We’ve heard it all when it comes to healthy nutrition. From refuted diet fads (Atkins) to outrageous ones (hello, cayenne juice cleanse) to meal delivery subscriptions, the paleo diet, whole30, and every other diet trend out there.
So what’s a guy or gal gotta do when they want to up their health and fitness game and stick to something that’s good for the body, mind and soul? Here are some basic principles of healthy nutrition.
Healthy Nutrition is Not a Diet, it’s a Lifestyle Choice
To achieve the level of fitness that you desire and a healthy lifestyle in general, you need to see your food intake and physical activity as a lifestyle. As important as it is to sleep and eat, so it’s to do it in a healthy way. See eating clean and exercising as a must do and aim to make it part of your daily routine.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Measuring and understanding where you are now in terms of caloric intake, sources, and expenditure is important to building a strategy for where you want to be. Spend the next 2-3 weeks tracking what you eat and drink using a Food Journal and then sit down and analyze your results. If you don’t do the whole paper and pen thing, there are free apps like MyFitnessPal that have extensive food databases and help you record daily intake.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
While the number of calories you eat and burn are important, so are the sources of those calories.
If you own a Ferrari, you wouldn’t elect to put in Regular Unleaded Gasoline, you’d spring for the Premium because it’s high performance vehicle, right? Why not take the same approach to the type of fuel you put into your high performance body?
Protein is composed of amino acids, essential building blocks for muscle recovery and generation. If you want to burn fat, gain muscle, AND recover effectively eat enough protein to support your athletic activity. In reality, it should be a main component of every meal. Think eggs, beef, pork, fish, nuts, legumes, quinoa, and most dairy products.
Don’t be afraid of fat. Fat is a very misunderstood and necessary component to your diet (just stay away from processed and overly saturated sources). Fat is super critical to your body and should makeup a good portion of your daily caloric intake. We use fat as a source of energy, to store energy, to run bodily processes, within our cell membranes, and to ensure proper nerve and brain function. Opt for good sources of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like avocadoes, olive oil, nuts, and almond butter (think omega-3 and -6). Some people may also elect to include healthy saturated fat sources like full fat milk, coconut milk, and fatty cuts of meat.
Carbohydrates give our bodies the most readily available form of energy, glucose (sugar). While they are essential to healthy nutrition, they are often either neglected or eaten in copious amounts. Unless you’re a marathon runner or another kind of cardio intensive athlete, rethink your carbohydrate intake. Vegetables and fruits are great sources of quality carbohydrates – also opt for more complex carbohydrates like grains, legumes, and quinoa. Choose to avoid processed and/or refined carbohydrates that could result in the consumption of “empty calories” and blood sugar spikes coupled with subsequent energy crashes.
Putting it All Together
Unless you want to devote a substantial amount of time to understand metabolic processes and food breakdown vs. calorie burning activity, we suggest sitting down with a nutritionist or health expert in order to understand your diet needs.
While we wouldn’t say we subscribe to any one diet or meal plan (a healthy diet is a diverse one!) we recognize that everyone needs to start somewhere. Some people may do better than others at calorie restrictive diets, while others may need less structure and more basic guidance overall. The Macros Diet (IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros) is a less restrictive approach to eating that focuses on the three most important energy sources (macronutrients) essential to proper bodily function (see above). After calculating your daily caloric needs, you split those calories into percentage breakdowns according to macronutrients. Many IIFYM proponents advocate the 40% carbs, 40% protein, 20% fat ratio breakdown to achieve effective muscle growth, fat burning, and consistent energy levels.
Don’t Be Afraid of Failure
Every body is different. What works for your body may not necessarily work for your teammates body. The same goes for dieting and meal planning. Change takes time and a lot of determination to see results. The main principle to healthy nutrition and fitness is don’t give up.