There are no good or bad foods! There are no miracle foods. There are only foods that work for YOU!
Ok, that might be a gross over simplification of the subject, but the statement still holds water to a degree. I get asked on a regular basis whether a particular food is healthy and ok to eat. Often it might appear as a text message or physically placed under my nose for approval. My answer is always the same…
One food type or specific meal is, in itself neither bad nor good. It’s more about how that food or meal sits in the overall context of what you ate (or plan to eat) in the day.
It goes back to the fundamental principle of good nutrition. And that’s energy balance. Calories in vs calories out.
If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to be eating less calories than you burn (calorie deficit).
Flip that around if you want to gain weight for the purposes of increasing muscle mass, ie eat more calories than your burn (calorie surplus).
If you make this mindset shift in how you think about food it can unlock your potential to succeed in your fitness goals.
Think about this for a second. It’s lunchtime. You’re out and about in town, rushing around trying to get all your shopping done and your starving. You haven’t brought any food with you and you haven’t got time to sit down for a full meal at a restaurant. Out of the corner of your eye, you see those golden arches. You wouldn’t normally do it, but you decide to dive in and get in the queue. You know that McDonald’s has some healthy choices these days, so you’re going to be good and stick to the ‘boring’ side of the menu.
As you’re standing in line, you glance up to the display boards all brightly lit with their perfect photography of succulent burgers stacked high on seeded buns. You’re now at the front of the queue.
What do you order?…
Which of these would you class as a “good” food and which one would you order to stick as close to your diet as possible?
Be honest. Did you opt for the Big Mac or the Chicken Salad?
If you went for the Big Mac, you’d be wrong. And guess what. If you went for the Chicken Salad, you’d be wrong too.
Let me explain why.
We’ll look at the Big Mac first. A Big Mac has 540 calories, with 25g of protein, 46g of carbs, and 28g of fat.
In comparison, the Chicken Salad as 520 calories, with 28g of protein, 46 of carbs, and 25g of fat.
So pretty much they have an identical calorie and macro profile. This means that if you had a rough calorie target of 1,600 per day. You could eat 3 Big Macs on one day and 3 Chicken Salads on the next and your net weight / fat loss would be no different.
This is why understanding energy balance and macros is so important if you truly want to guarantee fat loss.
Trust me. You can eat “healthy” foods and still get fat. It still comes back to the basic maths.
Calories In vs. Calories Out.
Now, I wouldn’t for one minute suggest that you binge out on McDonalds every day as part of your new diet strategy, but hopefully you get the point.
Not all calories are created equally
We’ve established that overall calorie intake is king and that should be what drives your main food choices day to day.
However, there are other things you should consider when making your food choices. Micro-nutrients are a bit of an underdog when it comes to fitness nutrition. Not considered as important or ‘sexy’ as macros. But they still play a crucial role in your overall health and the general performance of your body.
When I’m planning client programmes, I always have this in mind.
It’s important to get essential vitamins and minerals on a daily basis.
For example, those of us living in the cold, damp, overcast depths of the UK don’t see that much sun throughout the year. Frustrating, I know. Some days I feel like Golum, holed up in some dank, dark cave, craving for some rays of light to pierce through the bleakness of it all.
But that lack of sunlight has more of an effect than simply not being able to show off that ripped physique on the beach.
The sun is one of the main sources of Vitamin D for the body. The body produces Vitamin D from cholesterol, but this requires enough UV light to facilitate the process. For a lot of people around the world, this will mean you’re not getting enough sunlight to support Vitamin D production. Now you can get a degree of Vitamin D from foods such as fish and eggs, but it is often minimal.
Having said that, most people will not be deficient to Vitamin D. It’s more likely to be the case that levels are not optimised, meaning you’re not getting all the benefits, such as elevated mood, immune health, bone health, and in some cases increased testosterone production.
The point I’m making here is that while a Big Mac might fit your macros, it’s worth planning your meals in a more balanced way to get the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to run at an optimised level.
Because that’s what we’re after at the end of the day. I want you to reach your goals quickly, so I want you to be at peak health as much as possible.
If you’re sat there right now planning some meals, think about balance. By all means incorporate foods you enjoy, but also think about using foods that are nutrient dense like kale, broccoli, salmon, fruit etc. You’ll see the benefits in the long run.
Reducing calories to shed that unwanted body fat can be tough for a lot of people. I know from past experience that coming out of a bulk where you’ve been eating a high amount calories, then switching overnight to a lot less can be mentally and physically challenging.
Those first two weeks especially can be a bit of a killer. You feel hungry throughout the day and you struggle to think how you can keep this up for another 10 – 12 weeks.
The thing to do here is think volume. A great strategy to stave off hunger is to eat foods that you need to eat in greater quantities to get the calories and macros you want.
Vegetables are a great example.
