What exactly should you eat to be lean (part II)

In my last post I covered macros and why all three need to be included in your meal plan. This post will get more specific with calories and carb cycling.

There is again an on-going debate about which is more important: what you eat or how much you eat. There are some who argue that a calorie is a calorie. Your body can’t tell the difference between 100 calories of broccoli or the same amount of chocolate. It’s all considered energy, which is used or stored, accordingly.

The second camp claims that the body does use respond to different foods. Some say fats are burned while carbs are stored. Some think certain foods slow down your metabolism or for whatever reasons wreak havoc on your insides.

And again: I don’t have the scientific knowledge to say which side has more merit, but I can provide some practical advice.

On the calorie is a calorie point: one thing that is true is that you need a base amount of calories to get you through the day. If your stomach is growling, you can barely sleep, much less concentrate at work or get through your exercises. That said, an excess of calories will be stored as fat. So you need to choose foods that provide value for the calories.

A chicken breast may be higher in calories that broccoli but it will keep you full and provide energy for hours. Broccoli may not taste as good as chocolate, but if you fill half your plate with broccoli you won’t go to bed hungry.

No matter what you eat, weight loss will come down to one simple equation: did you use more fuel than you added today? The only way to lose fat is to gradually reduce the amount of calories you ingest, by about 100 calories or so less than you would need to maintain your weight. Cut by too much and you’ll lose muscle mass and be just miserable in general. Don’t cut enough and you won’t see any changes at all.

The assertion that is doesn’t matter how much you eat it’s what you eat, really doesn’t hold up in facts. Despite the Paleo fad, using bacon as a pizza crust will NOT help you get lean. Cavemen certainly did not do this, and you’re probably not running around hunting saber tooth tigers all day to burn off that fat.

The one part of this theory that has merit comes down to timing. I always start my day with a protein and carb to refuel from sleep and get me through the morning. Mid-day snacks are typically lighter, with protein and some vegetables. Post-workout meals should always contain protein and carbs to help your muscles recover and grow.

Furthermore, your balance of calories and macros should coordinate with your workout schedule. Right now, I have high-carb meals on days when I’m doing bootcamp or leg day, medium-carb days when I’m doing upper body, and very low calorie and low carbs on my rest days.

This is a very effective weight loss strategy known as carb cycling. My friend and Registered Dietician Aly explains it thoroughly in her blog posts and I highly recommend taking the time to learn the science behind it.

My next post will give some examples of what I eat and typical meals for each day of my carb-cycling week.

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