There is a common misconception that in order to eat right; it all comes down to calories. I’m going to tell you right now, that you can look and feel fantastic and don’t need to break out a calculator each time you eat. Obtaining the correct nutrition that your body needs in order to grow muscle is a precise science, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. A problem I find a lot of people make is to plan and track meals too profusely this often results in having trouble sticking to it.
With that said, in order to lose fat, you need to ensure your body is using more energy than it’s taking in, and the energy potential of food is measured in calories.
If you want to gain muscle, your body requires an excess of energy in order to repair and rebuild itself (along with plenty of protein). Therefore, you need to consume a little more than your body burns in an average day to get bigger.
In this article I’m going to reveal some simple rules that you can easily follow to eat well. By obeying these rules, you’ll discover that you can quickly lose or gain weight when you need to whilst feeling healthy and vital.
1. Ensure You Consume Enough Food
As I mentioned earlier, a calorie is a way of quantifying the potential energy that is found in your food. Your body uses a large amount of energy every day, even days when you aren’t active. Just the beating of your heart requires energy; this energy is all acquired through the foods you eat.
As a result, it’s vital that you provide your body with enough; this is even truer when you work out. If you neglect your body, don’t be shocked if you lack the energy to train properly or if you feel exhausted often.
If you work out three or more times per week, use the below formula to guarantee you’re feeding your body what it needs to repair itself.
– Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
– Eat 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day.
– Eat 1 gram of healthy fats per 4 pounds of body weight per day.
E.g. a 130 lb woman would have a plan like this:
– 130 grams of protein per day
– 195 grams of carbs per day
– 32 grams of fat per day
This totals around 1,600 calories per day, which should result in slow but stable muscle and strength gains without any fat added along the way, if it is maintained over a long period of time.
However, if your priority is purely to build muscle, add around 500 calories per day to the calculation above. The simplest way to go about achieving this is to increase your carb intake by roughly 50 grams per day, and your fats by around 30 grams per day.
If your priority is to lose fat, then you need to lower around 500 calories per day. The simplest way to achieve this is to lower your carb intake by roughly 90 grams per day, and your protein intake by around 10 grams per day.
It’s so essential that you try to consume high-quality calories. Low quality or “junk food calories”, including white bread, fried foods, chips, and soda, will result in you looking and feeling unfit, whilst consuming good-quality calories, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and white meats, will keep you in great shape.
2. Consume Healthy Fats
Fats are the heaviest energy source available for your body. Every gram of fat holds over twice the calories of a gram of carbohydrate or protein. Healthy fats, including those which are found in olive oil, avocados, flax seed oil, many nuts, and other foods, are an essential component for general good health. Fats aid your body in absorbing the other nutrients that you consume; they nurture the nervous system, provide a vital role in maintaining cell structures, regulate hormone levels, etc.
Saturated fats are a variety of fat found primarily in animal products including meat, dairy products, and egg yolks. Certain plant foods also have high saturated fat content; these plant foods include coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. The common belief in society today is that eating saturated fat damages your health, however recent studies have shown that incorporating saturated fats into your diet can lower your risk of heart disease.
Trans-fats are scientifically altered saturated fats which have been engineered to provide foods with lengthier shelf lives. Numerous cheap, packaged foods are full of trans-fats, including popcorn, yogurt, and peanut butter, as well as many frozen foods, including frozen pizza, packaged pastries, cakes. Fried foods are often fried in trans-fats. Trans-fats are bad news and consuming high amounts can lead to numerous diseases and complications as they have very little nutritional value for the body, as a general rule you should try to limit your consumption of these fats.
Lots of people eat more fat than is needed for their bodies and thus are adding unnecessary calories to their daily intake. Consuming enough healthy fats every day is pretty straight forward. Here’s how it works:
• Ensure that your intake of saturated fats comparatively low, under 10% of your total calories. Saturated fats are located in foods like meat, dairy products, eggs, coconut oil, bacon fat, and lard. If a fat is solid at room temperature, it’s a saturated fat.
• Avoid trans-fats altogether. Trans-fats as mentioned earlier, trans-fats are located in processed foods such as cookies, cakes, fries, and doughnuts. If you read the label on your food and spot anything along the lines of “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” it is likely to contain trans-fats, so put it back on the shelf. Having a cheat every now and again and eating foods which contain trans-fats won’t harm anything, but ensure you aren’t consuming them on a regular basis.
