The following article is a lowdown on to eat if you want to lose fat, build muscle and/or optimise your health. Think of it as a basic no-nonsense guide to nutrition.
Time to get in shape…
For the sake of easy digestion, improved mood and better compliance to the diet, Protein should be spaced out evenly over the day. Split your daily intake into the amount of meals you have per day and consume this amount with each meal. The source of protein should be high quality and should come mainly from animal protein and whey. Incomplete proteins, such as those found in nuts and quinoa don’t count; view them as ‘bonus’ protein.
Carbohydrates should be consumed mainly around workout times and a night: these are the two optimal times to consume carbs. Pre workout meals should be ZERO carbs. Why?Because carbs make you feel sleepy and relax you. This is not what you want before your session. After your workout is the best time to consume a high amount of carbs — Carbohydrate powder in the post workout shake, and high GI carbs such as white rice or white potatoes in the post workout meal. This will flush the protein and nutrients into the muscles and aid in the recovery process. On non-training days and meals not around the workout, carbs should be low GI — sweet potatoes, quinoa, yams and berries, beans, greek yoghurt, etc.
Fats should be in every meal except the post workout shake. Fats slow down absorption of food and after a workout you want fast absorption of nutrient; also, if fat is consumed with high GI carbs (which means temporary higher blood sugar levels), it’s easier for it to get stored in your midsection. Insulin is important for restoring energy after a hard workout, but it is also a storage hormone; the last thing you want to consume at this time is fat. Fats should come from high quality sources such as coconut oil, olive oil and nuts. Before bed is a good time to consume fats, because slow digestion as you sleep and prevent you waking up with low blood sugar.
The timing of nutrient intake is crucial to optimal body composition; in other words, if you’re serious about getting in shape, there is a best time to consume carbs, proteins and fats.
Breakfast should be high protein, and fat. This will give you a steady supply of energy over the course of the day. The protein will get your brain started and make you more alert. The fats will provide the sustained energy as you tackle your day. A breakfast like this will stop the ‘mid-afternoon crash.’ Meat and nuts is a great breakfast. Consuming a high amount of carbs first thing in the morning is not a good thing; its unnecessary and will probably make you feel sleepy soon after. What you want is sustained energy over the course of the day — especially when you’re trying to achieve a nice body. If muscle-building is the goal and your body fat is below 10%, then slow carbs such as sweet potato, oats or quinoa are usually not a problem.
Snacks should include some form of protein and some fruit or veg. Fats can also be added. Ideally, they’ll have at least 10g of protein. Dried fruit and mixed nuts, greek yoghurt, humus and celery, and protein bars are good choices.
Lunch will depend on your training for that day. If it’s after your workout, then it should be high protein, high carb, and low-med fat. If you’re not training around lunch time, lower the carbs, up the protein and fat, and throw in a few vegetables.
Dinner should include protein, carbs and fats, as well as vegetables. Feeling sleepy after eating carbs is okay at night (this is when you want to relax, right?), so feel free to eat carbs here — but make sure they’re quality sources. If dinner is your post-workout meal, don’t stress too much about the fats and protein.
Bedtime snacks, if you need them, should be protein and fat. To ensure a quality sleep, consume very few carbs — especially high GI carbs. However if your carb intake has not being reached for the day (and you’re training regularly), then its ok consume them here, just do it with some fats. The fats will slow down the digestion of the food as you sleep.
The importance of fruit and vegetables
Vegetables should be consumed with every meal. Fruit should be consumed with or as a snack, and around workout times. Vegetables provide fibre and all-important nutrients for the body to optimise health and body composition. Green veg helps balance the PH in your body. Stress, protein and exercise all make your body more acidic. For muscle building, fat loss and optimal health, an overly acidic body isn’t going to make things easier. The best alkalising sources are lemons & limes, green leafy vegetables, cherries, blueberries and cruciferous veg such as broccoli and cauliflower. A great tip is to add lime or lemon to your water that you drink throughout the day. If vegetables can’t be consumed for whatever reason, a high quality greens powder consumed daily should be the replacement.
Consume a lot of water. Not only will this help with digestion, hydration, cognition and exercise performance, it will also keep your appetite in check. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day. On training days you’ll need to drink more, firstly because you’ll sweat more, secondly because you’ll be eating more carbs.
Meals around workouts
Pre workout meal
The pre workout meal should have ZERO carbs. Carbs spike blood sugar and make you feel sleepy. Consuming carbs here also blocks a very beneficial hormone repsonse which triggers muscle growth and helps melt away fat. High protein and a little fat is a good pre-workout meal.
Post workout shake and meal
The post workout shake should be high carb and protein. The protein should be at least 50g and should come from a whey. If whey is not an option, pea, hemp or goats protein are good choices. The carbs depend on the workout for that day — for example, if you trained your legs you are going to need more carbs than if you trained arms. The first meal after the workout should be med-high in carbs, high in protein and low in fat.
Following this guide to a ‘T’ is obviously not possible, or in fact necessary for everyone. If you’re extremely serious about optimising your body comp, or you want to speed up your results, then of course ultra-strict adherence will help. But if you’re in it for the long haul — that is, you are making a lifestyle change for the sake of your long-term health and image– strict adherence is not really needed. Use these tips as guidelines, use them to make better food decisions every day.
Your best bet is to start small and easy. Overcomplicating and obsessing over the perfect plan will only increase your chances of boredom, mixed results and abandonment. It should be fun. So go slow. Remember the adage: the imperfect, easy-to-follow plan is much better than the perfect one that you never follow.