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Nutrition is right at the top of the list for what you need when transforming yourself. You probably have heard the expression, "You are what you eat." While we don't believe that your personal identity is wrapped up in your food selection, your body definitely knows the difference in terms of what you feed it!
Consider two identical twin brothers who both train with weights. Let's assume that everything they have done in their lives (work, training, etc.) is exactly the same; and they both weigh 200 pounds at a height of 5' 10". The only difference is that one twin brother follows proper nutrition and the other does not.
One of the twins could have a body fat percentage of 25% and still weigh 200 pounds. The other twin could have a body fat percentage of 10% and weigh 200 pounds. The two brothers, from a physique standpoint, will look vastly different. Even though everything else is still the same, the brother who follows proper nutrition habits, everything else being equal, will have better aesthetics and most likely better long-term health than his twin brother.
Nutrition Is That Important!
If you have had some rather poor nutrition habits in recent years, such as overeating and excess drinking, this may be the challenging area for you. Nonetheless, you can develop a support network of your friends, coworkers, family, and even join online forums (like those at Bodybuilding.com) to find those who will encourage you to improve.
The benefits of what you will feel after your transformation are worth making the time and effort to eat properly. Not only will your health improve, but chances are that you will like what you see staring back at you in the mirror much more!
Which Foods To Eat
You will now read about the types of foods which you should consume in order to get the most out of your body, have the best odds of being healthy, and allow you to fit into those jeans you love!
Ideally, make sure that the carbohydrates you eat are "clean." Examples of clean carbohydrates (aka "complex carbohydrates") are:
- Brown rice
- "Starchy" vegetables such as corn, carrots, and peas
- "Cruciferous" vegetables (which are mostly green vegetables) such as broccoli, spinach, green beans, romaine lettuce, and peppers
- Certain fruits such as bananas. Be careful as many fruits have fruit sugars and therefore actually become classified as "simple carbohydrates", although they are still better for you than most "simple carbs" such as ice cream, cookies, and sugary snacks
- Sweet potatoes/yams
- Grains such as barley
- Foods with a good amount of fiber in them such as beans, berries, and lentils
If you must use a sweetener, consider using honey or another natural sweetener.
The proteins you want to eat are complete proteins such as the following:
You can also combine certain foods to get complete proteins such as brown rice and beans, but remember that both of those foods are predominantly made up of carbohydrates. Be sure to adjust accordingly.
Talk with your physician or health care provider about proteins such as soy protein. Some people cannot digest soy protein properly, and many of the soybeans used are now "genetically modified." So get informed before eating them.
For a quick explanation of all of the different types of fats, please visit: http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/. Explanations of "saturated", "unsaturated", "omega", and other topics are covered here.
Note: One gram of fat, no matter what type, represents roughly 9 calories.
In the spirit of keeping things simple, you can categorize fats into "healthy fats" (unsaturated) and "unhealthy fats" (saturated and partially hydrogenated). Here is a quick list:
- Fats found in lean cuts of poultry and beef, Skinless chicken, lean turkey, lean beef
- Fats found in fish, such asSalmon, tuna
- These are often referred to as the Omega-3 and Omega-6 "Fatty Acids"
- Fats found in nuts and seeds (non-roasted)
- Flax Seed Oil
- Olive Oil
- Oils derived from natural nuts and seeds such as walnut oil
Please note that you should have medical clearance to use supplemental oils as you may have an allergic reaction to them.
Saturated Fats (Natural Ones)
Saturated Fats (Man-Made Ones)
- Foods with partially-hydrogenated fats/oils
- Processed lunch meats
It is okay to have some saturated fats, but attempt to eat any saturated fats from the natural sources (such as butter or coconut oil). Stay away from the man-made fats as much as possible. The majority of your fats should be unsaturated, unless your physician instructs you to do otherwise.
