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Are you interested in getting outside and moving your body?  Do your muscles get very sore after exercise? Are you unsure of when to eat if you’re working-out?

If you’ve been on a weight loss journey and you now want to start focusing on exercise, this article will help highlight what your body needs as it progresses towards more physical activity and athletic performance.

Let’s start by looking at the benefits of physical activity.

Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle, with long periods of sitting, increases your risk for heart disease and other physical ailments.  This may have something to do with an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). This enzyme determines if a person will store fat or burn energy. In a study done with mice, those forced to lie down had a decreased LPL activity. But in the mice that stood and walked all day, LPL levels were 10 times as active.  Another study done by the Dallas Heart Institute found that sitting for most of the day is linked to a buildup of troponins, proteins released by heart muscle cells when they are damaged or dying.

Don’t despair! Although movement is crucial to protecting your health, easy does it. Gradually increasing your movement to more than 150 mins of exercise weekly has been shown to provide great benefits.  This “time” does not have to be in one hour increments. In fact, several small sessions of movement throughout the day might even be more beneficial in protecting your heart.

 

Benefits of Exercise

Improved Health

  • Increased efficiency of heart and lungs
  • Reduced cholesterol levels
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of major illnesses such as diabetes (type II) and heart disease
  • Weight loss

Improved Sense of Well-Being

  • More energy
  • Less stress
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Improved ability to cope with stress
  • Increased mental acuity

Improved Appearance

  • Weight loss
  • Toned muscles
  • Improved posture

Increased Stamina

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased physical capabilities
  • Less frequent injuries
  • Improved immunity to minor illnesses

 

Eating for weight loss and eating for performance:
What’s the difference?

Let’s start by saying that focusing on whole foods is always the best place to start.  Incorporating more fresh and natural foods and reducing or eliminating processed food is the most instinctive way for your body to start to heal and lose its excess fat.   By giving your body what it needs, you’ll be reducing inflammation and finding homeostasis; a necessary state for your body to feel good.

Once you augment your diet with whole foods, you may want to focus on new goals like shedding body fat or increasing muscle mass.  Both goals are excellent and they have their own specific macronutrient ratio.

Macronutrient what?

Let’s quickly review what macronutrients are and how they work to fuel your body.

The most talked about macronutrient is carbohydrates.  Unfortunately, it’s also the most misunderstood of the macronutrients.  Yes, most carbohydrates eventually break down into glucose. Glucose is an essential fuel for all of your cells to create energy.  It is also vital to brain health. One gram of carbohydrates provides your body with 4 calories of energy. Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, and seeds.

The next controversial macronutrient is fat.  “Healthy fat” is a term that is more commonly applied to food items.  What is a healthy fat? That’s a bit more ambiguous. We know that trans fats are carcinogenic.  But after that, there’s a grey cloud of which fat is better than the other. For now, let’s focus on the macronutrient itself.  Fat is an essential component of all cell structures. It gives our cell wall the strength and stability it needs to stay healthy and intact.  Healthy cellular structure encourages proper nutrient transfer. Without this, your body is at risk for imbalance. One gram of fat is equal to 9 calories of energy; twice as many calories as carbohydrates.  This is one of the reasons why ketogenic diets are on the rise.

Finally, we have protein.  If you are already one to “hit-the-gym”, protein may be a questionable macro.  You know you need it, but in which ratio? Proteins provide your body with the building blocks, known as amino acids, to build muscle tissue.  Amino acids combine with each other to perform necessary functions and, at times, to provide you with energy. It is necessary to consume protein if you are needing to rebuild your muscle tissue from lifting weights.  One gram of protein is 4 calories of energy.

This brings us back to the initial question: what is the difference between eating for weight loss vs. eating for performance?

If you are on a weight loss journey, and depending on your body and metabolic type, you would want to build a meal plan that is lower in carbs.  Aiming for 40-50% protein, 30-40% fat and 10-30% carbs (mainly coming from vegetables) will keep your metabolism high and train your body to use protein and fat as fuel.

If you are eating for athletic performance or to increase muscle mass, your macronutrient balance would look quite different.  We suggest a 40-60% carb intake, 25-35% protein and 15-25% fat balance. However, ketogenic diet plans have shown to maintain athletic performance on a very different macronutrient allocation.  We’ll have a look at that later in this article.

As you can see, your goals require you to have very different ratios.  High protein, in a caloric deficit, will ensure that you are not losing muscle mass and that you have the necessary amino acids to continue rebuilding your lean tissues.  Protein is also thermogenic, meaning that it requires energy to burn which boosts your metabolic rate. High carbohydrates may be ideal if you are training your body hard.  Not only will they provide your body with fuel but your body will adapt to increase muscle mass in order to store the glycogen production coming from your carbohydrate metabolism.

 

If your body needs carbohydrates to use as fuel,
is it bad to be on a ketogenic diet?

