I recently challenged several of the athletes in my classes to a BodyStrong Challenge. Our challenge began with weigh-ins and taking body fat measurements with a caliper. The athletes promised to dedicate the next couple of months to healthier eating and exercise. My athletes started their challenge at the beginning of September. We are going to have our second round of weigh-ins and body fat measurements today. They have been doing great with the exercising. Most of them have been in 4-5 classes per week. They’ve been walking; they’ve been running. And I think they are beginning to enjoy their new routine.
But I have received lots of questions about their diet. Diet. The four-letter word that everyone hates. Exercise is actually the easy part of your fitness journey. Dieting is the hard part. Unfortunately, diet is the most important part as it accounts for approximately 80 percent of the fitness equation. There are so many obstacles trying to sabotage a healthy diet in the world today. Every time we look at the television, there is a fast-food commercial or an infomercial trying to sell the latest fat blocker. And when is the last time you saw anything grilled on a dollar menu? It is hard to be healthy in a world that constantly tries to push unhealthy down our throats.
I have tried to help my athletes improve their diet. I’ve given them some ideas and tips that I’ve used in my diet that have helped me improve my physique. I’ve also listened to them as they talk about their struggles. It seems that most of the athletes that I deal with who are having issues with their diet fall into one of these four categories.
Where’s the Beef? Or chicken. Or fish. Protein. So many of the athletes that I’ve talked to do not consume enough protein. Athletes require more protein than people who are sedentary, since protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair after workouts. As a rule of thumb, I tell my athletes to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. I am currently trying to put on some muscle size, so I’m consuming more than that. Good protein choices include chicken, lean beef, fish, egg whites, protein shakes, soy products, beans, nuts and the list goes on. There are also high protein vegan choices for my vegan buddies. The bottom line … Protein equals Muscles. Eat more protein!
The Flip Side … carbs. Carbohydrates are needed for energy. Carbs are not the enemy. Protein is needed for growth and repair of tissues (See No. 1). Very little protein is used for energy unless carbohydrate availability is limited or energy demands are extreme. When this happens, protein is detoured from its main functions and broken down for fuel. Consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates ensures that protein is used for building and repairing tissues and preventing the loss of muscle.
I have heard several of my athletes talk about “cutting out their carbs.” Reducing your carbohydrate intake will help you lose weight, just like cutting back on calories and fat. Remember that not every carb is bad, although some are less efficient than others. Go ahead and reduce your carbs, but do it in moderation. I suggest that my athletes take in around 100 grams of carbs per day and then adjust that amount once they see how their bodies react.
It also depends on what your goals are. A cyclist who is training for long, hard races needs way more carbs than a bodybuilder who is training for his next competition. Joe Athlete who is just trying to stay in decent shape would fall somewhere in between.
- Three Meals a Day? No Way! Many of us grew up eating three big meals a day … breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ditch that idea and try something different! There are benefits to eating smaller meals every 3-4 hours, and I encourage my athletes to do this. Less cheating on a diet occurs when you know you’ll have another meal within a few hours. Psychologically this makes it easier to keep your diet clean.
Some athletes are trying to gain weight and muscle size. Gaining is easier if you spread your calories over 4-5 (or more) meals per day. You often get hungry if you go without food for more than 3-4 hours. And this can make you overeat at the next meal, preventing fat loss, if that is your goal.
Smaller meals also leave you with more energy and better focus. But trying to eat 4-5 times a day requires preparing food in advance and taking it with you regardless of what is going on in your life. Buy a cooler. Buy lots of plastic containers. Plan ahead!
- Let’s Talk Serving Size! Many athletes I talk to do not weigh their food. I didn’t until recently. Wow! Weighing my food has really opened my eyes to how we oversize portions.
I’ve been trying to eat about 4 ounces of lean meat with most of my meals. There is no way I could do that accurately without my food scale. Eating every 3-4 hours makes eating these smaller portion sizes much easier, but you want to make sure your amounts are on point.
I recommend food scales to everyone I talk to. I purchased mine at Target for less than $30. It is easy to overeat and underestimate the size of your portions without a food scale. Weighing your food makes it much easier to accurately calculate your calorie, fat, carb and protein intake each day. Also, preparing foods at home ensures that your serving sizes are not getting blown out of the water.
I believe everyone can benefit from keeping a food journal. Write down everything you put in your mouth. And then do some research. Too many calories? Not enough calories? Too much fat with too little protein? It is much easier to figure out your diet downfalls when it is staring at you in black and white.
These suggestions may not apply to everyone. My body reacts differently than yours. What works for me may not work for you. You have to figure out what your body needs and what gets you the best results. Hopefully some of my ideas I’ve shared today are beneficial.
Improve your diet and become a healthier you in three easy steps:
Know what you want;
Educate yourself on what it will take to get there;
Have patience and discipline and do the work.
Michele Moulton is a certified group fitness, boot camp and Spinning instructor with more than 23 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.