How eating the right foods at the right time will promote fat loss, muscle gain, and better workout recovery
Last week I wrote about eating fat to lose fat and the article was a hit. So this week, I’m expanding on the concept. If you missed last week’s post, make sure you either read it or you have a good understanding on the concept of how eating fat (even saturated fat) will promote fat loss.
First: Everyone needs to understand what makes a “fat” a “protein,” and a “carb.” I’ve run into a lot of people over the years who are easily confused when it comes to figuring out what macronutrient he or she is eating. The good news is that solving this problem will be the easiest part of the whole process.
Sample: Let’s look at Jiff’s All Natural Peanut Butter
- One serving size of Jiff PB is 2 TBS
- In 2 TBS of PB, one consumes 190 calories, 8 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein
Should Jiff’s All Natural Peanut Butter be counted in your diet as
- A) A carb
- B) A fat
- C) A protein
- D) All of the above
If you chose B, YOU ARE CORRECT! This is so easy folks. Look at the label. There is more fat per serving than ANY other macronutrient. Therefore peanut butter does not count as a protein (which many believe). It’s a FAT. If you’re trying to consume a food high in protein, peanut butter doesn’t count. (Yes, it has SOME protein in it and you will consume that protein, but your body will process this food as a FAT. You will digest it slowly, it will keep you fuller for longer, and it will contribute to your overall fat gram consumption for the day.)
Let’s look at four ounces of 93/7 ground turkey.
- One serving size of 4 oz cooked ground turkey contains 120 calories
- In 4 ounces of lean turkey, one will consume 0 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fat, and 28 grams of protein
You can do this. This turkey counts as
- A) A carb
- B) A fat
- C) A protein
You’re right. It’s definitely a protein. A whopping 28 freaking grams at that! So if you need a meal high in protein, eat the turkey, not the peanut butter.
Second, let’s look at the famous GOOD CARB vs. BAD CARB debate.
I kind of hate labeling a carb as good, bad, evil, or awesome. A doughnut, in my opinion, is freaking awesome. But most would call it a bad carb. I’m here to tell you there’s a place in your diet for every type of carb, no matter what kind you want to eat. Here’s all you need to know right now:
SIMPLE carbs digest QUICKLY and COMPLEX carbs digest SLOWLY
- Vegetables. Green leafy veggies are always best when trying to eat a meal low in carbs.
- Starchy veggies like squashes and potatoes, even beans and lentils provide great carbs full of nutrients.
- If you want a grain, opt for oats, brown rice, or quinoa.
- “Whole wheat, whole grain, brown” (like whole wheat pasta or brown rice).
- Anything labeled “White” is a fast digesting carbohydrate (like white bread and white pasta and white rice)
- Pastries, cereals, most breakfast foods, most fruit yogurts, boxed dinners
- All desserts
Now that we’ve gotten some of the basics taken care of, it’s time to learn WHEN to eat WHAT.
I chat daily with two types of people: the average person who wants to lose fat and shape up a bit, and then the athlete who’s training for muscle growth, strength gains, performance PRs, and sometimes still — fat loss.
I’m going to give you a lot of take-home info here for both types of readers. Sure there are exceptions, but I’ll get to some of those further down in the post. For now, here are the simple basics that will help:
- PROTEIN: Always eat protein with every meal. Always. Protein is the number one macronutrient that helps build lean muscle which everyone needs–every athlete, every woman, every kid, everyone. Lean muscle burns fat, boosts metabolism, and the more lean muscle you have, the more fat it burns–consistently. Protein rebuilds muscle after working out, helps the recovery process, and helps lifters come back stronger. Building lean muscle is a priority for every single person.
- VEGETABLES (or “good for you” CARBS): Always eat vegetables with every meal. We all know how tough it is to consume every single vitamin and mineral required of us, so if you eat three, four, six meals a day–eat veggies with your meals. If that means heating up a bowl of spinach to accompany your eggs and bacon, do it. If that means making cauliflower rice to add to your ground turkey at lunch, do it. If that means adding kale to your smoothie…you get where I’m going.
- FAT: Here’s where you pay closer attention. Eat fat with any and every meal EXCEPT right after a workout. You can have fat (coconut oil, all natural nut butters, cheese, bacon–which is another fat, not a protein–butter, olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds…) with any meal you want BEFORE you workout, and then not again until about three hours after you workout. If you’re one of my avid fitness readers, you train hard. You want maximum gains and results, right? Then don’t hinder your process by consuming fat post-workout. (I’ll address below what to eat after a workout.)
