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What Should I Eat? When Should I Eat? Should I Do Cardio?: 20 of Your Burning Nutrition and Fitness Questions Answered.

Since I started writing nutrition blog posts for Performance Fitness, clients and friends have started asking me questions. Lots of questions. This post aims to answer them. Grab a protein smoothie and settle in. Here we go!

Twenty Questions:

1. How is it that the RDA for protein is so low and you recommend a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight?

The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. If I weigh 122 pounds, that’s about 55 kilos. Multiply that times .8 and you get a measly 44 grams of protein. For a sedentary office worker this might be sufficient but it seems that the RDA is just the basic requirement for a person who is not all that active or interested in strength gain, muscle size or weight loss. If any or all of those are important to you, then you need more protein. If one gram per pound of bodyweight makes you sweat, aim for 100 grams. Likewise, if you weigh over 200 pounds, you do not need 200 grams of protein a day. Instead, choose your goal weight, and aim for that in protein grams. From what I’ve gleaned through research, it is only when you consume 200+ grams (and I’m mostly talking about women here) that problems may occur. Read this article for more information. And remember, without adequate protein, your muscles won’t heal, grow and get stronger after all that hard training you do. Don’t throw it away with a low-protein diet. Your nutrition is paramount. Really really.

2. How much water should I drink?

The old adage is to drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Your pee should be clear. You should drink before you’re thirsty, because when you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Well guess what? None of that has been proven to be true. You get water from your food as well as from plain water. Chances are you’re more hydrated than you think. Your pee can be yellow and you can be adequately hydrated at the same time. If you love water, then drink up my friend. If you’re okay with less and you don’t exhibit any true signs of dehydration, then good on ya. Will water help you with weight loss? Will it fill you up so you eat less? Only you can know. Experiment and see! More about the 8×8 water myth here.

3. How do I get rid of my arm flab/muffin top/armpit fat?

Eat fewer calories than you burn. Spot reduction is a myth. Also know that loose skin occurs in some people after significant weight loss. But if it’s fatty tissue, caloric restriction is the answer. Also know that strength training will increase muscle mass in your perceived “problem areas” (think triceps and glutes) and can create a more pleasing silhouette, so do that as well.

4. What do you think of Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is when you have a finite “eating window.” Otherwise you are not eating. There are a few well-known programs but overall people usually fast from the evening through the night and into the morning, for a total of 16-18 hours, then have a 6-8 hour eating window. The logic is that with a smaller eating window you will eat less, and that your cells can heal and be replaced with new cells (autophagy) when you’re in a fasted state. Furthermore, some people believe that exercising while fasted burns more calories. This has not proven to be all that significant. All in all, I think IF is great if it works for you. I also think you will have more success at it if you eat a low-carb diet, which helps to blunt your appetite and decrease low-blood sugar episodes. But if you get “hangry” and want to kill people when you forgo breakfast and lunch, please, for the love of God, EAT. More info including links to scientific research articles here.

5. Are all macros created equal?

Hell no. Really popular these days is IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros. Remember macronutrients = fat, protein and carbohydrates. There are scads of beautiful, fit young women all over Instagram flaunting their bodies along with their fro-yo-candy concoctions with the hashtag IIFYM. Here’s the thing. Yes, you can lose weight on a diet of Pop-Tarts and protein shakes. BUT you will be sorely lacking in micronutrients. You know, vitamins and minerals. I believe that the more nourished you are, the less hungry you will be since your body has all it needs to operate at full capacity. So again, weight loss can be achieved on a shitty-ass diet as long as you remain in a caloric deficit. Do I recommend it? NO.

6. What is that stuff you’re always drinking during class? Is it rum and coke?

No silly. That dark drink in my shaker bottle is my BCAAs. BCAAs are branch-chain amino acids, the building blocks of our pal protein. They are advertised as a product that alleviates muscle soreness, and as a boost for your workouts. Additional research suggests that when you’re dieting and using BCAAs, they can help you maintain—and not lose—your hard-earned muscle mass. Some clients swear by their efficacy. I honestly am not sure, but I love the taste, and as I live in a state of mild calorie restriction, I’ll take the insurance. Here’s more information about BCAAs.

