I despise the word diet. People associate it with losing weight, but that’s not all that a diet can do. By definition, “diet” means the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person for a special reason. After all, some skinny guys want to put on weight. Others aren’t concerned at all with packing on muscle or shedding love handles. Instead, they want to become stronger or faster or better at their sport. Still, others want to peel back the years and see the body they remember having in their twenties. This isn’t a diet article with a specific goal in mind. But that doesn’t mean a smart nutrition strategy isn’t just as important as that dumbbell, kettlebell, and sandbag you’re moving around. It is. To get the most out of any of the Push, Pull, Swing exercises and workouts in this article, you have to eat right to fuel the muscle repair and building process that’s so critical to all of those common goals, from weight loss and strength building to sports performance and good overall health. Team up your workouts with a fueling system built around these six important steps.
Step #1: Figure Out How Much Fuel You Need
Deciding how many calories you need to eat each day may sound complicated, but it’s far easier than most people realize. Most experts agree that the best approach is to eat for your target body weight. Whether you want to lose weight or gain weight, that magic number that you want to see on the scale takes a certain number of calories each day to maintain. That number is how many calories you should be eating.
The fastest way to come up with that number is with this formula: First, decide how much you want to weigh, then multiply that number by 10 to 12, based on your goal and activity level. If your goal is to lose weight and you exercise once or twice a week, use 10 as your multiplier. If you are exercising more often, you’ll need more energy, so you should multiply by 12. The product of those numbers is the total calories you should be devouring for the day. For example, if you currently weigh 195 pounds, but you want to weigh 175 pounds and you are doing these Push, Pull, Swing workouts 4 or 5 days a week, then you would multiply 175 x 12. For you, 2,100 calories would be the right number of calories to eat each day.
The right multiplier really depends on how active you are. So, if you are also playing basketball or doing other calorie-burning activities in addition to your Push, Pull, Swing strength training, you’ll want to multiply the weight you wish to be by maybe 14, instead of 12. If you are doing a lot of high-volume workouts and you wish to gain muscle weight, you can increase your calorie intake up to 16 calories per pound. Just be sure to consume enough protein, as described later.
Step #2: Divide That Number by 7
Why 7? Because that’s how many meals you’re going to be eating throughout the course of your day. Increasing your meal frequency increases the amount of fat you burn for energy and stabilizes your insulin levels, which means your body doesn’t store as many excess calories as fat. But what most men forget is that their bodies burn calories consuming, digesting, and metabolizing each meal. Roughly 10 percent of the calories you burn each day is spent on what is known as the thermic effect of feeding, so the more you eat, the more often your metabolism gets stoked during the day so you can break down every bite.
By splitting up your daily calories into seven smaller, more frequent portions (all roughly equal in size), you’ll help keep fat at bay while allowing your body to get the nutrients and protein it needs to build lean muscle. Your best bet: Divide your daily calorie allowance into seven smaller meals breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with four snacks: one right before breakfast, one between breakfast and lunch, one between lunch and dinner, and a final snack right before you go to sleep.
YOUR PRE- AND POSTWORKOUT EATING PLAN
What you eat before and after each workout can have a huge effect on the results you can expect to see after weeks of pushing, pulling, and swinging. Follow these rules and you’ll always have enough energy to get the most from every workout and enough nutrients to help you put on and protect new muscle.
To make sure you have enough energy to push yourself, experts recommend eating a simple meal with at least 200 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 30 grams of carbohydrates an hour before you work out. Some good options to try: a small protein shake with some berries mixed in, a tall glass of chocolate milk, a piece of chicken breast and a small apple, or a small sandwich made with 4 ounces of deli turkey and a slice of American cheese on whole-wheat bread.
When your workout is over, the real workout starts taking place within your body as your freshly beaten-down muscles begin to repair themselves. By consuming protein (between 20 and 30 grams) as quickly as possible afterward, you’ll give your body what it needs to rebuild muscle. The fastest way to get your muscles what they need is by mixing one scoop of whey protein powder with water.
You also want to eat some form of fast-acting, easily digestible carbohydrate, like a slice of white bread, some instant rice, or a banana, for example. This trick will help you restore any lost glycogen the stored glucose your body uses for immediate energy but it will also cause your body to release insulin, a hormone that is believed to help repair muscles faster by enhancing protein synthesis.
Step #3: Know the Right Ratios
Each of the main three macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fats serves a different role, which is why each affects your body in a different way and is needed in a different amount. Having the right mix of each will ensure that your body has enough protein to build muscle while providing you with an even stream of energy that won’t drastically ebb and flow, which can cause your body to store more of the calories you’re eating as unwanted body fat.