• Consume at least half of your daily fat from unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, peanut oil, avocados, flax seed oil, safflower oil, or sesame oil. To tell if a fat is unsaturated, as long as it is a liquid at room temperature, it’s an unsaturated fat.
By simply sticking to the recipes in our recipe section, you’ll evade unhealthy fats and include healthy fats with minimal effort.
3. Eat High Quality Carbohydrates
The carbohydrate is perhaps the most misjudged, criticised, and dreaded macro-nutrient. Due to the high number of spurious diet plans and suggestions out there lots of people associate consuming carbs with getting fat. Whilst it is true that consuming too many carbs can make you fat, just as eating too much protein or fat can. Carbohydrates are not your enemy. They play a vital role in not just muscle growth but in general body function.
Irrespective of what kind of carbohydrate you eat, spinach or pumpkin pie the body breaks it down into two substances – glucose and glycogen. Glucose is often known as “blood sugar,” and it’s an important energy source consumed by your cells for most of the cell functions. Glycogen is a substance which is kept in the liver as well as the muscles and is easily transformed to glucose for instant energy. Whilst you’re lifting weights intensely, your muscles use up the glycogen stores which are there in order to cope with the intensity.
Now, why is spinach good for you but pumpkin pie isn’t? Because your body responds differently to spinach than to pumpkin pie. The terms “simple” and “complex” carbs are often thrown around, and it can be unclear as to what they actually mean. You may also have heard of the glycaemic index, I’m going to explain what all these terms mean.
These terms are actually fairly simple. The glycaemic index is a numerical ranking system which displays how quickly carbohydrates are transformed into glucose in the body. Carbohydrates are graded on a scale of 0 to 100 depending on their effect on blood sugar levels after consumption. A GI rating of 55 and below is deemed “low GI,” 56 to 69 is medium, and 70 and above is high on the index. A “simple” carb is one that is transformed very quickly (high on the glycaemic index), examples of a simple carb include table sugar, honey, and watermelon. A “complex” carbohydrate is one that is converted gradually (is low on the glycaemic index), examples of a complex carb include broccoli, apple, and whole-grain bread.
Knowing where the carbs you are consuming fall on the index is vital information as recent studies have shown a relationship between regular consumption of high-GI carbs and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The quantity of carbohydrates that you should consume each day varies depending on what you’re attempting to achieve. Building muscle dictates that you eat a considerable amount of carbs, while dieting to lose weight involves reducing your carbohydrate consumption.
Irrespective of the quantity of carbohydrates you need to consume each day, there is a basic rule you should follow in regards to high, medium and low-glycaemic carbohydrates. Consume carbs which are in the medium–high range of the glycaemic index (60 – 90) around 30 minutes before you exercise, and once again within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
The primary reason you want to consume carbs before you begin your workout is that you need the energy they provide for your exercise. The reason you want them afterwards is that your muscles’ glycogen stores have been exhausted, and by replenishing the glycogen stores as fast as possible, you actually help your body remain in an anabolic state and not lose muscle tissue.
My personal favourite pre- and post-workout carbs are bananas and rice milk, but other great options include baked potato, instant oatmeal, and fruits that are above 60 on the glycaemic index.
All further carbs you consume should be in the middle or towards the low end of the glycaemic index (60 and below). It really is as straightforward as that. If you obey this rule, you’ll dodge many issues that people endure due to the energy highs and lows that come with eating high-GI carbs that burn the body out.
I have included a list of common snack foods with their average GI scores. The GI scores do vary slightly from brand to brand, but not by much. As a general rule I would recommend staying away from these types of carbohydrates.
(The following information is sourced from the University of Sydney and the University of Harvard)
White bread bagel – 72
Corn chips – 63
Candy bar – 62 – 78
Wheat or corn cracker – 67 – 87
Rye cracker – 64
Rice cake – 78
White rice – 64
Pizza – 80
Raisins – 64
Whole wheat bread – 71
White bread – 70
Baguette – 95
English muffin (white bread) – 77
Baked potato – 85
Muesli – 66
So, try to forget foods like sugar, white bread, processed, low-quality whole wheat bread, bagels, junk cereals, muffins, white pasta, crackers, waffles, rice cakes, corn flakes, and white rice.
