When it comes to achieving a great physique, losing fat, building muscle and getting fitter and stronger, it can be easy to forget that training is just part of the puzzle. What you eat matters just as much as what you do in the gym. To support your training efforts, sculpt your body in the way you want and give you energy for hard workouts, you need to eat the right diet day in and day out.
Before you start looking at the foods you're eating, you need to work out how many calories you should be consuming. It doesn't matter what foods you choose, your calories and macronutrients -- proteins, carbs and fats -- will always be the most important factors, claims nutritionist Nate Miyaki, author of "Intermittent Feast: An Evolutionary & Scientific Approach to Weight Loss." Active men need 2,400 to 3,000 calories per day to maintain weight while women need 2,000 to 2,400, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To lose fat, you may need slightly less than this, and to build muscle you'll need a little more.
Protein's job is to build and repair muscles, as well as aid in the production of hormones and enzymes and protect you from disease. When you train hard, your muscle tissue breaks down, so you need protein to repair it. Athletes and exercisers need more protein than those who don't train, according to sports nutritionist Nancy Clark. Active adults need 0.4 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body-weight each day, while growing athletes and adults building muscle mass need 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound. Get your protein from lean sources such as poultry, lean cuts of red mean like tenderloin and sirloin, cottage cheese, eggs, soy and lentils.
Carbs and Fat
Low-carb and low-fat diets might be all the rage for weight loss, but these kind of diets aren't sustainable or healthy in the long-run and certainly aren't beneficial to supporting hard workouts. Include a portion of carbohydrate and a portion of fat at every meal, advises nutritionist Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition. Use your hand as a guide for serving sizes. Men should have two cupped handfuls of carbs at every meal, while women need one cupped handful. Your fat serving should be the size of two thumbs for men and one for women. Pick nutrient-dense carbs such as sweet or white potatoes, brown rice, beans or whole-grain bread and wraps and healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, peanut and almond butter or mixed unsalted nuts.
Workout Nutrition and Meal Timings
When you eat your meals is largely irrelevant -- it doesn't matter whether you eat twice a day, four times or even every couple of hours, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. You may be wise, however, to consume a larger proportion of your calories and carbs around your workouts. Eating more in the few hours leading up to a workout can boost your energy, and a big post-workout meal will kick-start the recovery process. On rest days, simply divide your daily calorie intake by the number of meals you plan to eat and space them evenly throughout the day.
- Sean Hyson: Nutrition Q&A With Nate Miyaki
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Georgetown University: Protein - What Does It Do?
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes
- Precision Nutrition: Calorie Control Guide for Men and Women
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Position Stand: Meal Frequency
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images