Hierarchy of Nutrition – Where Should You Put Your Efforts?

I want to start off by saying that I did not create this pyramid, but I feel it’s necessary to rely this information with my own take on it as well.

The hierarchy of nutrition was created by Eric Helms of Team 3DMJ back in 2015. I’ll link the videos he created on YouTube down below.

Basically, what he did was create a way to prioritize your nutrition (in this case) in order of the greatest return and highest importance.

We are going to start from the bottom, as it is the most important part of the entire subject.

Behaviour And Lifestyle

This is the overarching component because with your behaviour and lifestyle fitting your nutrition needs, it’s highly unlikely you are going to be able to stick to it long term. And that is the key to all of this – longevity.

Anyone can hop on a diet for a short period of time, cut out carbs, and lose a bunch of weight. But for the weight loss to be sustainable, it has to coincide with your behaviour and lifestyle.

If you enjoy carbs, your first instinct should not be to cut them out. If you love meat, don’t cut out meat just because a social media guru told you to.

The ability to stick to your eating structure consistently is key to the success of it all. You also aren’t going to want to try something that constantly puts a strain on your relationships or current lifestyle. Finding flexibility will make adherence much easier and you will not have to uproot your lifestyle to try to reach your fitness goals.

Energy Balance

This is arguably the cornerstone to any diet because without it, there is no fat loss. It’s your calorie deficit.

There are a myriad of ways to obtain a negative energy balance (calorie deficit): keto, low carb, IIFYM, carnivore, paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting – this list goes on and on. Any of these diets can work to help you lose body fat IF they help you reach a calorie deficit.

The common theme among dieting and the fat loss world you see online is that you should try and be in a 500 calorie deficit each day to lose fat. Over a span of 7 days, it equals 3500 calories which should equal 1 pound of fat. While the math is theoretically right, it’s not feasible for the average person to be in such a deficit every single day and maintain their lifestyle and behaviour.

Something I have my clients aim for is more of a 15-20% deficit of their maintenance calories which could be anywhere from 200-400 calories each day. But instead of worrying about 3500 calories at the end of the way, we are monitoring their pictures, gym performance, and how they feel in their clothing.

However aggressive you want your deficit to be, just remember to adhere to the overlying component of this whole pyramid – your behaviour and lifestyle must be accounted for.

Macronutrients

Your macronutrients are what make up your calories. They are protein, carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol (we won’t discuss today).

To begin, let’s calculate protein (4 cals/g). It is arguably the most important of the 3, and is essential for growth and repair. Take your target body weight in lbs, that’s how many grams of protein you should be eating. 0.8-1g/lb of TBW.

Next, we are going to calculate fats (9 cals/g). For this one there is a bit more variation, depending if you’re more of a fatty food eater, or don’t like carbs. For fats in a moderate amount, we’re going for 0.4-.5g/lb of TBW.

After calculating the calories from protein and fats, you are left with a gap between your total daily calories and your fats + protein. This gap will be your carbs (4 cals/g). Some of you might say these are crazy high numbers of carbs. And for some people they may be, but just remember that daily total calories matter more than macronutrient breakdown.

Micronutrients

This is a subject that isn’t talked about often albeit still very important. While I don’t expect you to sit there any count/track every micronutrient you ingest – there is an overarching way to ensure you are getting an adequate amount.

Setting up your nutrition with an 80/20 or 90/10 split would be your best bet. That means 80-90% of your total calories are coming from whole, nutrient dense foods (think: was once breathing or eaten – not processed) while the other 10-20% comes from more fun foods (the packaged kind).

This breakdown will allow you to meet all of your nutrition needs (macronutrients, energy balance) and your lifestyle won’t have to be completely altered to achieve your goals.

Nutrient Timing

One of the most hung-up-on subject in nutrition is that of meal timing. When you eat your meals has zero effect on how much body fat you lose.

Some will claim no carbs at night, some will claim no carbs in the morning – it all boils down to your energy balance over time.

In terms of an optimal meal frequency, 3-5 meals over the course of a day may be most beneficial to hit your protein targets each day. You want to consistently stimulate muscle protein synthesis, therefore you want to have a minimum of 20g of protein at each serving, multiple times per day.

You should play around with the amount of carbs you are having so that it can be centered pre- and post-workout. This will allow for the best potential performance and recovery fuel.

Other than that, if you want to eat the majority of your food after 8pm, by all means do so. If it doesn’t disrupt your sleep and you’ve reached your calorie targets, you are all good!

Supplements

My favourite subject to talk about – supplements.

I think the reason I harp on them so much is because most people are still searching for results in a bottle and it just isn’t so.

There’s a reason they are at the tip of the pyramid and that’s because they are of the least importance for your entire nutrition strategy. The majority of supplements out are not overly beneficial, they are expensive, and they are drawing your focus away from the other aspects of your results (calories, sleep, recovery, hydration).

There are a select few supplements that I recommend people take:

  • Caffeine
  • Whey Protein
  • Creatine Monohydrate
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3

That’s my starting 5 in terms of supplements. Anything other than that is not going to provide you with a major boost in your fat loss or performance.

To conclude, there are too many things that can pull you away from the components that really matter. If you’re trying to lose body fat and keep it off long term, start at the bottom of the pyramid, conquer a step and move upwards.

Do not start at the top of the pyramid. I would only really worry about supplements and meal timing when you have mastered everything else. The return on investment for those are not worthwhile compared to dialing in your calories, macros, and micros.

References: Helms, E., Morgan, A., & Valdez, A. (2019). The Muscle & Strength Pyramids (2nd ed.).

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