Mistakes that Sabotage Success
Let’s look at a typical day for most Americans so we can see where the problems begin and how they work to sabotage your nutritional goals. As you read through them see if you recognize yourself and where you can begin to make changes that can make your nutrition work for you instead of against you.
1) Doesn’t wake up early enough and eats poorly before work and throughout the morning
Often complaining they aren’t hungry, few Americans wake up early enough to prepare, eat, and digest a good meal. The routine is, generally, up within 45 min of leaving and maybe grabbing a donut, bagel or yogurt as they hit the door. This “meal” is most often low in calories, lacks nutrient density, has low, if any, protein, is low in good fats and rich in processed carbs. All working to set the stage for a stress filled day. We continue our morning by not having a quality snack which now becomes more important because of the poor way we began our day. If we do choose to have a “snack” it usually consists of more processed carbs and sugar, with very little, if any, in the way of fruits, veggies, or protein.
2) Eats more highly processed foods for lunch and into the afternoon
Back in “hurry up” mode, lunch generally consists of a small amount of protein (maybe some cheese and meat) usually made into a sandwich of some sort (processed “whole wheat” bread of course!). So again, we’re stuck with low protein, low fruit and veggie intake and little to no good fats. Continuing through the afternoon we are now severely under fed and what we have eaten is mostly highly processed and low in nutrient dense foods. We continue through the afternoon and, if we have a snack, repeat the morning ritual with more processed foods and sugar. Not to mention we’re probably on our 4th or 5th “diet” soda or cup of coffee with “just a little” “low fat” cream!
3) Eats a decent dinner
Finally, our body gets something that resembles at decent meal. Assuming dinner is eaten at home, after work, we finally eat some decent protein and some good carbohydrates. You may even have your largest fruit and veggie portion of the day and perhaps even some good fats if we include olive oil or other sources of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. But, because this is the first time we’ve truly eaten today, we’re probably hungry a couple hours later where we go right back to our earlier snacking behavior with more processed foods and sugar.
So what’s so wrong with this?
- Breakfast has been shown to be a critical daily meal. After a catabolic overnight fast, a balanced breakfast helps to regulate blood sugar, helps to regulate energy balance, and helps to control late-day cravings that lead to overfeeding on processed, high fat, and high sugar foods. In both cases above, breakfast is either a very small feeding or is completely non-existent. This needs to change.
- By lunch time you are probably underfed both in total calories and especially in protein. To comfortably get the right amounts, it’s best to spread your nutrients throughout the day.
- Fruit and veggie intake is also very low until possibly dinnertime. Just as calories and protein should be spread throughout the day, so to should all of your macro and micro-nutrients.
- Throughout the morning and afternoon, vitamin and mineral intake as well as dietary antioxidant intake is quite low, creating a deficit that’ll be hard to make up later in the day. As you become more active and begin to add more intense training to your lifestyle, it will be much easier to become deficient in many of these vital micro-nutrients which can lead to impairments in nervous system function, metabolic processing and oxygen delivery consumption systems. It’s hard to get enough of these nutrients in one or two meals which is another reason supporting the idea of getting enough calories throughout the day in multiple meals. And more specifically, making sure veggies and fruits are added with each meal and not just with one or two meals a day.
- Something we’ll revisit a little later in more depth is protein. But, want to mention a few points here. Many people don’t actively pay attention to their protein intake and end up not getting enough for optimal recovery, preservation of lean muscle, and the metabolic advantages associated with the proper amount. This is in addition to good carbs and good fats. Similar to the previous points, most people can’t get enough protein in only one or two meals so it is, again, recommended to get it throughout the day in multiple meals.
- Most people simply do not get enough healthy fats. The fat intake we do get is usually the deadly trans-fats from all the processed foods. Or our fat intake is out of balance in favor of saturated fats. Without actively choosing foods or supplements that contain more monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats, our dietary fat balance is unfavorable. Fat is not the enemy. Not getting a healthy balance of good fats is (1/3 saturated, 1/3 monounsaturated, 1/3 polyunsaturated. We’ll discuss this in more detail later).
- There is just too much processed, blood sugar spiking foods in the normal diet. With most of the meals being processed carbs, the hormone insulin isn’t well controlled. Thus, if you are predisposed to fat gain you will have a very difficult time controlling and/ or losing body fat, even if your training volumes increase. These foods are also very low fiber foods which can lead to constipation, poor blood sugar regulation, and poor gastro-intestinal health.
- Assuming the person eating like above is also working out we would bet that they aren’t taking advantage of the post workout nutrition window. Our bodies are much more sensitive to the hormone insulin and we can get a boost in post exercise protein synthesis by eating carb and protein rich foods at this time. This is also the best time to have starchy carbs for the same reason and because our body are able to use them to refill glycogen stores which will also help to regulate insulin.
So what do you do to get on track?
The following steps will go along way to getting you on track.
1) Improve your post-workout nutrition.
Bring a protein and carb shake to the gym to have immediately following workouts. You can also have Branch Chain Amino Acids during your workout to help push you through. The importance of post-workout nutrition cannot be overstated. Research has shown that it helps to prevent dehydration, delay’s fatigue, decreases the stress response to exercise, helps prevent glycogen depletion and can also help the immune system. Not to mention it helps with overall recovery and protein synthesis. A mix of about 60% Carbs to 40% protein is a great place to start.
