#263 Eating for Exercise

Tell a friend

Never eat more than you can lift.

Miss Piggy

Just Eat This: Eating for Exercise

By Steve Edwards

P90X®The last "Just Eat This" article was about how to eat for weight loss. Today we'll look at how your diet should change as you get in shape. The more fit you become the more you should eat like an active person. This is why P90X® comes with a three-phase diet plan. In this article, we'll look at how I eat when I'm training hard for an upcoming event.

I'm what's called a periodizational dieter. This means that I eat in different phases that are based on my goals and the exercise I'm currently doing. My standard level of fitness and weight never varies that much because I'm pretty active most of the year. However, once I target an event I'm going to train for, I'll go into a phased diet plan. First, I generally decide that I need to lose some weight (read this article if you haven't already). During this phase I will eat less than I need for optimal performance. The trade off is worth it because I'll lose some body fat. Once I'm down to my desired weight, I begin adding more calories, with the goal of optimizing what is everyone's most limiting factor: the ability to recover from exercise.

Working OutExercise notes. I'll often do two workouts a day when I'm trying to lose weight. Once this is accomplished I only train once. Double workouts sound harder but in reality they reduce your ability to train at your maximum intensity. When I'm doing doubles, I'll usually focus on my aerobic efficiency and perhaps hypertrophy (muscle growth). This builds up my athletic base for the rigors of harder training, such as what you'd do in P90X. I'm usually training for an event, but whether your focus is on P90X, Hip Hop Abs™, Turbo Jam® Maximum Results, or anything else, it doesn't matter as long as the workouts you are doing will push you to your limit.

My diet

Water. I make sure to drink water all day long. I drink a glass when I wake up and keep going. Most people are chronically dehydrated.

Pure CreatineSupps. My supplement regimen varies depending on the type of training I'm doing. The harder I train the more supplements I take. The only constants are vitamins and an omega supplement, but this increases to packets of stuff every few hours when I'm doing ultra events. This is because during long events you always burn more resources than you can replenish. For standard training, I use supplements appropriate for that phase only. A good example is creatine, which is great for a muscle growth phase or anything requiring maximum anaerobic efficiency.

SaltSalt. One of the biggest variables in my diet is salt. The more you exercise the more salt you need. The RDA for sodium is 2,500 mg/day. This is a misleading figure because it's so variable. Your body probably needs around 500 mg/day to function at its basic level. During exercise in hot conditions, your body can burn up to 2,000 mg in an hour. Since I tend to eat clean, my salt consumption varies from very little when I'm sitting around to over 10,000 mg/day during certain endurance competitions. This can be hard for people to understand because as a society we eat far too much salt, which can cause health problems. But it's important to understand that while you may need to cut down on salt, as you're getting into shape, you will reach a point where you'll need to start adding it to your diet again.

I don't eat the same things every day. This is just an example of the types of foods and the timing:

CoffeeMorning. Black coffee. I'm a coffee achiever. It's my morning ritual (unless I'm in England, when I'll switch to tea just because I'm a traditionalist). There is some negative research associated with caffeine, but nearly all of the 19,000 plus studies on it have shown it to be an ergogenic aid, so the odds are in my favor. Most of the problems we associate with caffeine seem to come from what we add to it. Oddly enough, I don't like caffeine during sports for performance. That's just my personal feeling. Studies seem to indicate it generally improves performance. I'm more interested in my calorie-free ritual and the mental alertness it seems to provide.

I like to wake up slowly, drink coffee, and read the news. Contrary to what most nutritionists advise, I don't eat breakfast right away. I prefer to allow my body some time to warm up for the day. Since I work in the morning, I just go with how I'm feeling. I may eat breakfast within an hour, but also within three or four. My body does well functioning on its fat storage and I can easily go long periods without eating. This is not true for everybody, though it can be improved in everybody.

WaterA little while later. Before I eat, I'll generally drink a tall glass of water and take some supplements. These vary depending on the program but generally include vitamins, minerals, some omegas, and enzymes. When I'm training hard I'll often drink a glass of a greens formulation with protein powder. I don't make it into anything fancy. I just add this stuff to water and gulp it down. I don't really care how it tastes since it's good for me but, honestly, I don't think it tastes bad (even though it's green).

Breakfast. Generally a large bowl of cereal or two. I only eat natural-ingredient cereals with whole grains and no sugar. They tend to have a fair amount of both protein and fiber. I often add fruit and use either organic nonfat milk, rice milk, or soy milk. Generally, it'll be regular milk, but if I'm close to the time I'm going to work out, I'll use rice milk because it digests faster.

