EAT ENOUGH CALORIES
A lot of people simply don’t take in enough calories to sustain muscle hypertrophy. I’m talking about good foods that contribute to cellular health and muscle rebuilding. One way to calculate your daily caloric needs is to take your weight and multiply it between the numbers 12 and 15. This is based on your energy expenditure. Let’s use a very active person in the gym for example and say he trains with weights 5 to 6 days a week and does 30 minutes of high-intensity interval cardio 4 days a week. He would want to multiply his weight by 14 or 15. If he weighs 200 pounds, he would multiply that number by 14 and get 2,800 calories. This would be the average number of calories he should aim for daily.
If that same person was trying to get shredded, he would need to cut back on his daily calories by at least 500, would take in less carbs and fat and increase his lean protein intake. If he was trying to add mass, the opposite holds true. He would increase his daily calories by at least 500, would take in slightly higher carbs and fat and maintain an array of lean proteins.
The biggest key is to approach your diet with a relaxed attitude. Don’t get bogged down too much by exact measurements of nutritional content between carbohydrate, protein and fat grams because it can be difficult to maintain. My main focus is controlling the body’s reactive insulin response to foods. This will ultimately provide the body with the capacity to either store calories as body fat or to burn them efficiently as fuel. The next key will offer more insight about dividing macronutrients for your meals and snacks.
EAT YOUR SHARE OF PROTEIN
If you want to get the most out of your workouts and gain lean muscle mass, then you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein each day. Protein is the catalyst that helps repair muscle tissue so you can create muscle hypertrophy. Let me give you my rule-of-thumb when it comes to the 3 macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Make protein the cornerstone of each and every snack and meal. Once you do that, then you can surround the protein with a supporting cast of carbs and fat. Use this simple rule-of-thumb every time you shovel something into your pie hole and you’ll amass enough grams of total protein by the end of the day to support muscle building. You’ll also get leaner and your body will repair muscle tissue more efficiently. When carbs are mixed with protein, it helps reduce the glycemic response of the carbohydrates by slowing down the rate of absorption. Fiber and fat also contribute to this effect, but you certainly don’t want to chow a bunch of needless fat for the purpose of creating a low glycemic response. Some examples for protein snack choices include cottage cheese, yogurt, egg whites, and nuts. Some examples for protein meal choices include, chicken, fish, canned tuna, fresh roasted turkey and extra lean beef.
EAT HEALTHY FATS
With all the processed foods on the market, you’ve got to look out for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. These oils are called trans-fats and can cause elevated LDL cholesterol. This is the bad stuff that sticks to your artery walls and can gunk up your pipes leading to and from the most important muscle in your body…your heart! According to the American Heart Association, over 107 million Americans have high blood cholesterol. Whenever possible, stick with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and read package labels and make sure they say no trans fats. Oils like safflower, sunflower, sesame, corn, and soybean oils are polyunsaturated. Extra virgin live oil, canola oil, flax seeds and flax oil, nuts, cold water fish, avocado's, and soybeans are monounsaturated.
Some examples of healthful fats to add into your diet include: almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts (all without salt and raw whenever possible), avocado, flax oil and flax seeds (ground), chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, tuna in the can (low sodium & packed in water), sardines (low sodium & packed in water), and supplemental essential fatty acids. Good fats help reduce inflammation. This is something that is extremely important for us meatheads blasting our muscles in the gym. A hard training bout causes micro tears in the muscle, and as a result will cause inflammation. Healthy fats also support healthy brain function, mood, joint health, skin and hair, and especially hormone health. I usually try to get between 20% and 30% of healthy fats as my daily intake, and so should you.
EAT LESS PROCESSED FOODS & SUGARS
It has been said that the average American consumes up to 9 pounds of food additives a year. This includes artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and texturizers that are found in tons of products on grocery store shelves and in most popular mainstream protein, creatine and nitric oxide supplements. Let’s take artificial sweeteners for example and calculate what you consume in a weeks time. Multiply that by 4 and see what you’re consuming in a month. You’ll be shocked! Let’s take one of my clients Cheryl for example (not her real name). Cheryl was a Starbuck’s junky. She loved her coffee! She told me that her coffee wasn’t bad because she didn’t use any sugar, only artificial sweetener and they blended it with fat free milk. When I asked how many of those little yellow or blue packets she used in each coffee drink she said two to three depending on the size of the drink. Then I sat down with her and we did the math. Five packets of artificial sweetener per day, not including what she used in her morning oatmeal and what was laced in her food and drinks throughout the day. When I told her that she was consuming 35 packets a week, 140 per month she nearly fell over. Her first question was whether artificial sweeteners were bad for you. You see, once you put it into perspective you begin to realize how easy the numbers can pile up.
