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Unified Theory of Nutrition"
By Will Brink, author of:
Muscle Building Nutrition
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin & Bodybuilding
Diet Supplements Revealed
Real World Fat Loss Diet & Weight Loss Supplement Review
Unified Theory of Nutrition"
When people 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
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 calorie"
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 calorie source.
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 weight.
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 no 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
Theory of Nutrition
...Thus, this reality has led me to
Theory of Nutrition which states:
"Total calories dictates how much weight a person gains or loses;
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, bone, etc.).
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 about nutrition?
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
- 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 variables.
- 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 physics!
People that want to know my
thoughts on the correct way to lose fat should read my ebook Diet
Supplements Revealed, see this website
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) at this web site:
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 - William D. Brink
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various
health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to
nutrition, supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such
publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life
Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body
International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women?s World and The Townsend Letter
He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight
Loss Nutrients Revealed. He is the Consulting Sports Nutrition Editor and a
monthly columnist for Physical magazine and an Editor at Large for Power
magazine. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the
natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and
He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health
found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published
in JAMA. He runs the highly popular web site BrinkZone.com which is
strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with
diverse backgrounds and knowledge. The BrinkZone site has a following with many
sports nutrition enthusiasts, athletes, fitness professionals, scientists,
medical doctors, nutritionists, and interested lay people. William has been
invited to lecture on the benefits of weight training and nutrition at
conventions and symposiums around the U.S. and Canada, and has appeared on
numerous radio and television programs.
William has worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders,
golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel.
See Will's ebooks online here:
Muscle Building Nutrition
A complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle
Diet Supplements Revealed
A review of diet
supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
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(2) Baba NH, Sawaya S, Torbay N, Habbal Z, Azar S, Hashim SA. High
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Librenti MC, Galli-Kienle M, Pontiroli AE, Pozza G. Hypocaloric
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(8) Meckling KA, Gauthier M, Grubb R, Sanford J. Effects of a
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(9) Borkman M, Campbell LV, Chisholm DJ, Storlien LH. Comparison of the
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(10) Brehm BJ, Seeley RJ, Daniels SR, D'Alessio DA. A randomized trial
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(11) Garrow JS, Durrant M, Blaza S, Wilkins D, Royston P, Sunkin S. The
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