Contrary to popular belief, great bodies are built in the kitchen not the gym. Ok, the gym definitely plays a role but to put things in perspective it really is about 70% kitchen and 30% gym. It would be nearly impossible to achieve your dream body without putting the up most importance on nutrition. People will go to the gym for hours and absolutely destroy their core in hopes of achieveing the elusive six pack meanwhile, when they get home they eat a bowl of ice cream as a reward! That is not how it works. 1 step forwards then 1 step back means you are in the same place and not moving anywhere! Those who stand still will be run over. So, you skip the bowl of ice cream now what should you eat? Well first, bring to mind your goal, are you hoping to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain? I am going to oversimplify here but hear me out: you need to find out how many calories you are burning daily via either an online calculator or some sort or wearable fitness tracker. Let’s say based on your life style you burn around 2000 calories a day, perfect that is the first step. Now, you need to start tracking the food you eat everyday! There are countless apps and websites for this. Back to the 2000 calories that you are burning per day, if you were to have a weight loss goal the aim would be to eat 1500 calories a day. This would mean you are burning roughly 500 calories a day more than you are eating which translates into losing around one pound a week, a safe and realistic number. The same applies if you are looking to gain weight. You should be eating around 2500 calories a day which again roughly, translates to gaining a pound a week. If your goal is maintain your weight then you would eat 2000 calories a day. (hopefully you are beginning to see the pattern, 500 calories is all you need to worry about) Now you have the information, you are on your way to the body of your dreams!
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to take a deeper look into what kinds of food you’re eating. A bowl of ice cream may contain 400 calories (estimate) but is very different from eating 400 calories of chicken or vegetables. Yes of course, because chicken and vegetables are healthy but Ice cream is not right? but think 400 calories is 400 calories is it not? Well not exactly, different foods are made up of different kinds of calories more specifically carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These are what we call our macronutrients and they are a crucial building block of any successful diet as well as something most people will never hear of for some reason! I cannot stress enough the importance of macros (short form of macronutrients). As mentioned earlier, every food we consume is made up of either carbs, protein, fat or a combination of the three. They are all very different, let’s take a look: 1 gram of carbohydrates containes about 4 calories, same goes for protein while 1 gram of fat contains an astounding 9 calories. It may take a minute to wrap your head around that but a good example is thinking about a scoop of peanut butter which would contain roughly 100 calories while you could eat a massive bowl of fruit which would also contain 100 calories. This is possible because the berries are “light” and made of carbs which are low calorie while the peanut butter is made of “heavy” high calorie fats. Hopefully at this point (or after this) you will begin using an app or program to track your eating habits. If you download a decent one, it should have a section or option to display your macronutrients which will likely show up as a precentage after logging food. Knowing what sorts of food to eat plays a massive part in developing your health and body but roughly you should aim to consume your daily calories from 45% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and the last 25% from fat (these are the numbers I myself follow however, the Canadian food guide recommends different, I have found this ratio by far most effective). These numbers are definitely not set in stone and different bodies need slightly different nutrients but this is a great base and place to get started! It’s up to you to do the work now!
What to Eat
If you have made it this far then I strongly suggest that you read the above posts before diving into this one as they are the lead you need to understand why I will suggest eating certain foods. Now, with that out of the way I wish to inform you on some of the best and as well some of the worst foods you can eat on your health and fitness journey in relation to calories and macronutrients. So, the easy way to break it down is to look at each of the macronutrient groups (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and look at some of the best, worst, and some myths about each category. First of all, Carbohydrates: These are all your sugar products whether it be bread, cereal, fruit, candy, cake, etc, the list just goes on. So, obviously there is a massive difference between say a bowl of whole grain cereal v.s a cake v.s candy but what really is the difference (aside from what you have probably been told since birth “whole grains are healthy and obviously cake, candy, etc, are not) but why? Because really they are all carbs. Well, that leads to the first important term you should take from this being fast and slow carbs. Fast carbs are carbohydrates that are very high in sugar and therefore digest very rapidly giving you a spike in energy and thereafter a crash. Fast carbs are much more likely to get stored in the body as fat as they digest much to fast and generally cannot be used effectively by the body. Fast carbs include foods like candy, cake, fruit believe it or not, white bread, generally anything that is not whole wheat / whole grain and will likely be high in sugar. On the opposite side there is slow carbs which take much longer to digest, do not cause a spike and crash effect and generally give you long lasting enegry throughout the day. Slow carbs are much less likely to be stored as fat as the body can readily use them as a source of energy. Examples of slow carbs are: whole grain / whole wheat breads, cereals, pastas, oats, etc. So, clearly it is much better to avoid the sugary food and opt for long lasting healthy enegry but that being said, I would never advise against eating fruits and vegetables due to their high sugar. I will however say don’t overdo it, avoid fruit and vegetable juice as much as possible instead choose water but I recommend still eating a fair amount of fruit and veggies throughout the day as they supply you vitamins, minerals and sometimes you just need some quick sugar say right before a workout for some energy, much better to eat some berries then a package of candy. Next up, protein: which is alot more simple in the aspect there is no “fast” or “slow” protein simply just some better sources than others. Some of the best, leanest (low fat) protein sources are chicken breasts, fish, egg whites, beef jerky, cottage cheese, beans, and for now I will exclude protein bars and powders. Last but not least, you have the fat products which in no means should scare people away! Fat in moderation is essential in a healthy diet as long as it comes from clean sources such as: eggs, nuts, almonds, salmon, milk, etc. Now, all that being said there is still countless examples of healthy foods in each category I just gave you a start. One thing people might notice I did not include is red meat such as steak or a burger which is because the high levels of unhealthy fats. That being said even I can’t resist having a juicy steak once in awhile! Remember it’s all in moderation, now do your homework and clean up that diet!
