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Entries in carbs (5)

Sunday
Oct212012

Should You Be Skipping Breakfast Everday?

Sometimes you can stumble onto a key learning by accident, and that has been my experience the past week with the notion of meal/nutrient timing.

One of my goals over the next few months is to (constructively) shed a few pounds and that led me to question the effectiveness of the amount of meals I was eating everyday.  Eating anywhere from 5-7 meals each day (depending on hunger) meant my body was almost constantly breaking down food and would usually not have much opportunity to feed off of stored body fats.

I've written on the benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF) previously, and still believe in its benefits with a targeted approach to fit within your schedule (both work/life schedule and training schedule).

After consulting with a few friends and one of my coaches at CrossFit Dilworth - I was led to a strategy that both combines the benefits of IF, as well as something called "Carb Backloading".

The simplest explanation of Carb Backloading (CBL) is that you save your carbohydrate meals for the end of the day, usually post-intense resistence training workout in an ideal scenario.  To optimize this sort of approach, Intermittent Fasting would also be employed, anywhere from two to four hours after waking.  Using IF first thing in the morning has benefits, minimizing the fat-storing effects that early morning cortisol has on your body. Conversely, eating a large meal (particularly one with sufficient "breakfast carbs") upon waking halts the fat burning enzymes present in the body in morning hours and primes the body to store fat soon thereafter.

I certainly don't expect anyone to take my word alone on a controversial topic like this one, so please begin with this article as you work to develop an opinion.

Common opinion has always been that one needs a "hearty breakfast" to "jumpstart your metabolism".  This has been my experience as well - however articles such as the one above (including the scientific data behind it) has caused me to rethink things.  Many people can't spend their days within 50 feet of a kitchen to eat every 2-3 hours.  IF and/or CBL gives people with busy schedules a certain degree of freedom from constant meal prep and eating throughout the schedule.

It is important to note that skipping breakfast does not mean going without the caloric allotment or macronutrients that would have been included in that meal.  When done correctly, IF/CBL mean that lunch and dinner will be sufficient enough to cover the calories and nutrients that would have previously been ingested at breakfast.

Old habits and lines of thinking die hard, so I would encourage anyone with doubts or fears to simply do what I did, and consume the research, articles, and testimonials with an open mind.  Even if still not converted, it's good to learn a little more about the nuances of the human body, particularly the interplay between fat burning harmones vs fat storage harmones, and how times of day affect both harmones.  It is never a bad thing to have a more strategic approach behind the foods we put into our bodies.

To get you started, I've included a few other write-ups here, here, here, and here.

 

Sunday
Mar282010

How do I get lean? Part 2 - Zero Carb Diet

From the Atkins craze, to the Ketogenic craze, lots of people have found immediate success with "zero carb" diets.  Now in reality, it's close to impossible to consume ZERO carbs since many foods have trace carbs in them, but for the sake of this post I'll speak in real generalities.

It is definitely possible to get leaner and lose body fat with a Zero Carb diet.  The problem is that this sort of eating approach is only meant for the short-term (ie - prepping for a photo shoot or bodybuilding/figure competition, last-minute beach vacation prep, etc).  This sort of eating approach is not meant for long-term success without VERY close monitoring and periodic-to-frequent refeeding of surplus carbs and calories.

 

Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, back to the original task.  A zero carb diet is fairly easy to implement (the challenge is sticking to it).  You basically center your meals around protein (think anywhere from 1.5-2x body weight per day) and green vegetables.  That's basically it (besides your standard multi-vitamin and probably some fish oil caps during the day).

I've both studied and tested this philosophy myself several times and actually noticed it during a recent UFC Primetime episode to hype the St. Pierre-Hardy fight.  The week before the fight, cameras followed Georges St. Pierre into a Montreal restaurant where his nutritionist was preparing one of his meals.

 His chef, Jennifer Nickel explains: "I do this for Georges Monday through Friday, three meals a day.  We've done two fights so far with him, and we will cook for his weight cut in exactly this style - absolutely no carbs, or sugar, or dairy so...it gets a lot more strict.  The only fat in this meal is the olive oil."

St. Pierre sat down to a pretty good looking meal of grilled tuna, sauteed asparagus, and mixed diced vegetables with what looked like citrus flavoring.  Clearly the zero carb plan is working for GSP, both aesthetically and athletically, since he went on to beat Dan Hardy by unanimous decision on Saturday night. 

Everybody doesn't have a professional chef to make their zero carb meals (I know I sure don't), but compliance is still possible.  Fitness model Jamin Thompson recently underwent a zero carb phase for about 3-4 days to prep for a photo shoot.  He kept those of us interested in such things updated on Twitter:

@jaminthompson: Day 2 of "no carb"...not bad so far, just had ground turkey, steamed cabbage, green beans, & flax...now off 2 train legs. LETS GO!