7. How do I stop eating?

Put the fork down. Walk away from the table. Remember your goals. Better yet, parcel out your food and know how many calories you’re going to eat BEFORE you eat.

8. Help! I pigged out last night! Am I doomed?

No! We all pig out once in a while. If you pig out two nights a week every week, and go over your calorie limit for both those days without compensating for it on other days, then you’re going to stall your success. Think about your calorie budget in terms of a week, not a day. This allows for a longer view of your caloric budget without driving you crazy. So let’s say you gorged on pizza and beer Saturday night. On Sunday you eat slightly under your caloric goal for the day. Then at the end of the week you’ll still have eaten at a deficit and your pizza-fest won’t have broken your stride.

9. Do you eat carbs?

Carbs make me happy and fuel my workouts, especially in the form of rice, potatoes, bananas, milk, oats, and sprouted toast. I’ve come to believe that they ain’t called macronutrients for nuthin’. The reason people have success on low-carb and no-carb diets is because they are restricting caloric intake. Eating fewer processed carbs also tends to make you less hungry.

10. What diet do you follow?

I do not follow any specific diet plan. I eat a high protein diet of mostly real, whole foods, slightly under the amount of calories that would be required to maintain my weight. BOOM.

11. How many meals should I eat per day to stoke my metabolism?

Some people believe that the secret to keeping your metabolism running hot and speedy is to eat six small meals a day. This has not been scientifically proven. If you enjoy eating many small meals (and prepping them and possibly packing them to go) then by all means do it. If you’d rather eat three squares, do that. The point, as always, is to eat fewer calories than you expend. It doesn’t matter how often you eat them especially if you are eating adequate amounts of protein.

In addition, I find personally that the less often I eat, the less hungry I am. I’ve come to believe through my own experimentation that the physiological act of eating actually increases my appetite. I also think about food more often if I eat it more often. And I like the feeling of fullness after a meal. If I ate a bunch of small meals, I would not get that satisfied feeling. Keep in mind this is a partly subjective answer. Find what works for you and run with it, Stallion.

12. What should I eat before and after I work out and when should I eat it?

Protein and protein. With carbs and a little fat. There’s no magical “anabolic window” in which straight after strength training you need to gulp down a protein shake or else your muscles will wither. In case you believed that. As for your pre-workout nutrition, a light protein drink an hour or so before exercise works great, or a protein-rich meal two hours prior. As long as your day’s total of protein is optimal for your weight and goals, it doesn’t matter when you eat, as long as it’s not a huge meal right before you work out. Mama don’t want you cramping.

13. Can I eat the same thing every day?

If you love the routine and ritual of eating the same thing every day, AND you’re achieving your goals, go for it. I’ve heard it said time and time again to add as much variety into your diet as possible. This doesn’t work for me. It makes me feel overwhelmed and obligated to eat foods I don’t love. Instead, I like having a few set breakfasts, lunches and dinners that I rotate. The advantage is that I come to know how much protein and calories they contain, which makes it easier to budget for say, dinner out. I also make sure I take a multivitamin to ensure that I’m not missing any nutrients.

14. What are some good vegetarian and vegan sources of protein?

Eggs, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, seitan (wheat gluten, if you tolerate it) and soy contain healthy amounts of protein. As for supplemental protein, there’s whey if you tolerate dairy, pea and hemp. Regardless of your preferred protein sources, your strength will stall and your muscles will not gain in size if you are not providing adequate amounts for them to heal and recover from your training sessions. Also, make sure with soy that you choose minimally processed products like tempeh, natto, and tofu. Fake burgers, nuggets, and the like are incredibly processed and may interfere with healthy digestion. Additionally, firmer tofu has more protein than the soft silky kind.

15. Am I missing out if I use pea protein powder instead of whey?

Not at all. Pea protein powder, for some people, is easier to digest than whey, since it contains no lactose or gluten. It also has a great amino acid profile (BCAAs!) and is hypoallergenic. If you’re a vegetarian or lactose intolerant, try pea protein right this minute.

