Now that you know the importance of diet, it stands to reason that you should hear some of the facts about it. As you know there are whole sections of book stores dedicated to diet philosophies, plans, methods and techniques. Such volume can make discerning truth from fiction a daunting task, but let's start with some basic truths and build upon them to the point where falsehoods become evident. Below you'll find some definitions and accompanying explanations which will serve as the nucleus for what will become the foundation of your future eating habits.
Diet - food and drink regularly provided or consumed; a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight.
Extreme dietary restrictions which are not medical in nature should always be viewed suspiciously. The best diet is not one of exclusivity (i.e. soups, cabbage, carb free, etc.), but rather one that permits you to be you, minus poor eating habits such as overeating, poor late night food choices, excessive junk food consumption, and unnecessary emotional/stress induced eating. Anytime you see the word "ONLY" a flag should immediately rise as in, "You can only eat this and/or that", "You should only eat before this time of day", or "Only foods from a certain macronutrient (carbs, proteins, and/or fats) group should be eaten", etc. It is a well documented fact, that you should eat whenever "genuinely hungry", a term that can be contrasted with "artificial hunger" which largely denotes emotional eating (i.e. out of boredom, loneliness, anger, or sadness), and eating due to external stimuli (commercials, aromas, coaxing, etc.). Conversely, genuine hunger has more to do with lowered blood glucose levels, energy and the appropriate passing of time between meals. However, what you eat should depend on your energy requirements. For example, if hunger strikes before bedtime at say 10:30pm, a full course meal would be an unacceptable solution since nutritional needs during sleep are minimal. A better option for late night eating would be to enjoy a snack such as fruit, an assortment of low fat protein sources like yogurt or cottage cheese, light popcorn, nuts, or any of a multitude of light hunger satisfying foods that won't hinder sleep or provide excessive calories that are ripe for storage. Whenever your body legitimately requires food you should eat, because not doing so can have an adverse effect on your metabolism.
Calorie - a unit of energy that expresses the heat-producing or energy-producing value in food when oxidized within the body.
Contrary to popular belief calories aren't just things you shouldn't' eat too much off. They are posted on the nutritional labels as guidelines to portion control, what should be eaten and in what amounts. As cited above, a calorie is actually defined as "a measurement of heat energy", and when thought of in this way it makes understanding fitness a whole lot easier. If one eats based on energy requirements, then the body becomes far more efficient. You may have heard the bodybuilder maxim, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like pauper." Well it makes perfect since in light of the expressed energy mandates. However, an even more accurate depiction would be to eat breakfast and lunch like a prince, so as to not bog down the morning with too many calories. The "Law of Diminishing Returns" states that there is a point where more of a thing or activity produces worse or lessened results, as anyone who has ever stuffed themselves at a meal can attest. When overeating occurs the body has to reroute blood from other systems to aid in digestion resulting in lethargy. So although the L-Tryptophan in holiday turkey is often blamed for the post-feasting slow down (and there's some truth to it), overindulgence is the true culprit.
The hypothalamus consistently monitors input from three primary sensors, namely the mouth, throat & stomach to measure satiety or fullness. You'll never see an overweight animal in the wild because they possess an innate sense of how to eat. Only humans and pets battle obesity because of their poor eating habits, but ironically, our bodies have the same hypothalamic appetite controls as our wilderness neighbors. Why then do people become fat, while wild animals stay so fit? The answer is simple; we consciously override our natural shut off mechanisms. Bambi's mom was such a shapely doe because she never had to resist the aroma and presence of fast food restaurants every few miles. There were no golden arches, castles of white, or kings of burgers in her forest, nor was she inundated with visually tempting commercials every time her favorite shows went to break. Obviously, there is also a nutritional component since wilderness foods don't come topped with secret sauces, or two slices of cheese and bacon, but how to cut the crap from meals will be covered later on in "How To Eat For Muscle". A system is only as good as its parts, and the hypothalamus relies on strategically placed bodily monitors to measure input and provide feedback.
The mouth provides data on chewing. This is why you've always heard nutritionists speak of thoroughly chewing each bite, some of whom even cite a specific number of chews that should be taken, though this is illogical because of the many diverse forms and textures of foods. For example, although it may be applicable to chew steak 15 times, how well does this advice translate to watermelon, or ice cream. Nevertheless, fully chewing ones food is invaluable and not just for monitoring purposes but also as the first point of digestion. Well chewed food places less stress on the other digestion processes. A good way to fool this sensor is to make a habit of chewing gum between and after meals. This helps satisfy the brain's requirement when you're not really hungry, but are receiving external cues like the aromas, restaurants and commercials referenced earlier. Chewing gum can also be used like brushing teeth to signal the end of eating.
The throat delivers input on swallowing which also serves as part of the satiety puzzle. The consumption of low and zero calorie fluids can have a profound impact in this area. Those false hunger cues can be readily offset by drinking a diet soda or cold glass of water between and prior to meals. The same can be said for the more extensive chewing and swallowing required for certain low fat foods like salads and rice cakes.
