Brink's Unified Theory of Nutrition
By Will Brink - Author of: Diet Supplements
hear the term Unified Theory, some times called the Grand Unified Theory, or
even "Theory of Everything," they probably think of it in terms of
physics, where a Unified Theory, or single theory capable of defining the
nature of the interrelationships among nuclear, electromagnetic, and
gravitational forces, would reconcile seemingly incompatible aspects of various
field theories to create a single comprehensive set of equations.
Such a theory could
potentially unlock all the secrets of nature and the universe itself, or as
theoretical physicist Michio Katu, puts it "an equation an inch long that
would allow us to read the mind of God." That's how important unified theories
can be. However, unified theories don't have to deal with such heady topics as
physics or the nature of the universe itself, but can be applied to far more
mundane topics, in this case nutrition.
Regardless of the topic, a
unified theory, as sated above, seeks to explain seemingly incompatible aspects
of various theories. In this article I attempt to unify seemingly incompatible
or opposing views regarding nutrition, namely, what is probably the longest
running debate in the nutritional sciences: calories vs. macro nutrients.
One school, I would say the
'old school' of nutrition, maintains weight loss or weight gain is all about
calories, and "a calorie is a calorie," no matter the source (e.g.,
carbs, fats, or proteins). They base their position on various lines of
evidence to come to that conclusion.
The other school, I would
call more the 'new school' of thought on the issue, would state that gaining or
losing weight is really about where the calories come from (e.g., carbs, fats,
and proteins), and that dictates weight loss or weight gain. Meaning, they
feel, the "calorie is a calorie" mantra of the old school is wrong.
They too come to this conclusion using various lines of evidence.
This has been an ongoing
debate between people in the field of nutrition, biology, physiology, and many
other disciplines, for decades. The result of which has led to conflicting
advice and a great deal of confusion by the general public, not to mention many
medical professionals and other groups.
Before I go any further,
two key points that are essential to understand about any unified theory:
- A good unified theory is simple, concise, and
understandable even to lay people. However, underneath, or behind that
theory, is often a great deal of information that can take up many volumes
of books. So, for me to outline all the information I have used to come to
these conclusions, would take a large book, if not several and is far
beyond the scope of this article.
- A unified theory is often proposed by some
theorist before it can even be proven or fully supported by physical
evidence. Over time, different lines of evidence, whether it be
mathematical, physical, etc., supports the theory and thus solidifies that
theory as being correct, or continued lines of evidence shows the theory
needs to be revised or is simply incorrect. I feel there is now more than
enough evidence at this point to give a unified theory of nutrition and
continuing lines of evidence will continue (with some possible revisions)
to solidify the theory as fact.
"A calorie is a
The old school of nutrition, which often includes most nutritionists, is a
calorie is a calorie when it comes to gaining or losing weight. That weight
loss or weight gain is strictly a matter of "calories in, calories
out." Translated, if you "burn" more calories than you take in,
you will lose weight regardless of the calorie source and if you eat more
calories than you burn off each day, you will gain weight, regardless of the
This long held and accepted
view of nutrition is based on the fact that protein and carbs contain approx 4
calories per gram and fat approximately 9 calories per gram and the source of
those calories matters not. They base this on the many studies that finds if
one reduces calories by X number each day, weight loss is the result and so it
goes if you add X number of calories above what you use each day for gaining
However, the "calories
in calories out" mantra fails to take into account modern research that
finds that fats, carbs, and proteins have very different effects on the
metabolism via countless pathways, such as their effects on hormones (e.g.,
insulin, leptin, glucagon, etc), effects on hunger and appetite, thermic
effects (heat production), effects on uncoupling proteins (UCPs), and 1000
other effects that could be mentioned.
Even worse, this school of
thought fails to take into account the fact that even within a macro nutrient,
they too can have different effects on metabolism. This school of thought
ignores the ever mounting volume of studies that have found diets with
different macro nutrient ratios with identical calorie intakes have different
effects on body composition, cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, etc.
