Saturday, December 17, 2011
Carbohydrates ("carbs"). Despite what you may have heard, these are not evil. They are a necessary source of energy for your body. The problem is that people over-consume certain sources of carbohydrates, most notably simple sugars from soda and candy, and starches from white bread. If you have to cut down on one macronutrient, cut down on carbohydrates. People in Western cultures consume far too many carbohydrates on average.
Proteins. These are necessary for your body to maintain its muscles, repair damage to them, and generally hold itself together. Most people get enough protein, though an intense exercise program may call for eating more for optimal results. If you cannot manage to take enough protein into your diet, protein powder may be the key. Optimum Nutrition is a well-recommended powder.
Fats. Fats are not evil, either. Eating dietary fat does not mean that body fat will instantly appear; your body doesn't work that way. Fats perform a variety of necessary functions. The problem is that people over-consume saturated fats and trans fats, which raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol, and under-consume healthy fats like monounsaturated fats (found in high concentrations in olive oil and canola oil) and Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flax seed oil and other sources). Fats also have more calories ounce-for-ounce than carbohydrates and proteins, making very high fat foods astoundingly calorie-dense.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
General dietary advice
Before going into the nitty-gritty of calorie counting and so forth, you can improve your health a great deal by changing the staples of your diet and your patterns of eating. This sounds like a big deal, but is actually pretty simple and relatively painless.
First, the obvious stuff: fast food and soda. Cut it out. Fast food is almost always extremely unhealthy, high in saturated fat and trans fat, very calorie-dense, and should thus be avoided by everyone. The occasional burger is harmless in the grand scheme of things, but if fast food is a staple of your diet, cut it out.
Soda is the other thing that should be massively reduced by almost everyone. Soda is extremely calorie-dense, has no nutritional value, and for various reasons, you shouldn't be dumping massive amounts of simple sugars into your system. There is debate over if diet soda is neutral or still bad for you; my suggestion is to limit it, too. Drink water instead, with the occasional coffee or tea for variety. After a few months of this, your soda cravings will slowly dissipate.
For those with a sweet tooth, all kinds of sweets are calorie monsters. But the worst of the worst may be ice cream, especially premium ice creams - a pint might give you a few days worth of saturated fat and half the calories you should be taking in. You don't need to never eat something sweet again - that's ludicrous. Just eat it rarely and in smaller amounts.
Finally, be aware that many "frappuchino" coffee beverages are made almost entirely of dairy fat and syrup, and can have absurd amounts of calories. Brewed tea and coffee are almost calorie-free, and a packet of sugar only adds about 20 calories, but some of these blended "coffee" things have on the order of 400 calories.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Introduction to diet
Diet is probably the most important single factor in your health, body composition and overall appearance.
Food determines how big you are. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will get bigger. If you consume fewer calories than you expend, you will get smaller. If you meet your maintenance needs, you will stay the same. Regardless of your metabolism, body composition, genetics, or whatever, your body must obey the laws of physics and biological imperatives. Now, your calorie needs can change over time. But in the end, it really is calories in and calories out. Everything else is just fiddling around the edges of this basic fact.
You can't get big if you don't eat big. That goes for muscle, fat, whatever. You can lift huge weights 10,000 times a day, and if you don't eat more calories than you expend, you won't gain a milligram of mass. Conversely, if you burn 10,000 calories a day and eat 11,000 calories a day you will gain weight. Exercise and food selection plays a big role in what that extra weight becomes (fat or muscle), but the weight comes from food.
Monday, December 12, 2011
There can be many mental and emotional barriers to getting in better shape. The most important aspect is not the specifics of a program or the details of a diet (though those are obviously important), but how you look at the situation. I don't mean in the sense that your mind is more powerful than what you do in the gym, although you'll need to have some self-discipline and commitment for obvious reasons. You can't look at diet or exercise as a short-term ordeal that ends at some point when you aren't out of shape anymore. They must be seen as long-term lifestyle changes.
Consider this: when people start dieting and exercise, they are often extremists about it. They try to work out 2 times a day, 7 days a week, or go on some crazy diet where they eat 500 calories composed entirely of herbal tea and tree bark. They hurt themselves or get sick or just hate life generally, and they fail. Then they get discouraged and get fat and out of shape again. You don't get in shape by killing yourself. You get in shape, and more importantly stay in shape, by accumulating significant, but livable, improvements to your lifestyle over time, and building on that. Not by going through some horrible ordeal requiring Olympian willpower.
Eating healthy has to just become how you eat most of the time. Exercise has to become a habitual thing you do every day or two, like mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. If you do just a little better all the time, but really stick to it, you can accumulate big gains very fast, and improve upon them over the long term. Once you start seeing improvements without having to kill yourself, it becomes very easy to keep on improving.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
I'm a female; does any of this apply to me?
All of it applies, actually. With very few exceptions, the principles of diet & exercise are the same for men and women. And don't worry about becoming a manly she-beast from lifting weights; most women can't gain muscle at anywhere near the rate of men, no matter how hard they lift. Remember, female bodybuilders are lifting weights constantly, eating twice as much as you and taking male hormones. Getting huge doesn't just happen to men, let alone women.
Can't I just exercise a fat part of my body to make the fat go away? Can I just do a bunch of sit-ups to make my gut go away?
No. So-called "spot reduction" is a myth. You can't exercise one part of your body to make fat in that part of the body go away; it doesn't work that way. You can only reduce your overall body fat, not make it go away in a specific area.
I want to get abs, what workout should I do?
Having visible abs has very little to do with doing abdominal exercises, and a whole lot to do with how much body fat you have. If your abs are covered in a layer of fat, any ab exercises you do are made virtually redundant. To get abs, you need to get your body fat down with diet and exercise. And ab exercises won't make fat over your belly go away, either (see the spot reduction myth above).
I have an injury/disability/chronic health problem. Should I follow this guide?
Anyone with a diagnosed medical condition should follow their doctor's advice on what activity level is safe for them. If that doesn't match what this guide says to do, don't follow this guide. The dietary advice here is pretty universal, but there may be specific medical conditions that call for different diets. Don't ignore qualified medical advice based on something you read here. With that being said, most General Practitioners are not experts on health and fitness. Consult a nutritionist or exercise/sport scientist for the best advice.
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