6 Simple Steps to A Lean, Mean You!
Ever feel like you spend hours in the gym, day after day, week after week, only to see minimal gains toward your goal of either losing weight, packing on muscle, or decreasing body fat? Training is hard work and stresses the central nervous system of our bodies every time we partake in the activity. This means it can be tough to keep up the motivation to hit those 6 AM workouts everyday if you aren’t able to realize the results of that hard work. This is where a nutrition plan will pay huge dividends and keep you motivated to reach your individual goals.
How you look is largely influenced by what you eat. Lack of muscle mass, high body fat, lack of energy at work or at the gym are all symptoms of a poorly planned and executed nutrition plan. Since there’s a lot of confusion about what to eat and why, here are 6 simple steps that will help you build muscle, lose fat & get stronger.
Let’s start early in the morning – Eat Breakfast
It’s not referred to as the most important meal of the day for nothing. Breakfast provides energy for the day, helps your body recover and restore from the night’s sleep, and gets your mind started on thinking about healthy food for the day. I like to keep it simple and stick with the tried and true egg. One large egg will provide 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fat packed with nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, B, choline, folic acid, biotin, and minerals such as iron and calcium. Talk about a nutrient dense powerhouse! Try 1 whole egg and 2-4 egg whites with a side of steaming rolled oats.
How often? How about every 2-4 hours. For weight gain stick to the 2 hour rule and weight loss stick to 3-4 hours. This can be accomplished by writing out a weekly food menu for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy, simply state what you plan on having for breakfast, lunch, dinner, pre workout, post workout, and snacks. Now, some of your pre and post workout meals can be in the place of a snack or even one of the big three (breakfast, lunch, dinner) but the idea is to have a plan and be able to execute that plan! Need help with that plan? Check out these past articles on pre/post workout fueling and meal preparation!
Eat Protein with Each Meal
Protein is the building block of muscle. It helps control blood sugar levels, assist with fat loss due to its high thermic effect (body uses energy to digest this nutrient), and keeps you feeling full longer than its cousin the carbohydrate.
When I say every meal, I mean every opportunity you have to put food into your body. This includes a pre-workout snack before you hit the gym. I recommend consuming protein 30-60 minutes before a workout to help stabilize your blood sugar levels to prevent any chance of a crash. How much protein? I recommend anywhere between 5-15 grams depending on the level of activity. For those looking to increase muscle strength and size I would shoot for the higher end, which can be accomplished with 2 oz. of meat (any kind), half a protein bar, or 6 oz. (1/2 cup) of Greek Yogurt.
After training, I recommend 20-35 grams to help repair those muscle tissues from the workout so you’re ready for the next training session. Here is great list of options to help you get protein at each meal.
- Red Meat. Beef, pork, lamb, deer, buffalo
- Chicken, turkey, duck
- Tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel
- Don’t believe the cholesterol myths. Eat the yolk.
- Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt
- Not necessary but great for easy post workout shakes.
Eat Fruits & Veggies with Each Meal
Most of them are low calorie (non-starchy variety) and they are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber which helps aid in digestion. The antioxidants associated with fruits and vegetables help to rid your body of inflammation which is a side effect of working hard in the gym. Some of my favorite fruits and vegetables are: apples, berries, pineapple, oranges, bananas, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, pumpkin (for smoothies), beans, bok choy, romaine lettuce, carrots, onions, bell peppers, green beans, and asparagus.
Watch Those Carbs
While you need carbs for energy, most people eat more than they need. Limit your carb intake to breakfast and pre/post workout only.
- Stick to the healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables with each meal
- They contain fiber, which takes longer to pass through your system and helps you to feel fuller longer and lose more body fat!
- Post Workout Only
- This is rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, quinoa, oats, etc. Avoid white carbs and eat whole grain for the added benefits of fiber and B vitamins, which are necessary to help you utilize those carbs as energy.
- Here is an exception, if you’re a skinny guy or gal who wants to gain weight
- Eat carbs with every meal!
The Good Fat
Focus on those polyunsaturated and monounsaturated sources of fat and less on the trans fats. How do you tell which are which? Check the ingredient lists on the packages, if you notice the term “partially hydrogenated” oil, then the product has trans-fat and you should avoid that item as it will only get in the way of you achieving your healthy lifestyle goals. Stick to the following options for healthy fats:
- Olive oils
- Nuts (walnuts)
- Flax seeds (grind them up or buy them ground)
- Canola oil
Here is an example of what the following information above would look like in a typical meal plan.
- Breakfast: 1 egg and 2-4 whites scrambled with veggies, and small bowl of cooked rolled oats, coffee
- Snack: mixed nuts, pear
- Lunch: tuna, romaine lettuce, reduced fat cheese, olive oil
- Pre-workout snack: cottage cheese with apple
- Post workout: whey protein shake with banana and skim milk
- Dinner: baked chicken, sautéed spinach, baby carrots
- Pre-bed snack: cottage cheese, berries, ground flax seeds, fish oil
Keep in mind that this type of plan is best for those trying to lose body fat and/or gain muscle without the fat. If you are an endurance athlete during racing season, your nutrition will look differently. And of course we have an article for that, check it out! Diet and nutrition is a very personalized thing and there really is no “one size fits all” plan. If you struggle to put all the pieces together for yourself, schedule a FREE 30 minute “No Obligation Consultation” with one of our registered dietitians! Just click on the link and follow the on screen steps. It’s that easy!