Translated, not only is the
mantra "a calorie us a calorie" proven to be false, "all fats
are created equal" or "protein is protein" is also incorrect.
For example, we now know different fats (e.g. fish oils vs. saturated fats)
have vastly different effects on metabolism and health in general, as we now
know different carbohydrates have their own effects (e.g. high GI vs. low GI),
as we know different proteins can have unique effects.
The "calories don't matter" school of thought
This school of thought will typically tell you that if you eat large amounts of
some particular macro nutrient in their magic ratios, calories don't matter.
For example, followers of ketogenic style diets that consist of high fat
intakes and very low carbohydrate intakes (i.e., Atkins, etc.) often maintain
calories don't matter in such a diet.
Others maintain if you eat
very high protein intakes with very low fat and carbohydrate intakes, calories
don't matter. Like the old school, this school fails to take into account the
effects such diets have on various pathways and ignore the simple realities of
human physiology, not to mention the laws of thermodynamics!
The reality is, although
it's clear different macro nutrients in different amounts and ratios have
different effects on weight loss, fat loss, and other metabolic effects, calories
do matter. They always have and they always will. The data, and real world
experience of millions of dieters, is quite clear on that reality.
The truth behind such diets
is that they are often quite good at suppressing appetite and thus the person
simply ends up eating fewer calories and losing weight. Also, the weight loss
from such diets is often from water vs. fat, at least in the first few weeks.
That's not to say people can't experience meaningful weight loss with some of
these diets, but the effect comes from a reduction in calories vs. any magical
effects often claimed by proponents of such diets.
Weight loss vs. fat loss!
This is where we get into the crux of the true debate and why the two schools
of thought are not actually as far apart from one another as they appear to the
untrained eye. What has become abundantly clear from the studies performed and
real world evidence is that to lose weight we need to use more calories than we
take in (via reducing calorie intake and or increasing exercise), but we know
different diets have different effects on the metabolism, appetite, body
composition, and other physiological variables...
Brink's Unified Theory
...Thus, this reality has
led me to Brink's Unified Theory of Nutrition which states:
"Total calories dictates how much weight a person gains
macro nutrient ratios dictates what a person gains or loses"
This seemingly simple
statement allows people to understand the differences between the two schools
of thought. For example, studies often find that two groups of people put on
the same calorie intakes but very different ratios of carbs, fats, and proteins
will lose different amounts of bodyfat and or lean body mass (i.e., muscle,
Some studies find for
example people on a higher protein lower carb diet lose approximately the same
amount of weight as another group on a high carb lower protein diet, but the
group on the higher protein diet lost more actual fat and less lean body mass
(muscle). Or, some studies using the same calorie intakes but different macro
nutrient intakes often find the higher protein diet may lose less actual weight
than the higher carb lower protein diets, but the actual fat loss is higher in
the higher protein low carb diets. This effect has also been seen in some
studies that compared high fat/low carb vs. high carb/low fat diets. The effect
is usually amplified if exercise is involved as one might expect.
Of course these effects are
not found universally in all studies that examine the issue, but the bulk of
the data is clear: diets containing different macro nutrient ratios do have
different effects on human physiology even when calorie intakes are identical
Or, as the authors of
one recent study that looked at the issue concluded:
"Diets with identical energy contents can have different effects on leptin
concentrations, energy expenditure, voluntary food intake, and nitrogen
balance, suggesting that the physiologic adaptations to energy restriction can
be modified by dietary composition."(12)
The point being, there are many studies confirming that the actual ratio of
carbs, fats, and proteins in a given diet can effect what is actually lost
(i.e., fat, muscle, bone, and water) and that total calories has the greatest
effect on how much total weight is lost. Are you starting to see how my unified
theory of nutrition combines the "calorie is a calorie" school with
the "calories don't matter" school to help people make decisions
Knowing this, it becomes
much easier for people to understand the seemingly conflicting diet and
nutrition advice out there (of course this does not account for the down right
unscientific and dangerous nutrition advice people are subjected to via bad
books, TV, the 'net, and well meaning friends, but that's another article
Knowing the above
information and keeping the Unified Theory of Nutrition in mind, leads us to
some important and potentially useful conclusions:
- An optimal diet designed to make a person lose
fat and retain as much LBM as possible is not the same as a diet simply
designed to lose weight.
