Nutrition Basics

In a never ending sea of information, it is easy to get lost or distracted by all the talk around food. Let’s un-complicate it!  We aren’t registered dietitians, the only nutritional professionals legally qualified to write diets, so we aren’t writing you a diet! We don’t want you to depend on us, we want you to be your most Unbreakable self and this means empowering you to take charge of your life! All we’re doing is giving YOU the tools and information to change your habits around food. 

Calories, we love ’em, we hate ’em, but we all eat (and sometimes drink) them.  

A Calorie (also called a kilocalorie on some food labels) is simply a way to calculate the metabolic value of food (Britannica, 2020). 

We need a certain number of calories to simply keep our tissues alive, this number of calories is called your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.

Sometimes you may hear Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR referred to – this is similar to your BMR but it has the calories you burn from digesting food (the thermogenic effect of food) , as well as any calories you burn from minor movements, like reaching to grab the remote on the end table while you sit on the couch. 

Next, we have Non-Exercise Related Thermogenesis or NEAT this is a fancy way to say all the calories you burn from normal life – fidgeting in your chair, walking to the kitchen in the morning, etc. 

Then there’s the Thermic Effect of Food or TEF, this is how many calories your body burns breaking down the food you eat. This number has nothing to do with the frequency of your meals, it is directly related to the quantity of food you consume. So, if you eat all your daily calories at one time your TEF calories will be very high for the time you’re digesting that food, that’s because it’s a lot of work to break a whole day’s worth of calories down at once! If you eat 5-7 small meals a day but you eat the same foods and quantities as the previous scenario, your TEF is the same just spread out. Eating more smaller meals can be a fine dietary strategy, but it doesn’t “boost thermogenesis” any more than any other eating pattern. The Thermic Effect of Food is different for different foods primarily because of their Macronutrient composition which we will get to in the next section (1,4). 

Lastly we have Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or EAT (my favorite thing to do) – this is all the calories you burn through exercise activity, going for a run, lifting, doing yoga, or doing some esoteric extreme sport. 

When we’re trying to figure out how much energy we need to support our performance, gain weight, or los

e weight, we first have to know how many calories we burn on an average day this is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure also known as your TDEE – conveniently, this is all the values discussed above added together. So how do we find this number? There are TONS of nutritional calculators out there, a quick google search will render many results – my favorite tool, however, is the Precision Nutrition calculator because it allows you to customize your macro %s, and gives you some general tips for spacing your needs out over a desired number of meals (Click the link here!)  

If you’ve been alive for the past decade, you’ve heard the term  “Macro,” as in “what are your macros, bro?” or “Nah, I can’t have that second slice of pizza, it doesn’t fit my macros.” But what IS a macro? 

 A Macronutrient is: “a type of food (fat, protein, or carbohydrate) required in large amounts of the diet.

So, when we talk about your macros we are simply talking about how many carbs, fats, or proteins you consume in a day. 

Macros have metabolic value, i.e. they have calories in them! But how many?

1 gram of protein = 4 Calories

1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

For the “Average Human,” as deemed by the USDA, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution range for each nutrient is as follows:

(All values listed as % of total daily energy)

  • Protein: 10-35%
  • Fat: 20-35%
  • Carbohydrate: 45-65%

Percent needs are individual and based upon, health status, age, height, weight, and activity level/intensity. 

For athletes, the recommendations are a little different. 

Below are the NSCA nutritional guidelines for athletes: 

“Aerobic Endurance athletes who consume a sufficient number of calories require approximately 1 to 1.6 g protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.”

“Strength athletes need approximately 1.4 to 1.7 of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day”

Furthermore, the NSCA states that for every 100 calorie decrease below 2,000 calories a day that an athlete’s protein needs go up by 1%.

For example if an athlete was eating 2,000 calories with 30% protein, and dropped to 1,500 calories a day their protein needs would go up to 35%.

UGH, more science words, right?

Bear with us, one more time, please? Ok….

A micronutrient is:

“a chemical element or substance required in trace amounts for the normal growth and development of living organisms.”

Multivitamin? more like multimicro, am I right?

Seriously though, Micro nutrients are vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, Iron, vitamin D, zinc, etc..

Micronutrients are found in whole food, processed enriched foods, and supplements. 

Furthermore, some micronutrients are water soluble and some are fat soluble. Vitamin B6 is water soluble while vitamin A is fat soluble. Solubility matters because it influences how we absorb nutrients and how much of a nutrient we store or excrete. 

For more information on Micronutrients visit the USDA website

Ok so now we know how many calories we need, what our macros are, and we’ve read up on micronutrients…so how do we turn all of this into action? 

Professional reccomendations are to:

  1. Prioritize whole foods over processed foods, making fresh green beans a better choice than canned green beans or whole oats a superior choice to cheerios (note: frozen fresh fruits/veggies are not considered processed). 
  2. Stay hydrated, by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Daily water intake should be prioritized over prepared drinks such as diet soda, juice, etc
  3. On your plate, make your biggest portion of food be veggies or fruits, and eat those BEFORE the more calorie dense foods on your plate. 
  4. If you’re looking to maintain weight – eat your maintenance calories or your TDEE
  5. if you’re looking to lose weight you need to eat less that your TDEE. Subtracting 100-500 calories is the most common range for weight loss, dramatic reductions are difficult to sustain, can pose health risks, alter hormone levels, and can reduce athletic performance. 
  6. If you’re looking to gain weight you need to eat MORE calories than your TDEE. Adding 100-500 calories is the most common range for weight gain, again dramatic increases can be difficult to sustain, costly, and if excessive can lead to adipose tissue (fat) gain that hampers performance and health. 

Food Tracker apps can be tremendously helpful in this department, My Fitness Pal, Lose it, your app store and download the free version – you can pay if you want to – but most clients are successful with the free versions of the app. Many apps will add in “calories burned” from logging exercise, these numbers are notoriously inflated and inaccurate. For example, you may go for a run and your apple watch may say you burned 500 calories, this does not mean that you should add 500 calories into your daily calorie needs – we advise against allowing apps to add additional calories into your plan. 

This website does not take the place of advice by a qualified health professional. What’s appropriate for one individual may be counterproductive or unsafe for another. If you are suspicious of an illness, injury and/or are in constant pain Unbreakable Strength Co.  encourages you to see a doctor, dietician, and/or therapist to get proper treatment. Nutrition, training, illness, pain, and injuries are complicated topics. You should see your doctor before beginning any exercise or nutrition program. The author(s) is/are not qualified to prescribe treatments, diets, food, supplementation, or medication. The author is not qualified to  diagnose, or assess medical symptoms or conditions. This website and any information contained there-in is for informational/educational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for medical advice. Please talk to your doctor and medical care providers before starting any supplement or dietary regime and before starting any exercise or fitness program. Unbreakable Strength Co. and Anneliese Spence are not liable for any injuries or illness incurred due to exercise training, nutrition, or supplementation.

1. Feinman, R. D., & Fine, E. J. (2004). “A calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition Journal3(1). doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-3-9
2. General Nutrition and Health Information. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2020, from
3. Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
4. Nickols-Richardson, S. M., Coleman, M. D., Volpe, J. J., & Hosig, K. W. (2005). Perceived Hunger Is Lower and Weight Loss Is Greater in Overweight Premenopausal Women Consuming a Low-Carbohydrate/High-Protein vs High-Carbohydrate/Low-Fat Diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association105(9), 1433–1437. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.06.025