Over the past six months that I have been coaching people on nutrition and how they may improve their nutrition and nutritional habits to meet their goals, I have received a lot of questions. Questions from clients, but also plenty from family and friends. Now this didn’t just start when I “officially” became a nutrition coach, but it has substantially increased in that time. Because many people have been asking many of the same questions, I thought others might find it helpful if I typed up my response to a few of these questions and shared them with the world (that’s right people, this article is going worldwide).
Before we get to the questions I feel it is important to point out that nutrition is a highly individual thing. What works for some may not work for others. What helped you gain or lose weight may not work for your friend or sister. Each of us is a completely unique person with different likes, dislikes, body types, past food experiences, lifestyles and so on.
By no means do I have all of the answers to all of your nutrition questions. In fact, nobody does. I am grateful that people trust me and that they spend their time and money to come to me for advice, accountability, and encouragement. I hope that if you’re reading this you get something useful out of it to implement into your daily life too.
While different coaches, books, articles, and your sister-in-law who thinks she has all the answers may offer advice about how they KNOW what’s best for you, the truth is you will ultimately have to determine what works best for your body. The foods you eat, eating habits you adopt, and how much or how often you eat will ultimately be determined by you, because you know your body best and how it responds.
1) I know protein is important, but how much protein should I eat per day? And how do I get more than I am right now?
Chances are high that if you’ve talked to someone who has worked out for more than 37 seconds they mentioned protein and how they need more of it now because they started lifting. (I am guilty of this too. My aunt even calls me protein boy because it’s the first thing I think about every meal. And I love meat.)
While this is certainly true for people that exercise and lift weights, it is also true for those of you who don’t exercise regularly. Your body needs sufficient protein to keep everything functioning optimally, and I often find that people are woefully deficient in it. Add in exercise or lifting to the equation and your needs increase significantly. Protein, and the amino acids that make it up, are the building blocks of muscle. If you don’t sufficiently supply your body with enough you are going to have a much harder time not only building muscle, but also recovering, gaining strength, as well as losing body fat.
If you’ve been in the wonderful world of health and fitness for awhile, you may have heard that you should eat your bodyweight in grams of protein. And that is good advice! Current research overwhelmingly still supports this amount, and most studies actually propose a range of .8-1g/lb of bodyweight per day.
Therefore, if you weigh 180lb you should take in somewhere between 144-180g per day.
There is a problem, however. Hardly anybody does that. And that is understandable – it’s difficult! For many, it takes conscious effort to 1) remember to eat protein with every meal 2) eat enough of it each meal 3) find enough sources so we don’t get sick of it, and 4) do it consistently everyday for the rest of our lives.
So what are you supposed to do?
The first thing I do before I meet with someone is ask them to record their food for a few days. Chances are they have no idea what they’re eating, and if they do, they are likely not remembering EVERY SINGLE THING they consume. This doesn’t have to be with an app and doesn’t have to be the exact grams, although both of these things can be useful. Taking pictures with your phone, writing it out on a piece of paper, and tracking with an app all work well. Once this is done we go through the log together and see what it looks like.
Assuming that a person needs to improve their protein consumption and WANTS to do so, we discuss different ways to make that happen, how it fits into their current eating habits and lifestyle, and how confident they are that they can make it happen for a period of time. While everybody is different in how they achieve their goal, the one thing that is consistent is we START SMALL.
If we sit down and chat and determine you’re eating around 75-80g per day and you would like to be eating 150-160g per day, per the 1g/lb of bodyweight standard suggestion, you have to literally double the amount you are currently eating. Talk about overwhelming!
Instead, how about adding one more serving per day than you are currently doing? Currently eat three meals with protein? Add a snack with protein. Only have time for two meals and a snack during your day? Add ½ of a serving to each meal. You don’t have any protein at breakfast? Start by adding a serving there.
What’s a serving?
To make things simple – use your hand, specifically your palm, as your guide. For women, 1 palm=1 serving. Men, 2 palms= 1 serving.
Try this for a couple of weeks and see how it goes. If you stick with it and want to continue, try adding another serving for another couple of weeks. Reassess again after a couple weeks and see where you’re at.
People often have a tough time coming up with protein sources, so here are a few suggestions used by my current clients to help them achieve their protein goals.
- Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
- NOT PEANUT BUTTER (this is primarily a fat source, check out the label)
- Protein powder supplements (Jym protein is a fan-favorite, Orgain Protein if you have dairy or gluten issues, or want a plant-based source)
- Any lean meat or fish (chicken, lean beef, shrimp, salmon, etc.)
- Beef/turkey jerky or sticks (Chomps brand)
2) Is “x” food bad for me?
