Follow these simple guidelines to eat better, train harder, store less fat and build more muscle.
1. Stick to Wholefoods
Nothing will hamper your progress more than overindulging in processed foods.
Regularly eating the refined carbs and sugars that form the basis of most processed snacks, baked goods and fast foods will sap your energy levels and cause fat-storing blood sugar spikes, making it far harder to lose weight or perform at an optimum level.
To make matters worse, these foods typically contain high levels of man-made trans fats, which will make you feel even more lethargic and boost your levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
For a healthier alternative, swap processed foods for more naturally indulgent wholefood alternatives. For example, trade crisps for nuts, chocolate spread for peanut butter and breakfast cereal for porridge oats, all of which have additional nutritional benefits.
2. Eat More Veg than Fruit
All fruits and veg contain health-enhancing nutrients. But while the five-a-day mantra is good at encouraging people to eat more fresh produce in general, if you want to get the most out of your training and support your fat-burning and muscle-building efforts, you need to be a lot more specific about your intake.
For a start, try to have as much veg as possible while cutting back on fruit. Some fruits are very high in fructose, a type of sugar that plays havoc with blood sugar levels, making you far more likely to store fat.
Vegetables, on the other hand, contain no fructose but are just as nutrient dense.
Green vegetables in particular are a great choice – they’re an excellent source of slow-release carbs, unlike starchy root vegetables such as potatoes, which can also negatively affect your blood sugar levels.
Eat as many servings of green veg as possible each day and limit your fruit intake to one to two servings, ideally from low-sugar sources such as blueberries or strawberries.
3. Up your Protein Intake
Protein plays a crucial role in building muscle, but it’s easy to underestimate just how much you need to maximise its benefits.
Research into the metabolic demands for protein varies greatly, with studies suggesting anything from 0.8g per kg of bodyweight to over 2g as a daily guideline.
If you want to keep things simple, aim to eat a 20-25g serving of protein – good sources of which include meat, fish, dairy and eggs – with every meal including breakfast.
If you’re struggling to achieve that, adding an extra post-workout serving on training days can be a good way to help meet your daily protein goal.
In addition to aiding your muscle-building efforts, protein-rich foods also tend to have a high satiety value, making you less likely to have the urge to pig out between meals.
4. Focus on the Right Fats
‘Eating fatty foods makes you fat’ may sound like a logical assumption, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
It is true that at nine calories per gram, fat is more calorific than carbohydrate or protein – which contain four each – but the reality is that certain fats are a crucial part of your diet.
The mono- and polyunsaturated fats that occur naturally in foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olives and coconut oil, for example, play key roles in boosting metabolism, improving hormone synthesis and increasing ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Don’t be fooled by ‘low-fat’ options either. Most have been highly processed to remove the fat, and tend to be packed with salt and sugar to enhance their flavour.
Instead, focus your energies on avoiding processed junk foods, high in unhealthy man-made trans fats, and enjoy daily servings of healthy, naturally occurring fat sources.
5. Don’t Just Count Calories
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the quantity of calories you’re consuming, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
But the quality of the food you’re eating is far more important, because calories alone don’t provide a reliable indication of the effect a food can have on your metabolism.
For example, drinking a can of fizzy drink – which will send your blood sugar soaring – is far more damaging to your fat-loss efforts than eating two protein-rich poached eggs, even though both contain a similar number of calories.
It’s also easy to use calorie counting as an excuse to justify poor food choices – a ‘healthy’ packet of crisps may contain fewer than 100 calories, but it’s likely to be full of trans-fats and other nasties.
Instead of getting hung up on how many calories every item of food contains, concentrate on eating plenty of wholefoods, vegetables and high-quality protein.