There’s an old saying ‘You are what you eat”. If you think getting ripped is all about exercise, you’d be wrong. Sure, it’s important but it’s the foods that pass your lips that really govern what goes on inside your body.
Getting your diet on-track and provisioning your body with the right foods can do it all – burn fat, boost satiety, increase vitality, boost testosterone and exchange flab for lean muscle tissue (providing you hit the gym too, of course).
Before we reveal what to eat, here’s a quick word on what to avoid. Our food industry is chock-full of pitfalls with processed ‘junk’ and sweet-treats laced with fat, sugar and unpronounceable preservatives seemingly out there to tempt you at every turn.
So, what’s a guy to do? Grit your teeth and go cold-turkey? Nah. That’s no fun. Which is why I’m advocating a smarter, more measured approach. One where you can eat what you like and not suffer the health consequences or feel guilty about it. It’s all a matter of balance and perspective. If you eat right 80-90% of the time, the other 10-20% won’t even matter. Simple.
I’m not going to bore you by listing every ‘bad’ food you need to be wary of, you already know that. However, if your current diet looks a lot like this food pyramid (see right), then it’s time to re-evaluate, cut-back and start treating those foods as a ‘sometimes’ and not an everyday staple.
In general, refined carbohydrates (things like white bread, donuts, bagels, chips, muffins, cakes, cereal), liquid calories (alcohol, soda, sports drinks), lollies or any other heavily-processed food you get in a box or bag generally spell bad news when consumed in excess. They prime your body to store belly fat and wreak havoc on your metabolism.
But fear not, there’s a huge array of healthy, tasty foods that you can eat. Below you’ll find a breakdown of the all-important macronutrients, why they’re important and the best food sources, all so you never get confused about what it means to eat right ever again. It’s simple, tuck in and include these as part of a healthy, balanced diet and watch your belly shrink, your energy levels soar and your muscles grow like a weed.
SECRET WEAPON: PROTEIN
Of all the nutrients on offer, protein has the greatest hunger-busting and appetite-satisfying effects. Although it’s common to load up on protein at dinner time, there are plenty of ways to include it at breakfast, lunch and snack time, too. When you include a source of lean protein in a meal, not only are you likely to feel fuller for longer and build muscle, you’re guaranteed to reap the benefits of something called ‘postprandial thermogenesis’. It may sound like something straight out of Star-trek, but it’s effects are very real and could be the key to beating belly fat without lifting a finger! It all boils down to heat (thermogenesis) and how it affects the body. Did you know, your body churns through up to 15% of your daily kilojoules as part of the body-heating process? Digesting protein is up to 50-100% more energy-intensive than carbohydrates and the best part is all of this ‘hard work’ uses up energy in the form of calories. In fact, upping your protein intake from 15% to 30% of your daily kilojoules can help you burn through an extra 750 kilojoules per day – the equivalent of 2 ‘lite’ beers.
The secret to burning blubber on autopilot is to start early. Forget about starting your day with a bowl of sugary-cereal and opt for some lean protein instead – eggs on wholemeal toast, a few bacon rashers, an omelette (with veggies), homemade burger, or a few lean chicken/mince sausage will do the job nicely and set you up for the rest of the day.
You can get your protein two ways – ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’. Animal protein is complete in that it contains the right ratios of essential amino acids and while things like eggs, meat and fish are the best sources of protein, combining ‘incomplete’ foods, like nuts and beans, at one meal or throughout the day can provide a good dose of protein, too. However, to get the same benefits that animal-derived sources provide, you’ll need to consume ~25% more plant-based protein. Let your fuel keep torching calories long after it’s vanished from your plate by regularly including these protein power-foods as part of your diet.
A quick word on protein supplements: I’m all for getting protein through ‘whole foods’, but sometimes a protein shake can be just what you need, especially if you’re too tired to cook and prepare food. Your best bet is high-quality ‘whey’ protein powder (derived from milk). It’s absorbed quickly by the body and promotes protein synthesis needed for cellular repair and muscle growth.
SECRET WEAPON: FAT
It seems obvious, if you wanna’ ditch the fat, don’t eat it, right? Wrong. Testosterone – that all-important male hormone responsible for building muscle and keeping you lean – is actually made from fat. But it’s not simple as drinking a gallon of cooking oil (yuck!) to carve out a herculean physique. Fat comes in a few different guises, so its important to know the differences and how they affect the body. First, let’s start with the bad-guys, aka trans-fats.
It should come as no surprise that the biggest sources of trans-fats come from ‘big’ food companies who, always keen to save a buck, use the hydrogenation of vegetable oils to prolong shelf-life and cut-down processing costs. The problem is that trans-fats not only lower “good” HDL cholesterol and promote inflammation in the body, they lower testosterone levels, too. So, health-wise it’s best to keep your consumption of trans-fats to a minimum by replacing processed and packaged crap (fast-foods, cookies, cakes, muffins, doughnuts, microwavable meals, margarine and oil spreads) with natural whole foods. On the flip side, to boost your testosterone levels you’ll want to eat plenty of saturated and monounsaturated fats, which you can find in the foods below. But remember, if you’re struggling to lose weight, fat itself is not the culprit. It’s carbs that are the likely problem (see below). Fat will help keep you full, while carbs can put you on a blood-sugar roller coaster that leaves you irritable and ravenous.
SECRET WEAPON: CARBS & FIBER
Carbohydrates are essential for energy, building muscle and even brain power. Protein might help you build bulging biceps, but no amount of grilled chicken will get you lean on it’s own. The bottom line is, you need carbs, especially after hitting the gym. Carbs are broken down into glucose, one of your primary fuel sources, so if your stores are depleted there’s a good chance you’re not going to be at your best and suffer the effects of fatigue, malaise and low motivation. Carbohydrates are also essential for day to day living – whether boosting your mood or making sure you keep a full head of hair.
Carbs can be broken down according to their place on the glycaemic index (GI). Your body stores some unused sugar as glycogen in the liver and muscles, but converts the rest to fat. Low GI carbs, like those listed below, avoid being stored as fat by breaking down more slowly, resulting in a ‘smoother’ more long-lasting rise in blood-sugar and energy levels.
On the flip-side, high-GI carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed faster by the body, providing a spike in blood-sugar levels and a quick ‘hit’ of energy. This makes them excellent post-workout and helps release insulin, putting your body into an anabolic, muscle-building state. But it only works when you take in protein and fat, too. A protein shake made with whole milk and some fruit – which hits all 3 – is perfect, as is chocolate milk.
SECRET WEAPON: CASPAICIN
It’s no coincidence that peppers and Chile’s are hot, their thermogenic effect on the body can literally boost fat burn. In fact, scientists have found cayenne pepper to increase the rate at which you metabolise fat by 15-20% for up to 3hrs after eating. Plus, it boosts satiety.
Granted, these subtle fat-burning effects aren’t going to transform your body overnight, but they do provide a great reason to add them to meals, either cooked or raw. Other spices and condiments like cinnamon, mustard and ginger are great metabolism boosters, too.
Note: This is a guide, not a comprehensive list. Eating a variety of natural, whole foods is the key to a healthy, balanced diet.