Remember that a gram of fat has roughly 9 calories, so it has over twice the caloric amount of 1 gram of carbohydrates or 1 gram of protein. With that said, fats are necessary in your diet as they perform several needed functions. Removing all fats will not lead to a balanced diet and, therefore, you run the risk of health problems in the long-term. You can adjust the amount of fat that you have in your diet based on your athletic and bodyweight goals, but all of the healthy eating plans will recommend at least some fat consumption.
You may have heard comments about "trans fats" and how they are being avoided in the cooking process of several restaurants and fast food franchises. You also may have heard about "partially hydrogenated" oils and "hydrogenated vegetable oils." Here is a good resource from the FDA describing what trans fats are and why you should minimize your consumption of them.
Note On Fat-Free Foods
Many "fat-free" foods are not as healthy as they are advertised. Many fat-free foods have the fat replaced with extra sugar or artificial sweeteners. These could be counterproductive to your goals, so learn to read food labels before buying anything "fat-free."
To counter the addition of chemicals to certain foods in order to add flavor, consider adding seasonings and spices to natural foods to enhance the flavor. You can have fun experimenting with seasoning blends and recipes while still eating properly for your goals. Eating clean does not always have to be boring or bland!
Stick with the choices listed above for the vast majority of your foods. You can substitute foods, however, if you do like a particular item or if you have an allergy to it. For example, you can substitute a yam for a sweet potato or spinach for broccoli.
Here are free resources with useful information:
- www.Nutrition.gov - A government-sponsored website with lots of information about nutrition, food safety, calorie counting, and much more.
- www.cfsan.fda.gov - A site sponsored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This discusses information about food labels.
- www.calorie-count.com - Provides free information about the caloric and nutritional breakdown of thousands of foods available in the U.S.
How Many Calories To Eat Per Day
While there is not a universal formula to determine the exact number of calories per day you should eat, there are several factors to take into consideration such as:
- Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is how many calories you need to simply function every day without any physical exercise.
- Genetic factors such as a fast metabolism, and your body type See the earlier section about body types
- Stress levels
- Activity levels
- Your current weight and body fat percentage (explained later in this section)
- Your goals (gain muscle mass, stay the same weight and get leaner, reduce some body weight and reduce fat stores)
In order to keep everything simple remember that:
- To gain muscle mass you must eat slightly more calories per day than your body requires to maintain its current level.
- To stay the same weight and just get leaner you must eat the same calories per day that your body requires to maintain its current level.
- To reduce body fat levels and some weight you must eat slightly fewer calories per day than your body requires to maintain its current level.
The reason the word slightly was emphasized is that if you have too few calories per day, especially for an extended period of time, your body will go into a "starvation" mode where it will begin to feed off your lean muscle for energy.
Assuming your body fat percentage is within acceptable reason (for most women, under 26-28% body fat percentage), start with this calculation:
- Gain muscle mass: 15-16 times your weight in calories
- Stay the same: 13-14 times your weight in calories
- Reduce body weight and body fat levels: 10-12 times your weight
You can make adjustments after 3-4 weeks of eating consistently in these ranges.
Please note that for women, even if you weigh 250 pounds, ten times your weight would be around 2500 calories. In this case, consider a just slightly lower amount of calories so that you are just under 2500 calories per day, perhaps around 2300-2400 per day.
In addition, never drop below 1200 calories per day no matter what your weight. The risks associated with not getting sufficient nutrients for your body increase dramatically below that level of calories. Some sources even recommend a minimum of 1500 calories per day (e.g. www.wwhf.org)
As with all recommendations, you must talk with your doctor before making any changes to your current nutrition and supplement intake. Whatever your doctor recommends takes priority!
Alcohol is known as an "empty" calorie because it contains roughly 7 calories per gram, but it offers no nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or protein. In essence it is a sugar which actually has more calories per gram than a gram of pure table sugar!