Ketogenic diets are currently trendy.  And there are definite pros and cons to this way of eating.  Ketogenic diets were first introduced as a way to ward off seizures.  However, with fat loss as one of its side effects, it’s no surprise that the diet has become more and more popular.  

The basis of a ketogenic diet is about minimizing carbohydrates so that your body goes into something called “ketosis”.  This is when your liver must start to burn fat as fuel since it is not receiving enough carbohydrates (or glucose). This eating plan has a macronutrient ratio as follows: 60-75% fat, 15-30% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.  Unless you have been prescribed this type of diet from a professional, you can imagine how this practice may be difficult to sustain long-term.

When we’re talking about athletic performance, the research available discussing the effects of a ketogenic diet is limited.  Recent studies have shown that ketogenic diets work well at reducing body fat without impacting athletic performance. However, during the adaptive phase of the keto diet (approximately 7 days), athletes did notice a decrease in physical performance which regulated itself once their body adjusted to using ketones as a fuel source.   It is also important to note that protein intake of athletes using a ketogenic diet must be within 30% of caloric intake. This will prevent catabolism of lean muscle tissues. A reduction of body fat can also create a perceived increase in physical performance as the body moves with more ease when carrying less weight. Many ultra-fit athletes have followed a ketogenic diet with success.  

 

When is the best time to exercise?

Here’s what’s most important…. When is the best time to exercise for YOU?  

Science shows that for mild performance gains, it is best to train in the mid to late afternoon.  This is due to an increase in body temperature and a fluctuation of the testosterone/cortisol ratio in the body.  We say “mild” because there isn’t significant evidence to confirm that this is a greater advantage. There is a benefit but it is a small increase.  Remember that your body will adapt to any repetitive training time. If you prefer exercising at 11am every day, your body will – after time – prepare itself to offer its best performance at that time.  

If you prefer exercising in the morning, there may be some benefits, too. Some studies show that exercising in the morning may reduce food cravings throughout the day. If you do exercise in the morning, take a good five to ten minutes warming up before you begin your exercise routine.  

You and your life are unique.  Your needs will vary depending on your lifestyle, age, sleep patterns and hydration.  Try different times to see which one makes you feel optimal. Be mindful that it will take a few days for your body to adapt to your regimen before you decide that a particular time does/doesn’t work for you.

Are there optimal times to eat pre and post workout?

Any Google search will give you conflicting information around food timing and exercise.  At Low Fat Low Carb, we always believe in finding the solution that is unique to you. Ideally, you have enough fuel to push through any workout. This means that you may benefit from eating a well-balanced snack about 30 mins before your move your body.

For some, this could be a higher carb option like a banana and a few nuts or hummus and carrots. For those who are following a more keto plan, you’ll want to focus on protein and fat. Tuna salad in the pit of an avocado just might do the trick. If eating before a workout just makes you feel queasy, keep it simple and perhaps give yourself more time to digest pre-workout.  Rather than a snack, eat a meal consisting of all macros a maximum of 3 hours pre-workout. You may choose a Greek salad with chicken or another protein/fat/carb mix.

Post-workout is another story.  This depends greatly on what you did to move your body.  A moderate activity that is less than 45 mins does not require any additional calories.  However, you do want to eat a well-balanced meal within 90 mins of your training session.  If you’ve trained intensely or you’ve exercised for over 60 mins, your body will recover at a quicker rate if you replenish its nutrient stores.  Again, depending on your diet choices, there are different opinions on what’s optimal.

For those who choose to have a balanced macronutrient profile, you would want to replenish your body with a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.  Smoothies are often an easy way to add bio-available nutrition to your body in a way that is easily digestible. Other choices could be plain Greek yogurt and mixed berries with a tsp of raw honey. For those on a keto plan, it’s business as usual.  Perhaps you’ll increase your protein after a weight-lifting session, otherwise, it’s the same carb:protein:fat ratio you enjoy on a daily basis. Eating within a 90-minute window is beneficial in recovery.

Don’t forget hydration.  Sweat is a way for your body to regulate core temperature and as your body loses water, it also loses performance.  Ensure that you are starting your physical movement already well hydrated and replace lost liquids as you go or after your training session.  We suggest drinking a minimum of 2 cups of water for every pound of sweat lost. You can measure this by weighing yourself pre and post workout.  If you’re exercising outdoors, have water with you at all times and drink every 15 mins. Studies show that a loss of hydration increases your risk of injury and prolongs your recovery period.  Rehydrate with water and avoid sugary electrolyte drinks.

What’s most important to remember?  Eat whole and natural foods. Take it slow when introducing movement into your lifestyle.  Focus on several 10-minute sessions throughout the day and increase the time as you increase your stamina.  Watch how you feel when you eat certain foods and train at certain times. You will know when your body is aligned with your new habits.  

Happy Training and send us your comments or questions below!

 

 

REFERENCES

https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-1-2

https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-34

https://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1997.83.6.1822

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20560706

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26892521 


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