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General Nutrition

If you don't remember another thing about nutrition and fitness, remember this:  Your body composition is 80% determined by diet, and 20% by everything else (including training, genetics, and age).  

Have you ever noticed that some people will spend hours upon hours working their butts off in the gym, yet they don't get the same results as the person next to them who doesn't seem to work as hard?  When you see this, KNOW that the person getting results, gets them, and gets them faster and with less effort---BECAUSE of their DIET!   We stress our bodies in the gym, but the body transformation and repair all happens outside of the gym--while sitting in our offices, eating at the kitchen table, surfing the internet, playing video games, and sleeping in our beds.  And the nutrients that we ingest are the raw materials that our body uses to build and reshape our physique.

Less AND More!
As any body builder will tell you, ingesting the proper proportion of the three basic macro nutrients (Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Good Fats), SLOWLY,  throughout the ENTIRE DAY, insures that our human "machine" has a constant and consistent supply of the resources it needs to build and maintain a healthy lean body.  Rather than eating three large meals per day, it is better to eat 6 small balanced meals or snacks throughout the day to keep insulin and nutrient levels more constant.  Your body can only absorb so many nutrients at once, and if you eat larger less-frequent meals then you're just going to excrete the excess (or have it stored as fat) more than if you ingest smaller portions more frequently. Simply put, it's more efficient and better for your body composition to eat less food more often---I'll say it again.  LESS food, MORE often.  Get it?

Proteins Carbs and Fats
Now that you've made up your mind to eat 6 times per day. . .every 2 to 3 hours; rather than the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner; you need to figure out how to get the right proportion of all three macro nutrients.  Yes, ALL THREE are important and play essential roles in reshaping your physique:
  • PROTEINS = Build Muscle and Lean Body Mass
  • CARBOHYDRATES = Provide Energy, and are essential to spare proteins so that they are available to feed the muscle, rather than being broken down and converted to energy
  • FATS = Are necessary for Proper Hormone Function and Cortisol Control
Fitness Nutrition Rules of Thumb
If you Google (yes that's a verb now) the web, you'll stumble upon several rules of thumb regarding proportions of the three nutrients.  One popular rule of thumb states that people who do regular strength training and wish to build muscle should strive to get 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily; and serious body builders more (up to double) that amount.  Another popular rule of thumb is the 40/40/20 rule; meaning you should get 40% of your daily calories from Protein, 40% from Carbohydrates, and 20% from (mostly) good fats.  Sure, these percentages are often tweaked a bit (adding 5% more carbs if you do more cardio than strength training or have a high metabolism; or perhaps adding more fat if you have trouble gaining muscle), but the basic premise is the same.  Note that the number of calories from each of the three macro nutrients is different:
  • Protein - 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates - 4 calories per gram
  • Fat - 9 calories per gram
Calculating it out
Let's suppose you're a fairly active 180 lb. male who does a mix of strength training and at least some cardio training, and your goal is to build a leaner stronger body (i.e. more muscle and less fat).  Using the first rule of thumb (1 gram of protein per pound of body weight), you would need 180 grams of protein * 4 calories per gram = 720 calories from protein.  In addition, you would need the same number of grams and calories from carbohydrates; and 40 grams per day of fat (360 calories worth).  That's a very doable 1800 calories per day, or 300 calories per each of your six meals (with a very digestible 30 grams of protein per meal).  You can calculate your own calorie requirements based on your own weight, activity level, and body composition goals.  Most importantly, you don't have to be exact--treat this as a daily average over the longer term of weeks or months.  So don't stress if you eat 10% more protein one day and 10% less on another (it will average out). 

Types of Proteins
Now that we know how many grams of protein we need, which type of protein is the best?  The short answer--all of them.  Timing of different protein types is the more significant issue.  There are various types of proteins (e.g. whey, egg, casein, legume, animal).  Each type of protein is digested at different rates.  Whey is the most-quickly digested protein, followed by egg, followed by casein (milk protein), legume and meat.  Your diet should include a mix of these proteins, as you want to maintain a constant supply of protein throughout the day and night; but you also need to quickly get protein to muscles at times when it is needed the most--within 30 minutes post workout, and first thing in the morning.  A good choice for a post workout meal or first morning meal would be a whey protein shake as whey is the most quickly absorbed of all the proteins.  At other times of the day, slower digested proteins (such as casein and/or meat or poultry) will provide your muscles with a more sustained release of protein over a longer period of time.

There are basically two types of carbohydrates:
  • Simple Carbohydrates - Sugars--monosaccharides such as glucose (found in corn syrup), galactose (found in milk), and fructose (found in fruits and honey); and disaccharides such as sucrose (table sugar), lactose (found in dairy and milk products), and maltose (found in beer) are all examples of simple carbohydrates.  These are absorbed very quickly and provide a fast short burst of energy.
  • Complex Carbohydrates - These are polysaccharides (or starch), primarily found in bread, grains, pasta, cereal, and potatoes.  Complex Carbs provide the best energy source of all the carbohydrates.  Many complex carbohydrates are also high in fiber (beans, legumes, whole grain products, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, celery).  These carbohydrates are absorbed slower and provide a more sustained source of energy.
Complex Carbohydrates should compose the vast majority of your daily carbohydrate intake, providing you with a more constant and stable supply of energy throughout the day.  Although, complex carbohydrates should be part of every meal or snack throughout your day, an extra serving of complex carbohydrates an hour or so before a workout, will provide additional fuel to your workout.

