If you're anything like me and stay relatively lean year round or you're seeking ways to define your physique, then here are some basic nutritional guidelines for you to follow. Some of these are actual no-brainers but believe it or not, a majority of the population out there have no clue how something this simple could work so effectively. At any rate, here goes.
1. Don't Starve Yourself.
Simply put, fat gains and losses are mathematical events. You're not going to look like a sleek, defined racehorse if you eat like a pig. It's important to eat enough good foods to maintain lean muscle mass, but not overindulging to the point of increasing fat storage.
Since this line is an easy one to cross, I recommend writing down in a small notebook the calorie content and macronutrient breakdown (grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat) of what you eat. This technique also helps keep me more focused on my goal.
When I'm cutting up for a contest, I try to eat my bodyweight multiplied by 10 in total daily calories. For instance, if I weigh 200 lbs, consuming around 2000 calories a day is a good start to my fat-burning program. Since we all differ in metabolic rates and exercise levels, you might use this formula to begin with and then, after a couple of weeks, adjust it by 200-300 calories per day depending on your results.
While I've been very successful with this practice, I don't advise staying on a low-calorie meal plan for an extended period of time. Our bodies are smart and they can adjust to the "starvation condition" they're facing by lowering metabolism and catabolizing muscle tissue. Since muscle burns excess calories, losing the precious mass we've worked so hard to build would be very detrimental to our fat loss efforts.
Catabolization is the act when your body actually feeds off itself for missing nutrients. Meaning that if you starve yourself, your body will actually eat its own muscle for protein and the metabolism slows down to conserve energy.
2. Eat 5-6 Small Meals A Day.
Unlike most people's string of painfully low-calorie days, which puts the body in a fat-storing mode since it has no idea when it will be fed next, eating a small meal every three hours keeps our muscles in a fat-burning mode since they're receiving a steady but not excessive supply of nutrients.
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This practice also helps increase our energy levels and fight the hungry feeling that often leads to cheating with fat-building, between-meal snacks. Eating only 2-3 large meals a day like most people, however, can overwhelm our bodies. Since they can only use a certain amount of food at a time, the remainder will usually be stored as fat.
3. Decrease Carbs & Increase Protein.
If you're trying to keep fat off and muscle on, increasing protein intake is the way to go. Protein sources, like chicken or turkey breasts, tuna, egg whites and whey powders, help build muscle and are the least likely macronutrients to be converted to body fat since they're the most metabolically costly for our bodies to process.
Protein has also been shown in scientific studies to be a potent appetite suppressant and has a mild diuretic effect, causing us to lose some definition-limiting water weight. I won't really get into the biochemistry behind this but just know that there have been extensive studies done and everything I've learned in my biochemistry courses has pointed this to be true on a scientific basis.
To get really ripped on a short-term, fat-burning diet, raise your protein intake to around 40 percent of total daily calories.
On the flip side of the coin are carbohydrates. They're notorious for holding water and can interfere with our body's ability to tap into body fat reserves for energy.
Diets high in simple and highly processed carbs cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin levels that not only decreases fat burning but even promotes fat storage.
Simple sugars also increase our cravings, making it harder for us to stop with just one donut. I'm also very careful of fructose (fruit sugar) when cutting up. Though fruits may be beneficial health-wise, unlike other sugars, fructose has limited uses in our bodies.
It's not used to fill muscle glycogen reserves and, once liver glycogen reserves are full, excess fructose can be easily stored as fat. From my experience, high-fructose diets are second only to high saturated fat diets in ruining definition.
4. Keep Good Fats In Your Meal Plan.
While TV tells us that eating fat makes you fat, the reality of the situation is that since the "fat-free" craze began, studies are showing that Americans continue to get fatter and fatter. While limiting fat intake is a good idea, totally eliminating it is not. Besides being necessary for healthy skin and hair, fat is involved in the production of many hormones, including testosterone.
That's why it's almost impossible to build muscle mass when on an extremely low fat diet. Fat also lowers the glycemic index of many high carb foods, so we don't get that huge fat-producing insulin surge commonly associated with eating fat-free goodies by themselves. More importantly, we need a certain amount of fat to process body fat metabolism.
In other words, eating too little fat makes it harder for us to burn unwanted fat.
To stay toned and defined, I eat good fats in moderation...about 15-20 percent of my daily calorie intake. Good fats include essential fatty acids, like flaxseed oil and monounsaturated fats, all-natural peanut butter, olive oil and avocados. Starting to get the picture yet? Well, if not, stay tuned!
5. Drink Water!
Drink water...lots of it! I try to drink at least 2 gallons a day during and in between my meals. Muscle is composed of 70 percent water. A high protein diet and intense exercise require more water since these are dehydrating activities. Water is needed to transport vitamins, minerals, and supplements and even foods throughout our bodies.
If our water intake is too low, muscle fullness decreases and a toxic buildup of ammonia, urea, and other waste products can result. Contrary to popular belief, restricting water intake can actually lead to more water retention than providing the body with a steady supply.
6. No Meals Within Two Hours Of Bedtime.
To prevent unwanted fat storage, I eat my biggest meals early in the day when I'm most active. I particularly limit my carbohydrate foods in later meals. I've found eating too close to bedtime is a good way to lose definition since my body doesn't burn the same level of calories during the sleeping maintenance mode as it does during the waking hours.
7. Supplement With A Fat-Burner.
Once I have the nutritional foundation in place, the addition of a fat-burning supplement can increase my definition in record time. The most effective products I've come across are: Xenadrine NRG, Hydroxycut, and Ripped Fuel.
I like to use all three at once but I cycle them on throughout the week so my body doesn't have the chance to adapt to one particular formula.
I found that if you cycle your thermogenics, they maintain their effectiveness for a longer period of time.
There you have it folks. Some nutritional tips to help you keep or redefine your physique. So basic yet so difficult to follow for most. Until next time, train hard, train smart, stay motivated!