I have been receiving a lot of e-mail lately about diet. In the past, I was never concerned about what I ate. I just went to the gym, trained hard, and that was the extent of my routine. Not until recently did I realize the power diet has over the way your body looks and performs.
I believe that diet is at least 75% of the fitness equation. In this article, I'm going to describe in detail what I have learned about diet during my 12-week transition period.
When To Eat and How Often
This might sound strange, but you have to eat more often to lose fat and gain muscle. During my transition period, I never ate less than 6 meals a day.
Try to eat every 2 to 3 hours. Do not eat complex carbohydrates after 6:00 p.m. or four to five hours before going to bed. Try to eat one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass on lifting days and .8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass on non-lifting days. Never eat more than 70 grams of protein in one meal.
When I think of carbohydrates, I think of energy. Carbohydrates supply our bodies with the energy it needs to make it through a workout. Without an adequate supply of carbohydrates, the body goes into carbohydrate deprivation. This is called a state of ketosis (meaning our body is using protein as energy).
This is not a good state to be in for long because it will rob the body of muscle tissue in an effort to create energy. On the other hand, if too many carbohydrates are consumed, they convert into stored fat.
The idea is to consume just enough carbohydrates to make it through our workouts with sufficient energy. I have broken down carbohydrates into these three categories:
- Simple carbs: These are sugars, or quick energy. They are absorbed very quickly into the body. Ex. Anything with sugar, also fruit.
- Complex carbs: This is where you get long-term energy for the day. These are long chained carbohydrates that brake down slower, giving us energy over a prolonged period of time. Ex. Oatmeal, potatoes, pasta, rice, breads.
- Fibrous carbs: These are things like vegetables. I think of them as roughage in order to stay regular. Make sure you include them in you later meals when you can't eat complex carbs. They are also a good source of vitamins. Ex. Leafy vegetables like lettuce.
Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles. Without a sufficient amount of protein in our diet, our muscles will not have the raw materials that they need to build up, or even hang on to what is already there.
Not all protein is created equal. Different foods are absorbed more than others. For example, egg white protein is absorbed at 88%. That means we get about 9 eggs to our muscles.
On the other hand, chicken breast are absorbed at 68%, meaning we get about 7 breasts to our muscles. It is imported to eat a wide verity of protein foods though; no one protein source has all the amino acids we need.
The best source of whey protein is from protein supplements. It is also absorbed very fast by the body, so it is best to take this when your body needs amino acids quickly: like right after a workout or when you first get up in the morning.
We normally think of fats as being bad. The fact is certain fats are essential to building muscle and carrying out various functions of the body. There are 2 fat types we need to be concerned about:
- Saturated fats: these are the bad fats. Avoid these fats as much as possible. You will find these types of fats mostly in meats.
- Unsaturated fats: these are the good fats. They are a good energy source and help us build muscle. You can find from plant oils. Peanuts are also a good source.
Do not under estimate the importance of water! If you are looking to get lean, water will be your best friend. Drink as much as you can and as often as you can. Also, it is very important to drink lots of water when you're eating large amounts of protein to clean urea from the system.
Vitamins and Minerals
As resistance training athletes, we have a greater need for vitamins and minerals. When we workout and bring blood to our muscles it is important that our blood is full of those essential vitamins & minerals if we want to grow.
Supplements are just that, meaning they are used to supplement your diet, not replace it. Don't ever think of it that way. I developed this hierarchy of supplements based on what I thought were the most important and also by price.
- Proper diet: Without proper diet you are just wasting money on supplements. Start here! Do not think that supplements are going to do it for you alone.
- Multi-vitamin and mineral: It is very important to have all your vitamins and minerals when resistance training. Most of us are lacking in some areas, make it a priority to make this your first supplement.
- Protein powder: It is usually very hard to get all the protein you need from real foods. Powders make it much easier. Also, these powders are absorbed fast by the body making them ideal after workouts or before and after sleep.
- Creatine: This is great for harder workouts. It also makes you muscles hang on to water, giving them a better environment to grow.
- L-glutamine: This is an important amino acid in muscle recovery.
- Branch chained amino acid: These are great before and after workouts along with L-glutamine because it gives your muscles all the amino acids it needs to repair and grow.
- ZMA: This helps you release more growth hormone while you sleep, increasing your size and strength.
- Thermogenic: These really help in the fat loss process. They also help you hang on to more muscle while dieting due to the fact you can eat more.
- Meal replacement: Although very expensive, meal replacements make it much more convenient to get some of your meals in. Also, you can get in more meals than if you were to eat only real foods.
This is a very complicated subject, but all we need to know is that insulin can help us build muscle or can make us fat depending on the timing. Insulin is released by the pancreas in response to elevated blood sugar levels. We can achieve a high blood sugar level by ingesting simple carbs.
We have a window of opportunity to take advantage of the muscle building effects of the insulin without getting fat. We have about 4 or 5 hours after we workout to take advantage of insulin. If we take in too many simple carbs out of this window, we are very likely to store fat.
The theory behind the cheat days is you take one day every 2 weeks to eat anything you want and actually get leaner. It might sound crazy, but it worked for me. When you eat low carbs for a time for body begins to think it is not getting all the food it needs (because your not storing any fat) and begins to slow down your metabolism.
When you bombard your body with food on that one day, it tricks your body into thinking it has all it needs and speeds your metabolism back up. I can tell you from experience, every day after a cheat day I felt leaner and looked better.
This is when your body uses protein for energy. This happens when we have too few carbs in the body or when we over train. I went into the state of ketosis for only the last week of my 12-week transition for a couple of reasons. I wanted all of my muscles to shrink down so when I carbed back up, my skin would be tighter.
When you go into ketosis it seems to bring the water out from under the skin. Don't go into this state to loose fat. Without carbs your body can not burn fat effectively. You will loose weight rather quickly, but only because you don't have as much glycogen in the muscle. Also, you are simply loosing water.
Remember that proteins are the building blocks for muscle and that means they are fair game for energy when in the state of ketosis. I would not recommend going into this state unless you are trying to get into a super ripped state for a short amount of time, like for a bodybuilding contest.