How do they do this?
Well, its pretty well known that gym attendance seems to increase exponentially for the first month or two after the holidays. And the infomercials on all the latest diet fads and exercise programs seem to get twice as much airing. However, very few people are really able to accomplish their goals without the aid of a personal trainer, boot camp coach, nutritional program, or Tony Horton. Many people blame this on a lack of motivation. But, the truth is, a lot of people work very hard and have a hard time ever seeing results and it has little to do with motivation and a lot more to do with a lack of good information.
I've written a lot on this blog about diet and the one thing I stress more than anything is that your ideal diet is one that YOU optimize for yourself. This requires an attention to detail, record-keeping, and the ability to adjust things as you go. In this post, I'm going to review the some of the guidelines that will help you to succeed with your body composition goals.
Before I do that, however, I want to make this point:
If you want to change your body composition, it will come from your diet. Exercising every day may not help towards this goal, but paying attention to your diet EVERY DAY will.
Keep a diet journal.
The most important part about keeping a journal is that it allows us to see what works and doesn't work. Keeping a realistic account of not only your diet, but also your training schedule and general sense of well-being is extremely important to your success.
Don't try and make too many changes too soon. Very few people can make a drastic change in their diet and stick to it for the long term. Start with protein focus and work from there.
If you suspect you are having problems with a particular food, try eliminating it for a week and see if you see an improvement or no change. Problems can be gastro-intestinal (upset stomach, bloating, loose stools, constipation), respiratory (congestion or wheezing), and/or dermatological (hives, rashes, flushing, etc.).
Protein first and with every meal.
The first change we need to make in our diets is to make sure that we are getting our daily protein requirement, roughly 0.4 to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight depending on activity level. Therefore, every time we plan a meal, whether it be a snack, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we need to first think about where the protein is coming from and make that the priority of the meal. This will automatically change the character of your meals. You will no longer want to snack on pretzels or chips; nuts may be a better choice. Breakfast will no longer be a bowl of boxed cereal; whole grain cereal or eggs may be a better choice.
Keep processed foods to a minimum including protein supplements.
Processed foods often contain fats not found in nature such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) and corn oil (abnormally high in omega-6 fatty acids). These fats have been found to cause abnormally high storage of fat in the omentum or abdominal fat and may be associated with an increase in diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Whey protein is great as a post-workout recovery meal, but try not to rely on it for all your protein needs. The human body has a shortened digestive tract compared to herbivores (animals that eat plants). This is because we evolved to eat meat. So, eat meat. It’s good for you.
Whole grain foods contain protein and fiber.
Meal timing is of the utmost importance.
The bulk of calories should be taken in during the active times of the day. The macronutrient profile of meals is also important in regards to how it affects one's hunger and storage of nutrients.
When recording what we eat in our food journals, it is also important to record how we feel. Hunger, fatigue, and lack of performance are all clues as to how your diet is affecting you. Mid-afternoon crashes are usually the result of not enough energy calories to compensate for activity or perhaps the wrong combination of macronutrients. Consuming a large number of energy calories before bed rather than during the active times of the day will cause those calories to be stored rather than be utilized. This is especially important to keep track of for those who work an odd schedule or do shift work.
Post-workout meals are very important and should contain protein and carbohydrates, but little or no fat as this will slow down absorption of nutrients in the gut. Carbohydrates will create an insulin release that will carry protein across the muscle cell wall and allow for immediate muscle repair and recovery. This meal should be consumed within one hour of working out and should consist of 20-40 grams of easily digestible protein and 10-80 grams of carbohydrates. This can easily be accomplished with a whey protein shake sweetened with dextrose.
Whey protein, although it is a great supplement, in excess, is just an extra source of calories. If you are currently taking a whey protein supplement more than once a day, try cutting back to once a day and get the rest of your protein from natural sources. Post-workout meals can also come from more natural sources such as yams for carbohydrate and tuna or low-fat cottage cheese for protein.
If you are looking to lose bodyfat, limit or avoid consumption of calorically dense starches such as pasta, white rice, most bread, processed potatoes (french fries, hash browns, etc.), and sugar, ie processed foods.
Again, take this rule with a grain of salt, especially if you are a teenager or athlete. Teenage athletes, although they would benefit from a more natural diet, need as many calories as they can get because their bodies are still growing an developing.
However, for those of us who are finished with the growing an developing and would perhaps like to "undevelop" certain parts of our bodies, these foods can be difficult to manage consumption of because the serving sizes are very small relative to what we commonly serve ourselves. Substituting lower glycemic and less calorically dense foods for these options will cut down the number of calories in your diet without cutting down on the volume of food you are consuming.
We often think we are hungry when we actually crave a certain taste or sensation. This may be because we crave a certain micronutrient such as salt or another mineral. Eating bland foods and denying ourselves the pleasures of eating as well as essential micronutrients can often lead to uncontrollable food binges later on. But, be aware of what you are using to flavor your foods. Dressings and sauces can hide hundreds of calories of unnatural and/or processed fats and sugars.
Whole, natural foods are more satiating for long periods of time than processed foods.
To compensate for nutrient soil depletion, take a naturally derived vitamin and mineral supplement supplement daily.
Prepare bulk foods in advance.
The hardest thing about eating well is giving up convenience foods. Our lives are busy, hectic, and sometimes just completely crazy. Getting a cheeseburger at the drive-thru is a lot easier than preparing a wholesome meal from scratch. However, it is relatively easy to make a big batch of stew, a casserole, or even a batch of grilled meat that you can use for several days. I will typically marinate a grill a large batch of chicken thighs that I can reheat throughout the week. I also pre-bake yams and make a broccoli slaw that keeps for several days. Small containers of cottage cheese can be very convenient as well. Figure out what you like to eat and go from there. Is it beef stew? Enchiladas? Shrimp gumbo? Pork bbq? Tabouleh?
Don't keep snack foods in the house.
Seriously. The kids don't need it and neither do you. Apples with peanut butter, grapes, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great snacks and you won't sit down in front of the television and eat a whole bag of apples.
On a healthy diet, after the initial adjustment period, you should NOT feel tired, run down, depressed, injured, or unmotivated. This can be a sign that you are missing critical nutrients or simply not getting enough calories. Use tape measurements of your waist, hips, thighs, arms and neck to track progress. If you aren't seeing results, something has to change.
And lastly, if you want to get stronger and/or increase your muscle mass, you have to EAT A LOT OF FOOD. Don't mistake a six-pack for a sign that you strong and healthy. It only means you have low body fat. I have seen far too many individuals sacrifice energy, overall health, and even bone density in the quest for "skinny". You will look and feel far better if you build a strong body first; any extra pounds will be much easier to shed with metabolically active muscle to help burn it off.