The Foundation of The Body - Nutrition 101

So often people come to me asking advanced questions looking for some wondrous new supplement to magically transform their bodies.  They often know words such as "microfiltration."  They ask about whey protein isolates and glutamine peptides.  They're trying to figure out how to get the results they seek by employing some new nutritional technologies.  Here's what they fail to recognize.  The secret to obtaining a result through any nutrition program lies in the basic fundamentals.  Forget all that advanced information right now.  We'll get to it.  For now, I want you to understand that the body survives and thrives by ingesting and making optimal use of nutrients.

The Nutrients

There are six categories of nutrients.  A nutrient, by definition, means "something you need to ingest to sustain life."  Read that again.  It doesn't say "something that's an option if you want to build muscle."  It doesn't say, "something you need to avoid if you want to lose fat."  It says, "something you NEED to SUSTAIN LIFE!"  If you can remember that simple definition, you'd immediately see the flaw in any diet that asks you to avoid any of the nutrients.  It's also important to recognize that the nutrients all interact, and while they have their specific roles, if any vital nutrient is absent or in short supply, some bodily system is going to suffer.  The nutrients are:


Protein is the material from which we build new healthy cells.  If you are going to maintain a healthy body, if you are going to be able to perform at your best, if you are going to remain efficient at burning fat, you must make certain you take in sufficient protein.  Proteins are made up of 22 amino acids.  The amino acids are broken down in the digestive tract, absorbed in little chains of two and three (called di- and tri-peptides), and then rebuilt as cells. This process is called protein synthesis.  It is the process that inherently "builds" muscle.  That doesn't mean eating "more" protein will result in more muscle.  You are going to have to utilize some trial and error, keeping an eye on your body composition, to determine how much is best.  If you take in more protein than your body is going to use for protein synthesis, you run the risk of accumulating additional fat.

Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy.  While simple sugars and refined carbs are easily converted into triglycerides with the potential to be stored as bodyfat, a combination of slow-release starches and vitamin and mineral dense fibrous carbs provides an efficient source of energy and fuel storage.  Consuming meals complete in protein and carbs frequently throughout the day offers a time tested plan for a healthy metabolism and consistently high energy levels.

Fats may be the most misunderstood of the nutrients.  Over the past ten or twenty years, we've heard repeatedly that fats are bad.  The fact is, if you take in more fat than your body needs, or you take in unsupportive fats, you are likely to accumulate bodyfat.  There is also a very high correlation between excessive fat intake and high levels of cholesterol leading to coronary artery disease.  That doesn't mean that fat is bad.  We NEED fat.  Remember, it's a nutrient.  Not only does fat cushion, pad, and protect our internal organs, but it plays a role in brain function, sexual performance, and cell metabolism.  The "good" fats would come from unsaturated sources which would include most oils.  The fats to avoid would be saturated fats, such as the fats found in dairy products and meats, and hydrogenated fats which are treated in a laboratory or factory until their biological human value is virtually destroyed.

Vitamins are the little catalysts that allow all of the bodily functions to take place.  While specific vitamins have their given roles, they all interplay.  Obtaining your vitamins from food is going to require natural food choices.  You'll find your best selections by shopping in Natural Markets or by making most of your choices from the perimeter of the supermarket where you'll find fresh produce.  Vitamins DO NOT provide energy!  Yes, they play a role in energy production, but there isn't a single vitamin or vitamin formula that will give you energy.  Energy is the efficient utilization of calories.  Proteins, carbs, and fats all have calories.  Vitamins, minerals, and water do not.  There is substantial evidence to prove the validity of the protective properties of anti-oxidants.  These include Vitamins A, C, and E.  While vitamin supplementation will not provide energy, an antioxidant supplement might be a worthwhile investment as insurance to protect your health.

Minerals are absorbed from food and combine to form bodily structures, enzymes, or hormones.  Just as vitamins, minerals are void of calories and can not provide energy.  Each mineral has its own role, and like vitamins, the micronutrients all interplay to all the body to perform at its best.  There isn't any single mineral that works alone.  Many people take calcium in the hopes they'll resist osteoporosis.  If calcium is taken alone, much of it is wasted.  You also need flouride, zinc, magnesium, and a host of other minerals to build bone.  A multi-mineral formulation is also a worthwhile supplement for exercising individuals seeking optimal health and fitness.

Water is the most abundant and perhaps the most life sustaining nutrient.  Your brain and muscles are more than 75% water.  Water comprises more than 80% of your blood.  The quality of your cells and tissues rely heavily on the amount of pure water you consume.  There are formulas you can use to estimate the amount of water that would be optimal, but to keep things simple, the old "eight glasses a day" is a pretty good rule.

The Thermic Effect of Food

It's also important to understand that the body is going to burn calories any time work is required.  That would include digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  Since metabolism can be defined as the speed with which your body burns through food, you don't want to avoid calories, but rather use them efficiently.  Supportive meals are far more "thermic" than high fat meals, which is why Supportive Eating by itself will have a positive impact upon metabolism.

There isn't any way around it.  If you want to be fit, healthy, happy, and lean, you have to eat!

Now, with a foundation of basic nutrition, you should understand that getting results has far less to do with supplements than it does with nutrients, and nutrients come from FOOD!  Learn to eat supportively.  There are then some supplements that can act as aids, and others that can cause some serious harm.  Use the links below to find details on some of the nutritional supplements you might have wondered about.  Be sure to visit the Fitness Superstore to explore the products available on-line.

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Phil Kaplan
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