Nutrition is a science and without proper medical training it is unethical (and often illegal) to prescribe meal plans and recommend the intake of nutritional supplements.
What you put into your body is more important than exercise in terms of weight management. However, exercise is a critical component of good health.
Exercise will elevate your metabolism. This occurs during and after exercise sessions. A higher baseline metabolism or BMR (basal metabolic rate - the number of calories you burn at rest) will increase your overall calorie burn.
The single most important factor for altering your physique is the energy balance equation (calories consumed compared to calories burned).
Hydration is critical. Be proactive in hydrating. Consume an appropriate amount of fluids before, during, and after training sessions.
Athletes have different nutritional needs than the average sedentary individual.
The type of food you eat alters your metabolism. In other words, it takes energy to burn food. Eating the right kinds of food can increase your metabolism.
Your meal planning and total caloric intake should vary with your lifestyle and training habits.
You need the appropriate macro- (carbs, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet at the right times if you want to maximize the results you see from your exercise sessions.
NUTRITION IS A MEDICAL FIELD
One of your friends, acquaintances, or even personal trainer has likely given you some nutritional advice at some point in your life. Heck, maybe you read an article in a popular magazine stating what foods you should be eating and you promptly went to the store and purchased all the recommended items on that plan. Whatever the case is, you should be very careful listening to others about meal planning unless they have the proper medical training. Medical Doctors (MD) and Registered Dietitians (RD) are the only ones who can legally and ethically place you on a meal plan. Outside of those professionals you should take nutritional advice from others with a grain of salt. Before you buy into someone else’s program (free or paid) check out the websites ChooseMyPlate.gov or Heart.org. They have great resources for building a healthy meal plan. If you believe you need more calories or an altered intake of nutrients, go to an MD or RD. It will pay off in the end.
That all being said, the following information is not an opinion, just science. Check with an RD or MD before incorporating any of these ideas into your own life.
NUTRITION > EXERCISE - THE ENERGY BALANCE
You may have heard that if you want to lose weight or alter your physique then you need to work out. Although this is only part of the equation, it is in fact a legitimate statement. Research has shown that a person’s caloric expenditures can be elevated for up to 72 hours following a strength training session (Westcott et al., 2013). Though it is true that exercise is of the utmost importance, nutrition is likely even more important. Food is responsible for giving our bodies the energy it requires to function and the fuel our cells need to do their thing. Too little of it and we are at risk of malnourishment. Too much of it and we face poor body composition and physical disease. This balance is referred to as the energy balance equation (Antonio, 2008). Athlete’s needs are even more specific depending on where they are in their respective seasons. A common recommendation for athletes engaged in strength training is as follows: 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight (3-5 grams per lb), 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (1g per lb), and 20% to 35% of total caloric intake as fat (Evolution Nutrition, 2015).
Hydration is also an important factor for anyone taking part in an exercise program. Although thirst is a great way for your body to tell you it needs water, waiting to feel thirsty may be waiting too long. Excessive sweating means a loss of water from the body. You should be consuming water before, during, and after any exercise bout. How much water? That depends. Orrù et al. (2018) gives us 3 methods for monitoring hydration in one’s everyday life: (1) change in body mass, (2) urine analysis, and (3) thirst sensation. If you are sweating a lot monitor how much weight you’re losing. You should drink 16 oz. of water for every pound you lost during a workout. Make sure your urine stays a light yellow, teetering on clear. If your urine starts to look more like apple juice, you are dehydrated. As I mentioned before, thirst is an easy trustworthy way to monitor hydration status but your body's thirst mechanism kicks in after dehydration begins. It’s not too late to hydrate at that point so drink up. All in all, the best way to stay hydrated is to keep water or a sports drink on hand during your workouts. Drink something before, after, and during your workouts. The more you sweat, the more you should drink. Check out this article from the Korey Stringer Institute for a more thorough scientific explanation of hydration needs.
THERMIC EFFECT OF FOOD
If you find yourself looking into altering your macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) intake it may be wise to take a good look at the thermic effect of food (energy required to digest and store macronutrients) (Smith-Ryan and Antonio, 2013). Our bodies can easily digest carbohydrates and fats but proteins are different. To digest and store 1-2 days worth of protein (roughly 1000 calories), our bodies can burn up to 350 calories. At this rate, in just a few short weeks, the body would burn the equivalent of 1 pound of bodyweight simply digesting protein. If your goal is to truly count every calorie, understanding this is really important. In accordance with Antonio (2008), the thermic effect of food also explains why, replacing calories from carbs with calories from protein improves body composition. You must factor in dietary thermogenesis to maintain the proper energy balance equation in your life.
6 SMALL MEALS or 3 LARGE MEALS?
There is another popularly purported nutritional guideline referencing the number of meals one should consume in a day that is inadequately supported with research. Antonio et al. (2008), tell us that the data supporting 6 or more meals a day as a means of improving body composition is insufficient. Though this information may be surprising to you, you should remember that there is much more at play with this guideline. Although the evidence for it may be lacking, it may work for some people while is doesn’t necessarily help others. A part of the reason for the abundance of support for this “small but frequent” meal theory is that many people see good results while practicing it. Some experts believe this is mainly due to the fact that those who take part in this style of eating tend to take in less calories (Antonio, 2008). So according to this, it is not the frequency at which you eat, but rather the overall caloric intake that makes a difference. Confused? Don’t be. This is just further evidence that nutrition is about
The timing of general energy intake may not necessarily effect body composition but when taking into consideration recovery from exercise, there are some factors to consider. Nutrient timing is important for anyone engaged in physical training. Although Aragon and Schoenfeld (2013) question the existence of an “anabolic window” (a theoretical window of time after a workout when the body is prime for recovery) they do believe that the right nutrients need to be present in the body at the appropriate time for optimal recovery from an activity. In other words, they do not doubt this time frame exist but rather think that the nutritional demands of such a window can be met by the proper consumption of nutrients prior to or during a workout (Aragon and Schoenfeld (2013). The basic idea here is that you don’t workout after fasting for several hours or consume a fat laden meal right before hitting the weight room. The timing of nutrient intake and the type of nutrients consumed will determine the level of adaptations that occur after a bout of training (Ivy and Ferguson, 2014). It is also important to remember that it is not just about macronutrients and calories either. Munteanu, Manuc, Caramoci, Vasilescu, and Ionescu (2014) recommend that a specific blend of the antioxidants vitamins C and E be added to a 3:1 CARBOHYDRATE:PROTEIN mix (3 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein) for proper recovery.
Nutrition is and always will be very individualized. Everyone will need to ensure that they consume adequate amounts of macronutrients in the proper ratios, at the right times throughout their day. Using the general guidelines set forth in research is an excellent way to get started on one’s journey to optimum nutrition and performance. Get the right professionals in your corner and find out what works best for you. Your friend’s diet is likely not the answer to your problems and if it is, it will likely need modified to fit your body chemistry and lifestyle.
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