Nutrition: Ever wondered how the Cristiano Ronaldo’s, Usain Bolt’s and Laura Geitz’s of the world got their bodies to look like a work of art? Or it might simply just be how your friend who exercises exactly the same amount as you looks so much leaner and healthier than you do. Contrary to what many people are taught to believe, training and exercise isn’t everything when it comes to weight management and obtaining that perfect figure. Nutrition plays a key role.
Yes exercise is essential in the journey to reaching perfection in terms of body composition, however it can’t be done with exercise alone, and in fact needs to be worked in with a healthy, well balanced diet (nutrition). It is no secret that having the perfect body composition and looking good results from a lower body fat percentage and higher proportion of lean muscle mass. In athletes and people with athletic figures this is achieved through having three things: a good strength and conditioning regime, a high metabolic rate, and a well-balanced diet.
A well-structured strength and conditioning program can tick off not only the exercise section, but significantly improve metabolic rate. Metabolism is affected by genetics, age, gender, and body size and composition. So where does exercise come in? The thermic effect of exercise, which is defined as the energy expended during physical activity, actually increases metabolism by around 10%. In addition, not only is metabolism increased while exercise is being undertaken, it will remain elevated for up to 24 hours post exercise due to the increased energy required for recovery and adaptation processes.
Diet and the foods we eat can also increase the metabolic rate through a process known as thermogenesis, which is the energy used for digestion, absorption, transport, and storage of food that has been eaten. It is important however that food is consumed at the right time and in the right amounts.
Okay, so it now seems simple to get that ideal body image, just exercise and eat healthy, right? The problem is when most people get told to eat healthy they think calorie restriction in order to lose fat. The problem with cutting calories is that your body will feel deprived of energy and actually start to eat away at muscle stores before fat for energy, as fat is the last macronutrient that is burned. Metabolism is higher when muscle mass is high. Hence by restricting food intake and consequently reducing lean muscle mass one will be slowing their metabolism and reducing their energy stores, which will eventually lead to wanting to eat more and then putting weight back on at a quicker rate then it was lost.
So in summary improving body composition and attaining that ideal figure requires two key lifestyle changes: a suitable strength and conditioning training program, which will improve metabolic conditioning; and the addition of a healthy diet (nutrition) that will promote building lean muscle mass, while also maintaining a constant metabolism required to lose fat. The role of each macronutrient in this process is explained below, along with a guide to how they should be included in the diet to get the best results.
When people think protein, they often think strength and muscle gains. Strength and conditioning athletes tend to believe the more protein they consume in one sitting the better. Truth is you gain no extra benefit in muscle repair and growth eating 50 grams than you would having 20 grams. Research has shown that protein synthesis reaches its maximum rate when 20 grams is consumed in a single sitting, and it is therefore recommended to spread protein intake across the day by having around 10-20 grams every 3 to 4 hours. Protein is not only essential for muscle repair and growth but it is a highly satiating food, meaning it leaves you feeling fuller for longer and not contemplating going to the fridge every half an hour to satisfy hunger needs.
When looking to lose weight or build muscle it is common to want to cut down carbohydrates. This is a misunderstood phenomenon, as there are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are refined processed foods such as candies, sugars, and white breads or rice, and are bad as they cause energy spikes and are burnt up quickly. The problem with this is it causes you to feel hungry again very quickly so you eat more of them. It is these types of carbohydrates that we want to cut down. On the other hand complex carbohydrates are an essential part of the diet and without them you will become fatigued and lacking energy. Complex carbohydrates provide energy to your brain and are required for you to reach your peak, and include foods such as fruits, wholegrains, and starchy vegetables that contain essential vitamins and minerals.
Fibre is used interchangeably with carbohydrates, and is not only a necessity in the diet but great for improving body composition. This is due to the fact it is an indigestible nutrient that is not only high in satiety, but also keeps you regular and helps with eliminating waste from the body. Hence choosing the right types of carbs is essential to improve body composition, and eating complex carbohydrates with high fibre is the way to go.
Like carbs fat is important, however it is important to choose the right types of fats. It is unsurprisingly a common misconception that eating fat makes you fat, where in fact the saying should be, eating too many calories makes you fat. The key is to consume mostly unsaturated fats such as avocado, fish, nuts, and plant-based fats as opposed to trans and saturated fats, which are contained in processed foods and animal products. The problem with trans and saturated fats is that they raise bad cholesterol in your body, which clogs arteries and can lead to heart disease.
Exercise For Body Composition – Aerobic v’s HIIT
Now that you have an idea of nutrition, what about the type of exercise to go with it? If unfit or overweight and looking to lose weight is it recommended to train within the aerobic heart rate (HR) zone (50-70% of max HR). Exercise needs to be sustainable for at least 20-30 minutes and working at this intensity should be achievable for most people. Obviously energy is used at a higher rate at higher intensities, meaning benefits can be seen more quickly, however people just starting a weight loss or fitness program will not be able to maintain exercise for long enough to burn as much energy as training aerobically, and there is also a higher risk of injury or untoward event occurring with high intensity activity in unfit or untrained individuals.
Once fitness levels have improved it is recommended to perform higher intensity activities to improve body composition, as metabolism will be further enhanced post workout and fat will be burnt more efficiently than with aerobic training. Remember however that it is important to progress exercise intensity slowly and at a rate that is maintainable for the individual.
Finally, resistance training should also not be forgotten as it promotes building of lean muscle mass, which will raise the metabolic rate and effectively increase energy utilization. Compound exercises using large muscle groups are recommended over single muscle isolation exercises as a greater stimulus for energy expenditure is produced.
WHERE TO NOW?
So now hopefully you understand that in order to achieve that body composition you have always dreamed of isn’t actually impossible. It is just about making a couple of small lifestyle changes; firstly, to find and introduce a good strength and conditioning program, and secondly to enjoy a well-balanced healthy diet (nutrition).
If you found this article useful you may also enjoy reading Does Exercise Really Work?, Darn Well Jogging Around, or 12 Tips for Successful Sport Coaching. Learn more about nutrition by studying a Certificate III in Fitness, Certificate IV in Fitness or Diploma of Fitness. Fit Education also offers a Nutrition Shortcourse.