Lunch. I usually eat lunch two or three hours after breakfast and a couple of hours before my workout. It's generally a similar-type meal as breakfast because I like to eat light carbohydrate-rich foods prior to exercise. If I eat a large protein-rich meal at lunch, my workout will usually suffer.

NutsSnack. I always have mixed nuts in my house. I have both raw and salted. If I'm hungry, I'll grab a handful, generally raw, unless I'm training a lot in the heat. I don't plan it. My body doesn't really lie about hunger anymore so when I think I need some nutrients I eat. The only time I avoid eating completely is around an hour or so before my workout because the food won't be digested and the workout will suffer.

Afternoon. I prefer to train during the late afternoon to early evening. If it's a one-hour session, like P90X, I don't eat anything. If it's a longer session, like a run, bike ride, or climbing session, I begin fueling about 30 minutes into the workout with sports foods that are mainly carbohydrates with a little bit of protein. These vary depending on the exercise but are usually things like Exceed, Hammer Gel, energy bars, and fruit. In a pinch, I may use Gatorade, but it's pretty lowbrow from an ingredient standpoint.

P90X® Peak Recovery FormulaPost workout. P90X Peak Recovery Formula. To me, this is my most important meal of the day. I find that a good post-workout snack and cooldown session do more for my recovery than anything else, except maybe sleep.

Dinner. An hour or two later, I'll eat my main meal. It's generally a large meal and always varies. A common dinner is a large chicken, bean, and rice burrito with heaps of different salsas and a salad that has as many veggies as I have around the house. No matter what this meal is, it's always similar in that I don't use sauces, dressings, oils, and such that aren't made of all-natural ingredients. Meat is always very lean. Starch is always whole grain. The only oil in my kitchen is olive oil. The only dressing is balsamic vinaigrette. The only cheese I have is parmesan or cotija. I rarely cook veggies and if I do I steam them. Mainly, I just cut 'em up and toss 'em in a salad. Lettuce is always something other than iceberg.

When I eat at home, I eat very plain food. I do eat in restaurants, where I'll indulge in fancier fare, but I'm quite happy eating for performance most of the time. And while this probably sounds boring, I actually prefer plain foods. A steady diet of restaurant food leaves me feeling sluggish and craving "boring" food.

WineDessert. I rarely eat dessert and nearly always opt for a glass or two of wine or beer instead. Once in a while I'll eat some ice cream, but never if I'm trying to perform optimally the next day. Frozen berries are a treat I keep on hand for hot summer evenings. I always keep organic dark chocolate around the house just in case I crave sugar and I'll eat a couple of squares when I'm in the mood. As an example of how often this happens, I bought five bars last August and still have one left.

Late-night snack. When I'm training hard I'll often get hungry late at night. Since I don't want to eat too many cals before bed, I'll often have a protein shake (just water and protein). If I'm still hungry, I may then opt for some microwave light popcorn, another beer (if it's a social evening), or, if I think I've had enough calories, some herbal tea.

Questions you might be asking yourself

SalmonWhat about calories? It's taken years of trial and error, but I don't count calories (though I generally know how many I'm eating). I don't like feeling full so I only eat until I'm not hungry. When you're training hard, hunger is a sign of muscular breakdown. The way you want to feel is satiated but light; if my stomach feels full or bloated I know I've overdone it.

What about carbs? As a sort of general guideline, the amount of fats and proteins you eat should stay around the same all of the time. The main variable in your diet is carbs. The more exercise you do the more carbohydrates you will burn. If you aren't getting enough carbs to support your exercise program your energy level will fall. If you are eating too many, you'll feel full and, perhaps, bloated. If you are eating the proper amount of carbohydrates you should feel light and energetic.

What do I drink? I try to drink water all day long, especially before, during, and after exercise. I don't drink much with my meals. Maybe a few sips of wine. I try not to drink many calories unless it's in the form of a supplement. Most caloric drinks—sodas, juices, etc.—are very poor uses of calories.

This is the way I eat most of the time. If I feel I need to gain weight, I'll just add some calories (this is rare because I'm a gravity sports guy). Eating this way allows me to maintain my performance weight and increase my fitness.

General GuidelinesYou've seen my diets for weight loss and performance and my general guidelines. Next time, we'll look at another common scenario for me: eating while on the road.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Is Your Thyroid Making You Fat?

By Allison Garwood

ScaleThis is the story of how one day I mysteriously started gaining weight, then found out why. It's how I found out I was one of eight million Americans suffering from a medical problem that stopped my metabolism cold, and how with proper treatment, I've been able to fight my way back to thin.

