This is a guest post from Stephanie Walker, a CrossFit and Health Coach who believes everyone deserves to be fitter, healthier, and happier. Stephanie is the author of The Total Health and Fitness Makeover, and is passionate about helping others transform their lives through fitness and good foods--just as she did her own! You can follow Steph on Instagram, Facebook or Strongfigure.com.
One of the most important discoveries about food and body composition might not be “what” you eat, but “when” you eat certain foods.
The rules are actually really simple. If you lift weights, you should eat like this:
Sounds simple, right? For many, it is. For others, learning about nutrition can be a complicated journey. So for clarification purposes, it’s imperative to know the difference between proteins, fats, and carbs.
Everyone needs three macronutrients in order to survive: Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates.
Lifters understand that they need protein. Protein builds the muscles. Protein aids in muscle recovery. Protein is life, right? But protein isn’t just for building mass. Protein increases one’s Basal Metabolic Rate, regulates blood sugar, increases cardiovascular
health, aids in appetite satiety, increases energy, and decreases the weight-cycling effect.
There are three types of protein:
Animal proteins (meat, eggs, fish)
Plant proteins (beans, lentils)
Supplements (protein powders)
Fat protects your vital organs, provides energy to your body, fights inflammation, promotes heart health and really helps keeps you feeling full and satiated. Most fats--the naturally occurring ones such as saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated--are actually pretty good for you.
So what is bad?
Food processing has created trans-fats. In an effort to make food last longer and feel softer in your mouth, food processors take regular unsaturated fats and hydrogenate them. This is so bad that many health organizations refer to trans-fats as a contaminant byproduct of food processing. Trans-fats are edible but they have been linked to cardiovascular disease and obesity. Trans-fats are so bad that there are laws limiting them or banning them in other countries.
Have you heard saturated fats are bad?
The dogma that fat, particularly saturated fat, is bad for you is likely the reason heart disease and obesity have both skyrocketed in the last 30-40 years. If you are wondering whether a fat is good or bad, simply ask yourself this: does this fat occur naturally? If the answer is yes, then by all means eat it. If the answer is no, then treat it like poison—it is.
Think about it this way: early humans evolved from eating fats, particularly animal fats. The hunter-gatherer diet would have consisted of large amounts of fatty tissue. We were evolved to eat this stuff.
Simply, you can eat fat. Just avoid anything with TRANS-FATS listed on the nutrition label.
The body uses carbohydrates for fuel. They are very important and are essential for athletic performance.
You can find carbs in the following food types:
There are two main types of carbohydrates.
All carbs break down into simple sugars once you eat them. It’s just that simple carbs get broken down much faster and you feel hungry a lot sooner than if you ate complex carbs which contain fiber and keep you fuller, longer. And some scientists have even been studying whether or not the high consumption of simple carbohydrates in the American diet is leading to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. This is often why you hear carbs referred to as “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”
Many athletes, women especially, still shy away from carbs in the quest to become (or stay) lean. But the body needs carbs for fuel, performance, recovery, and energy! Eat your carbs--and eat the bulk of them around (and for) your training!
Low carbohydrate diets are effective for greater weight loss in the short term, but long-term there’s basically no difference. James Barnum
So how do you know what you’re eating qualifies as a carb, a fat, or a protein?
The easiest way to figure out what you’re eating is to read the label.
Whatever the larger number on the label between the three macronutrients, that’s the winner. If you’re reading the label on the peanut butter jar, peanut butter is a FAT because there are about 16 grams of fat per serving and only about 7 grams of protein and roughly 4 grams of carbs.
If you have no label (you bought some asparagus at the farmer’s market) know that all veggies are a carb source—a great carb source at that. Most cheeses, nuts, and nut butters are a fat. Meats and most non-cheese dairy are protein sources. If you have no idea, you can always use Google or My Fitness Pal’s database to figure out if your food choice is a protein or a fat if it doesn’t come with a label. If you’re eating chili cheese fries somewhere, know that’s a carb and a fat, and not necessarily your best source of nutrition.
Back to this Nutritional Timing Thing. When to eat what?
Is this frightening?
If simple carbs scare you then a great option is dextrose. Dextrose is a clean and natural carb which is the perfect compliment to help maximize protein absorption. By using a product like dextrose, you will maximize the muscle rebuilding effects of the protein post workout.
Post training, you can get away with the foods you didn’t think you could get away with before (Though each athlete should be cautious to not go overboard with the allowance of “fun” carbs):
“You have full permission in the post-training “Window of Gainz” to eat a giant carbohydrate rich meal. Whatever you want, minus the fat at this particular meal. People pass up on this opportunity all the time, which is incredibly silly. Especially if you’re looking to gain strength and size.” -Chris
If these options sound scary to you, opt for the healthier carbs:
Don’t eat “fat” up to two hours after training. Fat slows down the absorption of protein into your muscles. The carbs are the protein transporters while fat slows down the cargo. Who would want to stall the gainz process?! Eating peanut butter, nuts, avocado, after a workout is practically halting the recovery process. These do nothing for muscle repair; fats only slow down the insulin response. This is one reason why fats in the morning are a great idea (if you’re not training in the morning). Insulin tells our cells to store energy in one of two ways, either as glycogen or fat. And if there is no muscle repairing necessary, insulin stores energy as extra fat cells. So when you wake up in the morning after a long fast, don’t spike your insulin with carbs. Eat fat and protein. Only after a heavy lifting session should you cash in on the good side of the insulin hormone.
Learning about nutrition is complicated; it seems as if everyone has an opinion and the science is changing every day. But once you start to fully understand what your body needs and when it needs it, the rest becomes pretty easy. The limiting factor here is that you have to know your body, and if you don’t, you may need to take some time to experiment to see what works best for you. Some people respond much better to a banana or sweet potato after a workout than they do a bowl of cereal or their favorite pastry. But a lot of people will make huge gains both in the gym and with fat loss from that same pastry. So take some time to experiment and get to know yourself. By keeping these basic principles in mind with the knowledge you have about nutrition timing, you can’t help but win.