Ah, it’s been a while. Since you’ve no doubt read the first 3 parts of this series (right? RIGHT?!), by now you should have your target calorie intake and macros. Now we’re going to try to put this all together. We’ll talk about timing and I’ll give you some ideas for what to eat.
There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to meal timing and frequency. Some people believe firmly that it’s necessary to eat 6-8 times a day. The truth of the matter is that how often you eat is nowhere near as important as what your total macros are at the end of the day. Meal timing is mostly about your comfort. If you feel better eating less more often, do that. If you feel better eating more less often, do that. There is no research that indicates one method being superior to the other on an absolute scale. Do what you feel is best.
As for meal timing, there are a couple of possibilities. Before I go into this, I will say that the best method is always the simplest possible. If you’re new to it and have a good amount of fat to lose, a simple calorie restriction with the right macronutrient breakdown will get you started. If you’ve been doing it for a while and progress has slowed, it’s probably time to change things up.
As was said before, the overall daily intake is of the utmost importance. That said, there is one time when your consumption is important, and that’s the workout window. As I am a proponent of resistance training as the primary mode of exercise, this is biased toward that. If you do not want to get into resistance training…well, we probably won’t get along but I’ll save THAT argument for another article too.
Your body needs fuel. During workouts, your muscles use glycogen stores. Glycogen is created in the liver as a product of (mainly) carbohydrate metabolism. Obviously, you need carbs in order to produce glycogen. However, your body also requires amino acids (protein building blocks) to fuel the workouts and assist with muscle repair. This means that there needs to be plenty of both ready to go when you start the workout.
The way most athletes do this is to have something like whey protein (high bioavailability) mixed with a quick digesting carbohydrate like dextrose or maltodextrin before and during the workout. I’ll go into this in more detail in the training articles. The other choice is to eat more complex proteins and carbohydrates 2 hours or so before your workout. Think 4-6oz of chicken breast and 1/4 cup of rolled oats or something along those lines. By the time that gets metabolized, it’s time for the workout and you have fuel ready to go.
This, of course, means that you do not need to do this on days you’re not training. It also means that an extra 100 kCal or so on workout days won’t kill you.
Post workout nutrition is also important. Within 45 minutes or so after your workout, you should plan to have an actual meal with some complete protein and a complex carbohydrate.
Because of space limitations, I have to keep this relatively brief. More really great information about the details of Nutrient Timing can be found in The Science of Nutrient Timing Part 1 and Part 2 by Dr. John Berardi.
Now that we’ve got an idea of WHEN to eat, you need to know WHAT to eat…naturally.
Complete proteins are the best choices to make. They are proteins that contain all eight of the essential amino acids (for adults; infants and adolescents require 12). Essential amino acids are the ones that your body cannot synthesize on its own. Animal proteins are all complete. Proteins derived from sources other than animals (rice, soy, and vegetable) should NOT be considered as primary protein sources because they are incomplete.
Some of the standbys for protein sources are:
White meat chicken and turkey (NOT deli meats)
Tuna and other white fish
Pork loin and tenderloin
Lean beef cuts like sirloin, round, and tenderloin
Low fat/nonfat cottage cheese
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal sources. Unsaturated sources are:
Natural peanut butter
Olive, sunflower, safflower, canola, and peanut oils
Fish and flaxseed oils for Omega-3 content
Carbohydrate sources are important too. These plus leafy greens will fill your fiber requirement.
Rice (brown and white)
Whole wheat couscous
Potatoes (with skins)
Oatmeal (rolled or steel cut ONLY)
A note on pasta: Pastas are only for carbups and refeeds. The vast majority of people greatly underestimate an actual serving of pasta and end up overdoing it.
As far as vegetables, pretty much anything goes. The exceptions are starchy veggies like carrots, corn, and peas. They’re fine to eat, but try to keep them either to a minimum or only in the post-workout meal when the starch is necessary.
Fruits are pretty much the same way. Most fruits are fine to eat any time. Bananas, oranges, apples, and tropical fruits have a lot of natural sugars so work as quick fuel pre-workout when paired with something like whey protein.
This is about all there’s room for this time. Next time, we’ll be talking some tips and tricks. As always, any questions are welcome.