- A nutrition program designed to create fat loss
is not simply a reduced calorie version of a nutrition program designed to
gain weight, and visa versa.
- Diets need to be designed with fat loss, NOT
just weight loss, as the goal, but total calories can't be ignored.
- This is why the diets I design for people-or
write about-for gaining or losing weight are not simply higher or lower
calorie versions of the same diet. In short: diets plans I design for
gaining LBM start with total calories and build macro nutrient ratios into
the number of calories required. However, diets designed for fat loss (vs.
weight loss!) start with the correct macro nutrient ratios that depend on
variables such as amount of LBM the person carries vs. bodyfat percent ,
activity levels, etc., and figure out calories based on the proper macro
nutrient ratios to achieve fat loss with a minimum loss of LBM. The actual
ratio of macro nutrients can be quite different for both diets and even
- Diets that give the same macro nutrient ratio to
all people (e.g., 40/30/30, or 70,30,10, etc.) regardless of total
calories, goals, activity levels, etc., will always be less than optimal.
Optimal macro nutrient ratios can change with total calories and other
- Perhaps most important, the unified theory
explains why the focus on weight loss vs. fat loss by the vast majority of
people, including most medical professionals, and the media, will always
fail in the long run to deliver the results people want.
- Finally, the Universal Theory makes it clear
that the optimal diet for losing fat, or gaining muscle, or what ever the
goal, must account not only for total calories, but macro nutrient ratios
that optimize metabolic effects and answer the questions: what effects
will this diet have on appetite? What effects will this diet have on
metabolic rate? What effects will this diet have on my lean body mass
(LBM)? What effects will this diet have on hormones; both hormones that
may improve or impede my goals? What effects will this diet have on (fill
in the blank)?
Simply asking, "how much weight will I lose?" is the wrong
question which will lead to the wrong answer. To get the optimal effects
from your next diet, whether looking to gain weight or lose it, you must
ask the right questions to get meaningful answers.
Asking the right questions will also help you avoid the pitfalls of
unscientific poorly thought out diets which make promises they can't keep
and go against what we know about human physiology and the very laws of
People that want to know my
thoughts on the correct way to lose fat should read my ebook Diet
If you want to know my
thoughts on the best way to set up a diet to gain weight in the form of
muscle while minimizing bodyfat, consider reading my ebook Muscle Building
Nutrition (AKA Brink's Bodybuilding Bible)
BTW, both ebooks also cover
supplements for their respective goals along with exercise advice.
There are of course many
additional questions that can be asked and points that can be raised as it
applies to the above, but those are some of the key issues that come to mind.
Bottom line here is, if the diet you are following to either gain or loss
weight does not address those issues and or questions, then you can count on
being among the millions of disappointed people who don't receive the optimal
results they had hoped for and have made yet another nutrition "guru"
laugh all the way to the bank at your expense.
Any diet that claims
calories don't matter, forget it. Any diet that tells you they have a magic
ratio of foods, ignore it. Any diet that tells you any one food source is evil,
it's a scam. Any diet that tells you it will work for all people all the time
no matter the circumstances, throw it out or give it to someone you don't like!
About the Author: Will
Brink is a well known fixture in the bodybuilding and sport
nutrition community and its related publications, and has authored
several books. He can be contacted via his highly popular web
Diet Supplements Revealed
Independant review of the most common diet and weight loss
supplements by sports nutrition expert Will Brink. Don't buy
another diet supplement until you read this.
Click here for more info.
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