What exactly should you eat to be lean? (Part I)

This is the number 1 question I’ve heard since I first started training for a fitness competition, early in 2016. It came up so often I felt a bit like my own pet iguana (what do you feed it, exactly?)

I still get asked this question a lot and have noticed there are many mis-conceptions about a competitor’s diet. (Yes, I do eat carbs!) So I thought I would write a few posts that go into more detail about my diet, and for anyone looking to tighten up their shape, I hope this will be helpful.

A few years ago I tried losing weight on my own in advance of my wedding. I opted for the super low-carb strategy that had worked for me years ago, but that time, the results were frustratingly low. I remember being so stressed about it I had a nightmare where there was tons of food in front of me and I was yelling at it. Yeah, that is not healthy behaviour!

Now I understand much more about how food works in relation to fueling and weight loss, but as you might have guessed, it’s a bit too complicated to sum up in one post. So, this will be an overview and I will go into more details later on.

Macro-nutrients: The real food groups

We’re taught in school that there are four food groups: Grains, vegetables, meats (and alternatives) and dairy. This sounds simple but it’s a very bizarre way to group foods. You probably know someone who gives up an entire food group and gets along just fine, so how can this be?

We should really be look at foods in macro-nutrients. These are the food groups you really need; whether you’re trying to lose weight, build muscle or maintain, you have to have these in the right balance. They are:

Carbs

Carbs are present almost everywhere. If someone says they don’t eat carbs, than they literally would only eat grass fed meat and probably buy toilet paper once a year. In other words, it’s not possible (or at least very healthy). Carbs are highest in starchy foods like potatos, but are also found in vegetables, dairy and some meat.

Protein

This is another macro that is present in most foods but in different ratios. Animal sources such as meat, fish, eggs, all have high protein ratios. Vegetarian protein sources such as beans, nuts and seeds usually contain higher amounts of either carbs or fats. People focusing on weight loss often try to eat as much protein as possible, but it’s still important to make sure you’re eating the right amount to meet your goals. (I.e. it still has calories so too much will be stored.)

Fat

Yes we all know now that you need fat to lose weight, but I feel like this message has been exaggerated somewhat by fans of the Ketogenic and Paleo diets. Fat should still be the smallest portion of your macros because of its calorie density.

Speaking of diets and diet fads, so many popular trends will completely eliminate or over-exaggerate the benefits of certain macro-nutrients. This should be a red-flag that you are dealing with a quack. A healthy diet should include all three groups, but the controversy usually comes up when you talk about exact foods or ratios. If you spend five minutes on Google you will find “experts” with strong opinions on eating vastly different diets. So who’s right?

Obviously I’m not qualified to say, but I will leave you with two points: listen to your body, and if that doesn’t work, see a dietician. Your lifestyle and/or body type may impact how well a certain diet works for you, but the knowlege of a dietitian can give you important guidance as well; particularly if you have any allergies or conditions that impact how you digest food.

My next post will discuss the gold standard of the bodybuilder’s diet: carb cycling.

PS: I don’t actually have a pet iguana, but my cat Beansy’s former owner did. Its name was Jezibel and they got along great. I assume it ate bugs.

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