When it comes to making changes to your body, diet will always reign supreme. You can have the best workout program in the world and supplement intelligently, but if you aren’t providing your body with what it needs to grow, don’t expect much.
It’s not difficult though. Contrary to what many people would like you to believe, dieting and nutrition is not difficult. It is all about making smart decisions, but you don’t have to starve yourself or go to any extremes.
For most people, simply changing what they eat will make a dramatic enough impact to use as a good starting point. However, if you are looking to get serious and maximize your potential, you are going to need to cover your bases.
Calories & Macronutrients
Before we go any further, understand that making any change in your bodyweight is going to come down to either a calorie deficit (weight loss) or a calorie surplus (weight gain). If you are tracking what you’re eating (it’s really not that hard) and watching how your body responds, you will have no problem addressing the “calorie portion” of dieting.
There’s a bit more to it than that though, and that’s where macronutrients get involved.
You need to eat enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep your body from going into a Catabolic state (muscle-eating metabolic reaction). All of the three macronutrients weren’t created equal though.
Without a doubt, protein is the most important substance that you can consume to pack on slabs of dense muscle. When you lift weights, your muscle tissue synthesizes more protein molecules. They do this in a natural effort to combat the stress of resistance training.
At this point in time, we know definitively that consuming amino acids (building blocks of protein made up of both essential and non-essential amino acids) around a workout increases your body’s anabolic (muscle-building) response.
While it goes without saying, making the most out of your strength training is going to require an increase in protein synthesis and a decrease in protein degradation (when protein is broken down and used as fuel for the body). There’s a catch though. While working out increases muscle protein synthesis, it also increases the rate of muscle tissue breakdown.
There is a way to fight against this withering of your gains. Consuming quality carbohydrates in conjunction with protein will help to lower the amount of protein degradation your body undergoes. It makes perfect sense though.
When you are performing a given exercise, and it has to do with lifting weights, you are most likely going to be at a high enough “output level” to elicit the use of glycogen and type two muscle fibers. All this means is that you’re “going hard enough” and your body thus recognizes that it needs to start using your carbohydrate stores.
Carbohydrates also provide cellular energy. Carbohydrates are broken down into two groups (a more detailed explanation would include different forms of sugars):
- These are also referred to as “simple sugars.” As the naming structure suggests (mono), these are made up of only one molecular chain. Fruits are an awesome source of monosaccharides and highly encouraged for consumption around your workouts. Your body can use simple sugars very quickly after consumption.
- These are the bulk of what you should be feeding your body. Oatmeal, rice, pasta, potatoes (sweet and regular), and baked goods (sometimes) should all be on your grocery shopping list. These take longer to break down in your stomach due to the increased number of molecular chains and thus provide more sustained energy over longer periods of time when compared to sugars (monosaccharides).
As you can see, these carbohydrates aren’t going to be consumed at the same time if you’re looking to make the most out of your gains.
You should take advantage of both, except you should go about it in different ways. 30-45 minutes before your workout, consume around 100 quality complex carbs (polysaccharides). Then, right when you’re at the gym and about to get to work, consume a sugar (Gatorade is a popular choice; there are countless other options available as well).
By doing this, you will fill your glycogen stores with both types of carbs. Your body will then be prepared to pull from either source as your workout places demands upon your metabolism.
While this is a moderately advanced topic when reviewed fully, I will go over the basics. The entire premise behind this dieting “technique” (it’s not a gimmick or a trick; don’t get the wrong idea) is making sure to consume the right foods only when your body needs them.
For example, eating a bunch of cookies right before bed isn’t going to make much sense. Your body won’t be able to utilize those sugars or calories and thus it will be stored as fat for later use.
Yet, if you had an intelligent portion of cookies right before a workout, that might be a good idea. I know what you may be thinking: “he just said I could eat cookies.” Yes, I did.
However, the bigger point is realizing that you should aim to eat carbohydrates only when you need them. We’ll leave it at that for now.
All that’s left to talk about at this point is fat. Obviously, just for being ‘fat’ it’s going to get a bad reputation in relation to protein or carbs. However, just know that consuming quality fats is also an important part in making sure to adequately address your body’s nutritional needs.
Healthy fats help to promote natural hormone production.
Fish is an excellent source of healthy fats. While other dark (red) meats have fat, fish contain powerful Omega-3 vitamins that have been scientifically proven to improve your health overall in remarkable ways such as better skin and protected eyesight.
Whole eggs are also a great food source when it comes to fats. For whatever reason, yolks get a bad rap among those in the fitness community. Don’t pay that any mind.
All types of nuts work well. While peanut butter may not be the number one healthy choice when it comes to nuts, I personally love to use it in all of my protein shakes. It’s an easy way to add some extra fat and protein.
Lastly, you can use different types of oils when you cook to make it even easier. Experiment with different types to see what you like best. Making gains and seeing results doesn’t mean you have to constantly punish yourself with terrible food. Find what you like and then adjust it to make it work.
While this isn’t an exhaustive guide of every nutritional consideration you could possibly want to account for, it’s a great place to start. Like anything else in life, the nutritional aspect of your fitness journey is going to take some work.
When you’re just getting started out it’s going to be tough to change those bad habits of eating junk. And, when you finally do make the leap to putting better food inside your body, it’s going to take a bit of time for you to effectively adjust everything and make it work for you.
Because, at the end of the day all that will ever matter is what’s going to get you the results that you’re looking for. Only you can make that happen.
If you’re just getting started, it’s time to check out the beginner diet plan that makes sure you start off right!