Macro-nutrients: The three primary categories of food
The word protein comes from the Greek word “Prōtos” meaning “of first importance”. The ancient Greeks had it right! Protein is the most essential nutrient you need in life. It provides your body the building material to repair and create new cells in all of your body tissue whether muscle, organ or bone. In addition protein contains essential enzymes that aid with other essential metabolic processes and provide you with certain vital ingredients that your body simply can make itself.
Protein itself is made up from polypeptides, which are again composed of amino-acids. Our stomach breaks down protein into the component amino-acids to be used in all aspects of your body’s healthy operation.
Complete Protein: A complete protein is one which contains each of the “essential” amino-acids (there are 9 essential amino acids that are all required for the complete, healthy operation of a human body), giving your body a complete source of protein means that it has all of the essential amino-acids available to be used and you won’t be missing out on anything. It’s always best to feed yourself a complete protein.
Complete Proteins: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs (whites), soy, quinoa, blended protein powder, egg protein powder.
Incomplete Proteins: Whey protein, beans, lentils, seeds (also contains carbs and fat), nuts (also contains carbs and fat)
We can see from the above lists that eating meat and eggs is the simplest way to keep a diet high in complete protein. For any vegetarians or vegans out there, life becomes more difficult and restrictive as all apart from soy and quinoa products are incomplete sources of protein.
So what do I eat?
Simple, every meal should include a source of protein, if you can – make it a complete protein source.
Carbohydrate is what we as humans use (primarily) to provide our bodies with energy. It’s best to think of carbs in terms of their G.I. rating (Glycaemic index). A carbohydrate with a low G.I. will be burned for fuel more slowly than a carb with a high G.I.
At one end (the high end) we have the “simplest” forms of carbohydrates: sugars: glucose, fructose, lactose etc. The simplest or “high G.I.” carbohydrates are themselves smaller molecules. You can think of your body having a small time window in which to do something with simple (high G.I.) carbohydrates, the higher the G.I. rating the less time your body has time available to digest them. Conversely at the other end we have whole grains, sweet potato, brown rice etc. These have a much larger “window” of digestion for your body.
So why can’t you just eat sweets and cakes as your source of carbohydrate? Well you can, in part. Let’s take the approach that your body has different requirements for energy based on one thing only: how low is my body (muscle tissue) on energy (glycogen) and how much am I going to need in the next few hours? We find that there 3 stages of energy requirements:
1. No/low energy (breakfast or after training)
2. Medium/low energy (just before a scheduled meal, e.g. lunch)
3. Evening (when we don’t need to load up on energy stores because we will be sleeping soon)
This is my take on the matter and what works from experience, there is always some debate on this topic but I have found this model to work very well for fat loss. That's not to say one size fits all, far from it, evening carb loading can work too providing you do it right!
What does this all mean James my head hurts now?
OK let’s make is easy by dividing things up by meals:
1. Breakfast or post training: a balanced meal should consist of a source of simple (high G.I.) carbohydrate: fruit, sugar, honey, maltodextrin, WMS, chocolate (yes really). As the body is crying out for glycogen, a simple source of carbohydrate is easily absorbed into the body without the danger of being stored as body-fat.
2. Early/Mid-day meals: Follow the rule that any source of carbohydrate should be complex unless you are in the situation above (starving!). For other meals you should look to: rice, potatoes, wholemeal pasta, couscous, oats or oatcakes. Just follow the rule that each successive meal should have less carbohydrate than the one before (after all as the day progresses you need to load up on less energy stores).
3. Evening meals: Should have zero carbohydrate, this can be a little tricky – especially breaking the habit of eating a big carb-heavy meal for dinner. Most people find this particular life change to be hard to manage, even people I know who have been into fitness for many years still cause themselves to have a high body-fat by not sticking to this simple rule. It’s an often-debated part of diet but in my experience it’s absolutely necessary to achieve your 6-pack abs that we all want.
Remember that you can get more detailed breakdown of recipes for breakfast, daytime and evening meals from the diet section.
Fats & EFA
Fat, oils, lipids (it’s really all the same)
Like everything in nutrition the topic of fats and EFAs (essential fatty acids) is one that has entire books on the topic. I will try and give an overview that will explain how we need to use and understand fats to operate a healthy body (regardless of your training goals).
Fats in one’s diet are essential to the healthy function of the human body for various reasons; they are required for the digestion and usage of several vitamins (A, D, E and K). They also play vital roles in the immune system and some fats cannot be replicated in the body (so if you have a “low-fat” diet you are likely causing health problems).
We are mostly concerned with the process that the body uses to store fat as a means of an energy reserve (this stored fat is known as adipose tissue)… What we want to achieve is a state of low body-fat (flat stomach, toned legs and arms). Now magazines and newspapers would have you believe that the best way to achieve this is to eliminate fat from your diet, I would advise you to think for yourself. Who knows more about achieving a state of low body-fat? A journalist with no real knowledge of the human body further than what they heard in the pub or copied from another publication or a bodybuilding and fitness expert who has competed? Well I don’t go to my mechanic when I need flu medicine…
Be careful not to have the mentality that everything you eat needs to be “low fat”, this is a poor choice for healthy living, low fat foods are normally loaded with sugar to compensate for the taste (I would take fat over sugar any day). Of course avoid overly fatty foods such as things loaded with excess fat (lasagne, curry or cheese for example) but a moderate amount of fat is a good thing and promotes healthy body function. I won’t shy away from a nice rib eye steak or some roast lamb, I’m happy to cook with butter and olive oil – but use common-sense, don’t add half a bar of butter to your steak, (less is better, but a little is required).
Good rules to help you:
1. If the fat is solid at room temperature, it’s best to avoid it (or eat sparingly at least). Hard cheese for example.
2. If you wish to have a zero-fat diet and supplement your fat intake instead this can be very effective, I would recommend flax-seed oil or fish-oil (available from the store)
3. The good fats to cook with are Olive Oil (extra virgin) and real butter (not margarine or any of the “spreads”)
4. Don’t overdo it (you should be eating between 20-60g of fat per day depending on your activity level and body-mass)
I hope this information servers you well as a starting point to clean up your diet, provide more energy and healthy bodily function while helping you to achieve your goals of a lean physique. Should you wish to have further advice or individual consultation on diet please click here. I have tried to make this small guide as basic and accessible as possible and not to go into too much detail.
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