Apart from legal consequences (driving under the influence), social ramifications (too much drinking at a corporate function can get you in trouble), and risk of alcoholism, you should consider curbing your alcohol consumption because it can add unnecessary calories fast!
A shot (1 fluid ounce) of 80-proof, distilled vodka offers no nutrition but still adds 64 calories. That means the caloric amount of five shots of vodka is roughly 320 calories. This is roughly the same amount of calories as 9-10 ounces of grilled chicken breasts!
For the same 320 calories you can have over 60 grams of quality, lean protein and lots of nutrients or a buzz. If you want to make a transformation, consider choosing the protein over the liquor and you will have made a great step forward toward your goals.
If you must have a drink, keep it limited to one or two, and only once or twice a week. More than that will begin to sabotage the efforts you are making to transform yourself. It may have taken you a couple of beers a night for 2-3 years to get where you are today, but it won't take anywhere near as long to make massive transformations if you follow the advice in this guide!
Reading Food Labels
If you want a quick, easy-to-use guide to understand how to read food labels, please visit: www.cfsan.fda.gov
Reading food labels is one of the best skills you will acquire as you get better at transforming your physique. Yes, it's ok to bring a calculator to the store with you if you need to account for serving sizes, calories per gram of protein, or any other reason. Who cares what other people at the store think, especially when they see you just a few weeks from now looking and feeling much better!
What About Chemicals In My Food?
There is great concern about chemicals being added to your foods and the chemicals used in the packaging and handling of the foods you eat. This concern is justified, but there is also a lot of hysteria as well.
Choose as many natural, whole food sources you can and learn to read food labels. Chances are that if it contains lots of chemicals, syrups which are not natural, and other preservatives you probably want to pass on that food. Typically, many of the foods we intuitively know are not good for our long-term health are the ones with the most chemicals.
Staying away from these foods, and many of the "junk foods" your Mom warned you about, is good advice. Also be careful when dining out, especially at fast food places and other venues where you question the care with which the food has been prepared. Always focus on safety as you do not want to risk your health by getting food-borne illnesses.
To get more information on food safety you can visit:
You may have heard about the Glycemic Index. It is a rating system about how quickly specific carbohydrates are absorbed into your bloodstream. If you wish to be conservative, consider eating the majority of your carbohydrates which are lower on the Glycemic Index.
While the Glycemic Index is NOT the end-all of food selection, consider getting a good portion of your food choices from those which have lower Glycemic Index values. This means that if you want fruit, consider one of the lower Glycemic Index fruits like an apple.
Example Of A Daily Meal Plan
Now that you know the basics, let's use an example to help with your specific situation. Remember to calculate your calories needed (in the earlier chapter) and adjust accordingly.
A woman weighing 140 pounds wants to reduce her body fat levels a bit and reduce her body weight slightly in order to get in shape for her favorite charity's 5K race (this is a goal which she wants to attain or achieve, not simply to lose weight). She has no injuries, no medical concerns, and has her doctor's approval to make all of these healthy changes. She is medically cleared to weight train and do cardio exercise.
Here is how she can structure her five meals for the day:
While these meals do not match up evenly with the desired amounts at the top of the section this will be a good start, especially if you are not used to eating five meals a day with protein at each meal. Over time, monitor your body's changes and follow your doctor's recommendations for specific adjustments to your eating. After you make the adjustments you will be able to eat closer to your target goals much more consistently.
Pre/Post/During Workout Nutrition
What To Have Before Your Workout
Before your workout you may need to have some pre-workout nutrition in order to have the fuel necessary to sustain yourself and have a great training session. You will be bombarded by advertisements for all sorts of pre-workout energy drinks, powders, and pills. Before you drop lots of money on these, find out if you can get a free sample of the supplement or at least go by the sports nutrition store and get the smallest serving size possible.
Just because the supplement's advertising and your friends tell you that it is a great supplement, does NOT mean it is good - or even safe - for you to take. You must talk with your doctor before taking any supplements that are designed to "pump" you up or give you energy.