Particular fruits, such as watermelon and dates, are bad snack foods because of where they fall on the glycaemic index.
If you’re uncertain about a particular carb, look it up to see where it falls on the glycaemic index. If it’s higher than 60, just leave it out of your meals that aren’t directly before or after working out.
4. Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables
Your body needs many different nutrients in order to function at its best. It is impossible to look and feel good on only protein and carbs. You need calcium in order for your muscles to contract and relax correctly. You need fibre to aid move food through along the digestive tract. You need iron to transport oxygen to your cells and assist in ATP production.
There are lots of other “little helpers” which your body requires if you want it to operate its many physiological processes, and fruits and vegetables hold many important nutrients that you can’t get from vitamin supplements alone. By consuming 3 – 5 servings of both fruits and vegetables per day, you experience the many advantages that these nutrients provide to your body, such as lowering your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other diseases.
Despite what many people say and think, this isn’t hard to do. An average -sized piece of fruit is one serving, as is half a cup of berries. A cup of greens is a serving of vegetables, as is half a cup of other vegetables.
In spite of this, fruit juices, are different. While on the surface it appears to be an easy way to consume your daily fruits, however in reality they are actually not much more than glorified sugar water. Not only do the majority of fruit juices have sugar added, but the juice has been detached from the fruit’s fibrous flesh, which results in the slowing down of the metabolism of the sugars. Without the pulp, the juice is a very high-glycaemic drink. It is generally a better idea to drink some water and eat a whole fruit instead.
The exception to this is making juice yourself through the use of a juicer or blender to grind up the whole piece of fruit, and ensuring that nothing has been removed.
Fruits widely considered as the healthiest are apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and pineapples.
Vegetables often considered as the healthiest are asparagus, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and eggplant.
5. Plan Your Meals Properly
I’ve seen plenty of people’s meal plans which are unknowingly engineered for getting fat. They usually involve skipping breakfast, eating a junk food lunch and then coming home ravenous and having a big dinner with some dessert.
A much more successful strategy is to consume smaller meals more often, say every 3 – 4 hours, and including protein in each one (this will result in you feeling full and satisfied).
A large proportion of your daily carbohydrates should come before and after training, when your body needs them most. Personally I like to eat about 10 – 15% of my daily carbs before training, and about 30 – 40% after, in my post-workout meal.
It’s vital when dieting to lose weight, to ensure that you do not consume carbs within several hours of going to bed. You may have heard this advice before, however usually with the wrong explanation for it.
There’s no scientific evidence which has shown that eating carbs at night or before bed will result in gaining fat. However, it can hinder fat loss. This is because the insulin released by the body to process and absorb carbs prevents fat being used as an energy source and therefore stops fat from being burnt. Your body burns the most fat while sleeping, and so going to sleep with an increase in insulin levels hinders fat loss.
Further studies have suggested that the production and processing of insulin tampers with the production and processing of growth hormone, which has strong fat-burning properties as well as having an important role in muscle building. Your body produces much of its growth hormone while sleeping, so again, if your body is filled with insulin when you go to sleep, your growth hormone production could suffer, which could result in you not having the muscle-building and fat-burning effects you could otherwise have had.
As an overall rule, when you’re dieting to lose weight, avoid eating carbs within 4 – 5 hours of going to sleep. You should only eat lean proteins after dinner. I also recommend following this same rule whilst bulking too, not because I’m concerned about fat burning, but because I don’t want to inhibit my growth hormone production.
You can disperse your fats out across the day. I prefer to start my day with 1 – 2 tablespoons of a blend of essential fatty acids which you can buy from most good supplement stores, if you don’t want to simply stick to the sources of healthy fats given earlier.
6. Drink Water!
The amount of water in the human body ranges from 50-75%. The average adult human body is 50-65% water, averaging around 57-60% Muscles are around 70% water. These facts alone tell you how vital it is to stay hydrated in order to maintain good health and proper body function. Your body’s ability to digest, transport, and absorb nutrients from food is reliant on proper fluid intake. Water aids the body in the gym by preventing injuries by padding joints and other soft-tissue areas. When your body is dehydrated, almost every physiological process is affected.
