How Eating the Right Diet Can Get You in Great Shape
Summer might be over, but it won’t be long before the next one is here. Who doesn’t want to be in top shape by then? For many people, “bodyforming” is a year-round activity. But one thing should be made clear from the beginning: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so give your body the time it needs to achieve significant and lasting results. Some of you are surely looking to build muscle mass and reduce body fat at the same time. Efficient muscle-building requires a positive caloric balance (more calories are consumed than burned) and fat loss a negative one (less calories are consumed than burned). Theoretically, you can do both at the same time, but neither one very efficiently. That’s why it is important to set priorities. This blog post will focus on body fat reduction.
No crash diets
So, what does the right diet for achieving your ideal figure look like? Set realistic goals! No crash diets, because they cause you to lose muscle mass and lower your basal metabolic rate (this is the amount of energy needed to sustain the body’s vital functions). When you finish a diet, your body ends up stockpiling even more calories in the form of fat as a reserve for the next lean time – i.e. the infamous yo-yo effect. The goal, however, should be long-term fat loss. Therefore, it is better to lose 0.5 to max. 1kg per week and maintain the weight loss. I’m not a fan of the very trendy low-carb diet, which does away with nearly all carbohydrates (including fruit) and promotes the consumption of large amounts of fat and protein. In the long run, it is not without certain health risks: Carbohydrates are essential for many metabolic and brain processes and contain (with a few exceptions) plenty of vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are the main source of energy for people who are always on the run. Thus, it’s more about eating the right carbohydrates at the right time than eliminating them completely from your diet.
I recommend eating three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Carbohydrates (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes, couscous, quinoa, etc.) should mainly be consumed for breakfast or lunch – preferably ones with a low to medium glycemic index or whole grain products. They keep you feeling full longer, provide more vitamins and minerals and hold your blood sugar levels steady.
The choice of carbohydrates and the times between meals are important for preventing your blood sugar from fluctuating. High blood sugar levels cause your body to release more of the hormone insulin. Insulin stores sugar and fat in your body cells while at the same time preventing fat loss. After an intense training session, however, it is a good idea to eat a snack containing carbohydrates and protein.
Sugar-containing food and drinks (sugar in hidden forms, like pre-packaged muesli) are poor sources of carbohydrates. An exception to this rule are people who train daily and very extensively.
For dinner, some good examples of low carb meals would be: grilled fish fillet with steamed vegetables, a turkey breast salad or an omelet with fresh herbs, tomato and cucumber, particularly if you exercised in the morning or it’s one of your off days. If you worked out hard in the late afternoon and you didn’t have any carbohydrates afterwards, then you can eat a small portion (for example, 1 or 2 slices of whole grain bread or a small handful of rice) with your last meal.
Every meal should include a source of protein because protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle. Combining animal and plant protein sources increases the biological value (BV).
Make sure to get enough protein, but don’t overdo it: A daily protein intake of 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight is optimal for “bodyforming” (including strength and endurance training).
Be careful: Most fat is consumed in the form of hidden fats. 1g of fat contains more than twice as many calories as 1g of carbohydrates or protein. You should therefore opt for lean meats and sausages as well as low-fat dairy products, like turkey ham or cheese with less than 35% fat in the dry matter.
Get your healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from high-quality vegetable oils, nuts and avocados, as well as a fatty (saltwater) fish once a week. If you are looking to lower your body fat, do not consume more than 1g of fat per kg of body weight daily. You can also eliminate fat by choosing low-fat methods of preparation like boiling, steaming or grilling.
Fruit and vegetables
Don’t forget the “5 a day” rule: Every day, you should eat two portions (a portion is a handful) of fruit and at least three portions of vegetables – the more colorful and varied the better.
You can replace a portion of fruit or vegetables with a refreshing smoothie. Since fruit is rich in fructose, you should not eat more than two portions per day. The best time to eat fruit is at breakfast, as a “dessert” after lunch or as an energy boost before strength training.
Studies have shown that fluid intake is one of the most important factors influencing sports performance. The regular consumption of zero-calorie drinks can also help boost your metabolism. But be careful: Many “wellness drinks” and “vitamin-enriched waters” contain sugar (fructose). They also come with additional calories, making them an unsuitable source of refreshment. Better options are water, mineral waters, fruit teas and herbal teas, which can be made more exciting by adding lemon, lime or mint. The daily recommended fluid intake is 35-40ml per kg of body weight, although of course you can drink more when temperatures are high. You also have to consume 1.5 times more fluid to replenish the fluids lost due to sweating during your workout.
If you find that you are still hungry between regular meals despite the combination of high-quality carbohydrates, top-quality protein and a smaller amount of fat, try to distract yourself by drinking a glass of water, chewing sugar-free gum, snacking on raw fruits or vegetables or eating a low-fat plain yogurt. And don’t go grocery shopping hungry!
As I mentioned at the beginning, most rapid “successes” are short-lived. Decrease your body fat and body weight slowly but steadily. There may even come a time when you are no longer making progress – don’t get discouraged and stick with it. It’s the only way to reach your goal. Good luck!
Recipe for a light dinner:
SALAD WITH AVOCADO AND CHICKEN STRIPS
150g arugula or lettuce
150g cocktail tomatoes
½ Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. rapeseed oil
200g skinless chicken fillet or breast
Salt and pepper
For the dressing:
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ Tbsp. mustard
Salt and pepper
1. Cut open the avocado and remove the pit. Cut the avocado into small pieces and then sprinkle them with lemon juice so they don’t turn brown.
2. Cut the chicken fillet/breast into strips and season them with salt and pepper (and other spices if you like). Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick pan and fry the meat on both sides. Afterwards, set it to the side.
3. Wash the lettuce and cocktail tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half.
4. Mix the cocktail tomatoes, avocado and lettuce in a big bowl and place the chicken strips on top.
5. To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients and pour the dressing over the salad and chicken strips.
About the author:
René Franz is a dietitian at IMSB Austria – High Performance Center (The Institute for Sports Medicine and Science). The IMSB was founded in 1982 to provide Austria’s top athletes with sports science and medicine support through interdisciplinary cooperation.