Make food your friend, Not your enemy

If there is anything that people completely overlook, it is the nutrition aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is not indicative of doing gruesome amounts of cardio, along with depleting your glycogen stores from eating just protein and cutting all your carbs out. Nope! Living a healthy lifestyle is way more than that…

I think it is pretty fair to say that most people, if not all, try the generic diet approach by eating copious amounts of salad mixed with grilled chicken (myself included). Of course, these meals consist of a ton of micronutrients, which are just as essential as your macronutrients, but why is it that people seem to underlie going to the gym with depriving yourself of food?

Now here is where I want to open a new path for you, a deviation to what you already may know which I will try to keep straightforward. I am going explain to you how you can make food your friend, rather than your enemy. And I want to emphasize the negation towards food as an enemy because I see people in the gym overworking their body by doing endless hours of cardio to burn off their weekend of binge eating, but how could anyone find that fun?

For example, when I workout I try to embrace every second. I savor the moment by making every gruesome second effective; I try my best to train smarter, NOT harder.

To begin, the “fitness community” is making a huge impact on social media terms of new fad diets. But how is that some of these icons are able to cheat so much yet maintain such a lean physique all year round? Genetics? Metabolic rate? What is it?

It is their food of choice and this is where I go back to making food your friend. Something that people completely are aware of yet undermine at the same time is the importance of the right nutrients for your body. And before I begin, this is completely subjective depending on your personal goals, body type, etc. but what I want to expatiate on is the timing of your meals.

During an arm workout, do you ever work out so intensely that suddenly your arm appears to be a few inches larger? This happens because blood rushes to the muscles as it continues to contract itself while burning/utilizing your stored energy.

Why does this matter? Timing your meals effectively around when you workout can really make a huge impact towards getting an extra few repetitions while performing an exercise, like reaching a new personal record in squat or building your endurance as you train for a marathon.  All foods have a glycemic index, which is a number that indicates how a food will affect your blood glucose levels. For one thing, I know that most people experience a sugar rush when they ingest a ton of sugary candy and are immensely energetic for a few minutes and then proceed to crash. These foods contain simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides). They digest quickly, thus have a higher glycemic index (GI for short), which quickly drive your blood glucose levels to rise.

In contrast, complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are multiple monosaccharides held together, thereby increasing the chain length of the sugar molecule. In turn, foods that contain this complexity take additional time to digest since your metabolism has to break down a longer chain length; therefore, your blood glucose levels do not jump so quickly in such a short amount of time since it is more dispersed.

How does this correlate with anything? Since the chain length is larger, more sugars break down throughout a greater time interval; yet still contain the same net amount of energy. Because the energy disperses throughout as opposed to being so condensed in such a short amount of time, you will be able to have more long lasting energy. Now tie this in with type of carbohydrate is more optimal for before a workout…

On the other hand, because of a longer chain length to be broken down you impose another problem. Far too often, people eat something and head over to the gym immediately. This is completely subjective and can work if you ate something that hit your bloodstream almost instantly, but this generally does not always happen.

When you ingest food your body will not fully metabolize the entire substance for at least sixteen hours. When I say metabolize, I hold it as a loose-term accounting for the entire process. This food may not be completely eliminated for days on end, but your body can begin to utilize the useable energy within a few minutes to a few hours. The more “complex” the carb may be or lower glycemic index it is given, the longer it will take digest.

This is where it can get tricky…

Everyone has different metabolic rates (basal metabolic rate or BMR), which is the rate at which your body readily performs all of the internal bodily functions that allow you to continue living. Why does this matter? This rate is indicative of your metabolism, which is basically a sum of all the processes that occur inside your body. This includes processes to maintain your cells by growing them, repairing them, etc. Some are endergonic, where an energy source drives these chemical reactions to occur. Whereas others are exergonic, which releases energy.

Ultimately, as you workout you are tearing (contracting) your muscle tissue, which holds all these cells. In order for your muscles to optimally grow, they have to heal the tear with new scar tissue. This process involves your cells to send signals throughout your body to find sources of energy needed for the cell to begin to repair itself that relates back to the useable energy stored within the foods that you consume.

This brings me to another important point: what about after your workout?

Now if there is ANY TIME that you may have a craving for some frozen yogurt or something high in sugar (and maybe a little less in fats for their inability to digest quickly), then your post workout meal will be the most beneficial time to indulge. Once again, this is completely subjective.

Equally important, your post-workout meal is even more important in terms of growth and development. Your body does not gain more muscle while you workout, hence why I had made the statement about how you tear your muscle during exercising. Your muscles grow when they repair themselves when the rate of protein synthesis begins to exceed far beyond the process of which they break down. This happens as the muscle is at rest and signals the body to begin fixing the damaged muscle fibers.

When you are working out and depleting your glycogen levels (basically just energy stored away in your liver for later use), you are facilitating the energy that you have available for use (this does not include stored fat, or adipose tissue). For this reason, eating before a workout allows your body to remain anabolic. Anabolism occurs when your body is able to break down foods and devise newer molecules for your body to actually use. An input of energy (food) propagates the set of reactions that allows this to happen. The synthesis of these newer molecules from the useable constituents within food is what drives protein synthesis to occur, thus resulting in muscle growth.

Once your body has worked out so that there is no energy left to make larger molecules, your body will begin to use alternative metabolic processes and revert to become catabolic. Contrary to anabolic, where your body needs energy to go in, catabolic is when energy will go out due to the breakdown of complex molecules, also known as an exothermic process. Your body has been able to fend off the energy that it was given from breaking down the food you ate, which can be seen as reaching a level of 0. As your body begins to work off of no external energy, catabolic pathways liberate energy throughout the body to fuel physical activity without letting any of the cells to repair themselves.


So, now that your muscles do not have any input of energy to repair themselves, they start eating away at themselves as a way to survive… Or actually let you survive.

After working out your body begins to go catabolic since it needs energy in order for your metabolism to continue working. This is where things can get fun…

Eating those simple sugars or quick-digesting foods can actually benefit you by driving your blood glucose levels to increase so quickly. Your body is now in a starved state and needs an external energy source to aggregate your metabolic pathways to release the complex molecules for repairing your muscles. This is why eating a post-workout meal is also becomes critical, hence the emphasis behind the proper timing of meals around workouts.

Subsequently, in order for your body to properly accumulate the most amount of energy it can from food, you want to allow a proper time-interval between eating your last bite to warming up inside the gym. This is where it can get really tricky because it is really hard to determine your BMR without getting it tested, but the best way to do this is to do trial-and-error. Some foods will react better with some people; where as other alternatives will prosper other people. I personally tend to wait an hour and a half at the minimum after I consume oatmeal since it holds such a low glycemic index. Post-workout, I like to consume a meal within 30 minutes after my workout, depending on: how heavy my pre-workout meal was, the duration of my workout and how intense my workout is.

It is the littler things (timing of meals) within the little things (“diet”) that can really impact your ability to gain muscle.

Author: Ameron Bhaala  IG: @ameronbhaala 

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