To dive even deeper into the complicated world of nutrition we come across the factor of when to eat and at which times certain foods will be the most beneficial. Keep in mind, none of this is written in stone and everyone has slightly different needs, schedules and bodies. That out of the way, it only makes logical sense to start in the morning first thing when you wake up. I believe the day should be started off with a healthy serving of protein say around 20 grams just to replenish the body after a good night’s sleep. I also think it’s important to have a fairly high serving of slow carbs such as whole wheat toast or oatmeal, lots of options. Last but not least, it’s always healthy to have a small amount of fat in the morning to get the brain going and to give the body an extra storage of energy. I avoid almost all juices and sodas and therefore opt for a large glass of water in the morning. my personal daily breakfast is an unchanging: protein bar, banana, whole grain rice crisp topped with just under a tablespoon of sun butter with water on the side. This gives me energy for the day and comes in just around 400 calories. Next up, lunch: for me lunch is usually a busy time as I am either in school or at work and it’s hard to make anything complex however I make it work. Just like breakfast I believe lunch should be a well balenced meal of carbs, fat and protien so I normally put together a sandwich on whole wheat bread with lots of lean meat (sliced ham, chicken, etc), lettuce along with Abit of cheese and a dash of mayonnaise for taste with another tall glass of water. After that, dinner: at this time of day you should try your hardest to avoid fast carbs that are full of sugar and will keep you up all night and be turned to fat by your body. It’s good to again get a healthy serving of protein, abit of fat, and the rest slow carbs which can be digested throughout the night. Another crucial part of my day is snacks: I try and eat almost every two hours of the day which means my meals are smaller than usual but I eat about 6 times a day. Snacks throughout the day can differ depending on if you need some fast carbs for energy or some protein and fats. A huge part of nutrient timing that I would like to focus on in this article is post workout. Whether you go for a run, lift weights or whatever kind of workout you have completed it is essential that you give your body around 20 grams of protein and about the same about of fast carbs such as juice or fruit as early as 15 minutes after completing the work out in order for muscles to repair and be ready to go again. (Read more on this in the fitness section: Building Muscle) last but not least, there is an everlasting debate about eating before bed or not. It is my practice to try and make dinner the last meal of my day therefore not eating for about 2 hours before sleep which gives the body lots of time to digest and break down food before morning however, many athletes worry about their muscles breaking down throughout the night as they are used to eating all day then there bodies are without food all night. That is why I use the strategy of eating a slow digesting protien such as milk before bed which will slowly digest in my body throughout the night releaving fear of losing hard earned muscle. Now you have another huge part of health and nutrition that most people do not go put it to use!
Many people these days are looking for a supplement for one thing or the other to give themselves and edge in the gym or boost their physique. Let me tell you, you can not supplement your way to hard work. The best supplements on the market are not going to make it easier for you to shape your body or get faster, stroner whatever it may be that is a big misconception. Even the biggest best bodybuilders who although might be on steriods, did not get where they are because of steriods. You can not fake hard work! The whole point of supplements is to boost the effects of what you are already doing. If your workout schedule is in check, meaning you consistently complete your workouts while giving it your all, as well as your diet is bullet proof meaning your are eating good clean whole foods only at this point should you even consider taking any suppements. You need a soild base and work effort in order for supplements to have any positive effect and not just burn a whole in your wallet. So, let’s say your at the stage where you’ve been very dedicated to getting in shape for a number of months and you think your are ready to begin taking “supplements”. First of all, I hope that any gym goer who lifts weights is already taking whey protein after workouts, I will leave this off of the list of supplements as it really is an essential part of making progress and it does come from natural sources. The supplements I will recommend for lifters at the appropriate stage are as follows: a daily multivitamin in order to support the physical excerstion that you put your body through as well as to fill any holes your diet may be missing. Along the same lines there is a well know supplement know as BCAA. This stands for branch chain Amino acids which are a natural process which aid in Protien synthesis and cannot be naturally produced in the body so must be taken either through diet or supplementation. The purpose of BCAA is to aid in building muscle after a hard workout and replenish the body with Amino acids that were used during the gym session. Also, you may wish to add the naturally occurring Amino acid L-glutimine which is naturally produced in the body but likey not enough for a very hard working lifter. L-glutimine again aids in the building of muscle after a workout. All of the above supplements are relatively healthy and very safe and they all conveniently come in a powder form which I recommend adding to a post workout Protien shake. Last but not least we have the black sheep of supplements creatine. This is a realitivly new supplement to be studied but it has showed promising in adding power to Muscle as well as making muscles look larger and more full. Creatine could take up a whole article so please do your research or read the upcoming article on creatine. To summarize, you just had a ton of information thrown at you and I would like to simplify to leave you without confusion. So, most importantly do not begin taking any suppementation before you have at least a few months of training and dieting under your belt aside from Protien powder. Then, when you are ready to being taking supplements, I recommend only taking a daily multivitamin as well as BCAA and L-glutimine mixed into a post workout shake with the addition of creatine only if the appropriate research has been done. That’s it, no magical supplement to make your bigger faster or stronger. All you need is hard work and dedication so get to it!