Water truly is one of the best things you can provide your body with, it has zero calories, and so it can never cause you to gain weight irrespective of how much you drink. (The only way you can harm your body by consuming water is by consuming several gallons of it in a short space of time.)
The Institute of Medicine concluded in 2004 that women should consume about 91 ounces of water—or three-quarters of a gallon—per day, and men should consume about 125 ounces per day.
Keep in mind that these numbers also include the water which is found in food. An average person consumes around 80% of their water from drinking it and other drinks, and about 20% from the food they eat.
Personally I’ve been consuming 1 – 2 gallons of water per day for years now, which is higher than the IOM recommends, however I sweat a fair amount due to exercise.
Try to ensure that the water you consume is filtered, purified water and not tap water. There’s a large variation between drinking clean, alkaline water, because your body is able to fully utilize it, this is not always the case with tap water depending on where you live.
7. Cut Back On Salt
The normal American diet is so over-saturated with sodium it is truly unbelievable.
The Institute of Medicine advises 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day as an acceptable intake level for most adults. The CDC states that the average American aged 2 and up consumes 3,436 milligrams of sodium per day.
Consuming too much sodium causes water retention, giving you a podgy appearance and it can result in high blood pressure and heart disease.
Frozen and canned foods are typically full of sodium, as are cured meats like bacon and sausage.
When possible, I like to choose low- or no-sodium ingredients for the recipes in our recipe section. When I need to add salt, I use sea salt or Himalayan rock salt because it has plenty of naturally occurring minerals, whereas table salt has been cleaned to remove “impurities,” which includes these vital elements.
8. Cheat Correctly
Lots of people who are grappling with diets talk about cheat days. The principle is that if you’re good throughout the week, you can go wild on the weekends and not gain fat. This can be the case if you have a very fast metabolism, however if you don’t then that’s not how it works. If you obey a strict diet, you can lose 1 – 2 pounds per week. However, if you go crazy at the weekend it is surprisingly easy to put it all back on in the one weekend.
To counter this, I recommend that you don’t think of having “cheat days” and instead consider yourself to be consuming “cheat meals”, these are meals where you eat more or less anything you want. When done once or twice per week, a cheat meal is not only satisfying, but it can actually help you lose fat.
First there’s the psychological lift which having a cheat meal provides, it keeps you happy and motivated which results in sticking to your diet easier in the long run.
There’s also a physiological boost, recent studies on overfeeding (binging on food) shows that by doing so can result in your metabolic rate being boosted from anywhere between 3-10%. This sounds good but it actually doesn’t mean much as you would have to consume anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand extra calories in a day to achieve the full effect.
More interesting are the effects that cheating has on a hormone called leptin. Leptin regulates hunger, metabolic rate, appetite, motivation, and libido, as well as assisting in many other functions in your body.
When you’re following a caloric deficit and begin to lose body fat, your leptin levels drop. As a result of lower leptin levels, your metabolism slows down, your appetite increases your motivation begins to fade and your mood becomes sour.
Oppositely, when you give your body more energy than it requires, leptin levels are increased, which can then have positive effects on fat oxidation, thyroid activity, mood, and even testosterone levels.
So, we want to increase our leptin levels, but what is the best way to achieve it?
Consuming carbohydrates is the most effective way of doing so. Second to that is eating protein. Consuming dietary fats are not very effective at increasing leptin levels, and studies have shown that alcohol actually inhibits it.
Therefore, if your weight has plateaued and you’re short-tempered and demotivated, a good kick of leptin might be all you need to get the scales moving again. Have yourself a good cheat meal full of protein and carbs, and don’t forget to enjoy it.
9. The Bottom Line
Some people find it extremely challenging to give up their bad eating habits. That said, try to keep in mind the benefits which have been raised during this article:
• Your health and general well being will increase, it may take a while but I assure you that it will happen. You will stop feeling lethargic and you won’t have the mental fogginess that comes with being full of unhealthy food each day.
• On your cheat days you will value the “bad” foods so much more as you only have it once or twice a week.
• Over time you will learn to enjoy the healthy foods. Even if they don’t taste great at first, try to get into a routine and soon you’ll crave brown rice and apples instead of doughnuts and pizza. Your body will adapt.