by Sarah Pinkston
Let me start this by saying, I am not a nutritionist, I do not have 8% body fat, but What I am trying to do is to fuel my body the best way I know how, so I can look and feel my best, and still have the energy to get a great workout in every day.
Paleo, Zone, Atkins, Ketogenic, Intermittent fasting, Atkins, Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem…. The list goes on and on! Just like most topics, there is a wealth of knowledge online about nutrition, and everyone with their Google degree has an opinion on the subject. The overwhelming amount of information (and many times, misinformation) can lead anyone to be confused on the subject. One thing that most people can agree on though, is that nutrition is the base of our fitness.
There are 10 million articles that can give you a breakdown of how the specific nutrients in our food supply our body, and will give you the chemical breakdown of why each diet works, but I am here to just tell you from experience, some of the most important things I have learned about nutrition, what works, and why we should care.
Sometimes more leads to less
When we think of a ‘diet’ we automatically think of eating tiny portions, because if we eat less, we will lose weight… right? You may be shocked to realize the amount of food you need to consume in order to lose body fat while supporting regular exercise. Think of it this way; every component of your body, including your metabolism, is like a machine, and needs the proper amounts of food to fuel it most efficiently. If you let your car engine run on fumes, what happens? It stops running. The same thing is true of our body systems. We have to input enough fuel to keep them running at their highest capability.
All food is not created equal
Ok, so we have to eat a lot… what does that mean? Eat more calories? Grab seconds? 7 meals a day? We all probably know that we can very quickly find out how many calories a day we should eat based on our height, weight, age, and level of physical activity. We can also find out what percentage of those calories should be proteins, carbohydrates, or fats (more on that later). When we say that you should be eating more food to lose body fat, I don’t mean to increase that recommended number of calories. What I mean is that by choosing the right foods, you will need to eat a greater quantity in order to meet your recommended calories.
The most pure source of fuel for your body is fresh, unprocessed, whole foods that give us lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. These foods are, on the whole, less calorie dense than processed foods. That means that you must eat a larger quantity to consume the same amount of calories. Let me give you an examples of this: I can eat one meal from McDonalds, a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (780 calories), small French fries (230 calories), and a small sweet tea (130 calories). That’s 1140 calories in a small sized meal. Now let’s prepare a meal based on ‘good’ calories. I can prepare 8oz of boneless skinless chicken (237 cal), one half a cup of brown rice (150 calories), and 2 cups of cooked broccoli (68 calories) for a whopping 455 calories. Not only does my healthy meal contain a greater quantity of food, but it is less than half the calories of my drive thru meal, and will pack a better punch if we look at the nutritional value.
You are a snowflake
One of the reasons that there is not one universal ‘diet’ that works is because everyone’s body is slightly different, and may react differently because of genetics, lifestyle, medications, and other variables. The best way to tell if a nutrition plan is working for you is by keeping good records of what you are eating, how you feel during the day, how you feel during your workouts, and keeping an eye on how your clothes are fitting. Sometimes a change in diet can take a while for your body to recognize, so it is important to stick to it for at least 3 weeks before making tweaks or alterations.
Just because it fits, doesn’t mean it fits.
A huge pet peeve of mine is when people follow their macros (macronutrients: fats, proteins and carbohydrates) or count calories, with no regard to the quality of the food they are consuming. I can make pizza, ice cream, and beer fit into my macros, but that is going to completely contradict my goals, which is fueling my body for success. The number of calories in foods does not directly correlate with the health of the food. Whole foods, fresh foods, unprocessed foods are the most efficient fuel for your body. If you are not sure which foods these are, on the whole, if you stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store, you’ll be pretty safe.
Plan for success
Let’s face it, most of us feel like we are on the go all day, every day. Most of us don’t have time to go to the grocery store every day, spend 20-30 minutes cooking breakfast every morning, or put together a healthy fresh lunch during our 30 minute lunch break. That is why it is crucial to plan for success. You have to make a plan that is going to work for you and your schedule. For me, meal prepping breakfasts, lunches, and snacks is the key to my success. If I don’t do this, I either don’t eat, or I just ‘grab whatever’ when I am hungry. I make sure to cook my breakfasts, lunches, and put together some pre-gym snacks every Sunday. This may not work for everyone. You may want to just make sure you have all of your ingredients on hand at all times. You may be a crockpot warrior. You may have time to cook every meal but have to have a menu on hand. Whatever your situation is, you don’t want to put yourself in the situation of having no idea what your next meal will be, and opting for the unhealthy, quick fix.