Eat 1 gram for every pound of your target body weight. Using the example mentioned earlier, if you want to weigh 175 pounds, you’d need to eat 175 grams of protein each day. Protein is the building block of muscle and the most crucial macronutrient of the three. Many people who start a resistance training program don’t get enough protein to properly fuel the repairing and rebuilding process. But beyond giving your body the raw material for packing on lean muscle tissue (and protecting the muscle tissue you already have from being broken down for energy), protein also helps curb your appetite by leaving you feeling fuller, longer.
It also requires the most energy from your body to process. In fact, close to 25 percent of the protein calories you eat are burned off through digestion and absorption. That means that gram for gram, compared to fats and carbohydrates, protein leaves the smallest imprint when it comes to excess calories being stored as unwanted fat.
What type of protein you eat is up to you. The best sources to choose from include eggs, fish, lean beef, chicken breast, turkey breast, lean sirloin burger, skim milk, and quality protein powders. Don’t feel the need to eat every type trying to throw back a tuna steak if you’re really not a fish lover, for example, is not recommended. Instead, stick with whichever foods you find the tastiest and tolerable.
Eat 1 gram for every 2 pounds of your target body weight. Using the 175-pound example again, if you want to weigh 175 pounds, you’ll need to eat 87.5 grams of fat each day (175 divided by 2 ).
The biggest misconception many men have is that eating fat makes you fat. In fact, eating “healthy” fats (such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) in the right amounts will leave you feeling more satiated, preventing your body from stripping away muscle for energy and making you less likely to binge eat. Fat also plays a major role in other vital functions that are critical for muscle growth, such as helping to minimize excess muscle soreness and improving your recovery time after workouts.
Choose healthy fats that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids whenever possible. Not only do they both leave you feeling fuller and help you stay strong, but they also come with a list of health benefits, ranging from lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer to boosting your brainpower. Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, unsalted sunflower seeds, all-natural peanut butter, flaxseed oil, olive oil, any type of fatty fish, and avocados are all great options that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and that are easy to add into most meals.
Eat whatever’s leftover in your budget. Simply put, if you want to be a certain weight, as I mentioned in Step 1, you have to eat a certain number of calories. It’s easy to hit that magical number by eating carbohydrates, which is why you need to make sure you’re eating enough protein and fat first.
Whatever calories are left over, you can spend on carbohydrates. A little math is in order to come up with how many grams of carbohydrates you’re allotted each day.
- Start with the number of grams of protein and fat that you need to eat each day. Each gram of protein equals 4 calories and each gram of fat equals 9 calories. So if your target goal is 175 pounds of lean muscle, those 175 grams of protein will equal 700 calories (175 x 4), while the 87.5 grams of fat will equal 787.5 calories (87.5 x 9).
- Add up those two numbers: That’s how many calories you’ll be eating each day from protein and fat alone. (In this case, it’s 1,487.5.)
- Take the total number of calories you need to eat each day (using the 175-pound man example, that would be 2,450 calories) and subtract the number of calories you’re eating from protein and fat from that number. In this case, you would subtract 1,487.5 from 2,450 and come up with 962.5.
- You’re almost done! Take that final number and divide it by 4 (which is how many calories are in 1 gram of carbohydrate). That final number is how many grams of carbohydrates you can eat each day. In this case, it’s about 241 grams.
Healthy, carbohydrate-rich foods are low in saturated fat, packed with fiber, and loaded with certain essential vitamins and minerals (such as vitamins B6 and C) that help reduce muscle inflammation and repair and rebuild muscle tissue. But the thing to remember is that not all carbohydrates are created equal.
To maximize your muscle potential, avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates (bread, pasta, white rice, and corn, for example) that elevate your blood sugar and trigger your body to store fat. Instead, opt to eat low-glycemic carbohydrates that take longer to break down and leave you feeling fuller for longer. Try raw, fibrous vegetables (broccoli, spinach, green beans, asparagus, cucumbers, and tomatoes), beans (including black, kidney, pinto, and navy), and grains (such as quinoa, oats, whole wheat bread, and brown rice).
Step #4: Enjoy a Minimal Before Breakfast
Even though you might have a hard time getting yourself moving when you wake up in the morning, your body is wide awake. And if you’re not careful, your body will focus all of its early morning energy on tearing down everything you’re desperately trying to build up your muscles.
You see, by the time you wake up, your body is already in a catabolic state from a lack of food over the previous 6 to 8 hours a state where your body begins to break down muscle tissue in order to fuel itself. To stop that muscular feast in its tracks, you need to consume some type of protein and carbohydrate snack, especially if you don’t plan on having breakfast for at least 30 minutes after waking up. The best solution: Have a small whey protein shake (20 to 30 grams of protein) and ½ cup of fruit. Why whey? It digests quickly, so your body will instantly be able to put it to work.
