1. Focus On Whole, Nutrient Dense Foods
One of the first things that you should look at and assess anytime you are looking to lose weight, build muscle, or improve your health and fitness is your food sources. Your food plays a critical role on your mood, hormone function, and of course can assist you in getting into the right energy balance to reach your fitness goals in a more enjoyable & sustainable approach.
So it’s very important here to be honest with yourself about the daily choices you’re making. One good way to take an honest inventory is to track everything (and I mean everything) that you consume over a 3-day period (you should record what you’re eating immediately after you eat so you don’t miss anything) so that you have a complete picture of what your nutrition looks like. This can be very helpful whether you are looking to reduce body fat or build muscle. Often times lack of progress is in the details, you might do excellent all throughout the day but realize at night you’re hitting the snack bowl hard or if you’re looking to build muscle that you really aren’t eating enough to facilitate a positive energy balance to allow growth.
Once you have an honest picture of your nutritional habits, focus on eliminating items that are highly processed and swap them with food items that are minimally processed. A few simple ways to do this are:
• Look at the ingredient count on nutrition labels and opt for shorter ingredient lists
• Purchase fruits & vegetables fresh or frozen
• Opt for uncooked and minimally processed meats in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and cook them yourself
• Focus on whole grains and avoid products with enriched flours
• Incorporate rice, potatoes, flax, & oat in addition to whole grains to fuel your body
• When possible utilize grass fed beefs & free range eggs for a better omega-3 fatty acid profile
• Utilize specialty foods & snacks that have a better macronutrient picture
It’s also important to note that this same approach can be utilized when grabbing a meal on the go or at a restaurant. Focus on foods prepared a bit more simply without highly processed ingredients.
Just focusing on eating higher quality foods and cutting out the highly processed options in our nutrition can have a huge impact on our energy levels, sense of well being, and body composition goals. Most people find that when they do this they are eating more food because their new food choices are more nutrient dense and are now in the correct energy balance to lose weight just by making this simple change.
However, we still need to remember that there is more going on than just making better choices, we still need to be in the correct energy balance to achieve our fat loss & muscle building goals.
2. Balance Your Approach
To simplify the concept of weight loss or building muscle, one of the biggest factors we are looking at is energy balance. A positive energy balance means that we are consuming more food, or calories than we are expending throughout the day or in other words in a positive energy balance we gain weight, a negative energy balance means that we are consuming less food, or calories than our body needs to maintain weight, or in other words we lose weight.
So making great food choices is the first step, getting in the correct energy balance for your fitness goal is the next step. However, we want to dive a little bit deeper than just calories because we have three key macronutrients – Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats, and they all play an important role in our body.
To create a sustainable weight loss or muscle building approach, we should really focus on incorporating all three macronutrients into our nutrition plan. Here is a brief overview of each macronutrient and its function.
Protein – Termed the building block of the body and typically always looked at for its role in building muscle. However, it is a major structural component of all body tissues including hair, skin, and nails. Adequate protein intake is important for a number of reasons, but one of the most important when we’re talking about changing our body is it’s role in allowing us to maintain or build muscle.
More muscle = a faster metabolism
Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred source of energy and is stored in our muscles, brain, and liver as glycogen. One of the common mistakes often made when someone is looking to lose weight is to drastically cut carbohydrates, which will often leave you feeling… well a bit cranky! We want to get in the right energy balance to facilitate weight loss, but there is no need to go very extreme with your carbohydrate reduction because it will become unsustainable very quickly.
Fats – Fats, though often demonized by the media are essential nutrients that provide energy, insulation, and are important components of our cell membranes. And to take it a step further, the body requires two of these EFAs or essential fatty acids (omega 3s & 6s). Additionally, we have what are called fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, to break down vitamins A, D, E, & K we need adequate fat intake. Finally, fats play an important role in our hormone production and help to keep us satiated or full in a fat loss phase, which makes the process more enjoyable & sustainable.
The take Away – utilize all three of the macronutrients in your nutritional approach and aim to build your meals with one of each macronutrient.
For help with finding the correct energy balance for your fitness goals visit Nutrishop Fitch or check out this free macro calculator.
3. Don’t Drink Calories
This is one of the easiest things that you can start doing right now to reduce your calorie intake and improve your health and fitness. I do have a few caveats to this, but the idea is pretty simple and straightforward. It is VERY, VERY EASY to exceed your caloric needs or put yourself into a positive energy balance when you are drinking calories and even worse you’re most likely going to be hungry right after due to the high sugar content in these beverages.
So here are my suggestions:
• Cut out regular soda (the average can of regular soda has 40-50g of carbs from sugar)
• Avoid fruit juices (there are some good ones, but most of them are loaded with extra sugar and it’s honestly easier to just avoid them and eat fresh fruit)
• Coffee is fine by itself, but cut out all of the added sugar
• Focus on zero calorie beverages like water, seltzer water, 0 calorie water sweeteners, zevia or diet soda, sparkling water, and sweeten your coffee with stevia
My one caveat to this is utilize a quality protein powder (like the hydro pro whey isolate) as a meal replacement or shake, or blending up your own smoothie, if you have a busy schedule and need something quick, easy and delicious.
4. Be Consistent
Nothing in life is achieved without consistency, hard work and effort. Now that you have some actionable steps on how to improve your nutrition to reach your fitness goals, you need to be consistent. There is an important distinction here, you don’t need to be perfect, but you need to be consistent.
What I mean by this is you are much better off if throughout the week you are at consistency level with your nutrition to about 80-90% rather than if one day you’re 100% consistent the next day you’re at 30% consistency and then the following day you’re at 50%. We are only human, we are going to have setbacks, and daily events that are out of our control, and all kinds of other variables so it’s not about being perfect all the time. It’s aiming for that 80-90% each day, and if you can do better awesome!
And you might need to start out a level of 50% consistency and work up to that 80-90%, but having a stable level of consistency with your nutrition and training allows you to more effectively make adjustments and keep your progress from stalling. Over time, you will have completely built these new healthy habits into your life, and it will become second nature to you.