Last week we talked about how much to eat. As promised, today we will talk about what you should eat.

Fitness 101 Elements of Physical Fitness
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Let’s start with the basics. Your foods basically contain 1 or more macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.  These macronutrients do different things in the body and provide differing amounts of energy. The energy (calories) for each group is as follow:

  • 1 gram carbohydrates (carbs) = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Your body needs all of these macronutrients to perform difference functions. Carbs are the first choice for energy in the body and get easily converted to glucose, the fuel for cellular life.  Carbs need fats to help them burn and your cells need fats to be able to use certain vitamins and for other cellular functions.  Protein is the building block for muscle and muscle repair.  What I want you to remember is that each of these is necessary and none of these categories should be looked at as forbidden or bad. 

How much of each of the macronutrients you need is a subject of much discussion and controversy. There are certain diet trends that demonize one or more of these groups. Like I have said before, diets are temporary. You should be focused on how to eat to live. To live you need a balance of each of the macronutrients from quality sources.

I often tell my clients to start with a 50/25/25 split. Their calories should come, roughly, 50% from carbs, 25% from protein, and 25% from fat.  This is based on my experience and study. Everyone is different, so I also tell them this is a starting point. Depending on their activities and how their body reacts, this ratio is subject to adjustment.  For example, an endurance athlete will need more carbs to keep glucose available to the body.  So their carb ratio might go up while their protein ratio might go down. Again, everyone is different.

The other key is how you get these calories. While it would be nice to think that 250 calories in a donut is the same as 250 calories in a chicken breast, but that is not how it works. Think about the foods I just mentioned. When you eat a donut for a meal, how do you feel? More importantly how do you feel and hour or two later? Now think about eating those 250 calories in a chicken breast. How would you feel after and a bit later? The sugar in the donut will probably make you jittery and an hour later you’re sleepy and hungry again. The chicken breast is going to make you feel fuller and keep you from getting hungry longer.

When you plan your meals (you are planning right?) you need to keep in mind the quality of the food you are eating. Look for foods that are minimally processed and rich in nutrients. You want high volume for your calorie buck as well. If I get 450 calories for dinner, what combo of foods can I get for 450 calories that will make me full and keep me full? In a way it is a blend of quality and quantity.

Last week I asked you to start a food journal. I want you to continue your assignment by analyzing your food journal, if you haven’t started to do so already. Use a calorie book or one of the great online tools to find out how many calories you eat each day and what your ratios are of carbs, protein and fats in your daily diet. Where are you compared to the recommendation I made? What changes are you going to make? Share with me, I love to hear your stories!

Be sure to read all of the Fitness 101 series!

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