“What exercises can I do to …? As fitness professional I hear these words often. It doesn’t matter if the sentence ends with, “get bigger muscles”, “firm up my butt” or “flatten my stomach”. My initial response is always the same. “Well, what are you eating? In terms of physical fitness exercise is only part of the equation. Proper nutrition is vital regardless of the specific fitness goal.
If you want to maintain energy levels, achieve or maintain optimal weight and lower risk of disease, a healthy diet is imperative. It doesn’t matter if your goal is fat loss, body shaping, mass building, improved athletic performance or just maintaining a healthy lifestyle; the following tips will help build healthy habits that will allow you to fine tune your body and feel great.
1. Eat 5 – 6 Smaller Meals a Day.
This practice will allow your body to utilize the food you eat more efficiently. More of your food will be used for providing energy, building muscle and maintaining healthy tissue, while less will be stored as fat. If your goal is weight loss, this is a great way to reduce calories without loosing energy or feeling hungry. If you are looking to gain lean muscle mass, eating more frequent meals will allow you to take in an increased number of calories without feeling stuffed. This will also insure that the vital muscle building nutrients will be available when your body needs them. Regardless of your fitness goal, eating 5 – 6 smaller meals a day will get your metabolism firing on all cylinders and give you the energy needed to reach your goals.
2. Do Not Skip Meals.
Skipping meals often leads to extreme hunger which can lead to “binge” type eating. The body can only process and utilize so much food at a time. It doesn’t matter if you’re only eating one or two meals a day. If you eat too much at any given meal, much of what the body doesn’t use will be stored as fat. Here’s another important reason not to skip meals. Depriving the body of vital nutrients often leaves one feeling tired and unmotivated (a real workout killer.)
3. Eat Real Food.
Our bodies are designed to metabolize food! Unfortunately the food industry has turned our bodies into chemical processing plants. Grocery store shelves are littered with food products containing non-food additives that are used to color, sweeten, stabilize, emulsify, bleach, flavor and preserve the food. The FDA lists approximately 2800 international food additives and about 3,000 chemicals, which are added to our food. Avoid foods that claim to be “enriched.” The only reason processed foods are enriched in the first place is because their process has stripped them of virtually all their vital nutrients. Stick with whole foods including a good variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
4. Read Food Labels.
To be sure you’re making good food choices, read food labels. Look at the ingredients, the main ingredients are listed first. If the first few ingredients on the label include processed sugar (i.e. high-fructose corn syrup.) or saturated fat or trans–fatty acids (coconut oil, palm kernel oil, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, vegetable shortening), you may do well to make another food choice.
5. Pay Attention to Serving Sizes.
Pay attention to serving sizes, it’s easy to over load. Weighing and measuring food is a good way to assure you are taking in the proper amount of calories and nutrients. This is especially important if you are on a weight loss or a weight gain program.
6. Eat Slowly and Chew Food Thoroughly.
Chewing food thoroughly aids in digestion, thus reducing the time it takes for vital nutrients to become available for use by your body. Eating slowly gives the stomach time it needs to tell the brain it’s full. Taking your time to eat your meal is especially helpful if you are on a reduced calorie diet. It will allow you to eat less, yet still feel satiated.
7. Keep a Food Journal.
Write down everything you eat and drink. Initially include serving sizes along with the number of calories, as well as the amount of macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates). This will make you conscious of everything you eat while you become educated on the components of a healthy diet. If you are not making satisfactory progress towards your goals, your food journal can provide valuable information needed to make necessary adjustments.