Some pre-workout supplementation can give you terrific benefits, so study this area in order to make an educated decision.
Remember that millions of people have had fantastic workouts LONG BEFORE the advent of pre-workout supplements. If you decide to save your money, have a small amount of food before the workout. You can have anything from an apple to chocolate milk all the way to a small protein shake. Remember that you will be training with weights which your body considers to be intense activity. So it's probably best not to have too much food in it when you start training!
What To Have During Your Workout
You may have seen advertisements hyping up certain supplements to be taken DURING your workout. While this can be a worthwhile strategy for advanced bodybuilders and figure competitors you do not have to employ any special supplements or drinks during your workout. Intense weight training can make you nauseous if you try to do too much for what your body can handle, so adding extra food or a supplement might not be the best thing for your stomach during the workout!
If you must have something during your workout, consider a SMALL amount of a carb drink and a few branched-chain amino acid tablets. Again, only a little bit of each because you want to:
- Not upset your stomach
- Keep your weight training workouts to a time of 45 minutes or less
- Not spend your money needlessly!
Save your stomach, and your wallet, and focus on your upcoming post-workout nutrition, which is where you can have the greatest impact on the results you get from training.
What To Have Right After Your Workout
After a good workout, your body is ready to be repaired so you should consider having a shake with "quick" carbohydrates and proteins. An example of this would be a scoop or two of protein powder and some carbohydrates. You even may be able to tolerate "simple carbohydrates" like a small amount of fruits or chocolate milk. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist to make sure that you can tolerate sugars; and remember that any recommendations your doctor makes take priority!
There have also been suggestions that you would drink a simple carbohydrate drink (like Gatorade or another sports drink) and then wait 10 minutes before having a protein shake with water. Again, talk with your doctor about which carbohydrates you can tolerate.
Toward the bottom of the article you will notice that it is recommended to keep fats and fibers out of this post-workout drink as you want the nutrients to be quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. That is why there is the recommendation to have a simple carbohydrate and a good amount of protein in your post-workout drink.
You also may have read about extra sports supplements being recommended to add to your post-workout drink. Supplements such as Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's), creatine monohydrate, and glutamine have all been recommended consistently by the magazines and many trainers. These supplements are ones which you can consider at a later date, AND ONLY with your doctor's permission. The bigger priority is to get your drink (either with protein and carbohydrates together, or split with the simple carb drink first and the protein 10 minutes later) consumed right after your workout.
An Hour After The Post-Workout Drink
Anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours after the post-workout drink, have a healthy meal of lean protein (chicken, eggs, lean turkey, fish, lean meat, or egg whites), complex carbohydrates (brown rice, oatmeal, or natural grains), and some green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, or green beans. The amount of time between your post-workout drink and this meal depends on your activities, when you train, any commute home from the gym, and your own individual hunger levels.
The post-workout drink and the following healthy meal will go a long way toward helping your body repair and recover from intense workouts. They will ultimately give you better results than if you did not consume any nutrition after your workouts.
What If You Don't Have A Post-Workout Drink?
If you don't have a post-workout drink available, it's okay! Simply go to the grocery store and get some carbohydrates which you can tolerate and have some protein. Again, this does not have to be expensive or fancy. It just has to be consumed as quickly as possible after the conclusion of your workout. An hour or so later have a healthy meal like the one listed in the previous section.
In a worst-case scenario, you can even have some protein and a small amount of ice cream as your "simple carbohydrate." If you must satisfy your "sweet tooth" and eat simple carbohydrates then the best time to have them is right after a workout!
Fiber is an indigestible substance which comes from plants. You can get fiber from vegetables, gains, some fruits, beans, oats, and a few other sources.
There are two types of fiber:
Fiber serves multiple roles in your body. For example, it can reduce hunger pangs and cravings. It also helps facilitate digestion and other roles in your body. Furthermore, fiber helps those who wish to lose weight by reducing some of the fats you eat from passing through the body.
