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Let me tell you a little story…
I have a very close friend who began exercising a few years back. He lost a lot of weight, and added a decent amount of lean tissue to his frame in the process. He decided that he wanted to compete in his first bodybuilding show. He got a coach. And so began the process…
Now, typically, when one decides they’re going to compete in a bodybuilding show, there are a series of steps one must take in order to become “show ready.” Some of these steps involve carefully, and methodically creating a meal plan that will ensure the competitor gets as lean as they possibly can (extremely low body fat %) while hanging on to as much muscle as they possibly can in the process.
The meal plan is a major factor when competing and it can differ in length depending on how lean the person is before they start dieting for the show. These diets can last anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks. My friend and his coach set in motion a diet plan that would last for 20 weeks.
Traditionally, bodybuilders would undergo a diet that consisted of 6 – 7 small meals throughout the day in order to “keep the metabolism working as efficiently as possible.” Luckily, we now know that there is no evidence to support the idea that nutrient timing or meal frequency enhances metabolic efficiency. It doesn’t matter if you eat 7 small meals a day, or 2 giant ones. It’s a matter of personal preference. Your body will use the food either way.
Regardless of this fact, my friend was still adhering to the traditional style of dieting down for a show, and this meant that he would eat 6 – 7 small meals every day, with an occasional “cheat meal” thrown in. He would literally wake up at 3:30AM (on the dot) to have his first meal. Talk about dedication.
20 grueling weeks later, he was the leanest he had ever been. He was ready. He looked somewhat emaciated, but he was as show ready as he was going to be. He competed in the show, and ultimately proved to himself that he could do it. I was really proud of him.
That night, after the show, he ate Mexican food until he was sick.
3 weeks later, he had gained 20 pounds. Soon after that, an additional 10 – 15.
I had listened to other competitors discuss the rebound effects associated with competing in bodybuilding shows. The mass amounts of weight gained once they started eating normal food again. Once the diet had stopped, it was time to eat like mad. No holds barred. Anything goes. Most people found themselves eating tons of junk, because they had spent months depriving themselves of it.
I thought to myself, “Wow, is this the only way to get in the best shape of your life?”
“Was I going to have starve myself for 20 weeks, only to gain it all back (and then some) a few weeks later?”
“Is there no way to stay lean all year round in a healthy sustainable way?”
I started doing some independent research, and that’s when I discovered the idea of counting macronutrients. Once I started implementing the practice of counting all of my macronutrients, and “flexibly dieting,” I knew that I had a system of eating that was sustainable for the long haul.
A meal plan for life. A meal plan for a busy life.
Meal planning for health, and vitality.
Mindful eating with purpose and intent.
We all need a meal plan that is going to help us look our best, and feel our best.
The best part – you don’t have to deprive yourself of the occasional “not-so-clean” food you love. You can fit it in and not gain a ton of weight. You don’t have to feel shame or guilt because you want to eat a bowl of ice cream once in a while. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Life is meant to be enjoyed.
I’ll explain how…
Don’t count calories – Count macronutrients
When thinking about losing weight, the old adage “calories in VS calories out” is a little misleading.
It’s a common phrase that most of us have heard before. Unfortunately it doesn’t explain how to truly lose weight safely, and effectively. If we just attempt to eat fewer calories then we burn, without understanding the basic concept of tracking macronutrients, we’re destined to gain back any weight we might lose.
Yes, it’s true… If you eat fewer calories than your body “burns” daily, over time you will lose weight. But you will lose a lot of muscle in the process (this is BAD). You might lose very little body fat in the process (this is also very BAD).
We all have a baseline of calories we can consume that will prevent us from either gaining weight, or losing weight.
When we eat fewer calories than our baseline – we lose weight. Easy enough.
When we eat more calories than our daily baseline allows – we gain weight.
But a calorie isn’t just a calorie. There are different types.
What are macronutrients? Macronutrients can be defined as a type of food (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) required in large amounts in the human diet.
Everything we eat contains macronutrients.
The word “macro” means large, and the body needs these nutrients in large quantities for energy, growth, tissue repair, immune function, metabolism and other essential functions in the body.
Types of macronutrients:
Protein consumption is extremely important. You must consume enough in order to adequately build and repair lean muscle tissue. Protein facilitates a fat-burning metabolism. Having enough protein in your diet can reduce feelings of hunger pangs throughout the day. It also slows down the release of carbohydrates into your bloodstream. This process prevents spikes in blood sugar that are thought to increase fat storage, and deplete you of energy. It is worth noting that protein will not energize you in the same way that carbohydrates and fats will.
Consuming enough protein daily is why we have the ability to acquire and sustain lean muscle mass. If you are not consuming an adequate amount of protein, your body will not produce nor sustain enough lean tissue to ensure a healthy metabolism.
Carbohydrates are your most important source of energy, as they provide your body with glucose. Carbohydrates also play a role in the functioning of the immune system, blood clotting, human development and fertilization. They are critical for anyone participating in a strength and resistance routine. Carbohydrates come in a variety of forms – the most common being fibers, starches and sugars.
An excessive consumption of unhealthy carbohydrates, such as refined carbohydrates like corn syrup or sugar, can cause obesity, type II diabetes, and cancer. Throughout the years, there have been many “low-carb” diets that promote dramatically reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Some have gone as far as promoting the idea that you need to cut out carbohydrates completely.
This is not something I would recommend.
Carbohydrates are going to provide your body the necessary energy to exercise efficiently – cut out the carbs, say goodbye to all your energy. You’ll feel slow, weak, and fatigued.
Of course there are exceptions to this. Everyone is different. There are some people who can function just fine on meal plans that call for higher fat content and less carbs.
Fats, like carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the years. The name “fats” has the power to elicit a negative reaction within people. We don’t want to be fat, so we assume we need to get rid of the fats in our diets.
But the truth is we need fats in our diets, just like we need an appropriate amount of protein and carbohydrates.
Dietary fats are essential. They give your body energy and they support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body to absorb nutrients and produce important hormones, too. Just like carbohydrates, there are healthy fats, and unhealthy fats. Choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), and avoid foods that provide bad fats (saturated fats, and trans fats). Keep in mind that fats have more calories per gram than proteins and carbohydrates do. There are nine calories in every gram of fat, regardless of what type of fat it is. Fats are more energy-dense than carbohydrates and proteins, which provide four calories per gram.
1 gram of protein: 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates: 4 calories
1 gram of fat: 9 calories
You can see now why a calorie isn’t just a calorie.
If you were to consume carbs exclusively, or only consume foods with high fat content, your body fat % would increase dramatically. Without a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat, your body will more than likely be soft, weak, and fragile.
It’s possible to be very thin, and have a high bodyfat %, that’s why protein is so important.
One macronutrient to rule them all, if you will.
If you get a healthy balance of protein in your diet (and you lift all the weights), your body will be firm, strong, and resilient.
In the next blog, I’ll discuss how to figure out how many macronutrients you should be consuming each day.