Traditionally fasting is in regards to going an extended period of time with little to no food. Although this has been proven to have some health and possibly religious benefits traditional fasting is something that I and many others think to be to extreme (I am open to the idea but have never personally fasted). That being said, many individuals wheather it be athletes or just health concious people practice something called intermittent fasting in one way or another. The common way to do this is by eating only 1-3 large meals a day while not eating anything the remainder of the day. For example, some choose to go all day with only water and coffee then come dinner time they eat a huge meal. This could be done as well by fasting just in the morning and having 2 smaller meals at lunch and dinner. Intermittent fasting really has not rules that are set in stone so it can be customised to meet individual needs and schedules. For me, intermittent fasting looks a little as I cannot see myself skipping very many meals and I definitely don’t practice it all the time. Generally, I only chose to apply my method of intermittent fasting during “cutting” phases when I am trying to get my weight or Bodyfat down. A very effective and efficient way for people like me who like to eat all the time is to strategicly fast either before or workout or first thing in the morning. This is done because first thing in the morning our bodies have already been fasting all night so starting the day with no food will force the body to use built up fat stores for energy verus say the breakfast we would normally eat. Same principal for not eating about 2 hours before a workout, our bodies do need energy to go hard in the gym but by giving around 2 hours for food to be digested again are bodies will be forced to burn saved up fat instead of say loading up on sugar before a workout and then just burning that off during the workout. That being said any type of fasting is challenging especially forcing yourself through a tough workout with minimal food before hand for energy but if you can push through the hard work will pay off with results! Everyone is different so figure out what works best for you can you personally and start practicing it now!
Fat loss is probably the most discussed topic of health most likely because it would be hard to find 1 person who would complain about losing far no matter what level of athlete or not they are. The downside of this being such a discussed topic is all the bullshit information that people try and pass as facts. Let me tell you one very simple fact, if you want to lose weight the only thing you have to do is eat less calories then you burn and you will garunted lose weight, it’s science. For very overweight people this may be a great place to start as all you need to do is track / calculate the calories you burn a day and eat a day and then stick to the plan! That being said fat loss is definitely not a one size fits all plan and what works for one person might be the completely wrong approach for others. Moving on, let’s look at what a slightly overweight person or anyone just moderately interested in cleaning up the weight and body image. For this group I would again of course track food and calories burned however now I would also recommend cleaning up the diet in a very basic sense of trying to cut out junk and fast food and try and eat “clean” foods like vegetables and lean meats. Dialing into already health concious people and possibly those who already are in decent shape just looking to take it to that next level are probably eating in a a calorie deficit (burning more calories than eating) daily as well realizeing macronutrients (read article above) start to play a big role and food choices start to matter that much more. To jump to those who are certainly already in shape and just looking to take it to the extreme the body has likely adjusted to being in a calorie deficit and the clean eating and this is the time to switch things up abit and trick the body into getting shredded. My favorite method of doing this is by calorie and carb cycling. Traditionally these are two different things which is still good but combined I find it a killer combo. The general guidelines of calorie cycling for me are 3 days in an exreme deficit of around 800 calories immediately followed by 2 days of a low calorie deficit of only 200 calories. This method translates into the same deficit a week as if you were to be in a set defect everyday aiming to drop about a pound (give or take) a week however the spike in extremes seems to force the body to change and really shed that hard to lose fat. I include carb cycling in the fashion by very simply dropping the precentage of carbs I eat each of the low calorie days and oppositely raising the precentage on the high calorie days. For example, day 1 of low calories I may eat about 40% of my daily intake coming from carbs while on day 2 and 3 I would only eat around 35% and then 30%. Jump to the 2 high calorie days and you would see me eating around 45% day 1 and then 50% day 2. Drop back down on the following low calorie day and you have a very successful cycle of carbs and calories working to your advantage helping you achieve a sculptured low fat body you desire! These different phases should not be skipped and be brutally honest with yourself, if you are in the very overweight catagory then start with the above stratiges! Jumping ahead to a more advanced plan will not be helpful in the least. One thing to keep in mind is the more weight and Bodyfat you have to easier it is to lose, shredding off the last few pounds of fat is entirely harder then the first few hense the difference in approach! Take what you learned and go get ripped!