 You can see how well the results worked out for him here.

There are plenty of resources available online about temporary zero carb diets.  Lyle McDonald is another well-studied resource, having written a book on to topic.  I actually tried his "Rapid Fat Loss" diet which is also termed a "Protein Sparing Modified Fast".  I made a few mistakes with this diet, not realizing two key points:

1 - It is very easy to over-train.

I didn't realize that recovery can be slowed by zero carb dieting, so it's important to reduce cardio and/or allow for rest days from resistance training.  MMA Nutritionist PR Cole made a great point on Twitter:

@FueltheFighter metabolic rate is slower if there is a cal deficit-that can mean suboptimal recovery rate/potential for compromised immune fxn

2 - It is important to "re-feed" within 4-5 days, if not sooner

At some point, the body will need carbs again, at least in my experience.  That doesn't necessarily mean a gorge-fest on pancakes and bagels, the refeed can still be clean complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.  The amount of carbs and length of the refeed can be complex, and there are numerous sources and strategies available with a Google search.  But in general terms, refeeding with a substantial amount of carbs (preferably stretched over a day's worth of meals) is important after such a severe restriction.

I'll be traveling to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four this week, so my hope is to stick to a zero carb diet while I am there.  There will be lots of hotel, restaurant, and hospitality party food available, so my goal is to take down as much chicken, steak, shrimp, and vegetables as are available.  I can't guarantee I won't slip up "accidentally", but at least there's a goal and plan in-mind.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday
Feb142010

How do I get lean? Part 1

"How do I get lean?" 

"How do I get abs?"

"How do I get a six-pack?"

There's a dozen variations on this question, but "answers" to the above can be found all over the internet, usually followed  closely by an attempt to sell you something.

Well I'm not about to sell any product or supplement or workout book, but I do want to share what I've learned through trial and error (mostly error) that finally helped me locate my long-lost six-pack that had been hiding since I stopped playing football in 2001.

In Part I of this series - I'm going to focus on what I believe to be the MOST important part of "getting lean", and that's your diet.  As I've said before, I hate the term "diet" but I'll use it here just to keep things simple and uniform.  This is definitely going to be a simplistic approach to nutrition and subsequent fat loss, as there is a ton of more scientific research and context available online.  My hope is to make a complex process simple and easy to digest.

One of the best quotes I've ever read on this topic was in Runner's World magazine -

 "Great abs are made in the kitchen"

To this day, it's the best advice I've ever received with respect to shedding body fat and "getting lean".  Fitness experts Brad Pilon and Craig Ballantyne would say, you can't out-train a bad diet and they are correct.  Most bodybuilders or fitness pros or figure models would agree that the only difference in training for "muscle gain" vs "fat loss" is the way you eat.

Most "fat loss" eating plans are going to be structured with either low carbs, or carb cycling during the course of a week.  It's my opinion that it is nearly impossible to "get lean" while on a high carbohydrate diet.  Carb-cycling is essentially 2-3 days of low carbs (anywhere from 0.3-1g carb per pound of body weight). Followed by 1-2 days of higher carbs (1.5-2g per pound of body weight).

This does drift into the more complex habit of counting macronutrients, which isn't for everyone.  An easier way of ensuring that those carbs don't become "fat" is to make sure they are from complex sources (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and LOTS of vegetables with moderate fruit).  Higher GI (glycemic index) carbs like white breads, pastas, and white potatoes make for a messy carb load and you will rarely find any one with a desirable level of "leanness" that uses high GI/simple carb sources in their diet.

Another simple approach if one doesn't wish to go through the science of carb cycling (but still has a level of self-discipline) would be to adopt a Paleo approach to eating.  To stick with my goal of maintaining simplicity, a Paleo diet is built upon the approach that we stick to foods that were around during the Paleolithic age or the "Caveman" era.  This eating approach is built around lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Grains and breads have no place on this diet.  Here's a tremendously simplistic but funny video that helps bottom line it all:

Mark Sisson is one of the proponents of this sort of high protein/moderate (healthy) fat/low carb approach.

There is plenty more to discuss on the topic of "eating to get lean", but I'll pause for now.  Next time I hope to delve into the way to structure workouts with an eye towards dropping winter body fat to get ready for the warm weather beach season.  Here's a quick preview and hint - if you're putting hours and hours on the treadmill at a slow pace, there's a reason you're probably not where you want to be.

More to come...

Sunday
Jan172010

Should I stop eating grains? - Part 1

At dinner with friends the other night, I had to explain why I no longer eat grains or processed breads.

This is admittedly a long topic that warrants LOTS of discussion (there are numerous articles and books out there right now) so I'm going to keep things fairly brief.  Even still, I'll have to break this up into a series of mini-posts to give this complicated topic the time it warrants.

