popular fitness blog NerdFitness, puts it quite succinctly with this mantra:
You can’t outrun your fork.’ When trying to lose weight, feel healthy, and get in shape, 80 percent (not an exaggeration) of your success or failure will come from how well you eat.
Eighty percent sounds about right. If you think about the process of building muscle or improving athletic ability, it makes complete sense. When you’re building muscle, you’re actually breaking it down first, and then rebuilding it with the nutrients that you’ve just put into your body. If you haven’t fueled your muscles with the proper nutrients, then you naturally aren’t going to see much in the way of gains.
When working toward better fitness, we often naturally lean toward eliminating certain foods. Before long, it becomes a game of subtraction, where were looking for the minimum amount of food that can sustain our bodies throughout the day. This entire line of thinking is terribly misguided. Rather than a process of subtraction, you should be thinking about fitness as a process of addition. You’re already putting in solid workouts at the gym, now you just need to ensure that the calories you’re replacing are coming from wholesome, nutrient-dense sources. Kathleen Zelman at WebMD wholly endorses the additive dieting process.
Start by focusing on getting the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day…. Work vegetables into meals instead of just serving them as sides on a plate.
The idea here should be to provide your body with what it needs to put in a solid performance every day. If you’re doing that, then any weight loss and strength building goals that you have will start to become secondary.
No matter what type of workout you’re doing, the pre-workout meal is essential, because it will provide you with the energy that you need to get your workout off the ground. The editors of fitness website MensFitness.com understand the importance of a pre-workout meal.
Eat the right foods beforehand. Although you may be tempted to skip the calories, the food you eat before you exercise will fuel your workout and maximize your efforts and results.
Getting into the slightly more technical side of things, you can further tune the relationship between what you eat and how you perform by optimizing your nutrition choices to what type of activity you expect to be doing that day. For example, if you’re going to be doing some long-distance running, then you want to optimize by eating a moderately heavy amount of carbohydrates about an hour before you start your workout. This will give your body enough time to start converting it into glycogen, which will give you the fuel you need during your run.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be doing heavy lifting, then you want to take some carbohydrates as well as some protein, about two hours before the start of your workout. This will allow your body enough time to break down the proteins into the amino acids which it will later use to rebuild your muscles.
This quite possibly may be the most fundamental part of this entire article. When you work out, you aren’t really building muscle. On the contrary, you’re breaking your muscle down. You’re pushing it past its limits in order to tell your body that it needs to start building stronger and better muscle tissue. But the only thing that actually allows your body to build that stronger and better tissue is an adequate supply of lean, high-quality protein after the workout. The editors of Greatist.com provide a pretty simple rule of thumb for keeping your body fueled after a workout.
After a workout, dietary protein is more readily used for muscle building, rather than fat storage… a protein shake or meal within 2 hours of a workout will give your body what it needs to build lean muscle.
And this is really the goal of fitness from start to finish, isn’t it? Out with the old, in with the new. Exercise to get rid of what you don’t want, and eat well to replace it with what you do. For a post-workout refuel, protein shakes are an excellent option. However, if you want to keep things more natural, any low quality lean protein like fish, turkey, or chicken will work.
If you’re looking for great fitness, don’t forget the 80 percent rule. While exercise is essential, it can do very little on its own. If you’re looking to lose weight, you need to replace the calories burned with higher quality, lower density calories consumed. And if you’re looking to build muscle or improve performance, then you need to give your body what it needs to perform at its best. No matter what your aims, a six-pack starts in the kitchen.