Hey there guys, it’s been a while. The hardest part about writing in this industry, is finding something worthwhile to write about. Sometimes you just need that perfect moment in life to spur a good idea in your head. This time I have my clients to thank for that.
The title of this blog probably sounds like I’m about to offer some cheesy 6 week “get shredded quick” workout. But while I actually had started writing about workout plans, we’re actually going to talk nutrition today. Specifically what to eat, when, and why. Hopefully a better understanding of this will help anyone who felt like they were a bit late on the “summer body” time slot, achieve some very noticeable results by August.
Nutrition is hard to talk about. On the surface, it’s pretty simple. Get a well rounded diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. To gain weight, eat more calories than you burn. To lose weight, eat less calories than you burn. Now the further you delve into each aspect of nutrition it starts to get more and more complex and specific. What I’m going to attempt today is to delve to the next level of understanding eating to maintain a lean physique.
We’ll stick to the essentials so we don’t end up with a 10 page term paper. Let’s go over our macronutrients first. Macronutrients are your proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Now we can further break these down into complete and incomplete proteins, saturated and unsaturated fats, and finally complex and simple carbohydrates. Now what does all of that mean? Let’s explore.
PROTEIN: Proteins are the building blocks of your body. The basic purpose of protein in your diet should be to build, maintain, and repair muscle tissue. However for your body to efficiently utilize protein to do this it needs essential amino acids to build new cells. 9 to be precise The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Proteins that carry all 9 essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These are most often proteins that come from meat, fish, and dairy.
Proteins that DON’T carry all 9 essential amino acids are incomplete proteins. Incomplete proteins are found in most plant protein sources (pea protein comes very close to a complete protein), legumes like beans, and nuts. Most foods that contain incomplete proteins area actually better sources of carbohydrates or fat than protein. Examples being beans (better source of carbs than protein) and peanut butter (a better source of fat than protein). To maximize the benefits of a healthy active lifestyle and keep your metabolism working efficiently, eat a complete protein source with every meal.
CARBOHYDRATES: Carbs are getting a bad rap lately and it’s a troubling trend in my opinion. Keto diets and other high fat low carb diets are circulating in the fitness industry and community. All I’ll say is this, remember when we used to think high carb low fat diets were the best way to eat? The reality is all of these macronutrients exist because our bodies are designed to utilize them all. Carbohydrates specifically are the body’s number one go to energy source. They are also nearly always the most efficient energy source for people involved in athletics, strength training, and even intense physical labor. During digestion, carbohydrates break down into different sugars. These sugars are glucose, fructose, and galactose. The sugars are digested and used as energy. Glucose not immediately used is turned to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver. Our body has an an entire energy system revolving around the use of glycogen. You can read more about that here.
Now why are carbs being demonized? Well simply put I think people don’t understand that there are 2 different kinds. Simple Carbohydrates are simply put, refined and processed sugars and flour. These are your junk foods. Candy, cake, chips, white pastas and breads (really any bread that isn’t 100% whole grain or ancient grain), sugary juices and soda, etc. These simple sugars are digested incredibly quickly. Sometimes these are called quick carbs. Basically within 15-30 minutes your body is ready to use these sugars as energy, and that energy last a short time too. The issue is many times we eat these foods while doing, well, nothing. Our bodies then store what wasn’t used as fat. And thus we have the carb epidemic.
So without a doubt limiting or cutting out simple carbohydrates from your diet will help you lose fat and maintain a lean bodyfat percentage. You still need carbohydrates to really function throughout your day without crashing. Insert complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are your fruits, veggies (yes vegetables are carbs, eat your carbs), whole grains, and other fibrous carbohydrates. High fiber count is a good indicator that you have a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates also carry far more micronutrients than simple carbohydrates do. These are your vitamins and minerals.
