Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eat to Shrink II

Part I of this series can be viewed here.

Now we have a general idea of how much to eat, but what do we eat?  I advocate simple foods such as chicken breast, brown rice, whole grain bread, sweet potatoes and fruit as staples that can be prepared ahead of time and act as a framework for clean eating.  Using food exchanges and “common meals,” as well as having food that is already prepared, will not only make the transition easier but also head off “desperation cheat meals”—why cheat when there’s diet-approved food in the fridge and all you have to do is assemble the meal?

Now on to carbohydrates, proteins and fats: Proteins should be consumed from primarily whole food sources such as fish, chicken, egg whites, and beef, and in conjunction with both of the other primary macronutrients.  Carbohydrates act as a protein sparing synthesis agent; this means that by consuming protein with carbohydrates, your body burns the carbohydrates as fuel and “spares” the protein for muscle building and repair rather than converting it to energy.  Carbohydrates also spike insulin levels, a necessary mechanism in protein synthesis.  This is why choosing fast digesting carbohydrates post-workout is just as important as selecting slow-digesting carbohydrates the rest of the time.  Fast-digesting carbohydrates include sugar, pasta, white bread, baked goods, bananas, watermelon, and most fruit juices.   Slower digesting carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, oatmeal, berries, and fibrous or acidic fruit such as apples, grapefruit, strawberries and cherries, as well as brown rice, whole grain breads and red or russet potatoes.  Fat sources that are good choices include peanut butter, cheese, olive oil, nuts (raw or dry-roasted only), or egg yolks, and you will also get some of your fat from protein sources; don’t panic, healthy fats are crucial to a successful diet!  Your best bets for protein sources are boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean cuts of beef or pork, white fish and eggs.  Some great beef choices are top round (London broil), top sirloin steaks and lean hamburger (4-7% fat—obviously you want to avoid beef retailers who do not exclude lean finely textured beef in their ground meat products).  Pork tenderloins or extra lean chops are good choices too.  Fish that are fairly low in fat include dover sole, tilapia and canned tuna (solid albacore is best).  Salmon is a wonderful higher fat fish meal to include once or twice a week, as the essential amino and fatty acids it contains are not found in chicken or beef.  This is why it is also a good idea to include at least one egg yolk in your eggs meals.  It goes without saying to avoid “fatty” foods such as candy bars, ice cream, fried foods, pastries, etc.

Now break down your caloric intake as follows: .5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass (this can be calculated from body fat percentages, which should be taken before starting your diet).  Unless you are aggressively trying to build muscle, in which case you could use between .5 and 1 gram per pound of lean body mass, .5 grams should be quite sufficient.  Now that you have your daily protein intake, subtract the total calories from your BMR’ (protein = 4 calories per gram). 

Since healthy fats are necessary for a successful diet, we’ll tackle them next.  Generally I would advise that 20 – 35% of your daily intake come from healthy fats.  This means dry, raw nuts (most nuts are roasted in sunflower oil—a big no-no), all natural peanut butter or almond butter (most mass produced peanut butters have additional oil and sugar added to them so try to stick with all natural varieties), avocado, cheese and what is already in your food.  You can also simply calculate .2 to .5 grams per pound of lean body mass; this should come to roughly the same amount as 20-35% of your total intake.  Subtract this from your BMR’ as well (Fat = 9 calories per gram).  Now whatever is left over is your carbohydrate allotment (simply divide by 4).  Remember, these are not carved in stone.  These percentages can be manipulated as necessary to fit how your body expends energy.

But before you start tinkering with these numbers, it is important to first understand how your body processes nutrients so you can make informed decisions about calorie manipulation when the time comes.  Proteins are generally used to repair and build muscle tissue, but in the absence of carbohydrates, proteins can also be burned as energy or even stored as fat.  Most people do not eat enough protein for this to be a problem.  Most bodybuilders, on the other hand, are over-consuming protein to an extent that will not only stress the kidneys but also lead to diminished energy and even fat gain.  For my post on the benefits of low protein for bodybuilders, check this out.  Fats are both carbohydrate and protein sparing, which means that when you add some healthy fat to a meal, the meal “lasts” longer as energy.  Fat in the body is not as readily available for energy (more on fat burning later) so adding some to your food is a good idea. 

Carbohydrates are probably the most troublesome of the three main macronutrients.  Carbohydrates will cause an insulin and blood sugar spike after they are consumed.  This insulin spike is a double edged sword: the insulin spike is necessary for protein synthesis for muscle building and repair, but when you have elevated insulin levels, you cannot burn fat (your body will not burn fat in the presence of insulin because insulin signals to the body that there are sugars available to be stored as fat).  Fortunately there is a cure: low GI carbs do not spike your insulin levels as much as would a sugary carb, and that is why they are preferred for dieters.

Another important point to make when discussing blood sugar spikes is meal frequency.  I recommend a minimum of four equally spaced and sized meals per day.  Ideally you would be shooting for five or six, but four is quite manageable--especially if you are unaccustomed to this method of food self-medication.  The reason is this: frequent small meals force your metabolism to burn through your food more quickly.  Think of it like this: the more you stoke a fire the hotter it burns and the more wood you need to keep it going.  Think of your body like a large furnace; getting the furnace hotter and burning through more fuel will make burning fat easier as well.  Simply use your macronutrient breakdowns from above and divide them up into meals.  You can choose to taper your eating off as the day progresses or you can eat evenly all day.  Do NOT eat all at once or in one or two large meals and a few smaller snacks—this defeats the purpose of spreading your calories out.  If you read somewhere that the thermic energy released from 1-3 meals is the same as 4-5 meals, you are simply reading that the calorie content can be the same (heat is measured in calories, remember?).

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