Although I am not a nutritionist I have been intimately involved in the health and fitness field for many years. As a result, I am well familiar with the dieting needs of people who want to improve their health through proper nutrition.
The lack of knowledge and motivation to follow through, are two main reasons for the expanding waistlines in our population today.
Let’s take a look at dieting and how to start fixing it today.
There are four main sources of nutrition we must be concerned with. How you consume them – the right proportion according to your body’s make-up (see body types below) and how active you are – will determine your health and fitness level.
The rule is: Activity, especially intense activity, requires foods that will feed the need for additional energy versus lite or no activity which would call for a toned down diet.
These four sources of nutrition must nourish our bodies and supply it with energy for life. These are fluids, carbohydrates, protein and fats. Vitamins are also important however we should get the essential ones from the food we eat.
Let’s look at each of these sources of nutrition and their importance to your health.
Our bodies are made up mostly of liquids – blood, blood plasma, fluid within our cells, bile, feces, urine, sweat – to name a few. All these liquid serves a purpose and proper nutrition calls for keeping them as clean as possible. This means not consuming useless liquid-calories such as juices with added sugars, sports drinks, diet sodas . . . even water with added flavorings.
Water is my drink of choice and I would encourage you to make it yours also. I drink enough of it every day to satisfy my thirst, and of course when I am exercising, which is four to five days each week, I drink more.
Some important functions of bodily fluids include regulating body temperature and transporting substances throughout your body. For example, sweating is necessary and we do it even when we are not exercising. This is one way our bodies get rid of excess fluid and keep our skin cool in the process.
I stay hydrated by upping my water consumption before I start my exercise routines. I drink – between sets when I am exercising and after I am finished – in order to replace loss fluid. When exercising – don’t wait for the thirst signal but consciously drink water often. Of course, intense workouts will require more water.
Your fluid source should be as clean as possible. I avoid sports drink like Powerade, Gatorade, red bull and other artificially flavored drinks because they are not ideal for proper hydration.
We lose some electrolytes and potassium when we workout, especially for longer routines of more than an hour. In this case you can supplement with coconut water or some other natural electrolyte and potassium source.
I prefer to use a water bottle made from glass or stainless steel and not drink from a plastic bottle. Plastic can be a source of added contamination from the chemicals used to make it. These chemicals will leach into the water especially if they are stored in a warm environment.
I drink approximately 21 ounces of water or about 600 millimeter each time I exercise. This is in addition to what I normally consume each day which is approximately five to seven 8 oz. glass of filtered water. This amount varies for each individual depending on weight, age and gender. Experiment on your own to find out what amounts are ideal to satisfy your hydration needs.
There are many theories as to whether drinking water warm or cold is more effective for weight loss especially when exercising. I have been drinking cold water because I believe it forces my body to work harder to heat it up to 98.6º . . . our normal body temperature.
When drinking water while exercising don’t drink the entire bottle in four swigs. Pace yourself by having a few sips each time you drink. Drinking water too fast can cause stomach aches and lead to multiple trips to the restroom.
Keep in mind that your cup of coffee or tea is also another source of fluids that many of us drink each day. A cup of coffee is simple water that’s been topped up with coffee. Use little or no sugar if possible and don’t add unnecessary sugar substitute as many of these have been proven to be unhealthy.
In the next two sections I will discuss your main energy sources: carbohydrates and protein.
Carbs are our most important source of fuel when doing any kind of activity . . . even when using the gray matter between our ears.
Our bodies get its energy from two main sources of carbohydrates – glucose or sugar and glycogen. Glucose helps to protect your muscles and joints from breaking down or feeding on itself by being the first go-to source of energy.
Our skeletal muscles and liver store glycogen, the other source of energy our body uses, when there is insufficient glucose or sugar (see below for further discussion on glycogen).
N.B. Each gram of carbs supplies us with 4 calories of energy.
Carbs can be broken into simple and complex sugars. Simple sugars would be the kind found in sodas, candies and cookies. It’s also called glucose and is found throughout your body.
Complex cabs or starches, on the other hand, are carbohydrates formed when simple sugars are combined. They can be found in whole grain breads, pastas and starchy vegetables like corn, pumpkin and potatoes.
To prevent pre-diabetes – simple sugars should be less than 10% of your diet at any given meal. The bulk of your carbs should be of the complex variety.
Our liver and all our major muscles store glycogen, which is another form of carbohydrate, as a backup. When the immediate source of energy (glucose) is used up, our bodies turn to this reserve.
This type of sugar is used in conjunction with glucose to power many of our bodily functions such as walking, breathing, digestion, and etc. This makes it important to always have a reserve.
