Nutrition and Training Case Study

Harriet Walker

The following article is a case study of a client who had commenced training with 98 Gym Trainer Emma Brown and nutrition coaching with Accredited Sports Dietitian Harriet Walker. The following case was tracked for 8 weeks.

Background

38-year-old female, a full-time corporate role with long hours. Prior to starting at 98 Gym the client was undertaking high-intensity cardio-based training 5-6 times per week with double sessions some days plus walking to get to and from work and no history of weights training. The client prepared most meals at home and was not eating before or after training due to lack of appetite. HH ate a mostly plant-based diet with some eggs and fish but no meat. The client was very active and looking to reduce body fat and increase the look of ‘tone’. At the time of initial nutrition consultation a four day reported usual intake averaged just 100 calories above her estimated basal requirements and on some days was well below, which was unlikely to be meeting her energy and micronutrients needs for both long term health and training performance. No medical history except some low iron, with recent iron levels within range. HH reported a food sensitivity to dairy and wheat/gluten.

Client Dietary Assessment

BMR: 1350 cal
EER: 2434 cal
Actual Intake: 1200-1450
Actual Protein: 65g
Actual Carbohydrates: 100g
Actual Fat: 55g
Actual Micronutrients: Meeting less than recommended intake for at least 7 vitamins/minerals

An initial nutrition plan was followed in order to guide the client on how they could structure a usual day around training and meet their minimum daily requirements. The plan was structured as per the macronutrient information below, starting with a goal to increase daily calories to 1700 on non-training days and 1800-1900 on training days with the view of increasing this according to training load in the longer term, focussing on increased carbohydrates, mainly around training. Energy intake was then incrementally increased over the 8 weeks to a habitual intake of 1800-1900 calories per day across the week. Further energy increases to be reviewed with time. A four-day food diary was completed (Easy Diet Diary) and was analysed using Food Works. The diary presented low habitual energy take, low protein intake, low carbohydrate intake and low to moderate fat intake. The client reported intense sugar cravings in the afternoon and some mindless eating of low nutrient density foods.

RMR: ~1450 cal
BMR: ~2300-2500 cal
‘High’ training days: 1800-1900 cal
‘Low’ Training days: 1700 cal
Protein Range: 1.5-2g/kg (93-124g)
Carbohydrate Range: 2.5-5g/kg (155-310g)
Fats Range: 1-1.5g/kg (62-93g)
Water: 42ml/kg (2600 ml)

The client was undertaking 5-6 HIIT sessions per week and had never undertaken any structured strength training. The client commenced one personal training session per week focused on strength, power and technique and 1-2 strength-based classes in conjunction with regular HIIT group classes outside of 98 Gym. Training:

Results

Across the 8 week block, the client had a reduction in body fat from 25.3% to 19.3% (-6%, measurement using skin folds at 4 sites) and with weight loss of 0.5kg. Subjectively, the client reported enhanced ability to train with the increased energy intake, which hypothesised to have led to the positive changes in lean muscle development (increased muscle mass, reduced fat mass). HH also reported a reduction in afternoon cravings and consumption of ‘junk’ foods and better energy levels across the day, which she believed was heavily influenced by a greater intake of protein, plus more substantial energy intake generally.

Day 1 Day 14 Day 28 Day 56
Weight 63.5 63 63.4 63
Ab 11.8 11.2 9.8 9
Tricep 20.2 19.2 15.8 16.2
Suprailliac 12.2 13.8 11.6 7.2
Quad 46 38 32 30
Body fat 25.3% 24% 21% 19.3%

 

Discussion

This case is a common scenario seen, albeit anecdotally, in many people who are looking to ‘lose weight’ in a fitness environment whereby the common course is ‘dieting’ on calories at or below basal metabolic requirements. However what is often missing is the knowledge that in order to build lean muscle mass, frequently referred to as ‘tone’, adequate energy intake, protein intake and training intensity is required. Where there is a higher body fat percentage, a mild energy deficit may not affect muscle building capacity, as the body is likely to oxidise body fat to bridge an energy deficit, however low protein and inadequate training stimulus will impede lean muscle mass development.

A result of habitually low energy intake can be low motivation, the inability to train at an intensity high enough to trigger the need for adaptation and, long term, compromised lean muscle mass. In many cases, while people may lose weight undertaking a regimen that has energy intake at or below basal levels combined with long bouts of exercise, the pursuit can leave the subject lethargic with low mood and lower muscle mass compared to when they started. This scenario can also lead to lowered basal metabolic rate over the long term due to adaptive thermogenesis. 

Adaptive thermogenesis refers to the adaptation of the metabolic rate of a person in line with their habitual energy intake. Commonly, chronically low-calorie intake can lead to any or all of the following: 

  • Adaptations to weight loss- our body puts the breaks on and stops any unnecessary biological processes, such as menstrual cycle
  • Reduction in ‘spontaneous movement’ also known as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). Daily, NEAT can contribute significantly to total energy expenditure and reduction of spontaneous movement due to low energy can lead to stalled weight loss/energy imbalance.
  • Increased hunger cues and decreased satiety cues, which commonly presents in binge/restrict cycles where the person habitually eats below energy requirements only to over-consume excessive amounts of calories in one sitting, often with feelings of guilt/shame. 
  • No change in behaviour/habits. The person is ‘being good’ or mindlessly following a diet plan without upgrading nutrition knowledge or improving eating habits. 
  • Poor relationship with food
  • Loss of lean mass from excessive dieting/energy restriction and low protein intake.

Conversely, when a person is able to increase energy intake (at least meet daily energy requirements) to an extent where they have adequate energy to train, undertake daily activities (work, caring for family, domestic duties), meet nutrient requirements and recover, the effect is more likely to lead to improved body composition and an all-over better outlook on their diet and body. In this scenario, we were able to increase energy intake to better support training and enable a training intensity that could trigger the need for up-regulation of systems associated with improved performance and body composition. The result was that the client was able to get fitter, stronger, facilitate the energetically expensive task of muscle growth, with fewer occasions of intense hunger and a reported better attitude towards food. 

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