Everyday I observe people working hard to reach their fitness goals. However, most people do not have a clue as to how to go about doing so successfully, although they may think otherwise. Some people drink diet soda (and other “diet” products) and high protein shakes. Others take random multivitamins, drink Gatorade and only do “cardio” on a machine while totally avoiding resistance training. When I ask new clients many of them assure me they either eat healthy or that they have a good idea of what healthy eating is. When I ask them to tell me what they consider to be healthy eating, I immediately realize that about 98% of them have been tricked by the food industry or other pseudo scientific (so called) “holistic” health practitioners. This also holds true for what I observe people doing in the gym and outside in the park. If you have a specific fitness goal, no matter if it is one of aesthetics, health, performance or all of the above, your plan determines everything. What you eat and when, should coincide with your training program and both need to be carefully tailored to meet your goals. If one blindly works out and simply continues to do random exercises with no rhyme or reason behind it they find themselves incredibly frustrated and unmotivated by their lack of progress and achievement.
Muscle cells are very efficient at burning calories and fat. Fat cells are storage cells that specialize in storing fat, toxins and fat soluble vitamins. Thus, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn, which means your metabolism is sped up by an increase in muscle. The more muscle cells (lean body mass) one has the higher their caloric need. If you do not consume enough calories to maintain your muscle it will start metabolizing itself for nutrients and energy. Losing muscle through starvation and/or lack of calories will decrease your metabolism. You want to lose fat, not muscle. Strength training is the most effective way to burn excess body fat and build lean body mass.
Macro-nutrients are composed of carbohydrates, protein, fat and water. Micro-nutrients are composed of vitamins and minerals. Our brains use carbohydrates in the form of glucose as its main source of fuel. Carbohydrates are also stored in the muscle as glycogen, and are utilized during strenuous exercise of any sort. Our bodies and brain use carbohydrates as its main source of fuel. Therefore, eating a low carbohydrate diet will result in decreased mental and physical performance. Generally speaking, carbohydrates should make up at least 55% of all calories consumed each day. The exact amount of carbohydrates required on a daily basis can vary up to about 65% depending on their personal profile and activity level. The type of carbohydrate eaten is also critical to this equation. Humans should get most of their carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables and not wheat. Eating too much grain (especially wheat) can result in increased body fat storage and/or a less developed body. Wheat and gluten sensitivity have been recently linked to several autoimmune diseases, joint and bone problems. Wheat is fed to commercially raised animals to fatten them up and it also makes them sick. The fiber in the fruits and vegetables prevent our blood sugar levels from rising too quickly. When there are more carbohydrates circulating in the blood than is needed at that particular time it goes directly into fat storage metabolism. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to avoid over consuming simple carbohydrates (such as high fructose corn syrup, juices from concentrate, pasta, sugar, white bread, white rice). If you do consume simple carbohydrates the best time to consume them is before and after workouts. You need carbohydrates before your workout because it fuels your muscles and metabolism thus resulting in increased strength and stamina. The more intense your workout, the higher your need for carbohydrates. Once your blood sugar is depleted your body then taps into your muscle glycogen stores (storage form of carbohydrates). In order to recover adequately from workouts your muscle glycogen must be restored or you will not have adequate fuel to get through your next workout. Carbohydrates are also necessary for the muscles to uptake protein.
When one engages in strength/resistance training (which includes, weight lifting, plyometrics & sprints) the muscle is torn apart. Muscle soreness & tightness is a result of ripped muscle fibers. If there is adequate protein present around the time of the muscle damage the muscle will build back stronger and bigger than it was before, that is the purpose of strength training.
