You’ve seen a lot of pyramids, but have you heard of the Nutritional Hierarchy Pyramid?
“I’m doing everything right and not seeing results.”
This is the most common feedback I hear from nutrition clients during intake. We unpack what “everything right” looks like for them and usually, the gap falls somewhere on what I like to call the ‘Nutritional Hierarchy Pyramid.’ Remember the food pyramid you learned about back in elementary school? It’s like that, but different. The Nutritional Hierarchy Pyramid looks like this:
As a general trend, my clients doing “everything right but not seeing results” fall into one of three categories: They’re eating more than they think, not as much as the need to be, OR they are relying on supplements that promise to “burn fat” or “boost the metabolism instead of fueling with food.
Let’s look at each component of this Nutritional Hierarchy Pyramid, from most important to least important.
It’s simple: A caloric deficit is required to lose weight. Calories are also required to help you maintain performance. A caloric balance for whatever your goals are – a surplus to gain weight/build muscle, a “normal” intake for maintenance, or a deficit for weight/fat loss – is the single most important building block of nutrition.
Additionally, it takes time to find the right caloric balance. Apps like MyFitnessPal are great for tracking, but take their recommendations for daily calories with a grain of salt. While a deficit is necessary to lose weight/fat, it’s still important to eat ENOUGH. If you’ve been dieting for a long time, you may even need to take a “diet break” and up your intake (more on that in a future post). Give yourself some time to find the calorie budget that works for your body and your goals.
Want great body composition? Prioritize protein. Protein is the “building block” of the body. It’s what builds muscle and helps with repair of tissues. Protein also takes longer to digest which means you feel full longer. Try to include protein at every meal.
CARBS & FATS.
Despite what you might have heard, “carbs” and “fats” are not “bad.” They fuel your body, not just for gym workouts but for day-to-day activities like running errands, brunch with the girls, or playing with your kids. Don’t shy away from potatoes and bread because you read somewhere that “carbs make you fat.” Focus on complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, carrots, brown rice, or oats and healthy fats like avocado and EVOO.
Bet you thought this would be a bigger chunk of the pyramid, didn’t you, what with all the talk about “balanced plates” and “eat more vegetables” floating around. Nutrient dense food is important – micronutrients are a yet another post we’ll get to soon – but that’s the beauty of prioritizing calories and macros: you can still eat the foods you love in moderation. While I don’t recommend eating fries for breakfast every day, don’t get wrapped around the wheel of how many calories something has in it or if it is a “good choice” or a “bad choice.” Prioritize calorie intake and then macros and choose your foods according to both those goals AND your preferences.
When you eat or how many meals you eat in a day will not make or break you reaching your goals. High performing athletes may benefit from more timed nutrition, but for us average folks, we can more or less eat when we’re hungry. Carbs around workouts are beneficial as they aid in performance and recovery, but if you’re not hungry at breakfast, no big deal. Eat when you’re ready. Don’t let the trends sweep you up. Worry less about when you eat and more about what you’re eating.
First, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. Often, they have no real benefit at the end of the day and could just be sugar bombs or caffeine pills. I talk a lot about supplements in this post. Some are beneficial – such as protein powders, creatine, and fish oil – but for the most part, they aren’t proven to increase performance or metabolism. If you do decide to use supplements, please make an educated decision and account for the calories in them – just because they’re “supplements” doesn’t mean they are calorie-free.
That’s it. The Nutritional Hierarchy. Prioritize your caloric intake, then protein. Build from there. See results.
Need some help dialing in your nutrition? Strong By Sarah Nutrition Coaching is accepting new clients – learn more right here.