Menu Close

Eating Science

6 things young men should know about food, nutrition and getting in shape

It should be easier for men to lose weight, but they’re less likely to go on diets than women. from

Had to let the belt out a notch or two lately? Then it may be time to give your eating habits an overhaul. Don’t worry though - healthy meals can be tasty and fast.

Carrying a few extra kilos can be uncomfortable and can rob your vitality. Getting your zing back is an excellent goal for a health and fitness program. You have probably heard that a yearly weight creep carries health risks (type 2 diabetes, heart attack and some cancers), but might not know that losing just a few kilos, 5 to 10% of your starting weight, is enough to improve your health and well-being.

We asked young men why they might want to eat better or drop some weight. The most common reasons were to improve their health and to look better. Yet men are less likely to have ever tried a “diet” for weight loss and have usually had fewer weight loss attempts than women.

In contrast men have a greater potential for success because of a larger amount of muscle compared to women. Muscles are the body’s powerhouse, a bit like a car engine. Bigger muscle mass is a like having extra cylinders in the car engine. More muscle equals a higher resting energy expenditure (REE).

Your REE is equivalent to a car being in idle. When the engine is running, but the car is not driving anywhere, it still burns fuel. Men’s higher REE (idle) means they burn more kilojoules than women, even at rest. Having more muscle also means their total energy expenditure (TEE) is higher. Think about how much fuel a four-wheel drive uses over a week compared to a motorbike. Men can burn more energy (kilojoules or calories) during exercise compared to women.

Here are some things related to food and kilojoules that are worth knowing.

1. Know how many kilojoules you need a day

Jump on a set of scales and check your weight. Put that number into this website to calculate your daily Total Energy Intake (TEI) needed to keep your weight stable. This is the same number as your TEE.

If you were trying to drop some weight then the daily kilojoule target is less than this. To drop half a kilogram a week your TEI target would be 2000 kilojoules a day less. Even having 1000 kilojoules a day less from food and drinks is enough to trigger gradual weight loss. The challenge is to find some permanent food habit changes you can live with.

2.Know how many kilojoules are in your favourite food and drinks

Muffins have a hell of a lot more calories than a banana. from

Once you know how many kilojoules you need a day, spend a bit of time working out where your kilojoules come from. You do this by keeping a food record.

Try an app like MyFitnessPal or Easy Diet Diary to monitor your daily kilojoule intake or the online CalorieKing program.

You select the food or drink you had from a list in the app and indicate how much. The app calculates the kilojoules. It helps if you know how many kilojoules are in common foods and drinks.

For example a medium banana contains about 400kJ, while a muffin can be anywhere from 2000 to 2500 kilojoules or more. People who are better at keeping track of kilojoules, initially lose more weight and are better at keeping it off long-term.

3.Know how much exercise you need to do

Plug in the kilojoule value of your favourite foods and drinks into this “Balance and Burn” calculator. It shows how long it takes to burn those kilojoules for a range of activities.

For example a burger has around 2,200 kJ. You need to jog for 52 minutes or walk the dog for 2 hours to burn that many up. If you want to save time in the gym, then swapping high kilojoule choices for healthier lower kilojoule options is worth the effort.

4.Stay clear of the fad-diets

If your goal is to eventually develop healthy eating patterns, then stay away from fad diets. A survey from the Dietitians Association of Australia found young adults were more likely to try fad diets compared to older adults. The Dietitians Association of Australia created a checklist on how to spot a fad.

If you see a diet advertised that bans whole food groups, pushes “miracle” pills, potions or supplements, promises miraculous results while contradicting the advice of trusted health professionals, then steer clear. Check this previous Conversation article because the best diet for you, will be one you can live with. For examples of meals that would be included as part of healthy eating for healthy weight, check out the Dietitians Association of Australia 7-day Fad-Free meal plan.

5. Be aware of distractions

Deciding to be a designated driver might help you keep clear of temptations. from

There are a lot of distractions for young men when it comes to eating (and drinking). From beers with mates to just one more sausage at the barbie. Using “won’t power” where you plan ahead to manage these challenges, is better than trying to rely on willpower.

For example, deciding to be the designated driver because you know willpower dissolves in alcohol.

6.Plan ahead

The challenge is planning ahead, especially when working or studying long hours and having little time left for other things. The trick is to plan your meals ahead. Make a list of the ingredients for a week’s meals before heading to the grocery store.

Set aside a couple of hours on Sunday evening, cook and prepare one or two of these. Store in containers and freeze. When you get home late and tired, all you have to do is reheat the meals you already made. Fast and easy. Check out our video on how to make quick, tasty (and healthy) burritos. More hints and recipes are on the Healthy Weight Week site.

If you want to learn more about healthy eating for healthy weight, enrol in our free online open learning course, The Science of Weight Loss. If you have a medical condition or need more specific nutrition advice, see a healthcare professional.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 182,200 academics and researchers from 4,941 institutions.

Register now