16. Can I lose weight and still drink alcohol?

You can! BUT. Ask yourself: “Self, do I tend to eat more when I drink since alcohol dissolves my inhibitions and makes me forget my long-term weight-loss goals?” Be honest. If the answer is “yes,” then limit your alcohol consumption. It’s like, duh. Additionally, stay away from sugary cocktails made with juice and soda. That’s just silly. Stick to wine, beer, hard cider, and clear spirits like vodka and tequila to which you may add flavored seltzer, a citrus squeeze, or dare I say it, a scoop of BCAAs.

17. Will I get fat if I eat fat?

Let’s kill this myth once and for all. Low-fat diets were all the rage in the 80s and 90s. Fat has 9 calories per gram, versus carbs and protein, which each have 4. Ergo, the logic of the day became: eat less fat and lose that weight. The thing was, people replaced their fat with processed industrial seed oils like Wesson and margarine, which are terrible for you, and added all kinds of sugar to foods that otherwise did not need them. When I drink milk, it’s whole milk. Ditto yogurt and cheese. And I love butter, especially grass-fed. Because I eat the full-fat versions of these foods, they keep me satisfied for longer, are as close to their natural state as possible, and don’t ever leave me wanting more. I’ve lost almost ten pounds since Christmas by eating the full-fat versions of my favorite foods and my blood panels pass muster with my primary physician.

18. How much cardio do I need to lose weight?

None.

What? Truth. Bottom line—you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. Excessive cardio can increase your appetite and decrease your muscle mass. Lose-lose, baby. Remember that the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be, and the more calories you will burn at rest. Similarly, you burn more calories AFTER a strength training session than you do after a long cardio session. Sweating is lovely, but the key to a hot, lean physique is a combination of mild calorie restriction and muscle-building exercises. If you want to burn additional calories and you have the energy, do a little steady-state cardio, but not every day, and not for hours on end. Aim for once or twice a week and make sure it’s an activity you enjoy, and don’t go for more than an hour. If you want to burn a ton of calories, get strong, powerful AND build muscle, come to kettlebell class!

19. What if my family eats like crap when I’m trying to lose weight?

Then it’s going to be a little more challenging, but here’s the thing. The more you understand WHY the foods you choose to eat will help you reach your goals, the more you will choose to eat them and thus feel empowered by your choices rather than deprived. Your family might even join you when they see your results. While it would be excellent to have the whole family on board your goal ship, they are not required to set sail with you. You are the captain of your journey. And you have lots of mates right here at Performance Fitness. Arrr!

20. What should I do when I’m going out to eat?

Preview the menu online and plan what you’re going to order. Stick with protein and vegetables. Minimal flour. Minimal sugary or high-calorie sauces. Fish and shrimp are always good choices, as is grilled chicken, and steak. We already talked about alcohol, so be smart about that. And track your choices before you get to the restaurant. If you know you must have dessert, try not finishing it, and savor it slowly. Additionally, budget for your big night out by shaving a couple hundred calories from your breakfast and lunch. This might entail skipping the nut butter in your smoothie or the cheese in your omelet, while increasing the greens and veg where you can, so that you’re not famished when you arrive at the restaurant.

BONUS QUESTION!

Help! How do I track cooked meat versus raw?

Plug in “cooked” when tracking. If that’s not an option, and you have a choice between a higher calorie/higher fat entry and a lower calorie/fat entry, err on the side of caution and choose the higher calorie entry, thus helping you budget honestly for the rest of the day. Usually though, you can scroll through a bevy of choices until you find one that closely matches what you’re eating. The more you track, the better you get at tracking. Simple, right?

Elise Miller has been a trainer with Performance Fitness since 2013. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer, qualified TRX instructor, SFG II Kettlebell instructor, and has a Level 1 certification from Precision Nutrition. In addition to her wicked fitness chops, Elise is also a published author, including two novels, and lives on Philadelphia’s Main Line with her husband, two kids and two teeny rescue dogs. You can find more about Elise’s writing here.

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