Great nutrition is the cornerstone of an amazing physique. The key to washboard abs, a defined, taut body and a firm butt is no secret – all you need to do is eat healthily and exercise. Numerous diet and nutrition articles cover the basics of dieting and healthy eating, but you’ll need a lot more than the basics to nail the enviable silhouette cut by top bodybuilding, figure and fitness competitors. There is a reason why these competitors look so amazing on stage. When it comes to dieting, they don’t just work hard – they work smart. This article blasts through ten of the best nutritional secrets out there, providing that little extra magic that will push your physique gains to a new level.
1. Identify Food Intolerances
This is numero uno
for any healthy nutrition regime. If you suffer fatigue, bloating, bad skin, or poor digestion, it is highly likely that you have a wheat or dairy intolerance. This can sabotage a great physique! Temporarily eliminate potential culprits from your diet to find out if you are a sufferer, then permanently eliminate them, if required. Chances are your abs will immediately look more cut and you’ll drop a few pounds without even trying. If you let a food intolerance go untreated, you will damage your body and never realise your physical potential.
2. Food Feeds the Body AND the Soul
Emotional health is often neglected by dieters, who often tend to focus only on the aesthetic of the body. This is not a smart approach. Why? Because major reductions in the amount of carbohydrates and total calories consumed can make you feel moody, emotional, sensitive and irritable. So you need to work smart, and nix the food cravings and mood swings before they nix your new eating plan. How can you achieve this? Easy. If you supplement with Omega Oils, Vitamin B and a good multivitamin, you will minimise those aforementioned emotional heavy hitters of dieting such as moodiness, irritability and so on. Critically for women, these supplements can prove particularly useful during menstruation, when hormonal disruption can be particularly pronounced, and comfort eating hits its tempting best.
3. Invest in a Good Protein Powder
If you are looking for this summer’s must-have accessory, then this is it. A high quality whey protein powder provides an easy way to ensure that you meet your daily required protein intake. Protein underwrites the creation of muscle, which is 4 to 5 times as metabolically active as fat during exercise and at rest. So by consuming adequate protein, you are enabling muscle growth and maximising the great gains you are making in the weights room (and if you aren’t working out in the weights room yet, you should be!) Of course, you should also be consuming foods such as meats, oily fish, eggs, nuts and soya to provide high quality protein. Oily fish and nuts also include Omega oils, which are good fats that actually promote fat loss. Casein protein is also a good choice at bedtime, as the absorption rate of casein is slower than whey.
4. Read up on the Satiety Index and Glycaemic Index
The Satiety Index ranks food in accordance with how much a certain food will satisfy your hunger, whilst the Glycaemic index relates to the speed at which energy in food is processed by your body. Generally, the ideal food will be low on both scales, with the exception of pre and post workout snacks where energy is required quickly.
Vegetables generally rank high on the Satiety Index (SI), which means that they will fill you up whilst being low in calories. They are a vital source of minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fibre, and provide a great alternative to rice, bread, pasta and other dense, calorific carbs. They are also low on the GI scale. Can’t live without a high GI, low SI treat, such as white rice? Simply keep the serving size relatively small, and combine it with high protein, high fibre, low GI foodstuff such as broccoli, turkey and oat cakes, to minimise the damage (see Point 7 for more details).
5. Time your Nutrient Intake
Food is fuel, so you need to be eating five times a day to boost and maintain a high metabolic rate. High GI foods are ideal as a pre and post workout snack, to shuttle much-needed glycogen to energy-hungry muscles. Low GI foods are ideal at other times to regulate blood sugar, to avoid the over-production of insulin, and to keep hunger at bay. Breakfast is crucial to kick-start your metabolism and to break the hypoglycaemic and catabolic state that your body falls into during sleep.
If you are aiming to lose weight, multiply your body weight (lb) by 10-12 and your daily kcal consumption should fall somewhere within this range. Consider a 40-40-20 ratio of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, deriving fats from non-saturated sources.
6. Carbohydrates ARE allowed after 7pm!
The banning of carbs in the evening is perhaps the silliest diet myth out there, along with the ‘carbohydrates are evil’ myth. Enjoy a small carbohydrate snack before bed and you will still lose weight, as long as your overall food plan is a sensible one. You might even go to bed with a smile on your face, instead of a hungry scowl. In fact, combine it with a glass of milk, and the tryptophan in the dairy will help you sleep!
7. Add Protein and Fibre to Every Meal
Carbohydrates are a vital energy source, but a carbohydrate-only meal (with the exception of a pre or post workout snack) is a bad idea. Why? Eating too many carbs in one meal can lead to a spike in blood sugar and insulin. The resulting blood sugar crash will leave you craving sugary snacks after no time at all, and the extra insulin will happily continue to shuttle glycogen to fat cells instead of working muscles. But added protein and fibre will slow down the absorption of carbs, in addition to providing vital nutrients that your body needs to function. You’ll stay fuller for longer, and you’ll never suffer from that dreaded post-lunch crash again.
8. Switch to Green Tea and Water
At the same time, ditch the coffee and carbonated soft drinks. This will boost a sluggish digestive system, combat overreliance on stimulants and sweeteners, and limit an expanding waistline. The green tea will stimulate your metabolism, and drinking between 1-3 litres of water a day will flush out toxins and make your skin glow. You’ll have more energy and feel great.
If you fail to stay adequately hydrated, your body will retain water and you will appear bloated. You will also feel seriously lethargic and fatigued. Similarly, alcohol needs to go, as it really is an energy stealing, dehydrating, calorific poison to any healthy body. The occasional lite beer, fine malt or glass of wine is fine, but regular drinking is really going to set back your fitness goals significantly.
9. Plan Ahead
If you often eat on the run, feel held hostage by the worst work canteen in history, or are tempted by the sad array of crisps and chocolate from a nearby snack machine, then prepare all of your own food. This is surprisingly easy – buy a lunch box and fill it with chicken, tuna, vegetables, yoghurt, cottage cheese, fruit, oatcakes, brown rice… or opt for a protein smoothie. In fact, opt for anything healthy that you’ll enjoy, and which will stop you reaching for a sugary snack. Doubters may poke fun at your lunch box (NB. not THAT type of lunch box – for any males fitness enthusiasts reading this!) but don’t be swayed – stick to your guns, and after a few days, friends and colleagues will have gotten used to your new approach and won’t even question it.
10. Forget Fad Diets
Anything that promises fast results such as ‘a six pack in six days’ denies the basic laws of physiology and promotes nothing but a higher statistical likelihood of long-term weight gain. In fact, statistics show that the only pounds you are likely to lose by following a fad diet are the ones in your purse! Furthermore, diet products are often loaded with sugar, sweeteners and salt and have no protein or fibre – a sure fire recipe for hunger an hour later. You’ll be miserable and hungry and have a harder time holding onto your muscle, which in turn means a slower metabolism and a harder time losing weight.
The bottom line is this; the diet industry thrives on our obsession to lose weight, whether it's guys seeking that magic six-pack or women trying to fit into a tiny dress. But the fitness industry – and natural bodybuilding in particular – takes a far healthier outlook. It encourages us to embrace our potential by respecting what we put inside our bodies and by improving our physical and mental health as a result. If you treat your body with this kind of respect, it will not only pay you back with more energy and better health, but it will also develop the kind of taut and lean body that no fad diet in the world could ever dream to achieve.