Battling Body Composition Changes? 4 Ways to Make Food Your Friend
Mark is a busy man. Although he enjoys his job the social media and community manager at a new start up, the days are long and his commute is even longer.
A few years back, when he first started the job and was a recent newly wed, Mark was about 25 pounds lighter, played in a Men’s Basketball league on Wednesday nights, ate pretty good, and managed to hit the gym about three or four times a week.
Mark felt like a stud.
Related: How to Calculate Body Composition
Fast forward to present day, Mark is feeling less like a stud and more like slob. He drags through the day with low energy, rarely ever makes it to the gym, his diet consists of sub-par office coffee and pastries on the regular, he wrestles with the slow drip of chronic stress from 24 hour emails along with manufactured emergencies at work and he’s sleeping less then he’d like to.
Mark feels the tension. He knows he needs to do something. He can’t escape the thoughts that swim in his mind:
“It would do you good if lost that extra 20 around your waist.”
“You can’t keep living this way.”
“Aren’t you tired of feeling tired?”
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Then, one day, Mark got to the point where the pain of staying the same exceeded the pain of changing. He finally resolved to something about it.
Mark went all out. Thanks to his wife and doctor stressing that his diet was a catalyst for change, he knew this first place he should start was with what he put in his mouth daily.
Heaving himself into an aggressive fat loss attack, he threw out the M&M’s in his pantry.
He set an arbitrary number of 1,700 calories as his target intake.
Rather than skipping breakfast he downs a glass of orange juice and a big bowl of honey nut cheerios.
Assuming it would assists in his effort, Mark skips lunch purposefully. To take the edge off of the piercing hunger, he slams a red-bull at 2:30 P.M., each day.
Mark feels like his evening workouts are akin to walking though quicksand – slow and dreadful.
When he gets home from the gym, after a long day at work coupled with the fact that he starved himself all day, his cravings are ravenous. He’s at the mercy of his temptations. So instead of heading home to eat his healthy food, the Taco Bell drive through lures him in and he takes down a big box combo (2 tacos, 1 burrito supreme deluxe and a Nachos Bell Grande).
Basically, he threw a calorie bomb down his gullet.
Then, after some mindless TV watching, he hops in bed with his iPad and invests a few hours into what I call “garbage time.” Browsing, scrolling, liking. All that.
After his screen time, he usually falls asleep around 2 A.M., only to wake up to a sounds he hates at 5:30 P.M.
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Six weeks later, Mark is disappointed. He feels like he’s doing everything right and yet, he feels like dog crap and there isn’t much to show for all his effort.
Wrestling with chronic fatigue, battling food decisions all day long and no changes in his body composition leave him hopeless.
He throws the white flag up and says “screw this, I’m done.”
Does his situation sound familiar? If you can relate to Mark, you’ve come to the right place. You (and Mark) would score an A for effort. But in regards to tactics your scores would clock a D+.
Putting forth the effort and not seeing any fruit from your labor is devastating.
Why is this happening?
Changing body composition requires a strategic approach to your diet and a mindful approach to your environment. Without paying attention to these two things – your diet and environment – it’ likely you’ll lose muscle and gain more fat.
It’s not exactly the outcome you (or Mark) are looking for, right?
Let’s take your enthusiasm and turn into results. What follows are a few strategies that will kick start your fat loss progress.
How to Improve Body Composition
1. Food order matters
Before you dig into that pumpernickel bread, the sweet potato fries, or fettucini alfredo, make sure you eat some protein along with some vegetables first.
Because the order in which you eat your food has an impact on how your body responds. Front-loading your meals with protein and veggies leads to a lower post-meal glucose and insulin level (this is a good thing if you’re overfat).
Also, by approaching your meals this way, you leverage the power of the first bites rule. This rule states that whatever you eat first during a meal, is what you’ll the most of. One study showed a group of people who started their meals with high-carb, low nutrient foods (bread and french fries) ate 50% more calories from those foods.
On the other hand, those who started with a vegetables and protein, ate more veggies and protein during the course of their meal. This leads to a lower calorie intake while bumping up nutrients and inducing a lower glycemic response. Meaning, starting your meals with veggies and protein automatically put you in the drivers seat to more energy, and a better body.
Lastly, you may want to transition your breakfast and lunch time approach to a protein and (healthy) fat dense meal. By eating protein and fat, it’ll disrupt the production of the sleepy-time neurotransmitter serotonin (which is derived from carbohydrate dense foods). I’m not suggesting you cut carbs completely, but shifting them consumption for afternoons and early evenings may help you fall asleep faster at night, while staying mentally sharp and alert during the day.
2. Stop skipping meals
In the short story about Mark, we noticed that he skipped lunch time with the assumption it would help him burn the fat off his body. It turns out, he’s not the only one who follows this logic. I have a friend at the gym I go to. Great kid. Hungry to build his body. But, he’s new to the game.
He came up to me the other day and said, “Hey bro, I’m tryin’ to shred it up, so I pretty much just drank BCAA’s all day yesterday. Didn’t have any solid food.”
I was like “Why did you do that?”
“Because, I’m trying get rid of this right here” (as he points to his oblique area).
“Oh, I gotcha,” I replied.