- CARBS: Ok, it gets a little trickier here. Make your carb choices wisely. Complex carbs are all smarter choice carbs that will help you lose weight. Simple carbs “could” get in the way of your goals if not eaten at the right time. This is where lifting weights makes eating AWESOME. And if you aren’t lifting weights–heavy weights–this may change your mind.
- Eat complex carbs within 1-2 hours BEFORE your lifting session. (This doesn’t count if you only do cardio or light weights. But really, who’s only doing that?)
- Eat only simply carbs 1-3 hours after lifting weights. (Remember, no fat in this period.) The reason one can get away with simple carbs after lifting is because your muscles are ready for the recovery process. Simple carbs digest quickly and they will transport protein to your muscles. This is why you see everyone drinking a protein shake after working out. To help build lean muscle (which is always the number one goal), lift heavy, have protein, and eat a SIMPLE carb to transport the protein back to the muscles. If you want to be really specific, for every one gram of protein you consume, have two grams of carbs. If your protein shake has 20 grams of protein, have 40 grams of carbs (that’s like one large banana or one medium sweet potato). Eating fat slows down the digestive process and can make your body hold onto the sugars instead of transporting them where they need to go. That’s why it’s important to skip the fat right now.
- This is also why you see many people downing doughnuts, Oreo, and cupcakes post training. It’s the ONE TIME OF DAY where athletes can eat like this and get away with it NOT turning to body-fat. The muscles are ready for a treat. But a word from one who’s been in this situation: DO NOT treat post training as a time to binge on sweets. Have ONE treat and move on to your healthy meals. Too much of a “bad” carb can still lead to “bad” results, even if eaten at the “right” time. And these “bad carbs” will cause you to have cravings for more “bad carbs.”
I’m not trying to make any of this complicated; it’s just that this whole process IS kind of complicated–at first. Once you get used to it, it’s pretty easy. The limiting factor here is that you have to know your body, and if you don’t, you may need to take some time to experiment to see what works best for you. For example, I know that my body responds much better to a banana or sweet potato after a workout than it does a doughnut. BUT I also know a lot of people who have that doughnut and make huge gains not only in the gym but with losing fat. So take some time to experiment.
Let me wrap up with a sample “What to Eat When” scenario:
Steph’s Typical Day
- 6am-ish: Protein + Fat. A shake made with hot coffee, one tsp coconut oil, one TBS heavy whipping cream, 1/2 scoop Dymatize Iso 100 vanilla whey protein. (This is like dessert, folks. I can’t wait to have this when I wake up.)
- 7am-ish: Protein + Simple Carbs + BCAAs. I train. If I’m feeling the need for extra fuel I may have a piece of fruit or a few bites of sweet potato, possibly a protein shake while lifting. I also try and include about 24 ounces of BCAAs, usually USP Labs Modern BCAAs in pink lemonade.
- 9am-ish: Protein + Simple Carbs. I have a homemade pumpkin muffin (made with pumpkin, honey, brown sugar, eggs, oat flour–thanks Myra!) and a scoop of Optimum Nutrition French Vanilla Whey.
- 10am-ish: More Carbs. I usually have about 100-150 grams sweet potatoes with cinnamon. I could eat this with my muffin and scoop of protein but I just like to spread out my carbs a bit so I don’t feel too stuffed and so I can enjoy them more!
- Lunch: Protein + Veggies + Fats + Complex Carbs. 4 oz. ground turkey, one serving cauliflower, 1/2 an avocado, 1/4 cup black beans, 1 TBS Parmesan cheese. This is my favorite lunch.
- Snack: Fat + Veggies + Protein. Sometimes I eat plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with a tsp or so of all natural peanut butter, sometimes I eat a tuna cup (plain, no mayo), and usually I throw in there a bowl of spinach for extra nutrients. I switch this up a lot, but I always aim for protein, a veggie of some sort, and a little bit of fat.
- Dinner: Protein + Veggie + Fat. I’m stuck on ground turkey, homemade pasta sauce (literally just olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper–thanks Myra, again!), and about a cup of spaghetti squash. Oh! And some grated Parmesan. Can’t forget the Parmesan. I might change this meal up on the weekends to get more variety of meats, but during the week, I usually food prep this meal for every night. I love it.
- Post dinner: I’ve gotten addicted to a hot cup of tea every night and I must say, it’s super soothing and helps battle post-dinner dessert cravings. For those of you like Erik who lift later in the evening and do enjoy a dessert at night, you can totally get away with this if you’re in that 3-hour post lifting window! The perks of lifting late do have awesome advantages!