100g of vegetables provides:
Now let’s compare that to pasta.
50g of cooked pasta provides:
So roughly the same macro profile, but you can eat twice the volume of the vegetables!
That’s going to occupy much more ‘real estate’ in your stomach and give you that fuller feeling for longer. And that’s exactly what you want. That full feeling is going to stop you feeling hungry. Feeling less hungry means you’re more likely to stick to your daily calorie target #winning
The bottom line is you’ll feel happier and the likelihood of you sticking to your diet is going to increase a significant amount.
Want another example? Let’s look at fruit.
In the last section of the article we looked at incorporating more fruits and vegetables in the diet to increase consumption of those awesome micro nutrients. So let’s take that one step further and fruit choices.
But before I do, let me preface this by saying that all fruit is pretty awesome. I’m just looking purely at which fruits will help you in terms of hunger when it comes to being in a calorie deficit.
First up is Watermelon…
300g of watermelon will give you around:
One of the other fruits I love is sultanas. I love snacking on them and throwing them in yoghurt and porridge, but their not the go to fruit choice when I’m cutting because they just don’t fill you up. Here’s their calories profile.
30g of sultanas will give you:
90 calories (the exact same as the watermelon)
So you can eat 10 times more volume of watermelon compared to sultanas, which makes the watermelon a great choice if you’re trying to get through those hunger cravings.
Now you can start to see that there’s more to structuring a good diet than the macho, chest thumping hyperbole of a lot of If It Fits Your Macros advocates in your local gym. Take the time to plan this part of your nutrition correctly. That little bit of work upfront makes picking and choosing food while you’re out and about, so much easier. Put the effort in and reap the rewards!
Getting food to fit your macros
What foods should I pick to hit my macros?
This is such a common question that people will ask when they’re getting their nutrition set up for the first time. Often it’s very easy to go way over on one macro and be way under on another. As fat has more calories than protein and carbs, I see a lot of people struggle to keep their fat levels in check.
Balancing out your macros and making food choices that fit can be difficult, particularly for women who typically have less calories to play with.
Being able to work with all scenarios and balancing those macros takes a mix of experience and planning (as well as a bit of patience).
The best way I’ve found to work is to build up a list of foods that are high in a particular macro and have very few tag along calories.
For example, lean chicken is very high in protein and almost zero carbs and fat. This means that if you need to boost protein, you can select / create a dish that uses more chicken. Likewise, most fruits are carb dominant and low in protein and fat. If you need to increase carb levels then fruit is often a good choice.
Once you’ve got those foods in place you can then start to look at foods that cross over a bit. So fat free Greek yoghurt has both protein and carbs, but no fat (as the name would suggest).
So if you keep building up this list of both individual foods and whole recipes, the process of adapting and creating a plan that will suit exactly what you need becomes a hell of a lot easier.
Here’s a kick start on that process for you.
This chart was created by my man Mike Vacanti and categorises a ton of food for you. Keep referring back to this chart when you’re planning meals, or have it saved on your phone. It’ll come in useful when you’re out and need to hit some particular macro values. Deciding between the steak and chips or the tuna salad just became a damn sight easier.
Not only is this chart great for illustrating the point I’m trying to make here, but it’s also the first time I’ve seen a Venn diagram get used in a useful way. I remember sitting in maths class wondering when the hell I’d need to use this random concept. Turns out it does have its merits.
Great job Mike!
What’s the long and short of it all?
Focus on calorie intake over the course of the day and hit your protein numbers. That’s the most important thing to keep at the forefront of your mind. Everything else can fall in to place after that.
No food is good or bad. Only consider a food / meal to be bad if it will blow your macros out of the water for that day. That’s the point where you might need to consider something different.
Load your diet up with nutrient rich foods to keep your body running at optimum performance.
Think volume. The more volume of food you can eat while staying within your calorie and macro numbers, the more you’re likely to avoid that hungry feeling.
Take the time to understand the basic macro profiles of certain foods. It’ll make food choices on the fly much much easier.
That’s my quick guide to making good food choices. I hope you found it useful and a good insight into how to structure your diet effectively. Keep in mind that this fitness thing should be fun. It’s not meant to be devoid of the things you like. That’s just going to lead to misery and you going back to your old ways.
Understand those foods you love in terms of their calories and macros and find ways to incorporate them into your daily diet. Use a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal so that you know where you are with your macros at any point during the day. Stick to this for a few weeks and it will all become second nature. As you get more experienced you’ll be able to guesstimate with enough accuracy as well.
If you want even more information on setting up your nutrition plan, then download my FREE eBook right here. It will guide you through 7 simple steps to creating a well-structured diet. It’ll walk you through how to calculate your calorie requirements, what your macro breakdown should look like and loads of other useful tips.
Do you want an effective training and nutrition programme for 2017?
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