The average adult needs 25-30 grams of fiber a day, and the majority (if not all) should come from the foods we eat. Salads, whole grains, beans, and other sources will all provide fiber. If necessary, there are fiber supplements which can help you meet your daily goals.
For more information on fiber and fiber supplements check out these links:
Can I Have My Soft Drinks?
Ideally you will eliminate all soft drinks during this transformation. If you cannot quit "cold turkey" then at the very least limit your intake to no more than one soda a day. Even if it is diet soda it doesn't matter. The chemicals and sweeteners (or sugar) will help your body retain fluid under the skin which is directly opposite to what you want to get leaner.
If you know someone who is very well defined, having a body fat percentage less than 10%, find out how many soft drinks a day they have. Chances are that they have no soft drinks, but if they have many per day then they are either on massive supplements (perhaps illegal ones) or just simply those genetic marvels that can get away with it!
For most of us, cut back or completely eliminate the soft drinks and replace them with water and green tea. Over time you will begin to lose your cravings for them.
SOFT DRINK NUTRITION
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What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism refers to all the physical and chemical processes in the body that create and use energy, For more on metabolism, see the section on Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or go to this link: kidshealth.org
Carbohydrate Cutoff Times
One recommendation which you can control is cutting off all simple and complex carbohydrates a certain amount of time before bed. For most people a good start is 3 hours before bedtime. You are allowed protein and fibrous vegetables like broccoli, spinach, etc. The purpose of this is to reduce the late-night carbohydrates from interfering with your hormones and preventing your body from burning fat as fuel during the night.
If you get hungry in the middle of the night, do what bodybuilders and figure competitors do. Have a protein shake or small amount of lean protein and vegetables. Egg whites (maybe with one yolk) and vegetables are fine. Drink water and have no beverages with caffeine or chemicals in them; otherwise you risk not getting back to sleep.
Following this recommendation for carbohydrate cutoff times will help your body burn fat.
What Is My Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body uses when it is at rest. It accounts for the calories used by your body to do basic everyday tasks like breathing, brain function, digestion, and the like. Factors which affect your BMR are your gender, age, body weight, and your physical activity levels. This is simply a baseline number to help you start to determine your calories.
In the earlier section you learned to determine the number of calories you should start eating based on your bodyweight and your goals. Over time, make adjustments as necessary. The reason BMR is included in here is because of the warning in that section stating that you should never go below 1200 calories a day. Most adults have a BMR which is, at a minimum, 1200 calories if not MUCH higher. Going below your minimum BMR can cause the body to trigger "starvation" signs such as preserving body fat, holding onto water, and eating away muscle. If you have ever seen videos of malnourished prisoners and adults in poverty-stricken areas you will have an idea of what happens at extreme levels when you eat below your BMR.
Get proper sleep is one of the most important aspects of transforming yourself. If you fail to get adequate sleep you end up building up a "sleep debt" much like credit card debt. You end up paying for it more and more, until you get to the point where you start sleeping adequate amounts- but it still is not enough!
Many health problems stem from a lack of sleep. Here are just a few:
- Drowsiness during the day
- Possible cardiovascular problems
Attempt to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, although get 8 hours if you can! If possible, schedule a nap, or at least some meditation time, in the afternoon in order to give your body a quick recovery for the rest of the day.
To help you get deeper amounts of sleep here are some quick suggestions:
- Reduce alcohol consumption at night
- Stay away from late-night sweets
- Follow a good exercise program (such as in this transformation guide) as your body will need the sleep to recover
- Avoid going to bed angry
- Improve your nutrition and your body will most likely help you get more quality, deep sleep
Now that you know the importance of nutrition, let's move on to ways to keep motivated, ranging from creating goals to attending a bodybuilding/fitness/figure competition. Do whatever it takes to keep pushing forward.