Fueling your Body for Optimal Results
From weekend warriors to Ironman finishers, performance and results in any fitness pursuit are directly tied to diet. Eating correctly will vary drastically from person to person depending on goals, body size, activity levels, etc. No matter where you are or where you want to go, you will benefit if you are intentional about what you eat, taking care to feed your body what it needs. Trying to work out with a body that is starving for essential nutrients, or chronically overfed will end only in frustration; and frustration eats your momentum and resolve with a voracious appetite.
Make the most of the hard work you put in by fueling your body sensibly. Let’s look at the basics.
Nutrition 101: The Foundation
The big three nutrients that you need to be concerned with are carbohydrates, protein and fat. An eating strategy that balances these three macro-nutrients with overall calorie intake will be a huge stepping stone in your fitness results.
Carbohydrates: Some have argued that carbohydrates are the most important nutrient that an athlete consumes, because carbs fuel muscle contraction. Every time you move one of your muscles, you are using glycogen, the body's storage form of carbohydrates. Your body breaks down carbs into sugars and then stores them in your muscles and liver. If you eat more than can be stored in either of these two places, the excess is stored as fat in your body (same goes for fat and protein when consumed in EXCESS). Contrary to popular belief, neither carbs NOR SUGAR will lead to bodyfat gain when not consumed in chronic excess in context with the rest of your diet. One gram of carbs provides 4 calories, so as long as your overall carb intake does not cause you to eat in a caloric surplus, carbs will not make you fat. Carbs will also not magically cause you to gain more muscle than calories from fat. The key for muscle building is sufficient protein, and a slight caloric surplus, regardless of where those calories come from.
Some sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, sugars, bread/pasta products, and beans.
Protein: In order to build muscle, you must have protein. Muscle is the foundation of every athlete: without a solid muscle base, you will be ineffective any fitness pursuit. Muscle also plays an important role in regulating body protecting you from diabetes. The more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body can uptake glucose from your bloodstream. The RDA for protein is about .5 grams/kilogram, but for most people with strength or body composition goals, more is necessary. Aim for 1.6 grams-2.2 grams/kilogram of bodyweight (or about .7-1 gram per pound).
Some protein sources are lean poultry, lean beef or pork, eggs/egg whites, greek yogurt, fish, seafood, beans, and soy.
Fat: It is unfortunate that fat came under such fire during the last decade or so. Fat is essential and you need it. The key is to know how to keep it in check in the context of your overall daily intake. Fats from whole food sources such as nuts, avocados, seeds, olives, etc. do contain more nutrients than processed fats and oils, but they still maintain the same amount of calories meaning that when consumed in an equal amount, 'unhealthy' fats will not cause you to store any more bodyfat than 'healthy' fats will. Fats have 9 calories per gram (carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram), so gram for gram, you probably won't want to eat as much fat as protein or carbs. However, if you prefer more fats than carbs, just make sure that your overall calorie intake at the end of the day doesn't exceed your maintenance calories, and fats will not cause you to gain fat.
Some sources of fats are oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, egg yolks, and fatty meats.
Finding the balance
If you are like many people, you are often confused about how to balance out the different kinds of foods you eat. It seems as though there is a new diet promotion every day, promising all sorts of miracles.
The key, however, to fueling your body for peak performance or aesthetic results is balance and moderation. Start with determining your approximate current daily calorie intake. I would recommend tracking and recording this to find out how many calories you consume on average, as most people are drastically off when estimating their daily caloric intake. If you are an athlete, it is probably beneficial to err on the side of higher to moderate carb intake, especially before an event or practice. For the average population, it doesn't really matter WHERE your calories come from (as long as protein is sufficient), just that you are consuming a reasonable amount of calories overall for your goals. This means is you want to eat cookies and ice cream accompanied by a diet with whole foods and sufficient protein, cookies and ice cream will NOT make you gain fat as long as they don't cause you to be in a caloric surplus.
Remember: you must give your body what it needs to perform. If you don’t, you will end up tired, weak and prone to frustration because you won’t have the energy or strength to work out. If your goal is fat loss, I always recommend starting with a less aggressive deficit (10-20% reduction in daily calories), and increasing from there if you aren't losing weight after 2-4 weeks. If your goal is weight/muscle gain, the opposite is true. I recommend starting with a 10-20% increase in calories, and if you aren't seeing results, increasing from there.