When it comes to managing your weight, or body composition for that matter, energy balance is key. We must match our food intake with our energy expenditure and adjust depending on our goals.
Activity patterns and training schedules fluctuate. At certain points, we might not do as much structured training. Or we may go through periods where we train at lower intensities. Likewise, there may be points where we simply do less.
That is, we move around much less than normal.
Think of what we tend to get up to of an evening in the winter, as opposed to the summer. Or if our jobs change, or we're off on annual leave. Our physical activity levels may drop.
As a result, our body requires less energy than when we are in proper 'training mode.'
For the more athletic among us, it's still important to eat nutritious and balanced meals which meet our current energy requirements.
However, it may simply be the case that we don't quite need as much sometimes.
Adjusting portion sizes to suit activity levels
At times when we're less active, it doesn't mean we should switch to eating as little as possible. Instead, we just have to adjust our patterns, and our meals, to maintain a nutritious and consistent intake. With fewer calories or kilojoules.
Additionally, during the off season or a break from training, it can be tempting to forget about your diet completely.
Instead, as you fill your plate, look at reducing portion sizes. Vary the different components of your meal as necessary.
Furthermore, you can even swap a few ingredients here and there.
In doing so, not only can you end up with a lower calorie option, you may even end up with a more nutritious meal.
Keeping an eye on portion sizes
It often surprises people just how much that extra mouthful makes to their daily energy intake. That extra spoonful, additional slice or the leftovers scooped out the bottom of the jar. Yes peanut butter, I'm talking to you.
Even all our meals are nutritionally balanced and healthy, our portions could quite simply be too big. Therefore, we're supplying more energy in the form of calories and kilojoules than our body needs.
Now, counting calories isn't always a good idea. There are cases where it can result in an unhealthy relationship with food.
However, monitoring the calories in the foods you eat can help you understand food, and your portions, a little better.
To demonstrate exactly what I mean, I've provided some examples below.
We'll look at how much the energy content can vary depending on what we put on our plate. Likewise, we'll look at how simple adjustments and small changes really can add up.
Meet Greg, a 35-year old FIFO worker
Greg's a 35-year old FIFO worker who's taking a little bit of a break from his training.
He's recently started a new role which isn't quite as physical as the one he had previously. There's a bit more computer and admin work and much less manual handling and physical activity.
He's still learning the ropes and the demands his new job entails. Consequently, he wants to take a break from the gym for a bit so he can focus his energy on his job.
Greg's in pretty good shape already. However, he's worried about losing his hard-earned gains from his devotion over the last 18 months. Likewise, he's worried about 'becoming fat' (his words) with his family's history of obesity and heart disease.
Let's look at ways we can tweak Greg's diet in the interim, while he isn't hitting the gym as much.
Options discussed may or may not be available at some FIFO mine sites and offshore facilities. However, the structure and ideas apply wherever.
I've given options that can be adapted to suit Greg's schedule both at work and while he's at home on R&R.
Case Study: adjusting Greg's portion sizes of meals and snacks throughout his day
Firstly, let's look at breakfast. Often touted as the most important meal of the day.
Normal Hot Breakfat
Pretty standard among the FIFO crew - a hot breakfast to shake off the cobwebs before catching the bus.
Reducing calorie content of the hot breakfast with smaller portion sizes
We can save 190 calories at breakfast time just by cutting back a little on what Greg puts on his plate.
Swapping some ingredients to improve the nutrition quality of the hot breakfast
By switching out some components, we drop the energy intake even further, yet boost the fibre content up to 11.4g
Morning snack - standard day: yoghurt, fruit & some nuts
Once morning smoko comes around, it's time to see what was packed from crib
Regular Smoko or Crib
A convenient selection of easily-transportable snacks.
Let's reduce the calories in Greg's morning snack with smaller portions
We can still stick to what's available, just eating less and managing portion control.
Now, let's switch some ingredients to make the morning snack even healthier
Again, just a couple of swaps and we boost the nutrient profile.
For lunch, a chicken sandwich
Cooked chicken breast is a versatile and handy protein-source. Using it in a sandwich makes for a convenient and nutritious lunch.
Regular Chicken & Cheese Sandwich
Greg's normal choice is a nutritionally balanced meal. As such, it offers a pretty good range of minerals and nutrients.
Reducing the energy intake with smaller portions
However, with a few adjustments we can lower the calorie content.
Let's make some swaps to the chicken sandwich for an added nutrient boost
Saving 193 calories compared with the original lunch option. Plus we're getting additional fibre once again too.
Cheese & nibbles to see Greg through the rest of his afternoon.
Regular Afternoon Snack
Again, a fairly healthy and nutritionally balanced snack to start off with.
Becomes a lower-calorie snack option with just a couple of minor changes
Less cheese and just 2 less crackers significantly reduces the fat content and calories.
An even healthier afternoon snack, by swapping some bits & pieces would be
Switching the Cheddar out for Cottage cheese significantly reduces the amount of saturated fat.
Dinner - pasta bolognese with cheese
Pasta bolognese is a fairly stock standard meal option both on site and at home. Let's look at ways to improve.
Regular pasta bolognese dinner
Meat sauce, pasta and grated cheese - what's not to love?
A similar dinner, with smaller portions and therefore reduced calories
Reducing calories doesn't need to be about denying yourself foods. We just need to be smart with how much we're eating.
Let's make that pasta bolognese even healthier, shall we?
Wholemeal carbohydrate options provide a whole range of health benefits.
Yes, even when we're looking at dropping calories, dessert is still an option. Remember, it's not about giving our favourite foods up altogether.
One of the highest traffic areas in a FIFO dining room? The way to the ice cream fridge.
Eating less ice cream means fewer calories - simple!
Have just the one scoop instead of your normal two. Work on really savouring and enjoying each mouthful.
Or, for a healthier and more nutritious dessert, with even fewer calories
Again, we're boosting that all important fibre-content, as well as additional protein and micronutrients.
Calorie and kilojoule comparison meal by meal
Notice Greg can save 820 calories (3431 kilojoules) just by switching to smaller portions. We keep his diet nutritionally balanced and with a range of protein and nutrient sources. As a result, even though he's eating less, we can manage his appetite and hunger.
Furthermore, if Greg wants to improve his nutrition even more, he can make a few adjustments to his food choices. Consequently he'd save an additional 495 calories, or 2071 kilojoules.
Calorie comparison side-by-side:
Matching our energy intake to our activity levels is vital for managing body composition. Additionally, it helps us maintain a healthy weight.
During periods of reduced physical activity, we need to reduce our calorie intake.
We can do this while still eating the same foods as before, just eating less of them.
What's more, we can improve our diet further with some adjustments and food swaps to keep our nutrient intake high.