By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
Making the right nutritional choices gets more confusing
every year ("are carbs good or bad?").
While it's easy to find recommendations for the "average"
person, few of us really fit that mold.
Working towards weight loss, training goals, or performance gains all
put different demands on the body and cause our nutritional needs to vary
significantly. Here are a few common
myths and some help sorting out whether they apply to you.
Myth #1: Carbs
are bad. Along with fat and
protein, carbs are one of the major nutrients of the human diet. Carbs are essential to fuel the basic
functioning of your brain and muscles.
If you pull them out of your diet entirely, your body will find ways to
create them from the other nutrients you provide (or by breaking down your
muscle tissue). While you are likely to
lose weight, your performance will suffer and you will have difficulty
maintaining this approach to nutrition in the long term. The
skinny: Think in terms of giving
your body a balance of nutrients at the right time. Carbs are important at times surrounding
exercise in order to fuel workouts and recover sufficiently. At all other times, your best bet is to
balance moderate amounts of healthy carbs with adequate protein and fat.
Myth #2: Carbs are good. This is another myth we take to the
extreme, especially when focusing on low fat diets. Low fat does not equal a license to indulge
in nutritionally deficient carbohydrates with complete abandon. Carbs are a part of a balanced diet, but need
to be eaten in moderation with adequate protein and fat. The
skinny: Use carbs to fuel your
performance by eating a higher carbohydrate meal or snack prior to your
workouts and during your recovery. When
you're not eating carbs specifically for your workouts, focus on whole grains,
fruits and vegetables in combined with protein and fat to meet your nutritional
Myth #3: Cutting
out caffeine is a good way to jumpstart your fitness efforts. While you may be tempted to clean house
of your perceived bad habits as you start your new diet and fitness program, recent
research shows that caffeine consumption can take the edge off of your
workout and aid in reducing post exercise soreness. The
skinny: When starting a new training or
weight loss program, there's no reason to ditch the morning joe.
Myth #4: Most Americans gets too much protein. While "average" Americans get
more protein than they need for their sedentary lifestyle, those of us working
on losing weight or training hard need to emphasize protein in your diet. Higher protein consumption during weight loss
helps to preserve muscle tissue and increase satiety, allowing you to feel full
on less. It also aids in muscular
recovery, allowing you to build muscle and train harder. How much do you need? Between 1 gram and 1.8 grams of protein per
kilogram of body weight (that's your weight in pounds divided by 2.2) will
cover you if you're on a fat loss or muscle building program. Go to the lower end of that if you're not
lifting, the upper end if you are. If
you're a hard cardio trainer, you fall somewhere in the middle. Another myth?
Protein is protein. The truth is
proteins are not created equal. Our
bodies absorb protein from animal products better than vegetable proteins based
on soy. The good news for vegetarians
(though not vegans)? The most absorbable
protein comes from milk (i.e. whey or casein).
If you're shopping for powder or bars, stick to the milk based products. The
skinny: If you're reading this, you
probably need to up your protein. Try to
include a little protein to balance out each meal and snack.
Myth #5: Dairy is fattening. With an ideal ratio of carbohydrates to
protein, few things make for a better post-workout snack than a tall glass of
shows that dieters who consume high quantities of dairy products (3-4
servings per day) tend to have better results.
The skinny: If you're not getting your dairy, you're
missing out. Try to include at least
three servings of dairy in your diet throughout the day.
Myth #6: To boost your weight loss, eat small meals
throughout the day. Here's
another myth that gets taken to extremes.
While spreading out your calories to avoid binging is a good idea,
dieters who are restricting themselves to 1500 calories or less may find that
it's difficult to feel like they're ever getting a square meal if they divide
those calories up into four to six small "meals". The
skinny: Plan for three solid meals
during your day to avoid feeling deprived and to ensure you're receiving enough
nutrition. Beyond that, build in a
healthy snack (including both carbs and protein) at a time of day you typically
feel a slump or when you need a bit of energy surrounding your workout. If your calorie intake is high enough to
allow for another snack or two, go for it.
Weigh in! What are your nutritional goals? Are there diet related changes that have
helped you to progress towards them?