Complex carbohydrates break down and digest much slower than simple carbohydrates, as such they also convert into much longer lasting energy than simple carbs. This makes these carbs harder for the body to waste and store as fat even if you’re being relatively sedentary. I find a diet with a variety of complex carbs als produces the best results for performance in the weight room. A guideline for when to eat carbohydrates is early in the day, before intense activity, and after weight training. Eat lighter amounts of carbs as the day goes on and your activity level decreases (good time for veggies!).
FATS:Fats are still pretty misunderstood. And the high fat diets aren’t necessarily always helping with education on this macronutrient (not to say there aren’t educated people creating smart programs for specific purposes). I’m often seeing some of these diets essentially claim you can eat as much fat as you want. This simply isn’t true if you want to be lean and healthy. Fat is over twice as calorie dense as both carbs and protein are. This means that while fat is part of a well rounded diet, excessive amounts of it WILL put you in a caloric excess and will easily encourage the buildup of bodyfat if not monitored carefully.
“That sounds bad though Adam why would anyone say fat is good for you?” Well because it is, in moderation. There are 2 types of fat to try to get in your diet. Saturated fat is essentially animal fat.These used to be referred to as “bad fats”, but that’s misleading. This kind of fat is good for keeping your cholesterol in check and raising your body’s natural testosterone production, the two of which go hand in hand. “Wait isn’t saturated fat bad for cholesterol!? Isn’t cholesterol bad!?” No. Cholesterol is an essential part of our body’s functioning. We would literally die without it. It helps us regulate hormones like testosterone (hence boosting testosterone levels). Cholesterol is usually lumped into a “good” and “bad” category. HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the healthy cholesterol. LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the unhealthy cholesterol. Saturated fat has a minimal effect at best on harmful LDL cholesterol levels. What it does is affect a subtype of LDL cholesterol called large LDL which hasn’t been well linked to issues like heart disease. And it does increase the HDL (good) cholesterols.
Unsaturated fats are the next kind. These are usually referred to as your “good fat”, and it is good! We’re going to cheat here and pull our definition from the encyclopedia for a second. “An unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there is at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. A fatty acid chain is monounsaturated if it contains one double bond, and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond.” Now that we got that out of the way let’s simplify. Polyunsaturated fats are things like your omega 3s and omega 6s. These fats help fight against heart disease by lowering blood pressure, and can help with fat loss by lowering triglyceride levels. THese are usually found in fatty fish. Monounsaturated fats help lower small LDL cholesterol, the actual bad cholesterol linked to heart disease. These fats are usually found in oils and nuts. So unsaturated fats are a great addition to your diet and your overall fat intake.
The last fat to cover would be trans fats. These however are simple to cover. They’re bad, don’t eat food with trans fats. These are essentially man made fats, they don’t exist in foods that aren’t heavily processed and don’t exist in many foods at all these days. Eat the other two fats. However all fat should be eaten considering the high caloric value. This makes the optimal time for fats in your diet to be later in the day as your activity level decreases. This allows for you to eat smaller amounts of food and remain satiated with decent caloric intake, while your fat laden meals provide the longest lasting energy your body can gather from food as fat slows down the digestion process. Meaning you’ll need to eat less frequently as the day goes on, until you’re ready for bed and hopefully even still processing nutrients like protein from fat rich meals as you sleep. Note that long lasting energy for low intensity activity or little to no activity is the best time to utilize energy from fat, use carbs for energy for higher intensity activity.
Alright, I promised a short one didn’t I? Sorry about that. I told you nutrition gets complicated. What’s this have to do with the summer body though? Well it’s about 6 weeks out from August. Let’s say beach season ends Labor Day weekend in September. That gives you anywhere from 6-10 weeks to work on having at least ONE day out in your trunks or 2 piece feeling like you caught up to your spring goals, or maybe pushed farther past them than you thought you could. If you can take what you’ve just learned and organize all your healthiest macronutrient laden foods into meals consisting of either protein and carbs or protein and fats to correspond to what kind of energy you need for what time of day it is and what you’re doing, well quite simply you should start losing fat and gaining muscle if you lead an active lifestyle. Move, lift, and know what to eat, when, and why. You’ll have that summer body before the leaves change and the winds come.