The stomach is the last barometric instrument in the hypothalamus' arsenal. It submits reports based on capacity, or the overall volume of food taken in. A great way to trick this mechanism, especially for overeaters is with the consumption of fiber supplements. Fiber tablets work even better than dissolved powders in liquids because they affect the above mentioned sensors as well. When combined with water and digestive fluids, this fiber expands inside the stomach and displaces much of its capacity creating a false sense of fullness. This ‘false positive' can be an invaluable weapon for the moderate calorie restricting dieter. Various forms of fiber can be used between meals, or just prior to them to substantially decrease the amounts eaten.
Protein repairs, maintains, and replaces bodily tissues. Bones, muscles and organs are primarily composed of protein and the immune system is heavily dependent on it as well.
Many foods contain protein, but the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes like black beans. The body also uses protein to make lots of specialized protein molecules which have specific jobs such as the production of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body.
During digestion, the protein in food is broken down into basic units called amino acids which join together in chains to make thousands of different proteins. Scientists have found many different amino acids in protein, but 22 of them are very important to human health. The body can make 13 of those 22 amino acids, but the other nine called 'essential amino acids' (EAAs) can only be derived from eating protein-rich foods. They are called EAAs because it's essential that you get them from your food.
Protein from animal sources, like meat, eggs and milk, are called ‘complete' because they contain all nine EAAs. Most vegetable protein is considered incomplete because they lack one or more of these EAAs, and this can be a concern for someone who doesn't eat meat or milk products. But people who eat a vegetarian diet can still get all their EAAs by eating a wide variety of protein-rich vegetable foods. For example, peanuts alone are incomplete, but when topping whole-grain bread they become complete. Likewise, red beans won't give you everything you need, but red beans and rice will. The good news is that you don't have to eat all the essential amino acids in every meal. As long as a variety of protein sources are eaten throughout the day, the body will grab what it needs from each meal.
Most foods contain carbohydrates which the body breaks down into simple sugars - the primary source of energy for the body. There are two major types of carbohydrates namely, simple and complex.
Simple Carbohydrates: These are also called simple sugars, and are found in refined cane sugar like that in a sugar bowl. Similarly, all kinds of candy are made of simple carbohydrates. But you'll also find simple sugars in more nutritious foods, such as fruit and milk. These are better sources because they also contain vitamins, fiber, and important minerals like calcium.
Complex Carbohydrates: These are also called starches. Starches include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta, and rice. As with simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others. Refined grains, such as white flour and white rice, have been processed – a procedure that removes nutrients and fiber. Unprocessed or unrefined grains still contain these vitamins and minerals and are rich in fiber that keeps the digestive system working properly. As mentioned above, fiber helps you feel full so you're less likely to overeat when these types of foods are present. This explains why a bowl of oatmeal is so much more filling than sugary candy that has the same amount of calories.
So what type of carbs should you eat? Both can be part of a healthy diet if good choices are made.
How Carbohydrates are Used
Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars that are readily absorbed into the bloodstream. As the blood sugar (glucose) level rises, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where it can be used as a source of energy.
The glycemic index is a scale applied to foods based on how quickly their carbohydrates are converted to glucose. Foods like white rice, pasta and bread have a high glycemic index, associated with a faster rise and subsequent drop in blood glucose levels. Brown rice and whole-wheat versions of pasta and bread have a low glycemic index. These are often considered ‘higher quality' carbohydrates because they have less of a rollercoaster effect on glucose concentrations.
Some foods, including most fruits and vegetables, have almost no fat while others like nuts, oils, butter, and red meats have plenty of it. The name fat may make it sound like something you shouldn't eat, but fat is an important part of a healthy diet and is required for proper brain and nervous system functioning. The amount of fat consumed varies and like most everything else is contingent upon the phase of training, however it should always be in the range of 15-25 percent. All fats are not created equal, thus the type of fats eaten are of even greater significance.
Nowadays everyone is recommending "low-fat" or "fat-free" eating, and although this is a good idea it needs to be more fully examined. Though lower-fat diets can aid in weight loss, one should understand which fats are healthy and which aren't. There are three major types:
Unsaturated fats: Found in plant foods and fish, these fats are good for heart health. The best and greatest concentrations of unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, albacore tuna, and salmon.
Saturated fats: These fats are found in meat and other animal products, such as butter, cheese, and all milk except skim. Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils which are often used in commercial (store bought) baked goods. Eating too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
Trans fats or trans fatty acids: Trans fats are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil - a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. They are primarily found in margarine, especially the sticks. Trans fats can also be found in certain restaurant and store foods, such as snack foods, baked goods, and fried foods. When you see "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils on the ingredients list, it's notifying you that the food contains trans fats. Like saturated fats, these also increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
Why Do We Consume Fat?
Dietary fat helps the body grow and develop as it should. Fats fuel the body and helps in the absorption of some vitamins. They also serve as the building blocks of hormones, insulate nervous system tissue, and provide lubrication for the skin, scalp and joints. So fat should not be viewed as an enemy, it should instead be well chosen. If your intake is mostly comprised of lean protein-rich meats, nuts, and heart-healthy oils, then fats are already your friend.