Although simple carbohydrates should compose a smaller percentage of your total daily carbohydrate intake, there is one exception.  Consuming a serving of simple carbohydrates (such as a banana, pineapple, grapes, or high carb sport drink)  immediately post-workout will help to propel proteins and nutrients to the stressed muscles, speeding recovery and helping your body to build more muscle faster.  This serving of simple carbs provides a post workout insulin spike.  And insulin is what is responsible for transferring nutrients from the blood stream to your muscle cells.  In a nutshell, the insulin spike will speed up the process of protein synthesis by the muscles.

No doubt about it, fats get an unfair bad rap--everyone from dietitians to physicians have hammered on fats and the health problems associated with excessive consumption, especially of certain fats.  Make no mistake about it, a certain amount of fat in your diet is unavoidable; and perhaps more importantly, it is absolutely essential to good health, longevity, and the ultimate goal of increasing your percentage of lean body mass.

If you have trouble putting on muscle (i.e. you're a "hard gainer"), you may want to increase the percentage of certain fats in your diet.  Remember from our discussion above, that each gram of fat is worth 9 calories, more than twice the calories of protein and carbs.  Increasing your fat, by even a small margin, can add to your daily caloric intake at a fraction of the bulk of proteins or carbohydrates.  Compare the difference in 100 calories worth of steamed broccoli (4 cups) and 100 calories worth of all natural peanut butter (1 Tablespoon!!).

Fats are absolutely essential for proper brain and nervous system function. The fatty acids from the fat we consume form brain tissue and make up the myelin sheath on the neurons of our nervous systems. Moreover, certain nutrients (such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are fat soluable and cannot be absorbed without the presence of fat.

There are several types of fats, and I'll list them in rank of what is widely believed to be in order of most beneficial to least beneficial:

Omega-3 - These fats contain DHA and EPA which research has shown to lower LDLs and decrease blood pressure. Foods rich in Omega-3 oils are cold-water fatty fish such as salmon and trout, canola oil, soybean oil, olive oil, and flaxseed oil.  Walnuts are also high in Omega-3 oils. These fats can also be obtained from fish oil supplements.  

Monosaturated - Monosaturated fats have also been linked to improved lipid profiles (lower LDL and higher HDL percentages), improved cardiovascular function, and healthier skin.  Look to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), almonds, cashews, and avocados as good sources of monosaturated fat.

Polyunsaturated - This is another fat linked to higher HDLs and lower LDLs.  Look to corn oil, soybeans and soybean oil (one caveat, men should avoid soy products, as it is a phytoestrogen), and sunflower seeds and oil.

Saturated - The health dangers of excessive consumption of saturated fats (especially animal fat, including butter fat) are widely recognized, and the consumption of these fats should be kept to a small percentage of our daily fat intake. However, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate all saturated fats from your diet. Even the leanest of meats and poultry include some saturated fat--and that's a good thing. Saturated fats transport calcium to our skeletal systems, they boost our immune systems, and protect our liver. In addition, short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have antimicrobial properties.

Also worth mentioning are trans-fats and any hydrogenated fats. These fats are detrimental to health and longevity and should always be avoided--read the labels. It's not just that can of Crisco that may contain hydrogenated fats, watch the crackers and other packaged baked goods which are notorious for including "hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated" fats of one kind or another.

A word about Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one saturated fat that gets unfair criticism. And much of the criticism comes from seeing this popular phrase often listed on packaged baked goods during the 1980s and 90s: "hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils". Yes, in that context, it's bad fat. However, it's not the coconut oil that makes it bad, it's the "hydrogenation and partial hydrogenation" that makes it harmful. Side note: watch the labels on those "non dairy coffee creamers"--many will state "hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated coconut oil".

Non-hydrogenated coconut oil is a unique saturated fat that offers many health benefits over other types of saturated, monosaturated, and polyunsaturated fat. It's the high concentration (66%) of Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs) that makes it healthier than other fats. MCFAs are quickly and easily digested and do not require energy for absorption, utilization or storage like long-chain and short-chain fatty acids.  Of the MCFAs in coconut oil, more than 40% is composed of Lauric Acid, followed by Capric Acid, Caprylic Acid, Myristic Acid, and Palmitic Acid.  These MCFAs are transformed into monoglycerides which kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.  MCFAs also improve digestive health by reducing inflammation and promoting good bacteria, raise HDLs (good cholesterol), and increase energy.  For more information on the health benefits of coconut oil and MCFAs, but you can Google "coconut oil" and "health benefits" for more in-depth reading.

Look for coconut oil that is at least pure (no coconut taste); or better yet, "Virgin" (unrefined) coconut oil which has a mild coconut flavor.  I have used both types of coconut oil in baking in place of shortening with good results. Unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoke point (350 degrees F.), about the same as butter.