The muscle must be supplied with appropriate amounts of high quality protein before and after strength training. Animal protein is the best for muscle building due to the abundance of branch chained amino acids. Branch chained amino acids are the best at increasing lean body mass and increasing post workout recovery. Most protein supplements are high in Whey Protein which can be found in milk. I recommend raw, grass fed (goat, cow, sheep or buffalo) milk from a local source. Whey protein is the best for muscle building and recovery. Biological studies show that our muscles uptake the protein in egg yolks better than any other protein. The protein in egg whites is not as bio-available as that in the egg yolk. The egg yolk is also rich in many vitamins and minerals including some of the B vitamins, Vitamin A, Iron and omega-3 fats. The cholesterol that naturally occurs in the eggs is used by the body to produce hormones (testosterone, estrogen, etc) and it is also stored in our brains. Despite what most people believe, dietary cholesterol is different than elevated cholesterol levels in the body which the body produces when there is some sort of damage in the body. The body produces HDL (High Density Lipids) and LDL (Low Density Lipid) cholesterol to repair damage. The HDL Cholesterol can be thought of as the ambulance that runs to your aid to pick you up and the LDL Cholesterol is the Ambulance once you have been dropped off. If the eggs come from chickens that are un-caged, able to graze on the grass and bath in nature’s sunlight the yolks are usually orange and not yellow. This orange color is an indication that it is high in Vitamin A. Grass fed eggs are also high in Omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are an essential fat that is vital for life and can only be obtained through food. Omega-3 fats actually help you to burn fat and decrease inflammation, which can occur after exercise.
We have about a 30 minute time frame before and after our workout to nourish our muscles with some carbohydrate and protein. You should not consume a huge meal but something small like a plain yogurt and fresh fruit, cottage cheese and fresh fruit. If you do not eat yogurt or animal foods you can try hemp protein but soy protein should be avoided for many reasons that I will not get into here.
The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight for a non-active adult. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association endurance and power/strength athletes need about 1.5-2.0g of protein per kg of body weight. Roughly 65% of the protein consumed should be of high quality (eggs, fish, poultry, dairy). Individuals on a strict vegan diet may need as much as 2.0g of protein per kg of body weight.
It is also very important to make sure you are well hydrated. Hydration begins hours before the workout. You should be sipping water all day. If you are going to be working out and sweating for longer than an hour you will need more than just water to rehydrate yourself. If you sweat for longer than an hour they begin to lose electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, thus it then becomes necessary to rehydrate with a fluid that contains carbs and electrolytes. When you are in a state of dehydration water will not rehydrate you. The carbs and electrolytes are needed to bring the water back into the muscle cells. So called “sports drinks” are not the best option for pre/post workout hydration because they are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, expeller pressed oils and artificial food colorings. Coconut water, watermelon juice and fresh squeezed apple juice are all great sources of potassium and are alkaline. I don’t usually recommend Orange Juice due to its acidity level and ratio of carbs/sugars to potassium. However, You can try a mixture of 100% pure fresh squeezed orange juice and mineral water diluted half and half. You should sip on this mixture during the workout and after so that you may maintain your blood sugar levels. All fruits and veggies have potassium and carbs but tomatoes, avocado, bananas, apples, watermelon & coconut water are a few that are especially high. Potassium has also been shown to decrease muscle soreness the next day.
In order to make your muscles grow stronger, tighter & thicker you must train them hard enough to tear them apart and eat accordingly. When weightlifting if you can do more than 15 reps of a certain exercise then the resistance is not heavy enough to increase your strength, bone density or muscle tightness and thickness. Generally speaking you should choose a weight that fatigues you in between 8 and 15 reps. If you lift a weight that is so heavy that you can not exceed 3-5 reps it will not change your look but it will make you stronger. You know when you are fatigued when you can no longer complete another rep with proper form. Fatigue is not when the burn gets to you mentally, at that point it is important to focus on your breathing even more. Breathing gets you through everything. When you start compensating your form, it is time to stop. Remember, quality is more important than quantity. When you participate in weight training your muscles are being broken down and torn apart. If you do not supply your muscles with the right amount of carbohydrates and protein your muscles will not have what they need to rebuild and will lead to excess muscle breakdown. It must not be forgotten that rest and recovery is just as important as training. Do not work the same muscles two consecutive days, make sure you get enough sleep and keep your stress levels down.
- Makeda Voletta, CSCS
A freelance fitness/swimsuit and fine art model, Makeda Voletta is a trained and professional dancer in a variety of dance styles from the Caribbean, South America, North America and Africa. She is a dedicated student of the body and all of the methods involved with bringing the body to it’s highest level. Makeda has a B.S. in Exercise and Sports Science with a concentration in Strength and Conditioning and a minor in Nutrition. Having completed two years of graduate work at Columbia University in Applied Physiology and Nutrition as well as plenty of self study, Makeda is a self-proclaimed body science nerd.