Over the years, the questions people most often ask me relate to nutrition, diet programmes and food choices. The majority of athletic people understand the benefits of protein as a muscle builder, but taking in large amounts of protein is NOT a sure fire way to achieve the physique you really desire! The 3 Macronutrients, Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat are equally important when considering a healthy eating approach, and this is something that can be easily misunderstood.
The first step to take when designing your food programme is dividing your daily meals in to a minimum of 5, if not more, depending on your goals. This means eating every 2-3 hours, which may sound difficult, but can be easier than you think even for the busiest of people! I will give more information on this later on in the article. If you are one of those people who eats 2-3 large meals per day whenever you have time, and wonder why you are having difficulty building muscle or losing body fat, the answer is simple. You are starving yourself. The Thyroid gland is located in the throat, and this gland is responsible for regulation of the BMR (basal metabolic rate) which is the amount of calories your body burns at rest, all day, every day, even while you sleep! When your body goes for an extended period of time without food, 3 hours or more, it responds by slowing down ALL BODILY PROCESSES including BMR to conserve energy. This is know as the starvation response and can be disastrous in your attempts to build muscle or shed body fat.
The most important meal of the day is breakfast. Lets break up the word, Break-Fast. While you are asleep (you should be aiming for 8 hours per day) your body is undergoing repair and regeneration of muscle tissue as well as removing toxins and other waste products from your system. During this time your metabolism slows down as you are unable to take in nutrients. When you wake up your body is in need of nutrition and choosing an appropriate breakfast to fuel your body for the day can have a dramatic impact on your appetite, energy and concentration levels, athletic potential and BMR. After sleeping for 8 hours your body has been in a starvation response mode which we have already covered, so skipping breakfast if THE ABSOLUTE WORSTE thing you can do if your goal is fat loss or muscle building!!!
Another key factor to consider when planning a meal programme is your water intake. Anybody who knows me as well as my clients do or train along side me have WATER WATER WATER pounded in to their heads as not enough water intake before, during and after training is a common mistake. How much water should we drink then? The answer is simple. As much as is physically possible. A good way to get started drinking enough water is to try and drink 500ml in between every meal. If you are keeping to your 5 small meals a day then this totals 2.5 Litres of water per day and will get you well on your way to having enough water in your diet. I personally drink water all day long, and consume even more water during my workouts, sipping never gulping in between every exercise and set.
As mentioned at the beginning, ALL 3 Macronutrients play important roles in physique development and overall health, so protein protein and more protein will not give you what you desire. As a starting point, the macronutrient breakdown should look something like this.
Carbohydrates 55% of overall kcal
Protein 25% of overall Kcal
Fat 20% of overall Kcal
Some things to consider:
Complex carbohydrates would be the ideal choice for the majority of carbs you eat, good options include oatmeal, pulses such as lentils and red kidney beans, all types of vegetables in as many different colours as possible, brown rice and potatoes also work well.
Sugary carbohydrates are best consumed straight after a workout to take advantage of the 'magic window' that exists. This window gives an opportunity to spike insulin levels with an injection of sugar to the blood stream, causing the muscles to suck the sugar or glucose in to them, replenishing their empty energy stores and creating an anabolic environment.
Protein can be sourced from many different types of food including fruit and vegetables, fish, meats, nuts and pulses, eggs, milk, cheese, protein shakes and other supplements. Proteins are the building blocks for muscle repair and re growth, and are obviously very important. It should be noted however that protein is the bodies last choice for energy after carbohydrates and fat, so an excess amount of protein in the diet can actually be a waste of food and money, and does not equate to more muscle mass, in fact a lot of fat gain is down to people overeating protein, and the body preferring to store it as fat, rather than spend valuable calories breaking down the long amino acid chains to convert them to energy.
It has also been proven that the human body can only metabolise around 35 grams of protein at any one time, which again relates to breaking your meals up in to small and frequent sittings, instead of eating 2 whole chickens for dinner and wasting around 100-150 grams of protein! if for example you ate 35 grams of protein 5 times per day that would give you a daily value of 175 grams of protein, 700 kcal from total protein.
Fats play an essential role in the majority of bodily functions. For example vitamins A,E,D and K are fat soluble vitamins which means they can only be digested and utilised in the presence of fats. This applies to protein, as mentioned before protein synthesis occurs in the presence of fat. Fat is the primary energy source for aerobic exercise (cardiovascular) so the majority of sporting people would require ample amounts of fat in their diets to allow for optimum performance. Removing fat all together from your diet is extremely unhealthy and can have some nasty side effects such as nausea, headaches, even fainting during exercise so is not recommended.
What kind of fats should we consume? There is much confusion today regarding healthy and unhealthy fats, saturated, polyunsaturated, unsaturated, essential fatty acids and so on. Lets make it simple. Good fats come from natural sources which makes sense as growth is dependant on natural environments, however too much of a good thing can turn the tables and become detrimental. The best sources of fat come from fish, such as salmon, tuna, seabass and trout. Other good choices for fats include milk, cheese, nuts, avocado, egg yolks (cholesterol) butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, red meats and natural yogurt.
Trans fats are to be avoided. These types of of unsaturated fats have had their molecular structure altered by man, (trans) transformed, and cause undesirable effects on the body. Because they do not fit any key chains in the body, they roam around our intestines and can cause clogging of the arteries and other vital processes are effected. Margarine and ice cream have large trans fat contents, and other sweet tasting goodies that we find on supermarket shelves contain trans fats so always read the label if you are unsure. BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU ARE EATING!!!
Some tips on athletic performance eating:
NEVER skip breakfast!
Consume water regularly throughout the day and learn to love it! You are 75% water!!!
Choose complex carbohydrates ahead of sugars and starches for the majority of your meals!
Save sugars for straight after your workouts!
Divide your daily meals in to a minimum of 5!
Limit your protein intake to 30-40 grams per meal!
Keep fats in your diet, before your workout you can consume higher fat containing foods!
Eat as many different colour fruit and vegetables a day as you can! Variety is the key!
Do not overeat, try to eat until satisfied, not until full up and bloated!
Plan your meals for the day, this will help prevent impulse eating!
Fruit juices contain high levels of sugar and calories, be sensible and eat real fruit instead!
Supplements are NOT a replacement for proper wholesome nutrition, but can be beneficial to the athlete!
I would recommend a multivitamin with your breakfast to ensure you are not deficient!
ENJOY YOUR FOOD, treat yourself every now and then, pick a day of the week and eat whatever you like, pizza, mcdonalds, KFC, cakes, sweets, icecream etc...you must reward your efforts otherwise what is the point???
If you implement the above techniques in to your daily eating, you WILL meet and exceed your athletic goals, and be rewarded with the body you deserve! Please leave any questions and comments below, and I will be happy to respond!
Mens Sana In Corpore Sano - A Healthy Mind In a Healthy Body
Victory is an option