver and muscle glycogen stores. This research offers the following daily guidelines:
- Typical Healthy Adults in a General Fitness Program: 3 to 5 grams per kilogram of body weight
- Adults Who Do 2-3 Hours of Intense Exercise Per Day, Most Days of the Week: 5 to 8 grams per kilogram of body weight
- Athletes Who Train 3-6 Hours Per Day, Most Days of the Week: 8 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight
Timing Your Meals
Properly fueling and refueling your workouts can make a big difference in the number of calories you burn (having the energy to work hard and challenge yourself) and in how your muscles build. Here are a few guidelines:
- For intense exercise that lasts more than 90 minutes, consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour via a carb/electrolyte beverage (6-12 ounces every 10-15 minutes during exercise) is useful. Keep in mind that many of these store-bought drinks contain sugar or corn syrup; carefully check the labels, and keep in mind that for shorter, less intense exercise, plain water is just fine for hydration.
- Consume an appropriate amount of protein throughout the day, divided into meals and snacks every three or four hours.
- Consuming high-quality protein within two hours of exercise can stimulate muscle growth.
- Two to four hours before your workout, consume a high-carb, moderate-protein, and low-fat meal or snack.
Serious dehydration can lead to heat illness, kidney problems, and more. However, if you’re not getting enough water throughout the day, you might also experience headaches, problems with concentration, or cravings for unhealthy foods. Of course, dehydration will also impact your workout: “…limiting dehydration during exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintain exercise capacity…. Exercise performance can be significantly impaired when 2% or more of body weight is lost through sweat.”
If you’re going to put in the work, you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it—what a shame it would be to diminish your results simply because you’re not hydrated enough to perform at your best! It’s important to be well-hydrated when you start your workout session and to continue drinking water throughout exercise.
Testing (and Re-Testing) Your RMR
If one of your goals is to improve your RMR, you’ll want to track your progress like you track any other fitness goal! It’s essential to regularly get a resting metabolic rate test to see if your new, healthy lifestyle habits are having a positive effect on your RMR, and to ensure you’re still consuming the right number of calories to help you meet your goals.
There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there. If you’re trying to lose body fat or increase muscle mass and aren’t seeing the results you’re looking for, it can be tempting to try one of the many supplements or fad diets that someone, somewhere, swears is the answer you’re looking for. Maybe it did work for that person. Maybe it worked on a short-term basis and we’ll never see the long-term ramifications. Or maybe it didn’t work at all, and that person is merely a paid influencer…or is lying in hopes of becoming a paid influencer.
Before you spend money on expensive supplements or resort to extreme food restrictions that may not be healthy or sustainable, start with a simple solution: test your RMR. See if what you’re consuming is actually what your body needs, or if you have simply been eating too much or too little all along. Combine your test results with the professional guidance of a registered dietitian and work toward your goals in a healthy, sustainable manner.
The RMR test is simple, painless, and can be performed in the comfort of your home! At Elite Body Data, we’re committed to using technology to help you reach your fitness goals. Please contact us if you have any questions, or if you’d like to schedule your RMR test.