Often the most daunting part of getting and staying in shape is managing your diet. Time and time again, clients ask me what they should eat — and when to eat it! — and puzzle over how they can eat to stay lean and still have energy for an active lifestyle.
There’s good news! Devising a sound nutritional plan is not so difficult if you keep a few basic principles in mind. Here are my five rules of performance nutrition. These apply to everyone, whether you’re young or old, sedentary or active, in or out of shape.
- Eat More Often, But Eat Less. Always eat at least four or five times a day. Instead of two or three monster meals late in the day, eat smaller meals or snacks every two or three hours. It’ll stabilize your blood-sugar and insulin levels, and you’ll have more energy all day long. Your muscles will get a steady supply of protein to support growth, and instead of being stored, body fat will be mobilized as an energy source.
- Measure Calories 1-2-3. As you plan daily meals, strive for a caloric ratio of one part fats, two parts protein, and three parts carbohydrates. Fats are not the enemy! Your body needs them for insulation and for producing critical hormones. Just make sure to favor unsaturated fats, such as canola and olive oil, and keep your consumption of saturated fats (animal fats) low. Carbs are your friends! You need these for energy. And high-quality protein from poultry and fish supports muscle growth and recovery.
- Use Carbs for Fuel. Before you sit down to eat, ask yourself, “What am I going to be doing for the next three hours?” If you’re going to be taking a nap or sitting in front of the computer, eat fewer carbs (so they will not be stored as fat). If you’re planning to exercise, eat more carbohydrates to fuel your body for the work ahead.
- Eat for the Day’s Activity Level. To lose fat, you must take in fewer calories than you would need to stay at that same weight. To gain lean muscle, you need to take in more calories than you’d need to maintain your current weight. So how do you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Clearly, you need to alternate periods of positive calorie balance with periods of negative calorie balance. On sedentary days, cut back on your calories, especially carbs. Drink plenty of water, and stick with higher protein meals and snacks. On workout days, remember to eat to support your activities: Try to eat carbs early in the day and protein after workouts.
- Food Is Not Enough. It’s impossible to get all the nutrients you need to remain healthy and active from food alone — especially when you’re on a weight-loss program or heavy training regime. That is where supplements like vitamins and protein powders can help. But before trying any new products, it’s always a good idea to do some online research and consult your doctor.