“But man, I’m so hungry and when my girflriend wants to go to the Habit (it’s a burger joint), I always give in and order the bacon double cheeseburger with sweet potato fries.”
I wasn’t at the gym to give a lecture, I was there to move weight, so I just played into the kids story.
My point is this: You need to stop thinking that skipping meals will exponentially speed up fat loss. Skipping meals theoretically makes sense on paper. Less calories means less fat, right? But studies show that this approach can backfire sending you in the exact opposite direction – eating more calories than you need.
Dr. Ellen Schur took a group of 21 identical twins, and feed them an identical breakfasts. Then, several hours later (after skipping meals), underwent functional brain scans while they looked at pictures of food. By using identical twins, this allowed Dr. Schur and her team to analyze the effects of skipping meals on subject who had relatively the same genes and upbringing.
What they found was that genes and upbringing had little influence on brain appetite centers have several hours without food. Rather, the activation of the rewards centers of the brain were strikingly similar in each individual due to the lowered glucose levels from skipping meals.
The study showed that people with lower glucose levels from the practice of skipping meals equal more brain activation – particularly when looking at high-calorie fattening foods.
In other words, you put yourself up against some serious willpower battles against the meat-lovers pizza or the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream when you skip meals. There is not hard and fast rules on how meals you should eat per day. If you’re under a consistent calorie deficit, the number of meals doesn’t matter so much. What does matter is that you don’t get to the point that you’re so hungry you want to eat everything in sight.
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3. Get some vinegar in your life
We wired to like easy things, right? Like when you can order something off of Amazon and have it at your doorstep in two hours. That makes life easy. You like it. I like it.
Well, when it comes to improving the way your body looks, we also like easy. One of those strategies is to add some vinegar into your life.
Personally, I like easy and simple. So, I either just swig a tablespoon straight, or I’ll pour it on a salad. I’ll leave the creativity up to you.
More importantly however, is why adding vinegar to your daily intake is important.
Vinegar has been shown to some impressive benefits for insulin function and blood sugar levels:
- Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity during high carb meals by up to 34% all while lowering blood glucose levels.
- Supplementing with vinegar before bed has shown to reduce fasting blood glucose by 4%
- Subjects who supplemented with vinegar while eating high carb meals experiencing a higher level of satiation (leading to less overall intake).
4. Get your sleep game on point
Like oxygen, sleep is non-negotiable.
But, it’s probably not a priority in your life. Instead, you treat it like your roomates dog that you hate. You give it little attention.
It’s time to change that if you care at all about changing your body.
Sleep is critical for GH (growth hormone) and testosterone production – both of which are hormones that give you more muscle, strength and zest for life. Sleep helps you manage carbohydrates a lot better. Meaning, your body is more effective at shuttling nutrients into muscle cells, instead of storing them as fat when you get enough sleep. You’re less likely to catch or a cold or worest yet the stomach flu. Sleep improves your mental cognition, keeping your alert and aware at work. Sleep is also awesome on a Sunday afternoon.
Do you need anymore reasons?
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Now that you’re on board with getting more sleep, lets look at the most overlooked aspect of actually doing it.
The nine-to-five is slowly disappearing. And the era of a 24/7 work-life is spouting as the norm. We’re moving toward being connected at all times – even when we crawl into bed. The phones, the tablets, and the computers are invading themselves into bed with you.
This disrupts sleep on two levels:
One, it feeds into chronic stress. It may not be anything disastrous, however, when you’re always browsing your inbox and manufacturing emergencies with late night emails, or texting your team about tomorrows project deadline, it forces you to be awake and alert. This disrupts your ability to produce melatonin – a hormone that helps you feel relaxed.
Secondly, the exposure to light at night only exacerbates the same problem. When night falls, our eyeballs sense this. This signals a message to the brain to start producing the sleepy-time hormones (melatonin).
Since light is the main predicator of our circadian rhythm , it’s easy to see why staring into screens all night long is detrimental to your sleep. Your brain wants to set you up fro sleep, but it’s still waiting for darkness so it can signal the pineal gland to make melatonin. But, this process gets jammed up when your environment doesn’t line up with what your body wants to do.
A lot is riding on the quality of your sleep. If you’ve been underperforming in the gym and your efforts seem to be producing little fruit, take a look at your sleep quantity and quality. Shoot for a minimum of 6-7 hours a night. And, develop a nighttime routine where you shut down all electronic activity at least 30-45 minutes prior to bed time.
Food is your friend not your foe. With these four practical strategies, you can build the body you want and forge a sound relationship with food.
“Blood Sugar Levels Closely Linked to How Our Brains Respond to the Sight of Food, Twin Study Finds.” ScienceDaily. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
“JAMA Internal Medicine | First Foods Most: After 18-Hour Fast, People Drawn to Starches First and Vegetables Last.” JAMA Network | JAMA Internal Medicine | Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
“Skipping Meals Not a Good Diet Plan, Study Shows : Discovery News.” DNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
“A Twin Study of Differences in the Response of Plasma Ghrelin to a Milkshake Preload in Restrained Eaters.” PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
“Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
“Vinegar Ingestion at Bedtime Moderates Waking Glucose Concentrations in Adults With Well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.