By Dr. Mercola
One of my mentors, Jack La Lanne, who died January 23, 2011 at the age of 96, once said, "Exercise is your king, and nutrition is your queen. Together they create your fitness kingdom."
I believe there is a lot of truth to that statement.
Exercise is the spark, and nutrition is fuel for your metabolism. You can exercise until you are blue in the face, but until you master what you eat, you will never reach your true fitness potential.
Eating Higher Quality Foods is Not Enough
On the surface it seems that not eating junk food and eating only healthy, living, unprocessed foods would do the trick. But in order to fuel your fat burning engine, you need to take it a step further. You need to eat smaller meals more frequently.
Eventually, you'll want to eat 5-6 small meals per day, with protein and carbs combined in each meal, and about 50 percent or more of your calories should come from healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, butter, eggs and animal fat that is not heated at high temperatures and is organically- and humanely-raised. In order to get the most results from your fitness routine you must:
- Learn about the timing of your meals in reference to your wake-up and bed time, and your workout time.
- Learn about your macro-nutrient totals. That's just a fancy word for the optimal percentage of carbs, proteins, and fats in each of your meals.
- Use good sources of acceptable proteins and carbohydrates.
- Determine your nutritional type, which will indicate the ideal ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that your body needs for optimal performance.
Beneficial sources of protein include:
- Organic chicken (dark meat for protein types)
- Fish (as long as it is free of heavy metals and other contaminants.)
- Organic free-range eggs
- Lean, grass-fed red meat
- Whey protein
- Nuts and seeds
Beneficial sources of carbohydrates (fibrous veggie type) include:
- Any vegetable (the more colorful the better)
- Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
Good sources of starchy carbohydrates are:
- Brown or wild rice
- Yams/ sweet potatoes
A Typical Workout Plan
An effective, time efficient workout plan should include two cardio sessions per week, and two resistance (weight lifting) sessions per week.The cardio sessions are for fat burning. The resistance training sessions are for building muscle and sculpting your physique. It is important to combine a quality protein and a carb (fibrous veggie type) together in every meal, no matter whether it's a resistance training day, an interval cardio day, or a non-workout day.
In fact, there's a well kept nutritional secret in the competitive bodybuilding and fitness world. It is called carb cycling or zig-zag dieting. It works very well for building muscle and losing fat. It is a very simple concept. You simply add a small serving of starchy carbs to two or three meals throughout the day on resistance training days.
This helps your body and muscles to have more fuel on days that you are burning lots of energy with the resistance workouts.
For many, it's also comforting to know that you can eat some starchy carbs two or three days per week (on the days that you exercise intensely with weights). This can make it easier to avoid eating starchy carbs like breads and pastas at other times of the week when you are more susceptible to having them stored as fat due to low physical activity. This approach seems to help give most of our clients the mindset that they can stick to this nutritional approach as a long-term solution and a lifestyle.
How to Achieve Greater Health Benefits in Less Time
Incorporating high intensity interval training such as that advocated by fitness experts Phil Campbell or Dr. Doug McGuff can further improve your fitness regimen. These types of exercises dramatically cut down on your exercise time while producing greater benefits—simply because you're using your body as it was designed to be used. When doing high-intensity anaerobic exercises, you can literally be done in about 20 minutes, compared to spending an hour running on the treadmill. And according to Dr. McGuff, if you're doing Super Slow strength training, which is another form of high intensity type training, all you need is 12 minutes a week. Yes, you read that right: 12 minutes a week!
High-intensity exercises sequentially recruit all the different types of muscle fibers in your body, starting with the smaller motor units made up of slow-twitch fibers—which are primarily aerobic in metabolism, have a lot of endurance, and recover quickly—to the intermediate fibers; followed by the fast-twitch fibers. The key to activating your fast-twitch muscle fibers is speed. (I've explained how to properly perform high-intensity interval exercises in great detail, so for a refresher, please see this previous article.)
Your fast-twitch fibers are largely glycolytic and store a lot of glucose. When these muscles are recruited, it creates the stimulus needed to grow muscle. At the same time, it enlarges the glucose storage reservoir in the muscle, which in turn enhances your insulin sensitivity. I've often stated that normalizing your insulin is one of the primary health benefits of exercise, and this is particularly true in the case of high-intensity exercise. Conventional aerobics does not do this as efficiently.
How to Perform Super-Slow Weight Lifting
Essentially, by aggressively working your muscle to fatigue, you're stimulating the muscular adaptation that will improve the metabolic capability of the muscle and cause it to grow. McGuff recommends using four or five basic compound movements for your exercise set. These exercises can be done using either free weights or machines. The benefit of using a quality machine is that it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed on the movement.
