We Are What We Eat…
Think about it, kinda makes sense, right? You eat something, you digest it, body processes it, it goes somewhere. This could be frightening to think about if you just finished a nice Monday night meal at your local Hardee’s…so, my body is made up of burgers and fries? Kinda, but not really. The food we eat can be broken down into three categories: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Each important to proper health, the key is getting the ratios correct. Matching proper nutrition to exercise can really boost gains and improve energy levels at rest and during exercise. Let’s explore these categories a little more and see what the food we are eating is really made of.
Most of us think of “meat” when we think protein. This is correct. Meat is definitely a form of protein, but there are other plant based and dairy forms as well (soy, whey, pea, etc.). Proteins are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Therefore, if you are trying to hit the weights in order to bulk up and add some muscle, you will definitely have to increase your intake of protein (remember, we are what we eat, eat more protein, build more muscle). Protein is good for muscle recovery even if you are not trying to add mass, so regardless of exercise goal, protein will be important. Getting the right daily amount is important and there are many different opinions about the recommended dose for lifting weights (we will dive into this later in a separate discussion). One last though on protein, 1 gram of protein = 4 calories. 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. This is why lean proteins are often stressed in diets related to cutting calories and losing weight.
Carbs… poor carbs. They have gotten such a bad rap lately. We could spend the next 6 months talking about good carbs and bad carbs and whether we should be eating them or not. But right now I want to talk a little about what carbohydrates are. The short answer is: sugar. They can be simple or complex, they can come from natural foods like fruits and vegetables or grains. Complex carbs tend to be the “good carbs” diets talk about, the brown rices and whole grains. Simple carbs are the “bad” guys, the refined sugars found in soda, candy, and all the other delicious indulgences out there. Simple carbs are bad, in short, because they elevate our blood sugar rapidly, while complex carbs take longer to break down which gives our body more controlled energy over a longer period.
An important take away is that carbs are energy. Our body needs energy, especially when exercising. So, I believe every diet should include a proper portion of healthy carbohydrates. Different sources quote varying numbers, but carbohydrates in general should account for 45-65% of your total daily calories (according to the Institute of Medicine). 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories. So, if I am following a 2000 calorie diet, and I want 65% (on the high end) of my calories to come from carbs, that would be 1300 calories, or 325 grams. That would be a pretty carb heavy diet, but a good example of how you can determine your own daily needs based on your total daily calories.
Fats used to be the bad guy, I feel that recently carbs have taken their place as the villain. In simple terms, fats are just another source of energy, a more dense and potent source of energy. If 1 gram of protein or carb = 4 calories, 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. So, you can see how eating the fat grams can really add up on the calories and turn into stored fat on our body. Because, excess calories (regardless of source) we take in that are not used are stored for later in the form of fat on our body. Fats can be confusing with all the saturated and unsaturated forms, cholesterol, lipids, trans fats, omega-3s… ton of info, good stuff to discuss in more detail later perhaps.. For now, try to stay away from saturated fats (often from animal products), go for healthier fats found in foods like nuts, olive oil, avocados. Most recommend keeping total daily fat intake in the 20-30% of your total calorie intake range.
An example of a health diet could consist of:
- 50% carbohydrates
- 30% protein
- 20% fats
These numbers can be changed to accommodate for exercise goals (increasing protein and decreasing carbs, for example, of someone trying to add more muscle mass) and still be considered healthy.
Remember, if “we are what we eat”, eating healthier options will lead to a healthier “you”! It’s also a lot harder to burn calories than take them in… One last example, 2 double stuff oreos are ~150 calories…An average sized guy would have to run a mile to burn those calories…