Monday, April 9, 2012

Eating For Your Goals

I'm back again after a long weekend filled with homework, but I definitely wanted to make sure I addressed what I consider a very important topic regarding diet and exercise.  Now I may have touched on it once or twice (or about ten times...), but never have devoted an entire article to this simple little piece of wisdom.  And that special nugget of knowledge, my friends, is that even if you're training hard as heck to accomplish whatever goals you may have set in the gym, you're only concerning yourself with half of what you need.  That's right, if your diet doesn't compliment your goals, you may never reach your true potential under the bar, on the track, in the pool, or wherever else you want to make your mark on history.

Now sure, we all know to "eat healthy, whole foods."  But that's wayyyy too general to work sometimes.  I'm talking more specifically about eating a diet tailored EXACTLY to your sport or activity.  If you haven't done the research and adjusted your intake regarding both quantity, quality, and what exactly it comprises, then you aren't going to hit it perfectly day in and day out like you need to in order to become the best.  Let's delve into this a little further, and see exactly what I mean.

Before I go much farther, let me address one thing.  I mentioned eating was half of performing well. isn't.  You can eat crap, train as hard as physically possible, and still see results.  But will they be optimal results?  Will they come as quickly as physically possible?  Will you look and feel your best the most possible amount of days?  If you say yes, you're kidding yourself.  OF COURSE NOT.  Eating may not be everything, but it's a HUGE part of performing the way you want to perform.

Now each sport/activity/goal you have in mind has a specific diet type that works optimally for the desired results.  Here are a few examples of what you need to be eating based on what exactly you want to achieve:

Lose fat:  Clean foods, raw foods, whole foods, all in a caloric deficit will work very well.  To see optimal results, keep a lot of water in your diet, keep the sugar far away from your piehole, and make sure you're getting lean meats dense with protein, complex, slow digesting carbs full of fiber and whole wheat, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil.  You MUST keep in a caloric deficit though, which will be a different value for everybody based on weight, age, metabolism, muscle density, and all sorts of other factors.  To lose large amounts of fat, ketogenic diets (very low carb) diets have been known to work well, and I have a whole article on those, so read up.

What doesn't work as well:  Junk foods, high in saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, and especially lots of sugar.  Sure, if you're in a caloric deficit at the end of the day, that's great, and you'll still lose weight, but I can almost guarantee it won't happen as quickly or efficiently as possible.  You're basically using up calories that instead could be replaced with lean meats to help maintain muscle mass and fiberous veggies that will keep you full.  If you eat like crap, you'll tend to look know.  

Gain Mass:  Lots of food.  You need to be in a caloric excess at the end of the day, but try to keep an eye on the actual amount you go over your maintenece (the number of calories you require to maintain your weight).  Overshoot this number by too much, and you'll start putting on an excessive amount of fat.  And we all know the name of the game when gaining mass is trying to put on muscle with as little fat as possible.  To do this, like I'll always say, keep it clean, but calorie dense.  Red meats are great, as are scoops of peanut butter and sweet potatoes.  Gaining mass isn't about eating anything and everything in sight.  This is what's called a "dirty bulk," and almost always results in too much fat gain and very little actual muscle gain.  Train hard in the gym, do big, compound lifts, and don't skimp on the meals.

What doesn't work as well:  Obviously, eating under or at maintenance levels will make any gains in size impossible.  Yes, that's right, IMPOSSIBLE.  It goes against the laws of nature.  If you don't consume more energy than you use, your body won't have an excess to build things bigger and stronger.  So if you're trying to gain a six pack AND get bigger, you might as well forget about it.  Focus on the muscle, eat big and often, and worry about cutting up later.  Seriously, there isn't much more of a futile situation than trying to get big and eating too small.  Get it?

