I want to talk about something that’s really been grinding my gears lately. It’s the misunderstanding of what constitutes something being healthy, clean, good for you, or whatever descriptor you prefer to use in reference of something that contributes to a person’s well-being.
You hear your coworker (who was keto last month and doing a juice cleanse this month) boasting about how “good for you” her homemade juice is with spinach, berries, almond milk, banana, and orange. Ok. What does that mean? Like, I won’t get cancer if I drink this juice? Or, I’ll lose a couple pounds in two days? I’ll get a huge surplus of vitamins and minerals, half of which I’ll pee out by lunch?
What do you define as “good for you?” A particular food item or diet like the juice cleanse? Sure, foods that have lots of vitamins and minerals can contribute to overall health improvement, but what about when that juice cleanse gets too time consuming and said coworker hasn’t had any fats or proteins in days and her body starts revolting? She likely gives up and reverts to old habits of donuts a few times a week for breakfast and Arby’s on the way home.
You can’t achieve a status of good health from any specific food item or cookie-cutter diet program. Don’t fall prey to claims on labels touting the unrealistic benefits of their product. Good health is achieved through repetitive practices of a balanced diet and exercise.
Some “Naked” juice will provide you with a ton of carbs in the form of natural sugars (still sugar!—see next subsection) and not much else. So, if you would like to have that as a part of your total daily allotment, go for it! Just be sure you’re getting enough of the other macros and micros your body needs throughout the day. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat a big fat sweet potato for those carbs and feel satisfied for a few hours.
The “juicer” above likely consumes little to no protein, fats, and fiber for the duration of that cleanse and winds up with bowel issues, muscle loss, and hormonal impairments. Eat WHOLE vegetables and fruits to feel full and get adequate fiber from the skins and seeds, have lean proteins to support lean mass and prevent your body from losing muscle (which results in you needing less total calories to maintain weight--NOT good), and include healthy fats to support your body’s natural hormone production. Doing that regularly? Now, THAT is “good for you.”
A Carb is a Sugar is a Carb
I’m often questioned on why it’s important to choose certain types of carbohydrates over others. Many people know what types of carbs are “better” options for daily choices, yet don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
There are two classes of carbohydrates; simple and complex. Both are “sugars” and both types have the same end-product after digestion and absorption, but reach that point at different rates and trigger varying responses from the body based on that rate.
Simple carbs are things along the lines of refined grains (white bread, pasta, or sugary cereals, pop-tarts, cookies, cakes, etc.) non-diet sodas, syrups, table sugar, sports drinks, fruit juice, fro-yo…. you get the gist. Complex carbs are things like vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, oats, potatoes, brown rice, lentils, and quinoa.
Both types of carbohydrates trigger insulin release, which is the key to unlocking muscle and fat cells to allow glucose inside to be stored as energy in the form of fat tissue or muscle tissue.
When you consume simple carbs, digestion occurs quickly and blood glucose (sugar) rises fairly rapidly, resulting in excessive levels in the blood within a short time. If you’re pretty active during consumption of simple carbs, many of the circulating sugars will be utilized as immediate energy.
Insulin unlocks fat and muscle cells for storage of the excess circulating sugars. If the muscles are in need of energy stores after depletion, like in the hours following a tough workout, the glucose is stored there and called “glycogen.” If the muscle cells are replenished with glycogen, and current activity levels are very low, the excess is stored as fat tissue.
The same process occurs with complex carbs, but the rate of digestion and absorption is much slower. Therefore, allowing sustained energy and glycogen repletion from the ingested carbs with minimal fat storage from limited levels circulating in the bloodstream.
Complex carbs are also much more filling since they come as a host of fiber and water. It is possible to overconsume and gain weight with either type of carb, but it is harder to consume excessive carbohydrate from lots of broccoli, carrots, or potato than from pop-tarts or pancakes.
If you really want to get your sweet tooth fix, have those simple carbs within a few hours after a hard workout. They will mostly contribute to anabolic (muscle-building) processes within the body and not impair your weight-management goals. I’m not saying have a free-for-all reward meal every day you work out, but a sugary treat every once in a while in place of other calories isn’t going to make you fat. It’s the repeated excess calories and diminished activity levels of consuming these things regularly that makes you fat!
Save the cereal, cookies, or pancakes for special occasions or to help you pack on some solid mass so you don’t tempt yourself to yo-yo by binging on and starving yourself of all the “good stuff.” Balance it out, enjoy reasonably and don’t go to extremes one direction or the other. Remember, it’s what you do the MAJORITY of the time that matters.
Where’s the Beef? Meeting Protein Needs
First, most people DO NOT need more protein in their diet. The average American diet consists of adequate amounts of protein due to advancements in food availability and fortification. Protein consumption has been a concern in the past. Now, meat, soy, and nut products are popular and grain products like cereals, granolas, breads, and tortillas are highly fortified with protein.
The bodybuilding and fitness world have glorified the effects of this macronutrient and exaggerated the potential benefit of consuming excess of one gram per pound of lean bodyweight. For a 150lb individual around 20% bodyfat, that is 120 grams of protein per day. Which doesn’t seem like much, and if you prefer a higher protein diet, there is no harm in that. For highly active and competitive individuals, those calories may be better spent on extra carbohydrates to refuel and repair, but to each their own and that’s another article.
If you know (through proper tracking of intake) that you are not consuming adequate amounts of protein, first assess whether you are consuming adequate calories over all. A quick estimate to determine this is by multiplying your weight in pounds by 10 for females, or 11 for males. This will give you a VERY ROUGH estimate of your resting metabolic rate, or RMR (the baseline amount of calories you burn, thus need, each day). Then, use activity multipliers to give a better estimate based on your level of physical output.
To track your intake, use old-school pen and paper, recording intake and calculating total calories from the labels on your food. Or use one of the handy-dandy millions of calorie tracking apps like MyFitnessPal.
More accurate estimates vary based on numerous factors, but these numbers are close enough to determine if you are far off from where you should be. A 150lb female consuming 1,300 calories a day who works out 4 times per week may very well not consume adequate protein, but will likely meet those goals through increased caloric intake.
Now, if you are eating adequate calories, but struggle to get enough protein, here are some tips for increasing protein intake while not going overboard on calories.
Aim to include a lean protein source with each meal and snack.
Have egg whites (or 1 whole+2 whites) for breakfast.
Have larger lean protein servings in place of the extra portions of rice, bread, or cooking oils/butter you normally eat.
Try greek yogurt with sugarfree syrup or sweetener of choice and a spoonful of nuts as your nighttime snack in place of ice cream, chips, etc.
Have a whey protein shake after you work out or in place of other carb/fat-heavy snacks.