Although we need to have this reserve, it can be an issue for sedentary people since the foods that are broken down to carbs will continue to buildup and eventually lead to insulin resistance.
Physical activity will activate your body to use this stored sugar. The more intense your workouts the faster your body deplete this sugar. This makes it really important to restore your glycogen supply after a good run or doing extended resistance exercises.
Your source of carbs is very important to optimum health. Fresh vegetables, fruits and grains are excellent carbs that can be consumed regularly without them being detrimental to your health. It’s recommended that up to 60 % of the foods you eat be in the form of good quality carbohydrates.
One of the benefits of eating complex carbs is that they are nutrient dense and usually contain dietary fiber. As you know fiber is a substance found in plants that can’t be broken down by the body. It passes through our digestive system and helps to clean the pipes . . . so to speak. We should be consuming on average 30 grams of fiber each day. The best sources are fruits, veggies, grains and legumes.
Researchers have developed an index to measure the effect of carbs on our bodies. It’s called the glycemic index . . .
The Glycemic Index (GI) and blood glucose
When we eat any carb source it will cause our blood sugar to rise. The rate at which this rise happens is called glycemic index.
Foods with a high GI (55 and above) will result in quick rise in blood glucose whereas foods having a lower GI tend to have more bulk and release glucose slowly. These include foods like apples, beans, cantaloupes, oats and etc. This slow release is helpful in keeping blood glucose under control. Any food rating less than 55 in the G.I. is considered low to moderate.
Eating low glycemic foods is also ideal for losing weight and increasing insulin sensitivity. These types of food should become a part of your daily diet. Other examples of low GI foods are leafy green veggies, whole wheat bread, bran flakes, brown rice, whole fruits (not from a package), whole nuts, sweet potato (yams), low-fat yogurt.
Before starting your workout routines, I recommend having a natural source of carb. I like to have fruits at least one hour prior to any intense exercises. I eat a fast burning fruit and a slow release one. This helps to preserve muscle tissue and allow me to sustain intensity for longer periods.
NB: All recommendations given here are subject to adjustments based on age, sex, height, weight and how intense you work out. Find your sweet spot and build from there.
If you are a runner then you want to increase your intake of higher glycemic foods to sustain your endurance during long runs. However, resistance or weight-bearing exercises would call for low to medium rate of glucose release to supply needed energy.
The next important nutrient is protein.
Feed your muscles and increase your strength with the right proteins
As a second source of energy and the building blocks on which our bodies depend, protein is an extremely important nutrient. It’s important to eat quality proteins each day to experience good health and fitness.
Like carbohydrates, each gram of protein you consume adds 4 calories of energy to your body.
Proteins are made from amino acids (AA) and are known as macronutrients.
There are twenty non-essential amino acids in our bodies. Non-essentials are those made by our bodies and not necessarily needed from outside sources.
There are also eight essential amino acids that are not made by our bodies and must come from the foods we eat. We get them from eating a variety of foods including poultry, beef, fish, pork, eggs, yogurt, cheese, soy products, and certain seeds and nuts.
When I started working out many years ago AA were one of the few supplements I would take to enhance the foods I ate. In particular I took L-Arginine and L-Carnitine as they have a positive influence on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. They are effective in regulating the normal synthesis of glucose in our bodies. They have many other important benefits such as improving our immune system, help increase insulin sensitivity, a natural remedy for erectile dysfunction, keep fat and cholesterol levels in the normal ranges and improve blood flow down to the capillary (tiny blood vessels) level.
I won’t get into a biology lesson here but suffice to say that L- form of aminos are more easily digested and tolerated by our bodies than the D- form.
Supplying our bodies with good, clean sources of protein each day is the best way to get the most from this type of nutrient. This means eating foods that are as natural as possible – grass-fed beef, free range chicken, eggs from free roaming chicken, fish that’s wild caught. My go to snack is a mixture of nuts that’s jam-packed with a variety of natural nutrients.
I eat eggs from chickens fed organic feed but my preference is to get them from free roaming chickens as opposed to those that are cage-confined .The more orange-colored the yolk the better the egg. This means that the chickens are eating their natural diet.
Each meal should be made up of 10 to 15 percent proteins depending on your body type, activity level and your goal – to lose, gain or maintain your weight. The average amount to consume is .8 gram per kilogram of body weight. Click here for a conversion chart – pounds to kilogram. For example, a woman weighing 125 lbs. would weigh 67 kilograms and would normally eat 53.6 grams of protein spread throughout the day. Depending on your goals you can consume more or less.
On occasion I will supplement with a protein shake, especially after doing an intense workout session. This re-supplies my muscles with necessary nutrient to rebuild them from the stress they were put through.
Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet and contrary to popular thinking fats are not conducive to making you fat or overweight. They serve important functions in our bodies including temperature regulation, protection of vital organs, energy production, blood clotting and ease of muscle movement.
They are also important in helping to break down fat-soluble vitamins. 25% to 30% of your daily calories should come from fats.
One gram of fat yields 9 calories of energy.
There are different types of fat. The two we should be concerned with are saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are liquid.
Saturated fats are considered harmful to your body because they increase your risk of developing heart disease and even diabetes.
It raises your total blood cholesterol and also your LDL (artery clogging low-density lipoprotein). This type of fat comes from eating certain animal products such as beef, poultry, eggs, whole milk, ice cream, cheese and certain sea foods.
Examples of saturated fats are lard, butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil. Limit or avoid using these products in your foods for – cooking and as spreads.
Because unsaturated fats are in a liquid form at room temperature, they are healthier for your body. They may actually lower your risk of certain diseases . . . namely cancer, heart disease and diabetes. These fats should make up most of your fat calories.
Unsaturated fats come in two types – monounsaturated (olive and canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (fish, peanut, corn and soybean oils). Use these fats for your baking and cooking needs.
One of my go to fats is fish oil. It supplies my body with omega fatty acids which are beneficial in increasing good health. I would encourage you to find out more about omega fatty acids.
A third form of fats that’s pervasive in commercial foods products is trans fat. It can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower the healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. They will increase your risk for many chronic diseases, the main ones being heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
It’s usually listed on product labels as partially hydrogenated trans fats. Avoid these fats when making food choices.
You’ll find them in fast foods meals especially fries or chips, margarine, cookies, crackers, popcorn, doughnuts and a host of other products.
My personal choices
My fat choices each day includes avocados, healthy butter made from cows that are free to roam their pastures, nuts and olive oil when cooking. I eat wild-caught salmon in one form or another at least twice each week. I avoid unhealthy fats and when I do have some, it’s a very small amount.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that less than 10 % of your fat intake be in the form of saturated fats. I strive to live by those standards. I would encourage you to adjust the fat in your diet – eat more healthy ones and stay away from the fried foods.
Let’s look at body types and how to eat according to your type.
What is your body type?
There are three main body types – ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. We all fall into one of these categories either directly or in a range within them. Each one processes food slightly different but the goal of health and fitness should be the same for each one.
Which one are you?
The type of workout and diet that’s ideal for each group varies depending on where you are on the spectrum.
As you can see from the diagram above ectomorphs have a slim body frame. Because of this they need to increase their food intake and do targeted exercises to gain weight. They need to work harder and be more dedicated to developing a good physique.
Although they are generally slim, their lifestyle, habits – poor diet and lack of activity – can lead to high blood sugar. Investing in a workout program that shows you how to gain weight, or remain healthy, with a slim frame correctly, will go a long way in preventing pre-diabetes.
It’s easy for an ectomorph to lose weight. Certain models and long-distance runners are good examples of these. Bruce Lee, Bradley Cooper, Cameron Diaz and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain are classic ectos.
In order to gain weight an ectomorph needs to eat quality proteins and slow burning carbohydrates. They also need to eat more than the standard three meals per day. Five would be ideal.
Endomorphs on the other hand . . .
. . . tend to be on the heavier side and losing weight doesn’t come as easy for this group.
They need to eat foods that are not conducive to weight gain . . . and staying physically active is almost a requirement to keep weight in check.
To cut the body fat they must increase their cardio activity to do hiit weight training at least three days per week and eat foods that are conductive to weight loss such as lean meats, fish and poultry and less dairy products. Include more fibrous carbohydrates with each meal.
I would recommend that endos do lighter weights with higher repetitions and include multi-joint exercises – such as bench presses, squats, shoulder presses and burpees – in their routines. Less rest is required between sets which will aid in burning more calories.
We all want to have the body of a meso. These are the people who can work out for 15 minutes and look like they were in the gym for an hour.
They have a sturdier body frame and it’s easy for them to gain muscularity.
Those with this body-type fall between ectomorphs and endomorphs and can gain or lose weight easier than the other two. Although it’s incumbent on them to eat a healthy diet they can be more liberal with what they have at each meal.
In line with eating the right nutrition to prevent pre-diabetes, determine your body type and what will be the best foods and activity for your type.
I did not discuss proper supplementation for peak performance, however this is an important part of getting and maintaining proper health and fitness. I will reserve this topic for a future post.
I have put my many years of training into an illustrated manual that’s easy to follow. Get a copy of it here.