Gain Strength:  Here's the deal, if you're looking to gain strength, like gaining mass, you need food.  Sure, keeping it clean is always the goal.  Eat a boatload of protein, lots and lots of complex carbs, and as always, healthy fats like nuts and seeds.  Eat a LOT of them.  Your body needs every ounce of fuel to replenish itself for maximal loading as frequently as possible.  Here's the deal though.  Strength athletes, if truly specific to their sport, generally don't get all the power they need from healthy, clean foods.  Usually they'll throw in a few borderline foods, and many just go all out on the junk.  Sure, it's bad for you, but a burger, a piece of meat pizza, and a pile of fries really helps you push a LOT of extra weight up.  Believe me I know, some of my best squat sessions were after an accidental overload of food the night before.  All that caloric energy, while not optimal for lean looks and rippling abs, sure works great for strength.  Would I reccommend going for the junk?  HECK NO!  I believe there's always a clean alternative, and here it just lies in eating more food.  Drink milk, eat peanut butter, have a couple of sweet potatoes.  That'll give you the energy.  It may fill you up, but hey, your stomach could lose a bit of stretching. 

I will say this however.  If you're training for strength, you're not allowed to cry if you slip up and eat a burger and a few pieces of cake.  Remember, you don't train to be lean, you train to be strong.  If you go over caloric requirements, even by a lot, so what?  Use it to fuel your workout.  Eat as best you can.

What doesn't work as well:  Obviously, less food doesn't work.  Cutting carbs DOESN'T WORK.  Low calorie diets DON'T WORK.  Heck, I'll say in general that trying to put a cap on your calories DOESN'T WORK! If you want to be strong, eat when you're hungry, eat a LOT whenever you can, and make sure you're working hard enough to stay hungry frequently.  I will say that unlike mass gain, it IS possible to get stronger without excess calories, but it's definitely slow going for anyone other than a newbie.  High carb, high fat, high protein.  That's the name of the game for strength under the bar.  

Before you go thinking you can deadlift that, realize that those big plates are 100lbs a piece
Endurance:  Carbohydrates.  Need I say more?  If you're running miles upon miles a day, you need carbs, both simple and complex.  I'm not a runner, so I can't give you a specific diet that will make you as successful as possible.  But I will say that from the endurance athletes I've met, they're always shoveling in the pasta, fruit, and veggies.  Sure, they eat a lot of lean protein to help rebuild ripped up muscles (and pop a lot of joint supplements for those pounded ankles), but as far as I know the main focus is carbohydrates.  This goes for swimming, running, biking, hiking, or other sports/activities where you're active at medium-high intensity levels for extended periods of time.  Your body needs fuel, make sure it gets enough.  

What doesn't work as well:  Well honestly, I was going to say ketogenic diets.  However, I know that there are runners out there who follow ketogenic diets and are quite successful.  I believe these people have been on keto diets for quite some time though, and personally I don't believe it's the greatest idea to limit carb intake and expect to perform as well on extended runs, bike trips, etc.  Don't limit carbs, don't eat in a caloric deficit, and for obvious reasons DON'T DEHYDRATE YOURSELF.  Lots of water, LOTS AND LOTS!

Listen, once again, if you don't eat for your goals, you're probably not going to reach them.  I say probably because for some reason, certain people get lucky.  But those people are few and far between.  Not losing weight?  I'd look to your diet first.  Not improving on your lifts despite lifting heavy day in and day out?  You're probably not eating enough.  Trying to gain mass but the scale won't budge?  Heck...EAT MORE!  Can't seem to run a 5 minute mile?  Well, have a big plate of spaghetti the night before and see if you just can't break that barrier tomorrow.  It's simple stuff.  Sure, there can be lots wrong with a training program, but I'd really make sure your diet isn't off kilter first.  Have a good food base, and go from there.  After all, we are what we eat, and I'll take that saying a step further and say our accomplishments tend to reflect what we eat as well.

And then there's Chad Ochocinco who eats McDonalds every day and still seems to perform better than was thought to be physically possible.  *sigh*, it's people like him that take away credibility for the healthy stuff.  Oh well.  There's only one of him, and there's many more people like you and me....the normal people.  Just don't follow his example, OK?  Please?

He eats McDonalds EVERY DAY!?!  As Chad would say..."Child Please.."

Eat to be strong, to be fast, and to win.  Good Luck!

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