By Nick Nilsson
Author of The Starting Monday Diet
A good nutrition plan should be simple. Proper eating does not have to be complicated.
I would bet that without even thinking, you could name 4 or 5 diets or eating plans that are in the popular media...Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Atkins, South Beach, etc. Every time you turn around, there's a fantastic "new" approach to eating. It's enough to make your head spin.
It really doesn't have to be that complicated, though. I've got some easy-to-follow nutritional principles that will help keep you on the right track. Beginner or advanced, these will work for you.
1. Focus your eating on natural, unprocessed foods as much as possible.
While I know it's not always possible to get fresh fruit and veggies and other unprocessed foods everywhere you go, your body will always respond best when you feed it foods that are not altered through processing.
Your body has evolved over thousands and thousands of years to process foods in their natural state...it's only relatively recently that processed foods have appeared on the scene.
Your body has the digestive mechanisms for efficiently processing foods in their natural state. When you add in the fats, salt, sugar, additives, etc., your body starts having a hard time digesting and coping.
Think of it like trying to put regular gas into a vehicle that runs on diesel. It may run, but it's not going to be very efficient with the fuel and it could cause problems down the road (no pun intended).
Bottom Line: Eating foods that are not processed allows your body to function more efficiently. You'll lose fat without even trying.
2. Get plenty of good quality, lean protein sources in your diet
When you're training, your body has a much greater need for protein. During weight training and endurance training especially, your body is constantly breaking down muscle tissue. Protein is required to rebuild it. By regularly feeding your body good protein sources, you'll be able to hold onto and build muscle mass easier.
Good sources of lean protein include meats (look for leaner cuts like sirloin), poultry, eggs (while not lean, eggs will not shoot up your cholesterol as many worry it will), fish, low-fat dairy, soybeans, and various legumes (beans).
As far as how much protein your body needs, this will vary according to how much you weigh and your activity level. A level of around 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight is a good guideline (we don't count total bodyweight because fat is not metabolically active and doesn't require protein to sustain it).
3. Don't be afraid of "good" fats
Fats can be extremely beneficial, even when you're trying to lose weight. Fats are important in a tremendous variety of bodily processes including hormone production, immunity, joint and organ protection, and even burning bodyfat. Without the "good" fats, your body will not function as well as it could.
Good fats include sources such as fish, nuts, flax oil, borage oil, and olive oil (there are many other good sources as well). Increasing your intake of these good fats can help keep you feeling good and burning your own bodyfat more efficiently.
Your total fat intake should be around 30% of your daily calories. A good way to go about getting this is to try and keep your focus primarily on low-fat foods while purposefully adding the "good" fats into your diet (like eating a few almonds every day or taking fish oil or flax oil capsules).
4. Carbs are fine
Despite all the talk about carbs being the enemy, it's important to note that carbs and foods that contain carbs can actually be quite good for you. It's generally the refined sugar added to foods that is the problem, not the carbohydrate as a nutrient on its own.
5. Non-nutritious foods should be minimized
This is an easy one. More than likely, you already know that you shouldn't be eating Cheesy-Poofs or chocolate bars 3 meals a day. The calories you get from these foods don't come with any actual nutrients.
When your body is missing nutrients, it craves more food (not to mention the insulin response to the sugar in many of these foods) and you tend to eat more of the poor food that doesn't have nutrients in it.
It's ironic to think that many overweight people are actually malnourished! When you eat nutrient-dense foods, your body gets the nutrients it needs and functions much better.
5. Salads, fruits and vegetables will give you lots of fiber, roughage and nutrition
Eat plenty of salads, fruits and veggies every day. This is usually one that everybody already knows yet doesn't normally focus on. The fiber in the foods helps keep you from getting too hungry and helps keep your digestive system clean.
6. Just do the best you can
It's not always easy or convenient to follow good eating principles. There are plenty of tasty temptations to be found every time you turn around.
The REAL key to proper nutrition is to focus on trying to do well MOST of the time, not all of the time. It's what you do most of the time that will give you the long-term results you're looking for. Determining that you MUST be perfect all of the time is a sure way to set yourself up for disappointment when the time comes that you don't eat a perfectly healthy food choice.
Sometimes, you just have to eat those Cheesy Poofs and not worry about it.
Getting Enough Nutrition When on a Diet
One thing I always do recommend when using any sort of diet is taking additional nutrients either via multivitamin or "greens" powder. The one that I use is called "Athletic Greens." I recommend it very highly...I've been using it myself for more than 5 years. It covers all my nutritional bases very effectively.
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