We all know that eating healthily is crucial to getting in shape, whether that means dropping fat, building muscle or getting better at sports. But what “healthy eating” actually means is far from clear, with the perceived wisdom changing all the time. It’s incredible to me that we’re still undecided about what to feed the human body, the very vessels in which we carry ourselves through life.
There’s a lot of faddy advice out there that should be easy to spot and discount, but even here at No.1 Fitness, where we really pride ourselves on offering the best, latest nutrition advice, we change our opinions over time. The dietary advice that I was giving people undergoing transformations with us three years ago isn’t the same as what I’m telling people today. That’s not to say the old advice was bad, just that every year we have more and more scientific and anecdotal information to work from.
The simplest, most practical advice when you’re starting out on a fitness regime is to forget everything you think you know about protein and fat and carbohydrates, and just focus on calories. Every food has a calorific value, and this is the crucial number for the purposes of changing your body. Of course, you also need loads of other stuff to function, but if you start your thinking with calories and build from there, you’ll have the foundation to achieve your goals.
Here are some nutrition questions we get asked all the time, and the most up-to-date, no-nonsense answers.
Could I be eating too little and that’s why I’m not losing weight?
This one’s a no-brainer: no. The idea that the body enters “starvation mode” is a complete myth. If you aren’t losing weight, then you are eating too much food. If you are overweight in the first place it’s because you’ve consumed too many calories. It’s nonsense to think that you need to eat more to lose weight.
What are the best foods for weight loss or muscle gain?
There are no specific foods that will make you gain muscle or lose body fat. There are foods that are advisable to include as part of a building or losing regime, however. When trying to lose body fat, you want to maximise the volume of food you can eat for the same number of calories, which will stop you from feeling hungry all the time.
Foods that are high in protein and fibre, and which aren’t very calorie dense, will help you feel full whilst being able to maintain your calorie deficit. When trying to build muscle, calorie dense foods can be introduced to make it easier to create the calorie surplus you will require. This is the fun part where you can eat lots of pasta.
How important is breakfast?
Not very. No single meal is essential. If you want breakfast, have it, if you don’t, then don’t. If you eat breakfast, just make sure you factor that into your daily calorie intake. I find skipping breakfast is a useful way to save a few calories I can spend elsewhere, but I know other trainers who can’t function without; it’s about getting to know your own body and planning your food and exercise accordingly.
How much water do I need to drink?
This varies massively from person to person, depending on the temperature of the country or room you’re in, sweat rate, activity levels and a hundred other things. The “seven glasses” recommendation you sometimes hear is plucked from thin air.
If you’re working out, it’s important to replace the fluids you lose through sweat (if you’re dehydrating yourself before getting on the scales, you’re not helping anyone). Water is also a good way to cool down between sets, so always have a bottle handy in the gym or on a run.
But for the rest of the day, the best advice is to drink when you’re thirsty. The human body is usually pretty good at moderating itself, and as water is calorie free and vital to our very existence, you should drink it whenever you please. Don’t feel the need to be chucking it down if you’re not thirsty. Unless you have another underlying problem, your body will tell you if you are hydrated enough.
Should I avoid fruit because of the sugar?
No. Just because a food has sugar in it doesn’t mean it should be avoided, especially fruit. Fruit is something that should make up part of a balanced diet, with many proven health benefits. Can you overeat it? Absolutely. You do need to exert some control – if you get through three punnets of strawberries a day, you’ll have a hard time losing inches from your waist. But fruit dodges the problems associated with other sugary foods – that they drive us to eat an excess of calories and offer little or no nutritional value.
Should I stop drinking coffee?
No need to. If you find you need caffeine for energy then you probably want to think about fixing your diet, sleep and exercise patterns, but in and of itself, coffee won’t have any impact on your weight. I would advise not to drink it later than 2pm, though, as it takes around eight hours to leave your system, so it could hinder you getting to sleep.
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