Popular foods like crackers, juices, soft drinks, box mixes, cookies, cereals, granola bars, and more have been stripped of their nutritional values. They last on grocery shelves for months, even years without spoiling. Labels read fat free, all natural, heart healthy, high fiber, fortified with daily RDA vitamins, zero trans fats and so on. It's bad enough people buy so much of this crap; what's worse, is they're buying it for their kids too. Look for labels that say no artificial sweeteners, whole grain, very low sodium, high protein, high fiber, no added colors, etc. You'll find these types of labels in the healthier sections of the grocery store, but you should still read the food label.
Sugar is another biggie. You want to hear a scary statistic...the average American consumes at least 64 pounds of sugar a year. Even more disturbing is that the average teenage male consumes at least 109 pounds of sugar in a single year. I’m not talking about adding white sugar to your foods, it’s the foods and drinks with sugar in them. Sugar causes inflammation, insulin spikes, mood swings and premature aging. That should be a good enough reason to cut simple and refined sugars from your diet.
DRINK LESS SOFT DRINKS & JUICES
Soda has an average of ten packs of sugar added to them. If you drink diet soda, they're sweetened with artificial sweeteners, which are surrounded by controversy. If you're like many of the soda drinkers I know, you probably think that you just can't give it up. The thought of being at work during that afternoon lull without a caffeine fix sounds like too much to bear. But you can do it. For health sake you've got to want to make the conscious decision to give it up. Soda also contains phosphates, which rid our bodies of essential nutrients (like calcium), and can cause hyperactivity in children.
Juices sound like a healthy alternative when you're thirsty, but check the label next time you decide to have a glass of juice. You’ll be surprised that it contains about the same amount of calories and carbs as a can of soda. When you drink the juice from a fruit (like orange or apple for example), it's been separated from the natural pulp of the fruit. Pulp contains essential fiber for our system, and fiber slows the absorption of this simple carbohydrate (sugar) into our body. Without fiber, it's just like drinking a sugary liquid that showers your system with carbohydrates. This converts to glucose, which then triggers your pancreas to pump out lots of the hormone insulin. Excess amounts of glucose go to the liver and muscles, and are stored as glycogen. If there's excess after that, it's stored as fat! This same scenario can happen with the sodas. I prefer to drink purified water or herbal tea and enjoy the full-spectrum benefits from eating a piece of fruit.
EAT ENOUGH FRUITS & VEGGIES DAILY
Fruits and vegetables contain vital phytonutrients not available in vitamins alone. By eating these colorful and textural foods on a daily basis, you reap the benefits of all the natural occurring vitamins they hold, plus the essential fiber your body needs to function properly. They can help heal the body, keep it healthy and fight the free-radicals that attack our cells. These phytonutrients battle against the effects of aging, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes to name a few. Three servings of each daily would be optimal and isn’t difficult to achieve. A serving can be a piece of fruit, or one cup of veggies.
Every year approximately 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides are used on the crops of America that make up your food supply. Because of these pesticides used in growing fruits and vegetables, I always wash my produce and buy organic whenever possible. Wax is often used to extend shelf life and to enhance the look for the consumer (it also seals in harmful pesticides). A shiny red apple might look better than one of those dull looking organic green apples, but you’re better off going for the dull flavorful apples. Wax is difficult to wash off unless you use a veggie wash (you can find at most chain grocery stores and all health food stores) which safely removes pesticides, waxes, chemicals, and soil. Using a veggie wash will also enhance the flavor of your produce.
EAT LESS SALT
As a rule of thumb, I never add any salt to anything. According to the RDA, we don't need more than 500 mg's daily. For example, a cup of spaghetti sauce contains an average of 2,000 mg’s of sodium. Once you start reading labels, you'll find a crap-load of salt in everything. Canned "anything" has enough sodium to blow you up with excess water for a month. Frozen dinners (even the healthiest ones) have just as much, if not more. Too much sodium in your diet not only causes water retention, but can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. I always opt for foods closest to their natural source, like less processed foods and fresh veggies instead of canned or frozen.
Common table salt vs. natural sea salt: Common salt, the salt used by most people in this country, is mined from inland salt deposits, heated to extremely high temperatures, and refined. Potassium iodide or sodium iodide is added to common salt to create iodized salt. Dextrose (sugar), sodium bicarbonate, and sodium silico-aluminate are often added to keep the salt white and easy to pour. Natural sea salt is obtained by the simple process of concentrating sea water under the sun. It contains more trace minerals, and no additives. Up to 5% of sea salt is composed of naturally occurring potassium, calcium, magnesium, and trace elements, which are responsible for its mild flavor and good taste. Most importantly, these naturally occurring minerals and trace elements can be readily assimilated by the body. So, if you must use salt, use natural sea salt.