Fit Food: Eating For Your Goals

fat-lossWe know that eating clean is a healthy lifestyle that has many benefits. Often just following the rules of clean eating is enough for us to see changes in our body and reach our goals. But sometimes the goal is more specific or the desired results are elusive and you need a more structured, targeted eating plan. Depending on your goal there are some adjustments that can be made to your diet to yield greater results.

Fat loss

I specifically use the term fat loss rather than weight loss because that is really what people want to lose. The focus here is not on “scale weight” but on body composition change. Decreasing your body fat percentage will make you smaller and more toned but may not have a big impact on the scale weight. If you do see large drops in the scale weight from week to week, more than 2 pounds, then it’s more likely that you are losing water weight or worse, muscle and even bone tissue. A smaller weight loss each week, half a pound to a pound, is a healthier rate of loss and you can be more sure that it is fat that you are losing.

Keep in mind though that sometimes the scale weight won’t change at all even when fat loss is happening, so if you are trying to lose fat make sure you use other ways to track your progress as well. Use a body fat scale, keep track of measurements, take progress photos and pay attention to how your clothes fit.

Diet focus – Contrary to popular belief, fat loss is not simply about calories in versus calories out. Recent studies are suggesting that what you eat is more important, although overall amount of food does still count. Some strategies to try adding to your clean eating lifestyle:

cheat1) Cutting back on your “cheat meals”. If you are having two a week, cut back to one. If you are having one a week, cut back to one every other week.

2) Front loading your carbs. Eat all of your carbohydrates early in the day, within your first 3 or 4 meals. If you train later in the day you can have some carbs after your workout, but try to eliminate them from your late afternoon snack and evening meal.

3) Increase your protein intake. This will enable your body to maintain muscle mass while you are losing body fat. This can easily be achieved by replacing one serving of carbs with a serving of protein.

Muscle gain

In order for your body to build new muscle it needs two things; the stimulus and the material. Weight training is the stimulus for change and growth within the muscle and the food you eat supplies the excess calories which are the building materials for new muscle. If you do one without the other you won’t see results. You need both in the right amount. Many people have no trouble getting the weight training in but don’t see the results they want because they just aren’t eating enough of the right foods, or eating enough in general! Keep in mind that when you are trying to build muscle it is not possible to add new muscle tissue without also gaining a little bit of body fat.

John-Barban-Before-and-After-picDiet focus – The process of “bulking” or putting on muscle mass is often associated with body builders putting on a lot of weight (and fat) while they build muscle and then losing the body fat after the desired muscle has been gained. To a certain extent this works, but it’s not as excuse to binge in the name of gaining muscle. The bottom line is if you want to add extra tissue to your body you need excess calories. These extra calories should come from the same healthy foods that you are already eating, just in larger portions or in more meals throughout the day. And, although you do need a lot of protein, you need even more carbs! Carbohydrate facilitates the uptake of protein into the muscles and as such should be consumed with protein when you are trying to increase muscle mass. Some strategies to try adding to your clean eating lifestyle:

1) Increase portion sizes. Have an extra ¼ cup of oatmeal in the morning. Add an extra half a chicken breast to your lunch. Increase portion sizes with your sweet potato and brown rice. Keep track of what you increase and only increase by a small amount and give it a couple of weeks to work. Then bump it up more if you need to. This will help you determine just how much you need to eat to gain muscle but not gain too much body fat.

2) Consume protein and fats before bed. A slow digesting protein like Casein or a dairy product with a healthy fat like peanut butter can be a good night time snack. The healthy fat will help slow the digestion of the protein making it available for muscle repair while you are sleeping.

3) Add meals and eat more frequently throughout the day. If you find that you just can’t seem to eat enough and are feeling uncomfortably full all the time you may need to eat more often rather than increasing meal size. If you eat 6 meals spaced 3 hours apart you may need to try eating 8 meals spaced 2 hours apart. If you are training properly eventually your body will adapt and start to use the excess calories and you won’t feel so full all the time. But in the beginning you may not always be hungry when you need to eat!

Athletic performance

-666674_ORIGINALIf your goal is to run a marathon, improve your soccer game, or some other performance based goal proper nutrition is key. Many people use training for a marathon as a way to lose weight, but the nutrition for each of these goals is actually opposite. Eating for athletic performance requires a higher amount of food to properly fuel your training and the goal is to get your body to be as efficient as possible in order to allow you to run for a long distance. Fat is the primary fuel source for long distance training so if you are training your body to be an endurance athlete then you are training it to use fat as a fuel source, which actually isn’t as good as it sounds. Since fat is the preferred fuel source for endurance running your body wants to keep it around and it will upregulate the receptors responsible for fat storage. This makes it much harder for you to lose that fat as your body is working against you.

When you are trying to lose fat the style of training is different. You want to try to be as inefficient as possible to make your body burn maximum calories. This is why HIIT (high intensity interval training) is so effective for fat loss. Bursts of high intensity activity use up the stored carbohydrate within the muscle known as glycogen. In response to this style of training, your body will upregulate the receptors responsible for glycogen storage. This is a good thing as it allows the body to burn off excess body fat through exercise and proper nutrition.

So if you want to improve your athletic performance make sure you eat accordingly and don’t expect to also be able to accomplish another goal at the same time.

Diet focus – In the case of improved athletic performance we want our bodies to be well nourished. The focus is on eating to support training and recovery from training. Your diet will vary in accordance with your specific athletic pursuit but some strategies to help are:

athletes1) Pay close attention to how you feel during your training. Are you energized? Or are you feeling tired and sore? If you didn’t adequately refuel after your last training session then your body simply won’t have the “fuel in the tank” required to perform. Make a note of this and be sure to eat more after the next session and then again note how you feel.

2) Eat carbs. Carbs are an important energy source for athletes and should be eaten all throughout the day, especially before and after training.

3) Nutrient timing. Eat your pre workout meal 1 to 1.5 hours before you workout. The idea is to allow your body adequate time to digest the meal so the energy is available and your stomach is empty. Then eat your post workout meal within 45 minutes following your training. This is when the muscles are most ready and able to use the nutrients you are feeding them.

Whatever your goal, if you are carefully tracking what you eat like we talked about in my last article, incorporating these strategies can be a simple way to tailor your diet to your goals.

Happy Lifting!

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6 comments for “Fit Food: Eating For Your Goals

  1. Peter S
    March 31, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I think I need to get my unplanned cheat meals down a little. Its those after work get togethers that do me in.

    • April 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Peter! The fact that you can pinpoint a problem area is good, now you just need to brainstorm solutions! Can you bring food with you? Can you order healthier? The get togethers are about spending time with friends and colleagues anyways, and you don’t want to have to avoid them just so you can stick to your goals. People may tease you at first if they aren’t used to it, but real friends will support you in your goals. If you really want it you will find a way!

  2. March 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I agree with Matt, very good stuff Dara! I can also speak from experience that when trying to gain muscle eating enough is so important. For years I lifted with no results and never realizing why.

  3. March 30, 2013 at 5:58 am

    This article pretty much tells it all Dara. It’s a really well researched and really well written piece. Awesome!

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