From early childhood, I was always a very skinny kid who looked not unlike a Granddaddy Long Legs. In my mid-twenties, I started to have trouble keeping weight on. My heart raced and pounded; I had panic attacks; I was never hungry; I got skinnier and skinnier, and scared.

TiredAll of a sudden, it stopped. The panic attacks went away, my heart stopped pounding, and I started to put on some weight. But uh-oh, I couldn't stop gaining weight! I went from a loose size 4 to a tight size 14 in about six months. I couldn't stay awake at work even though I was exercising, eating right, and consuming caffeine like a maniac. I was certain it was cancer.

I saw doctors; I talked to friends who were doctors; I read things online. One doctor "friend" told me, "Allison, it is physically impossible to eat fewer calories than you burn and not lose weight." Jerk.

DoctorFinally, I found a doctor who told me I had hypothyroidism. This is a condition in which the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone, and it affects about two percent of the population. Having trouble keeping weight on, as I experienced in my mid-twenties, is an indication of hyperthyroidism, which is the condition associated with an overproduction of thyroid hormone. So I actually experienced both thyroid disorders! The thyroid is responsible for the function of so many bodily systems that a malfunction can seem to be due to other causes and so is labeled the "great imitator." The thyroid gland regulates metabolism, vitamin utilization, digestion, muscle and nerve activity, blood flow, oxygen utilization, hormone secretion, and sexual and reproductive health.

Now that you know the function of the thyroid, here are some of the early symptoms of hypothyroidism, which make a lot of sense when you look at them next to the bodily functions the thyroid regulates.

  • Weight gain
  • Feeling run down, slow, sluggish
  • Depression
  • Feeling cold
  • Having dry skin and hair
  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramps

PillsThe diagnosis was just the start. My doctor told me that even though the weight had come on very quickly and easily, I would have to work to take each pound off. It was super-hard because even though I was on medication, my metabolism was still the same as that of a dead man. A fat dead man.

Somehow, understanding that helps me to have patience with myself. I am able to celebrate my weight loss instead of envying everyone around me who can eat an occasional sweet without gaining five pounds. That is a lie. I still envy them, but it helps to understand why I'm different. I am now down to a size 6/8 and learning to live in a body with some curves instead of the lanky body I was used to.

Chalene's WorkoutI like my curves. My husband likes my curves. I am really fit because I work out every day with Beachbody videos, and I eat pretty well. But I have accepted that I won't look like Chalene in Turbo Jam® Maximum Results or Debbie in Slim in 6® or Kathy in Project: YOU™ or Gillian or Teigh in Yoga Booty Ballet®. And maybe I don't want to. GASP! Their bodies are great for them, but I'm me.

Tony's WorkoutI was invited to participate in a P90X® rehearsal here at Beachbody's headquarters recently because they needed a girl, and Tony was really surprised at how well I hung in there, considering I was the only one without a washboard stomach. I'm fit. I'm strong. I get whistled at. I surprised Tony. That's good enough for me.

I wanted to write this article to suggest to women out there who are finding it impossible to lose weight that maybe it's your thyroid. If you think you might have a problem with your thyroid, see your doctor for a referral to an endocrinologist. The doctor can run blood tests to see if you have hypothyroidism. They may also want to check the side effects of medications you are on.

Allison Garwood If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Energy Snack IQ!

By Jude Buglewicz

True or false?

  1. RaisinsFALSE: Raisins are bad for your teeth. Those sticky raisins are about 60 percent sugars by weight, but that doesn't mean they rot your teeth. In fact, a 2005 University of Chicago study found that the phytochemicals in raisins suppress the growth of several species of oral bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease.

  2. TRUE: Energy gels work faster than energy bars do. Most bars contain fat, fiber, and protein that slow absorption, while gels are designed specifically to digest quickly. Many nutrients in a gel become available in minutes.

  3. GatoradeFALSE: Gatorade is named after the swampy water favored by alligators. Gatorade was created in Florida, after coaches for the University of Florida football team—the Gators—asked researchers in 1965 to figure out how to boost the energy of players who were suffering from heat-related illnesses.

  4. TRUE, maybe: Gorp is an acronym for Granola Oats Raisins and Peanuts. Also known as trail mix, gorp may stand for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, too. No one really knows where the term came from. In any case, trail mix usually is a mixture of nuts and dried fruits such as raisins or cranberries, though M&Ms or chocolate chips may also be included.

  5. Peanut ButterFALSE: Peanut butter is the most common butter made from nuts. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts. But peanut butter is the most common spread made from crushing or grinding seeds. Others include hazelnut butter, almond butter, and sesame seed butter—also called tahini, common in Middle Eastern cuisine.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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