The key 'ingredient' to health & fitness success is the correct NUTRITION! If you eat right, the results of your hard work in the gym will be more forthcoming. Think of your body like an engine. In order to run properly, efficiently and at full-power, it needs the correct fuel. Food is our fuel so two things are important 1) the amount of fuel and 2) the quality of the fuel you use.
When you begin an exercise programme you might feel exhausted or achy at first. If you get your nutrition right, your body is more equipped to help itself repair more quickly e.g. magnesium (a micro-nutrient) has been shown to help with muscle soreness. It's a form of caring for yourself! Let's get into Macros & Micros, Quality, Meal Prepping & Convenience.
Macros & Micros
Our bodies need both Macros which are the big 3 food groups - your Carbs, Fats & Proteins and Micros which are the Vitamins and Minerals that are derived from these foods. I'll come on to quality a bit later but the better the quality of your food & drink, the higher the nutrient density/content and therefore Micros you benefit from.
The first thing you need to do is calculate how much of each Macro group you need on a daily basis. You begin by working out (based on your current stats and activity level) how many calories you need on a daily basis. You use this figure and then divide it into each food group to find out the amount (in grams) you need of each. This is the starting point for any fitness programme/meal plan. If you don't know these 3 key numbers, it's very hard to make progress. You also need to be honest about your activity level. If you're inactive, you will require less calories than someone going to the gym every day.
Once you've done your basic calcs, you can then start to have fun! Don't see it as a chore as you can be really inventive when planning your diet. Try and eat a balance of each food group at each meal - breakfast, lunch & dinner. You can top up your quota in between these meals but eating healthy snacks such as nuts, raisins, fruit & veg. Bodybuilders and professional athletes might eat up to 7 times per day because their calorie requirements are much higher due to hours and hours of training. Don't be intimidated by this as if you master your Macros based on your activity, you'll be doing just great!
The next important thing to bare in mind is the quality of your intake. You wouldn't put sawdust in a car and expect it to function would you? It's the same with our bodies. In order to achieve optimum performance, you need to strive for the best. It might not be feasible to go all out on quality, but you can pick and choose the things that promote health.
For example, if eating great quality meat is really important to you and you eat a lot of it, try switching your supermarket meat to a locally sourced organic butcher. It's a really great feeling to cook something that's been carefully sourced. Or, if you love your fresh vegetables, how about an organic veggie box delivery to your door which you can experiment different recipes with? Nothing beats homemade vegetable soup!
These are just ideas and I always try to go organic as much as possible. Organic guarantees high quality due to the best production methods being used and the absence of chemical contamination. I also find there is a real sense of wellbeing gained from eating as much organic produce as possible. I love nothing better than making a healthy curry from scratch on a Friday night and knowing that 100% of the ingredients are organic! I love supporting the organic movement because of two main things: 1) quality and 2) environmental ethics.
Meal Prepping Tips & Top 10 Bio-Hacks
Now that you know how much to eat and some ideas on sourcing & quality, what about how to fit all of this into daily lifestyle?! It can be the biggest stumbling block especially for busy people. For me, there are a couple of things I have done during this challenge which have helped.
Have you heard of Bio-hacking? Sounds funky but it's simply a type of self-improvement that focusses on things in our lives which have an impact on how we feel. The aim is to be the best version of ourselves. Proper nutrition can alter our physical performance and state of mind. It's therefore a key part of bio-hacking.
Here are my top 10 tips and bio-hacks:
1) Never skip breakfast as it ignites your calorie burning furnace first thing. For breakfast, I eat a high quality organic rolled oats porridge and make it with whole organic milk and a scoop of organic protein. Add some organic blueberries on top, and a dash of organic honey a couple of days a week as a 'treat' to yourself! Other breakfasts I love are organic boiled eggs with organic wholegrain brown bread and half an avocado or a protein pancake stack:)
2) Eat your personal balance of Macros at each meal. That means carbs, fats and proteins at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
3) I carry around a 750ml WHEY AHEAD® shaker as a water bottle during the day. I ensure it is filled at least twice to help me achieve my water intake. I take it to the gym to stay hydrated during workouts and have a small Tupperware pot where I store my protein scoops to add in afterwards.
4) I keep a banana and a couple of small pots of mixed almonds, raisins, cranberries and walnuts nearby to snack on between meals.
5) For lunches I prep on Sundays for the week ahead. I grill 5 chicken breasts with paprika (one for each weekday), cook some rice and a green veg (normally broccoli). I then measure out a daily portion into 5 Tupperware dishes, seal and stick in the fridge to pick up when I need them. This might sound like a lot of work but it's actually not. It takes 30 mins tops and it saves time when I need lunch fast in the week. If you're office based, you'd have to either make packed lunches (same time taken to prep) or go out during lunch hour for food which cuts into your own time.
6) I use organic coconut oil to cook with. I used to use olive oil but studies have shown more carcinogens are released when it's heated to high temperatures so I switched to coconut oil. It works really well and can enhance dishes.
7) I tend to have a Matcha Green Tea before I hit the gym as it improves my focus and energy levels not to mention is a great detox to counteract the free-radicals you build up when you exercise. If you don't like green tea, try a shot of espresso instead.
8) I take the time on Sunday to think about the evening meals ahead. I try to eat a fuller breakfast and lunch and lighter dinner. You can be flexible according to what you'd like though (as long as it fits your macros!). One of my favourite meals is a 4 egg Spanish omelette using spinach, feta and sweet potato slices. It's easy to prep and bung in the oven for a light, yet balanced dinner.
9) Remember to give yourself treats. I'm not saying eat a whole tub of ice-cream or binge on cake but you can enjoy some of your favourite things in moderation (and as part of your daily Macro calories)! For me, I love dark chocolate so give myself a few squares after dinner with a decaf espresso. Allowing yourself a few treats make things so much more rewarding and you start to value the things you love even more!
10) My last tip, especially if you're working out in the evenings after work, is to remember your muscles repair overnight while you sleep. It's therefore a good idea to have a cup of raw cocoa (I add half a scoop of protein) before bed. You may have seen our previous blog on fat. We need fat to metabolise protein so I use whole milk. That way, my body is getting a source of protein and fat before bed to help rebuild my body while I sleep, not to mention it's a comforting drink for late at night!
There is plenty more I could write about as this is such a big topic. To prevent me writing something the length of 'war & peace', I'll leave it at that and add in more detail as the challenge enters it's last 3 weeks! Please check out our previous blog posts which cover topics like Balanced Nutrition and the Timing of when to have your protein. We've also created some recipe ideas for you over on our Recipe page. I hope you've enjoyed reading and picked up something new or at least validated what you're already doing. Have a great one fitfam and check out other articles in our nutrition blog.