- Before bed: Casein Protein. I buy Optimum Nutrition’s chocolate peanut butter casein protein and I mix it with water and then heat it up and drink it like hot chocolate on my way to bed. Casein protein digests slowly throughout the night and helps keep your metabolism running, not to mention is an easy way to battle a late night chocolate craving AND get that much needed protein serving!
You can customize these meals to fit your favorite foods and that’s what I love about nutrition. You don’t have to cut out certain things from your diet–you only need to know WHEN you can best eat those foods.
Moral of the story:
- Always eat protein and veggies with every meal
- Know what “fats” are and eat them with any meal of the day before working out and again three hours post workout
- Eat complex carbs with protein for energy before a workout — especially my heavy lifters out there
- Eat simple carbs (your fave food splurges!) with protein after exercise
- If you want dessert, eat it after a workout
- If you want bread and pasta, eat it after a workout
- If you want to lose fat, make healthier food choices throughout the day and SAVE YOUR CARBS for around your workout so you body uses them instead of converts them to fat cells!
See? It’s really not that hard.
Speaking of workouts and heavy lifting, here are your three Strong Figure Conditioning Workouts for the week.
(Remember these are extra conditioning workouts. Are you lifting heavy? Squatting and deadlifting, benching and overhead pressing? Or are you snatching, jerking, cleaning, and thrusting? Everyone has his her favorite lifts and that’s all that matters–lifting something off the ground! It’s time to start thinking about this if you’re not! Stay tuned for our Total Health and Fitness Makeover eBook. We have a whole section dedicated to the novice on barbell work. Erik and I are hoping it will be ready sometime in March.)
Workout 1: 5 Rounds for Time
- 10 Kettlebell or Dumbbell snatches per arm
- 50 Double Unders or 150 single unders
If you don’t have equipment, sub 10 burpees and then 25 lunges (per leg!) That ought to be a killer.
Workout 2: For time
- 50 Kettlebell swings
- 40 Goblet squats
- 30 Sit-ups
- 20 Push-ups
- 10 Burpees
If you don’t have equipment, sub air squats for the goblet squats, and lunges for the swings. If your legs are toast from all the lunges from the first workout, you can sub 50 hollow rocks.
Workout 3: 3 Rounds
- 25 Prone Walkouts (starting on all fours, walk your hands out as far as you can without collapsing your stomach to the floor and then walk back in to start position)
- 35 Mountain Climbers
- 50 Bridge Ups (glute raises)
Are YOU eating the right foods at the right times? Are there any questions I left unanswered? Let me know your thoughts, comments, questions, in the comments below!!
Amber Vesey says
Steph, first off, I always love your posts, informative, with some fun and personality mixed in 🙂
LOLZ to people being like PB IS PROTEIN. It HAS protein, it is NOT protein.
Erik Walker says
Haha, I know, right? But you have NOOOO idea how many times I’ve had to say, “No no no no no no! It’s not a protein!!!”
Stephanie Wimer says
PS– that was me, Steph, above. ^ The perks of sharing a computer and never realizing who’s logged in until it’s too late. 😉
Hi! This is a very informative post but I have a few questions. I work out early in the morning (sometime between 6-8). My workouts are one of two things. One- I go to the gym and only lift. Two- I have field hockey practice first, so I have some sprints, then I go to the gym and lift. Usually I do all of this fasted. My question is, what do I eat after? I usually have 2 eggs and veggies, and a banana with peanut butter. Now I am questioning the peanut butter. Also, 2 eggs is protein but it has a decent amount of fat as well. Should I only be eating carbs with some protein first, and switch my breakfast until later? I also have been eating quinoa with dinner but maybe I should eat that early?
Stephanie Wimer says
Whatever you eat post training — that’s where you’ve got to be most specific. Take in only protein and carbs, in a 2:1 (Carbs:Protein) ratio. So if you have 20 grams of protein, you need 40 grams of carbs. You also need quick-acting carbs (simple carbs). Whey protein is one of the best choices post training because you want the nutrition to digest and get back to those muscles quickly! A shake with berries is great, coconut water, bananas, etc. I wouldn’t have veggies right after lifting either–many contain a lot of fiber and can slow down your absorbtion process.
Before your workout you could get away with a scoop of protein (I would at least consider this if you’re doing heavy lifting) and then I’d eat the quinoa (and veggies!) meal for lunch. Save the whole eggs and peanut butter (and more veggies) and any higher fat foods for the evening. 🙂