2) Eat a better breakfast every day.
Never skip breakfast. Wake up 2 hours before you have to leave so you have time to prepare a proper meal. Eat some protein, healthy fats, and ideally some veggies or fruit every morning. This will help regulate blood sugar, help maintain energy balance, and help control late-day cravings that ultimately lead to eating junk food.
3) Add some good fats to your meals.
A balance fat intake in your diet can help to control inflammation, hormonal balance, and metabolic rate. Avoid trans fats. Balance your fat intake 1/3 saturated fats, 1/3 monounsaturated fats, 1/3 polyunsaturated fats. Have 6-10g of fish oil/day. Add some flax oil or avocado to your salad. Just be sure to eat your healthy fat!
4) Eat more fiber
5) Pack a good lunch
Forget the sandwich and instead have a complete meal packed with lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables. This will save you money and help keep your energy up as you finish your work day. It will also allow you to spread out your calories throughout the day so you are sure to get all the nutrients you need.
6) Eat more veggies and fruits.
Right now, no matter what you say, you don’t eat enough veggies and fruits. The more you eat the better your health will be. Phytonutrients present in veggies and fruits are proving to be as powerful, and maybe more so, than vitamins and minerals in the body. Cancer, stroke and heart disease are drastically reduced with a high intake of fruits and veggies. 10 to 15 servings of fruits and veggies should not seem outrageous but should become the norm! Just know your grandma has been right all these years when she told you to eat your veggies! And don’t fear fruit. Highly nutritious it will also add some sweetness to your diet as you will be giving up almost all other sugars.
7) Eat good snacks throughout the day.
Our goal is at least four meals a day. A good way to reach this number is to add good healthy snacks between the traditional meals. But these aren’t your traditional “snacks”. By snack we mean a quick “meal” that is portable and fast to prepare. But it should still have all the ingredients of a great meal with healthy lean protein, good fats and veggies and fruits.
8) Eat more protein
Most people balk at the need to eat more protein. Either they think it’s going to make them bulky bodybuilders or that it is somehow unhealthy for you. While a higher protein intake is often associated with these mistaken notions, there are actually many benefits associated with the proper intake of protein. From higher metabolic rate, faster adaptation to training demands, and better recovery, protein is far more important than many realize. Following are a few reasons why protein is so important:
1) Increased thermic effect from eating
While all macronutrients require metabolic processing for digestion, absorption, and storage or oxidation, the thermic effect of protein is significantly higher than that of carbohydrates and fat. In fact, protein requires 25-30% of the energy it provides just for digestion, absorption, and assimilation while carbs only require 6-8% and fat requires 2-3%. That means that eating protein is actually thermogenic and can lead to a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss.
2) Increased Glucagon
Protein consumption increases plasma concentrations of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is responsible for antagonizing the effects of insulin in adipose tissue, leading to greater fat mobilization. In addition, glucagon also decreases the amounts and activities of the enzymes responsible for making and storing fat in adipose and liver cells. Again, this leads to greater fat.
3) Reduction in cardiovascular risk
Several studies have shown that increasing the percentage of protein in the diet (from 11% to 23%) while decreasing the percentage of carbohydrate (from 63% to 48%) lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol concentrations.
4) Improved weight loss profile
Research from Layman and colleagues has demonstrated that reducing the carbohydrate ratio from 3.5 – 1 to 1.4 – 1 increases body fat loss, spares muscle mass, reduces triglyceride concentrations, improves satiety, and improves blood glucose management.
5) Increased protein turnover
All tissues of the body, including muscle, go through a regular program of turnover. Since the balance between protein breakdown and protein synthesis governs muscle protein turnover, you need to increase your protein turnover rates in order to best improve your muscle quality. Eating more protein does just this. By increasing both protein synthesis and protein breakdown, eating more protein helps you get rid of the old muscle more quickly and build up new, more functional muscle to take its place.
6) Increased nitrogen status
A positive nitrogen status means that more protein is entering the body than is leaving the body. Eating more protein causes a strong positive protein status and when this increased protein availability is coupled with an exercise program that increases the body’s anabolic efficiency, your body does a better job of building muscle or limiting muscle loss when you are aggressively working to lose body fat.
7) Increase in auxiliary nutrient availability
Although the benefits mentioned above have related specifically to protein and amino acids, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just eat protein and amino acids — we eat food. Therefore, eating more high protein foods often provide auxiliary nutrients that could enhance performance and/or muscle growth. These nutrients include creatine, branched chain amino acids, conjugated linoleic acids, and/or additional nutrients that are important but remain to be discovered. This illustrates the need to get most of your protein from food, rather than supplements alone.
Looking over this list of benefits, isn’t it clear that for many individuals, an increase in protein intake would be advantageous for their training goals? Since a well-constructed nutrition program including plenty high quality proteins can lead to a better health profile, an increased metabolism, improved body composition, and an improved training response, why would anyone ever try to limit their protein intake to the bare minimum necessary to stave off malnutrition? The truth of the matter is that if you were going to overeat one macronutrient it should be protein. Instead, by limiting protein intake, people are often unwittingly consuming the bare minimum of protein, and consequently overeating carbohydrates and fats making any real progress in body composition and performance that much harder.