To begin - I'll just cover the changes I've experienced in my own body since I quit eating grains.

My entire life I used to begin the day with a giant bowl of cereal.  Giant is not an exaggeration, I used punch bowls or popcorn bowls to eat my cereal.  I also battled allergies and nasal congestion throughout high school and college.  I was also a big fan of french fries, donuts, pasta, and two grains that still call my name to this day - bagels and blueberry muffins. I'm biased, but I also should say that my mother makes the best pancakes available in the continental U.S. 

I was on a cut diet program as recently as a few months ago that (in a nutshell) called for 4-4.5 days of very low carbs and low calories, followed by a full body depletion workout, then immediate carb loading with as many starches and grains as you can put into your system in 48 hours.

It was enjoyable, but I never got as lean as I hoped I would.  I also had extreme energy crashes from the spikes in my insulin and blood sugar.  These carb load days usually fell on Fridays, and I could never last more than an hour before I badly needed another nap. 

I switched to a move high-protein, moderate-fat, low-carb (non-grain) approach, championed by guys like Marc Lobliner with Team Scivation (www.scivation.com) or Mark Sisson (www.marksdailyapple.com) after feeling like there was no way I was going to lean out by gorging on bagels, muffins, pasta, and donuts each week.

Carbohydrates are still required for energy (whether in complex or simple form) so I get them from fruit/plant sources most days like grapefruits, oranges, blueberries, green beans, broccoli, and as many leafy greens like spinach that I can cram into the blender (thanks to advice from guys like Craig Ballantyne and "the Raw Model").

Subsequently, my energy levels are much more steady.  My skin is clearer and I'm as vascular in my arms as I've ever been.  I'm getting closer to having the level of leanness in my abs and torso that I've been chasing.  I don't wake up feeling like I've been in the cage with Brock Lesnar either.  I'm not saying these things are "cause and effect" with eliminating the grains, I'm just providing my experience and letting you draw your own conclusions.

Thursday
Jan142010

How long after a workout do I have to eat carbs?

Someone asked me today, "how long do I have after a workout to eat my carbs?"

She had just been at the gym taking a lunch hour fitness class and wanted to know just how much of a free "window" she had left to eat a few carbs.  Well, my answer as it almost always seems to be was, "...it depends..."

As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of post-workout nutrition would tell you, there are several interrelated factors that determine whether the carbs you are eating are going to refuel your muscle glycogen stores, or being stored away as excess body fat (which, since you are reading this I feel safe assuming you do not want to happen).

Factor #1 - How intense was your workout?

Factor #2 - How long has it been since your workout ended?

Factor #3 - What type of carbs are you about to eat?

Factor #4 - What has your carb intake looked like for the past 3-4 days?

There are even more factors than this at play, but I think you get the general concept.  I'll try to attack these one at a time.

Factor #1 - Workout intensity has a number of post-workout effects on one's body.  Generally speaking, high-intensity exercise (sprinting, a spin class, intense circuit training with weights, etc) will deplete your body's glycogen stores moreso than low-intensity exercise (unless you put in a marathon/triathlon-style workout).  So when those glycogen stores are fairly empty, all the more reason your post-workout carbs will be soaked up by the right places (namely your muscles).  Not only that, but in a general sense when you worked up a sweat and raised your heart rate during a workout, your body burns (slightly) more calories post-workout while trying to return to homeostasis.

Factor #2 - There is generally considered to be a one-hour window of time post-workout when your carb intake will be shuttled directly to thirsty muscles.  However the "lower" you fall on factor #1 (ie: lower intensity training) then the shorter time period you will have for your post-workout carbs to go straight to muscles and skip past the fat stores.

Factor #3 - This one is arguably the MOST important in a lot of ways.  So important actually that I'll need to come back to this for another day.  But for now, if you absolutely have to eat simple or starchy carbs (white breads, bagels, muffins, etc) then immediately following an intense workout is the absolute best time.  The "simplicity" of how easily they are broken down and get into the blood stream is in most cases a bad thing (since it's easily converted to fat) however post-intense workout this actually works to your benefit.

Factor #4 - Think of your body's carb stores (muscle capacity to contain glycogen) as fuel tanks.  If you've eaten a carb heavy diet for the past few days, then your tanks are likely either still full, or moderately full even with an intense workout within the past hour.  You won't need more post-workout carbs as much as a person who's been going low carb for the past 3-4 days.

Here is another (longer) read on post-workout nutrition:

http://www.intense-workout.com/post_workout.html

Key Takeaway: The harder you've worked out...and the lower your carb intake has been before today...the better the opportunity you have to consume some "bad carbs" you've normally been avoiding.  Just be sure not to overdo it.