Your body is in a constant state of hormonal and energy ebbing and flowing, and depending on what time of day it is and what activities you are engaged in, your nutrition needs are varied. When what you eat closely matches what you body needs most (hint: that usually isn't a box of Twinkies!) you can eat many more calories and still lose fat. The ability to eat more calories and actually lose fat means you will not have to deprive yourself of eating, and you won't have to deprive your body of all the nutrition it needs to function at its best.
Critical Time #1: First-thing in the Morning
Upon waking up, you have been fasting for at least eight hours in most cases. This means that your body is burning free fatty acids, which is good for bodyfat loss. However, your body will begin to burn muscle tissue if you do not consume protein upon waking up.
Strategy: To capitalize on the free fatty acids your body is already burning first-thing in the morning, avoid consuming lots of saturated fat (such as bacon and sausage) or sugar (muffins, pastries, and many breakfast cereals). Whole-grains, fruit, and vegetables are all good choices, and a little fat (such as what you'd find in one or two eggs) is fine. Most importantly, be sure to consume at least 20 grams of protein. Examples include 1 cup of cottage cheese, a cup of yogurt and two eggs, or a hard boiled egg and a bowl of cereal with 1 cup of milk. Protein powders typically have at least 20 grams of protein per serving and can come in handy at breakfast. For an uber-lean breakfast, bump up the protein even more and lower the carbs.
Critical Time #2: Pre-Workout
Generally, you will perform best during your workout if you have a mixed meal (one that contains carbohydrate, fat, and, most importantly, protein) 1-2 hours before your workout. Some studies show what you eat before your workout is even more important than post-workout nutrition.
Strategy: You can exercise on an empty stomach if having food in your stomach causes you discomfort, but generally you will perform best with some food, even if it's just a piece of fruit or a sports drink. If you have a sports drink such as Gatorade, add protein powder in a 1:4 protein-to-carb calorie ratio (for every 25 calories of protein powder have 100 calories of carbohydrate). Fruit or fruit juice is an acceptable carb choice, but keep in mind that many people find fructose difficult to digest. Note: If your workout is shorter than 1 hour or is not high-intensity, you may not need the carbohydrates pre-workout. If your workout is longer than 1 hour or is high-intensity, you definitely could use at least 125 calories' worth (25 calories of fast-absorbing protein and 100 of carbohydrate).
Critical Time #3: Post-Workout
After your workout, your body is depleted of the carbohydrate in your liver and muscles, and it may begin to burn muscle tissue for fuel if you don't consume nutrients quickly. Any food you eat (other than very high-fat foods) will go toward replenishing your muscles and will not be stored as fat. Rather, the nutrition will help you recover so that you are ready to perform your best at your next workout.
Strategy: To quickly bring nutrients to your muscles after your workout, consume fast-absorbing carbohydrate such as simple sugars, bagels, bread, or pretzels, or rice, pasta, or potatoes. Also include lean sources of protein. Keep fat to a minimum post-workout, as fat slows the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight and half as much protein is a good guideline. For a 150-pound person, this would be 75 grams of carbohydrate (300 calories) and about 35 grams of protein (or 150 calories' worth).
Critical Time #4: Last Meal or Snack Before Bed
When you eat for the last time before bed, it is important to consider what you haven't had enough of during the day, and also to your nutrition needs overnight as you sleep. Try to fill in any missing food groups you didn't get during the day, and be sure to include protein and fat in your meal or snack to slow digestion so that your body has nutrients to use while you sleep.
Strategy: Try to assess how much protein, fat, and carbohydrate you have had during the day and consume foods from the category you might be low in. Generally, protein and fat are important in your last meal or snack of the day, as it will slow digestion and help steady blood sugar, both of which help you sleep more soundly and recover better through the night. And if you've already eaten plenty--the kitchen is closed!!!
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