Dr. McGuff recommends the following five movements:
- Pull-down (or alternatively chin-up)
- Chest press
- Compound row (A pulling motion in the horizontal plane)
- Overhead press
- Leg press
Here's a summary of how to perform each exercise:
- Begin by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. The first inch should take about two seconds. Since you’re depriving yourself of all the momentum of snatching the weight upward, it will be very difficult to complete the full movement in less than 7-10 seconds. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened; smoothly reverse direction)
- Slowly lower the weight back down
- Repeat until exhaustion
- Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group, and repeat the first three steps
When done in this fashion, your workout will take no more than 12 or 15 minutes. While this may sound ridiculously short, once you've tried it, you'll likely realize that it's really all you can muster. This super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not 'going' anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform four to eight repetitions.
If you're like most people—including many athletes—you're probably eating too many carbs. Your body's need for sugar is, biologically, very small. And when you consume more than you need, your body turns it into fat. As I've stated before, you do not get fat from eating fat—you get fat from eating too many carbs (sugar).
Dr. McGuff explains:
"Your skeletal muscle – if you're lucky – can hold maybe 250 grams of glucose, and your liver holds about 70. If you take 320 grams of glucose as what your storage capacity is, you can kill that with a single trip to Starbucks. Once you go beyond that, your body is going to find some sort of way to deal with those excess carbohydrates. If your glycogen storage is full, your body has nowhere else to put it. So instead of going all the way through this metabolic pathway, it… produces body fat. That's called the novel glycogenosis.
We are in the midst of a very bizarre, evil-scientist type experiment in the Western world, because we are dumping into our bodies an amount of carbohydrate and, in particular, refined sugars, that are way above the capacity of our metabolism to handle normally."
The result of our modern diet, which is loaded with grains and sugars (especially fructose), is a large percentage of obesity, and people that are overweight. This can be turned around, however, using a wise combination-approach of a high-fat, low-carb diet and high-intensity interval training.
"Through an amplification cascade, when you're doing a high-intensity exercise, you very aggressively empty sugar out of your muscle cells. By doing that and combining over the low-carbohydrate diet, you start to heal the metabolism," Dr. McGuff explains. "You're able to access your energy source finally. That's how you can turn things around.
... The standard American diet is highly inflammatory. It produces systemic inflammation of an order that is almost beyond belief. In that state, if you do exercise of any significant stress, you're just adding inflammation on top of the inflammation, and you're actually putting yourself at a bit of a risk. I advise people to get their diet straight and then exercise. Because I think a highly inflammatory diet, in combination with the acute systemic inflammation that occurs as a part of the exercise stimulus, can actually be a negative thing."
So please remember: you cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet, and the first step toward improving your diet is to cut out as much sugar/fructose and grain-carbs as possible. (For more of Dr. McGuff's dietary insights, please listen to the interview in its entirety, or read through the transcript.)
What to Eat After Your Workouts
After a cardiovascular workout (fat loss day), wait 30-45 minutes, and then consume a high quality source of protein (whole food) and vegetable-type carbohydrate. An example would be a spinach salad and some chicken. The reason why you'll want to wait a bit after the session to eat is to ride the fat burning wave of your cardio session. However, waiting more than an hour is typically too long, and can start to slow down your metabolism because your body goes into starvation mode. After a resistance workout (muscle building day) you need a different approach. The meal after a resistance workout is the only meal that you ever want to be absorbed rapidly.
Because typically, when a meal is absorbed fast because of high glycemic or simple carbs, there is a good chance your blood sugar will rise too fast, and the carbohydrates will be stored as body fat. But after a resistance workout, you've just primed the pump with an intense workout (with weights), and you have a one hour window of opportunity to shuttle in nutrients, amino acids, glycogen, and other anabolic nutrients to help repair your damaged muscles.
If you miss this one hour window after your intense workout, the chances that your muscles will be able to repair themselves, which makes them bigger and stronger, diminish significantly.
Keep in mind that after a workout, your stomach and digestive tract do not function as efficiently. The reason is because your digestive tract is incredibly vascular and uses significant amounts of blood to do its job. The problem arises because much of your blood is in the muscles that you just finished training. So an adequate amount of blood is not available to digest food eaten after a workout. For this reason, the best post workout meal on resistance training days is whey protein and a higher glycemic (fast released, starchy) carbohydrate. You can use a banana as your carb. The potassium in the banana seems to help with recovery. The whey protein is already pre-digested so it is absorbed rapidly.
You'll want to consume your fast released post workout meal 15-30 minutes after an intense weight training session.
Start to implement these rules of proper fitness nutrition, and you'll likely start to feel your clothes fit better within a couple of weeks. Everyone has the power to change. Many people get in the best shape of their life in their 40's and 50's. You can too! A healthy fitness lifestyle is the only true fountain of youth that exists. Train hard and expect success,