This is a really common question that I receive about a myriad of foods. When it comes up, it’s usually concerning foods that many people love and enjoy but have been told are unhealthy, make you fat, cause “x” disease, and should otherwise be cut out of your life completely if you want to live past 37.5.
You may be able to guess some of them: sugar, pizza, chocolate, bread, butter, ice cream, salt, and the list goes on.
Food does not have morality, people. It is neither bad nor good. If you enjoy said food you should find a way to keep it in your diet.
You’re telling me I can still eat pizza? It’s okay for me to have my dark chocolate that I just can’t give up?
Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying! No one singular food is going to ruin your entire health, give you a specific disease, and cause you to gain 17lb of fat overnight. If things were that straightforward, we would have solved a lot of our obesity and health problems long ago, and one-third of the United States wouldn’t be obese.
Yes, there are foods that are going to be more beneficial for you than others. These are foods that are typically more nutrient-dense. They have more vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, etc. But that certainly does not mean you can’t eat other foods that have fewer nutrients.
So how do you keep those things you love while still working towards your health and fitness goals? Moderation! Anything in excess will eventually become a bad thing. The entire box of pizza a couple times per week? Yeah, that will likely cause you to go into a calorie surplus and gain weight. The entire package of chocolate with all that sugar? Probably not doing you a ton of favors. You can even have too much water – it will eventually kill you!
What if, instead, you had just a few slices of pizza and only a handful of chocolate each week? And what if the rest of your diet consisted of predominantly lean protein sources, fruits and vegetables, and varying carbohydrate sources? That sounds like a much more sustainable style of eating. It allows you the stuff you love, and you can unashamedly eat those things because you know that you’re eating all of your other nutrient-dense, quality food sources the rest of the time.
3) My friend/family member/etc. lost weight doing keto/paleo/other fad diet, should I try that?
Maybe! But probably not.
As was already mentioned earlier, we are all special little snowflakes who are all unique in our own special ways…just like everybody else.
Kidding aside, we all are vastly different from one another when it comes to the things that influence whether we stick to a specific “diet” over another. Food preferences and tastes, lifestyle habits and choices, work, cooking ability, finances, and about 117 other things influence the food choices we make and stick with.
For example, maybe your friend lost some weight doing a keto diet.
(For those unaware a keto diet is one high in fats, moderate in protein, and virtually zero carbohydrates, utilizing ketones as the body’s main fuel source.)
Great, I’m happy they achieved some weight loss and it worked for them. But how long will that weight stay off when they go back to eating a non-keto diet? Do you enjoy all of the foods that are “allowed” on a keto diet? Do you feel good mentally and physically? Can you stand to not eat all of the deliciousness that is NOT allowed on that diet? Does it fit your current lifestyle? Can you afford it? Can you maintain that eating style for years?
Just because something CAN be done and CAN work doesn’t mean that is what SHOULD happen or is what is PREFERRED.
Fad diets are usually not the way to go. Whether the goal is weight loss, weight gain, weight maintenance, or simply to live a healthy lifestyle (whatever that looks like for you), fad diets are typically very restrictive. You must say “no” to a lot, and that is a hard thing to maintain for an extended period of time. It is mentally exhausting. Your willpower WILL eventually run out; you can only hold out for so long. Yes, there are some people who can pick one of these eating styles and make it fit with their life. These people are certainly not the norm.
Additionally, you are likely cutting out foods or food groups that your body needs to function optimally because they contain nutrients that may be hard to get from other sources. For example, keto cuts out carbs. This means no grains, beans, legumes, and only small amounts of fruits and vegetables. What do all those foods have in common? Fiber, along with various other nutrients.
Another point to consider, for those of us who exercise and lift weights regularly, is that the body’s preferred fuel source is glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. Your muscles and liver store something called glycogen – which is simply the storage form of carbohydrates. When you do something intense like lift or sprint, your body uses an energy system process called anaerobic glycolysis, in which that stored glycogen is used to fuel the activity. If not enough of it is present, your body will find a way to make it from other stuff. This is often done through a process called gluconeogenesis (making new glucose). With this process, your body takes protein from muscle (the same muscle that you are training) and converts it into glucose in order to fuel activity.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want all of my available protein going towards all the cool stuff protein does, like building big muscles and repairing all the different tissues of my body. If some of that protein leaves my hard-earned muscle to fuel my activity, it results in an inefficient and detrimental process, leading to sub-par performance and potentially injury. How is this avoided? Eat carbs to fuel your workouts.
So what are you to do?
Find something that works for YOU. Something that fits your lifestyle, your likes and dislikes, your budget, etc. Don’t attempt to pigeon-hole yourself into a “diet” when you don’t fit the mold. Change your outlook towards it. Find sustainable eating habits that fit your life and view it as a lifelong game, not a short-term, temporary change.
Not sure how to do that or where to start? Let me know and I’ll help you out.