Take a minute to imagine your ideal body in a perfect state of health. How would you look in the mirror? How would you feel when you get out of bed in the morning? If you want to make that vision a reality, you'll have to start eating more healthy foods. One of the most important steps towards prioritizing health & fitness in your everyday routine is being aware of what you're putting in your body.
Benefits of Healthy Eating
You might have heard that losing weight comes from 80% diet and 20% fitness. That's because it's much easier to reduce calories through eating well than it is by exercising and burning off the extra calories from unhealthy food. Even if you are diligently following a workout plan, if you aren't eating well you may not see much progress.
There are so many benefits of healthy eating including preventing illness, feeling great, looking great, increasing strength, and having lots of energy all day long.
The 3 Building Blocks: Protein, Carbs, and Fats
Your body uses protein to build tissue such as muscle and it can also use protein as an energy source. Protein assists in muscle growth and recovery, which is essential to recover after your intense workouts.
It's pretty hard for your body to turn protein into fat, so if you want to lose fat increase the proportion of protein you consume as part of your diet. If you want to lose weight and gain strength, aim for a high protein diet and simultaneously minimize your carbohydrate intake.
10 Best Sources of Protein
Protein Powder - 80-90 g protein/100g
Lean Beef - 36 g protein/100g
Pork Loin - 32 g protein/100g
Chicken - 31g protein/100g
Tuna - 26 g protein/100g
Lentils - 26 g protein/100g
Almonds - 21 g protein/100g
Black Beans - 21 g protein/100g
Eggs - 13 g protein/100g
Cottage Cheese 11 g protein/100g
Daily, aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Protein has 4 calories per gram. Note that while protein powder is an excellent source of protein, you shouldn't rely on it alone. You want to ensure that you're getting plenty of protein from whole foods as well, which come packed with a host of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that are essential for good health.
There are three main types of carbohydrate: sugars, starches and fiber. Sugar and starches get broken down to produce energy and fiber can feed the bacteria in the digestive system.
Some carbohydrates are better for you than others. Simple or refined carbohydrates have been processed so the fiber is removed. Examples include white sugar, white bread, and fruit juice. Your body processes these refined carbohydrates quickly, which increases your blood glucose levels and spikes insulin. This insulin spike can be useful for muscle growth and recovery after a workout but during the rest of the day focus on eating more complex carbohydrates instead.
Whole or complex carbohydrates take longer to digest so they provide a steadier supply of energy. They also contain many nutrients. These are the carbs that you want to focus on, and only eat others sparingly.
6 Best Sources of Carbs
Whole fruits (e.g. berries, applies, oranges)
Aim for about 1 gram of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight daily. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram.
Some people are scared of fats because they are calorie dense (9 calories per gram) but your body needs fat to thrive. Fat is a source of energy and it also helps your body absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is used to build cell membranes, clot blood, move muscles and prevent inflammation.
It's important to check your food labels-some types of fats are better for you than others.
Polyunsaturated Fats - Good
These are essential fats because your body needs them and it can't produce them on its own. Sunflower oil and safflower oil contain polyunsaturated fats. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are examples of polyunsaturated fats. Many people get enough omega-6 in their diet so focus on omega-3 fatty acids which you can get from foods such as salmon, sardines, and walnuts.
Monounsaturated Fats - Good
These function as an energy source during tough workouts. Olive oil, avocados and peanut butter are good sources of monounsaturated fats.
Saturated Fats - Okay in Moderation
Your diet should include some saturated fat, especially if you are a following an intense workout plan. Saturated fat is especially important for men because it helps maintain healthy testosterone levels. Whole eggs, red meat, whole milk and coconut oil are sources of saturated fat.
Trans fats - Bad
Avoid these fats at all costs! Trans fats have been altered in a laboratory and your body doesn't recognize them or know what to do with them, which can cause problems. They might even increase the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and memory impairment. If you see any ingredient that is hydrogenated, the food contains trans fats. Don't put it in your body!
6 Best Sources of Fat
Aim for 0.5 grams of fat per pound daily, with a mix of mostly unsaturated and some saturated fats. Fats have 9 calories per gram.
Key Things to Avoid
Here are three key items to avoid, or if you can't cut them out completely, try hard to reduce your intake.
Alcohol is basically empty calories with no nutritional value. It tends to stimulate the appetite and many foods you would typically eat while drinking are full of fat and salt. Alcohol decreases testosterone and lowers your metabolic rate so that means that you will have trouble burning fat, and probably pack on more than you'd like. They call it a "beer belly" for a reason!
We covered this above in the fats section. Just avoid these! They have no nutritional value and are bad for your health.
Sugar is full of empty calories and if you want to lose weight, cut out sugar! It's bad for your hormones, can lead to obesity or cancer, and is also addictive. Some studies say that sugar addiction should be treated like drug abuse. Stay away from soft drinks and fruit juices that are loaded with sugar and be aware that some sport drinks also contain a lot of sugar, so keep these for post-workout consumption only.
Putting it All Together: The Complete Diet
There is no one-size-fits-all program, but we suggest a higher protein, lower carb diet to drop body fat, increase strength, and sculpt your body. Make sure that the carbs that you eat are mostly complex carbs. Eating the right types of food is more important than counting calories. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you take in but don't go too far or your body may decide you are starving and pack on fat.
Everyone has different nutritional needs based on their metabolism, level of physical fitness, body type and size. Here's a link to a calculator that you can use as a rough guide to determine how many calories you should aim for per day. It takes your gender, age, weight, height, and activity level into account.
As we mentioned above, a good guide is the following:
Protein: 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
Carbs: 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
Fats: 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight
So if you weigh 150 pounds, you'd eat 120-150 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of fats everyday, which would give you about 1,755 calories. This is a good starting point if you're trying to burn fat and lose weight. But don't starve yourself! If you find you're constantly hungry and have low energy levels-be sure to eat a bit more. It will take a while to find the right fit for you as you adjust your eating and physical activity levels.
If you aren't sure how many calories you are eating on a daily basis, using an app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! can help you keep track. Both apps have free versions.
What Else Can I Do?
If you want to boost your results from your workout, why not try some supplements? Here are six to consider.
Protein Powder - the easiest solution to boost your protein intake
Caffeine - helps you push harder during your workout and boost your metabolism to burn more fat
Creatine - scientifically proven to increase muscle strength and size
Fish oil - improves physical performance and helps you maintain healthy joints
Multivitamin - ensures you're getting all the nutrients you need to fully reach your potential
Veggie Greens Powder - a healthy mix of nutrients to help boost your energy
It takes a while to make healthy eating a habit but the rewards are huge so it is a worthwhile investment. If you found this whole article overwhelming, try making one small change at a time. First you can cut out unhealthy foods, such as sodas, candy, and fried foods and then focus on replacing them (one at a time if you have to) with healthier foods. It's taken you a long time to develop your current eating habits so be patient as it will take time to develop new ones. Just keep making small improvements and you will eventually reach your end goal.
A treat from time to time isn't a problem but if you find yourself reverting to eating a lot of foods that aren't good for you, don't beat yourself up over it. Just move on as if nothing happened and try to do better next time. Every day you have the opportunity to choose what goes into your body-so every day you can choose to make the right nutrition choices. If you want the best results from your workouts, make healthy eating a priority. You won't regret it!