In last month’s article, I shared with you the real secret to getting serious results from your health and fitness program. Just in case you missed my article, the often-overlooked key that’s absolutely critical to getting great results is your nutrition habits.
This month I’ll be providing more detailed information about the six essential nutrition habits you need to have in place, discuss why you need to start integrating them into your daily routine, and provide you with a sample meal plan to continue helping you improve your nutrition plan and results.
I know I stated it last month, but it’s so important I want to state it again — there’s nothing more important to your success than building a solid foundation of healthy nutrition and supplementation habits into your life. Without further ado, let’s dig in to:
Six Highly Effective Habits of the Healthy, Fit, and Firm
There are six healthy nutrition habits that are essential to your long-term progress. Let’s talk about them and why you need to start integrating them into your daily routine right now.
Increase your meal frequency. You need to strive for five to six ‘mini-meals’ per day. By that, I mean taking the total calories for the day, dividing them by six, and having a small meal every three to four hours. That way you’re balancing your caloric intake throughout the day. This is critical to keeping your metabolism going and really ramping it up. Doing so ensures you’re keeping blood sugar levels stable in your body and maintaining a muscle-building, fat-burning state.
Balance your meals. You should always have a balance of lean protein sources, low-glycemic carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, good fats, and fiber. Every meal should be balanced with roughly equal amounts of carbohydrates and protein, and a little bit of healthy fat to provide satiety, so that you’re giving your body the essential fats needed to be lean and allow optimal function.
Drink enough water throughout the day to keep your body hydrated. Hydration is very important to keeping your body functioning optimally. Water flushes out your kidneys and liver and keeps everything running clean. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, and I can tell you that almost no one drinks enough water. But if you’re not drinking enough water, the kidneys can back up, and then the liver has to help and can’t do its main job of breaking down fat. At a minimum, you need to take in half of your body weight in ounces of pure, clean water every day.
Take a vitamin/mineral supplement every day. All the research today shows that we simply don’t get all the nutrients we need in our bodies from our food alone. That’s why every major medical and health organization in the country now recommends that everyone take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.
Notice the word ‘daily.’ Not when you remember it, not if you happen to think about it, but every single day. Vitamins and minerals (also called micro-nutrients) are food, too, just as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (macro-nutrients) are. Just as you can’t eat all of your protein for the day in one sitting, neither can you feed all your body micro-nutrients at one sitting or every other day. Therefore, I recommend you break up your vitamin/mineral supplementation into a serving in the morning with breakfast and again in the evening with dinner. Always take them with food for best absorption.
Use meal-replacement shakes and bars for snacks and meals on the go. For snacks and convenient meals on the go, good meal-replacement products are a must. Remember when I talked about eating five to six ‘mini-meals’ per day? I don’t know anyone who can realistically do that without using a meal-replacement product to get through the day.
Meal-replacement products include both bars and shakes, but shakes are always going to be a better choice. Generally speaking, they contain fewer preservatives and unnecessary ingredients, and they don’t have to be kept in a wrapper on a shelf for a long time like a bar. Shake products also generally contain a much higher fiber content without tasting like a brick (like some bars do). Plus, they’re simple and convenient to prepare. All you have to do is mix one up in milk or water. Use them for in-between meals and those days when you don’t have time for a full breakfast or need a healthy meal on the go.
Always take a recovery shake after your workout. Get into that habit right now; it will pay dividends later. Post-workout nutrition dramatically speeds up the recovery process. It will reduce your soreness, maximize your release of anabolic hormones (like growth hormone and testosterone), and allow your body to maximize building muscle and burning fat.
When you consume a well-balanced shake after exercise, carbohydrate stimulates insulin to drive the branch between amino acids (protein) to the muscle cell. That way you can maximize recovery and get right back in the gym again very soon, ensuring faster results from your program. Note that post-workout shakes are not just for those folks looking to build muscle. They’re absolutely critical to your fat-loss success. If you don’t have one immediately following training, you’re wasting your time.
Fine-tuning Your Nutrition Program
If you start following the nutrition and supplementation principles I outlined above, you’ll feel great and improve your health tremendously. But, to achieve amazing fat-burning, muscle-building results, you’ll need to determine exactly how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis and design a daily meal plan.
During the first week implementing the above principles, you’ll want to focus mainly on cleaning things up and getting started with healthier nutrition habits. Start drinking enough water (remember, half your body weight in ounces), start eating five meals a day, eliminate or reduce the junk food, and begin logging your nutrition in a notebook. Continue implementing these principles until you feel comfortable and ready for the next challenge (typically one to four weeks).
Once you’re ready to get even more serious about your plan and ramp up your fat-loss results, I have broken the basic nutrition rules down for you below. Go through each rule and check it off if you are already doing it, or get started today. By the end of the first week, you should already have lost some weight just following these basic rules.
Consume a lean protein, a healthy grain, and a fibrous carbohydrate with every meal.
Eat a supportive meal every three to three and a half hours (five to six meals per day).
Consume a multivitamin/mineral supplement with breakfast and dinner.
Consume a post-workout drink immediately after a workout. (You should be working out for best results.)
Limit your intake of processed foods. Eat whole, natural foods as much as possible.
Eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day.
Track your nutrition intake in a notebook or online.
Stay hydrated with zero-calorie drinks throughout the day. It is not uncommon to lose five pounds the first week just by drinking enough water.
If you haven’t already, write down your goals with a deadline, and read them several times every day.
Plan ahead and be prepared for the unexpected. Keep bars and shakes at the office or in your car for convenience.
After you have implemented the above habits for a solid two to four weeks, you can begin to fine-tune your nutrition plan and implement a more individualized meal plan. Here is a sample meal plan using the principles I’ve included in this article. (Please note that this plan may not fit your caloric needs to achieve your goals.)
Meal 1: Within 30-60 minutes of waking
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1-2 pieces whole-grain toast
1/2 cup strawberries
1/2 Tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
16 ounces water
1 cup coffee
Meal 2: 3 Hours Later
2 ounces cheese
1 small apple
4 ounces water
Meal 3: 3 Hours Later
3 ounces sliced chicken breast
Onions, mushrooms, peppers
1 Tbsp. guacamole
2 Tbsp. salsa
16 ounces water
Meal 4: 3 Hours Later
3/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1 small orange
1/2 Tbsp. all-natural peanut butter
16 ounces water
Meal 5: 3 Hours Later
3 ounces lean meat (chicken, beef, ham, fish, etc.)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 Tbsp. olive oil salad dressing
16 ounces water
Coach Holly Leonard, owner of BeFit Health and Wellness Solutions, is a body-transformation specialist who has helped more than 300 Pioneer Valley men and women reclaim their health, fitness, and vitality through proper fitness and nutrition. For more expert fitness advice and information about her coaching programs, visit www.BeFitTraining.com.