Strong is the New Skinny: Part 4

Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS, Dietitian for Pathway to Eating Disorders Treatment at Brookhaven Hospital

In the previous three blog posts in this series, I’ve touched on the importance that muscle mass plays in determining your metabolic rate as well as both high and low intensity training to fit each person’s lifestyle needs.  Now I would like to discuss more about how to fuel your workouts.

In a nutshell, energy balance is what dictates weight loss or weight gain, while it is the macronutrients that determine if it is muscle or fat being gained or lost, along with the type of training you are doing.  The macronutrients are fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol.  Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram and regulate tissue repair and fuel high intensity exercise, respectively.  Fat contains 9 calories per gram and regulates hormones.  Lastly, alcohol contains 7 calories per gram and is void of nutrients.  So, as you can see, fat calories are much more concentrated than protein and carbohydrate calories.  This is an important thing to consider if your goal is weight loss.  For example, 1 teaspoon of butter (about the size of the top of your thumb joint) is 45 calories.  In contrast, one cup of raw broccoli is only 25 calories.  So you can see that “dieting” does not mean starving yourself.  A person will feel fuller much longer after having eaten one cup of broccoli than they will 1 tsp of butter.

As for the types of macronutrients you need to support exercise, all of them play a role.  Carbohydrates are needed for short, high intensity workouts, while fats are needed for longer, aerobic workouts.  Protein is needed for muscle and tissue repair.  And alcohol has no value in athletic performance!  The best time to eat a snack or meal is 1-2 hours before a training session as well as 1-2 hrs afterward.  If you workout mid-day or in the afternoon, a good pre-workout snack would be low in fat, high in carbohydrates, and moderate in protein.  This is because protein and fats empty from the stomach much slower than carbohydrates and you will not want to feel sluggish during your workout while your body continues to digest foodstuffs.  Fiber also slows down digestion, so low fiber carbohydrates like rice, white potato, bread, crackers are the best before your workout.  Beneficial lean meats pre-workout include chicken breast, tuna, egg whites, and whey protein.  Some options that wouldn’t work as well pre-workout include oats, quinoa, most green vegetables, and berries as these are much higher in fiber.  Proteins such as salmon, whole eggs, and peanut butter would also not be the best choice.  Post-workout, a high protein meal or snack is best plus whatever fits in with the rest of your diet (this means you can eat carbohydrates and fats and don’t have to be as picky about the source).  If you exercise early in the morning, it may not be realistic to eat before you head to the gym.  What I suggest is eating a snack/meal with complex carbohydrates 1-2 hours before you go to bed.  This will help fuel your workout the next morning.  Complex carbohydrates include oatmeal, beans, and bran cereal, to name a few.

What is best for one person may not be the best for another.  When implementing nutrition principles, you will have to think about your goals, your athletic level, occupation, number of training hours per week, outside of gym stressors, and much more.  Adherence and sustainability is something I always harp on.  If you aren’t going to stick with something for the long term, you will not see long term results.  A big drawback of fad diets is losing momentum during situations when life isn’t perfect.  A good diet should be flexible.  Flexibility allows greater adherence while eating out, attending social events, and while traveling.  So pay attention to your adherence level, because if it is lacking, then your diet principles need to change.  Also remember that no one can build the body of their dreams in a matter of weeks.  In order to make significant changes to your physique, you need to adhere to nutrition principles for the long haul.

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