Sculpting the Perfect Body: One Bite at a Time
By Bob Wells, PES
April 9, 2012
There are three primary keys to sculpting a great body: proper training, proper rest and recovery, and proper nutrition. It is this last, crucial component that many neglect, thus limiting and delaying their chance at truly altering their body. So, what is proper nutrition?
Let’s start with the basics. There are three macronutrients that the body needs to function properly. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, but they are your body’s main source of energy. Each time you consume carbohydrates, your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin. Insulin attaches to amino acids--the building blocks of proteins--and stores them in muscle cells so that they can be used for recovery and repair.
However, excessive amounts of insulin lead to the extra calories being stored as fat, thus creating a fat-storing machine. It is not the carbohydrates themselves, but rather excessive carbohydrate intake that can lead to being overfat. The key then, is to consume the proper amount, and type of carbohydrates at the proper time.
There are two types of carbohydrates, complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, enter the bloodstream more gradually, thus providing consistent energy throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates, like fruits, enter the bloodstream rapidly, thus providing a quick energy boost. However, if the energy is not needed, the insulin will help to store those calories as fat. As a general rule, more of our carbohydrate intake should be of the complex kind.
The second macronutrient is protein. Proteins are the building blocks of lean muscle tissue. Protein allows the body to build muscle and burn fat efficiently. Protein can help increase your metabolism by 20% each time you consume food containing it. It also time releases carbohydrates in the form of glucose so that you have energy throughout the day.
While protein itself will unlikely be stored as fat, consistent caloric consumption great than needed, will lead to an increase in fat.
The third macronutrient is fat. Fats have two primary functions: They are responsible for joint lubrication. Additionally, hormones are manufactured from fats.
Therefore, in order to maintain an efficient metabolism, you must consume healthy fats. Healthy fats include, but are not limited to mixed nuts, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, fish oil, and ground flax seeds.
We now have a better understanding of the 3 macronutrients, and their effects on the body. We now must determine how much to eat and when to eat each of the macronutrients. A great source for understanding this is “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” by Dr. John Berardi. In it, he advocates for five habits that “…will naturally lead to an improvement in calories control, nutrient timing, and food selection.”
Habit 1: Eat every 2 to 4 hours. Contemporary research shows that regular “feeding intervals” stimulate metabolism, balance blood sugar levels, help prevent overeating as a result of hunger, and help the body burn extra fat mass while maintaining lean mass. This habit also ensures that active people, who have greater caloric demands, can meet those caloric needs without eating calorically dense foods that promote fat storage.
How big should these meals be? Obviously there is variation in people’s body sizes, body fat percentages, and level of activity, so there will be variation in the size of the meals. However, it is not necessary to get bogged down in the details in the inchoate stage of implementing these habits, as meal sizes will naturally fall into place when using all of the 5 Habits.
Habit 2: Eat complete, lean protein with each feeding opportunity. Some good proteins are lean red meat, salmon, eggs, low-fat plain yogurt and supplemental proteins, such as milk protein isolates or whey protein isolates. Some experts claim that additional protein is harmful or unnecessary. However, contemporary research is pretty clear: a high protein diet IS safe, and may be important for achieving the best health, body composition, and athletic performance. By following this habit, you will ensure adequate protein consumption, stimulation of the metabolism, improved muscle mass and recovery, and reduction of body fat.
Habit 4. For fat loss, eat “other carbohydrates” only after exercise. This timing strategy works well in those with stubborn and hard-to-remove body fat stores. It also works well for minimizing fat gain in those interested in gaining muscle.
Habit 5. Eat healthy fats daily. As we discussed earlier, some healthy fats include monosaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, some nuts, and avocado and polyunsaturated fats, from some nuts, some vegetable oils, and fish oil supplements.
Following the 5 Habits is certainly a step, a big step in fact, in the right direction when it comes to building the body that you dream of. However, like any system, there are shortcomings. The 5 habits don’t provide prescriptive nutrition or exact caloric guidelines. Instead, it relies on nutrient timing and food selection to regulate overall food intake and manage hunger. However, by not requiring calorie counting, this strategy is easy to understand and apply to our daily food choices, guaranteeing a well balanced diet.
Another shortcoming of this method is that carbohydrate intake might be too low for more active individuals. Without proper carbohydrate intake, these individuals might be sapped of strength to conduct their workouts, limiting their ability to reach their fitness goals. This shortcoming is easily solved by individualizing dietary recommendations based on current level of activity and goals, to ensure the proper macronutrient split.
Bob Wells is a certified personal trainer and former collegiate athlete and coach. Mr. Wells can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org