Need a few good whey protein recipes? Here are some tasty ones. Drink half and save the rest for a snack.
Bananas and almonds
Blend . . .
6 ounces of fat-free milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 scoop chocolate whey protein powder
4 ice cubes
Blend . . .
½ cup 1 % milk
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
1 ⁄4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
3 ice cubes
Strawberry and Banana
Blend . . .
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
6 medium strawberries, hulled
1 medium banana
1 cup water
3 ice cubes
Just because you had your wake-up protein shake, that doesn’t permit you to skip breakfast. It’s a crucial meal for anyone wanting to lose weight and build muscle. The ideal breakfast is high in protein and packed with fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains. That combo will keep you full longer and prevent swings in blood sugar so your energy stays high. Here’s a perfect example of a perfect breakfast.
- Just because you had your wakeup protein shake, that scrambled Eggs and Spinach (Scramble 1 whole egg, 2 egg whites, and ½ cup baby spinach in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.)
- ¼ cup of oatmeal topped with a handful of chopped walnuts
- A cup of hot green tea
The eggs provide high-quality, slow-burning protein. Cooking them with heart-healthy olive oil and adding baby spinach, which is high in vitamin A and folate, adds satiating fat and vitamins that improve immune function and cell repair. The oatmeal and walnuts add slow-burning energy and fiber. Washing it down with green tea provides a gentle, sustained caffeine buzz and lowers blood pressure.
Step #5: Take Your Thirst Seriously
For physically active men, drinking the standard, typically recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily won’t cut it. A muscle that’s dehydrated by as little as 3 percent can experience a 12 percent decrease in strength. Also, exercising while dehydrated has been shown to cause an increase in stress hormones (such as cortisol) and a decrease in the release of testosterone.
The minimum amount of water an avid exerciser should be drinking is 10 to 12 glasses a day (about 96 ounces), but some serious trainers even recommend drinking a minimum of a gallon a day. No matter which amount you decide to consume, you can’t afford to assume that your body is fully hydrated because you’re counting glasses and gallon containers. Instead, the smartest and easiest rule to follow is to drink all day long and remember a few key things.
CHECK WHEN YOU WAKE UP . Look at the color of your urine first thing in the morning. That’s your snapshot of exactly how well hydrated you were the day before. The lighter, the better, and if it’s darker than light yellow, you’ll know you didn’t drink enough the day before.
DRINK AS YOU EXERCISE. How much you perspire can range from 1 pint an hour to as much as three to four times that amount, depending on your intensity, the weather, the temperature, and other factors.
Before you exercise, hydrate yourself with 16 to 24 ounces of water. Then, if possible, sip 4 to 6 ounces every 10 to 15 minutes during your workout, depending on how you feel. But before you take that first sip and definitely before you start to exercise weigh yourself. Weighing yourself before and immediately after your workout will help you determine how much water you’ve lost through sweat. (And if you really mean business, don’t step on that scale until you’re completely dry and without clothes.) Nearly all of the weight you’ll have lost will be water weight, so replace every pound you’ve lost with about 24 ounces of fluid.
DRINK DURING THE DAY. As I said, if maximum performance is your goal, drinking all day long comes with the territory. You never want to rely on your thirst as a gauge, since by the time you realize you’re thirsty, you’re most likely already dehydrated or partially dehydrated.
If you need another reason to drink up, consider this: Thirst often disguises itself as hunger because your body draws a large percentage of its water from the foods you eat. Staying hydrated will keep you from eating more than your body needs. And if burning more calories is your mission, whenever possible, make sure that water is on ice. Drinking 16 ounces of chilled water can raise your metabolism by as much as 30percent a fat-burning boost that can potentially last up to 90 minutes.
Step #6: Go to Bed with Something in Your Belly
It may seem counterproductive particularly if your main goal is fat loss to even consider eating something before going to sleep. Although it’s true that eating excessive amounts of calories right before bed will only give your body extra calories it may assume you want to store it as body fat, having a small, protein-rich snack immediately before you go to sleep is exactly what you need to preserve your muscle.
As you sleep, your body slips into a catabolic state from not eating for so many hours. The best way to minimize any muscle damage is to consume between 30 and 40 grams of protein at bedtime. Low-fat mozzarella cheese sticks, some cottage cheese, or a protein shake made from casein protein (a type of protein found in dairy products, and the one that takes the longest to digest) will give your stomach something to slowly break down throughout the night, leaving your hard-earned muscles alone.
FORGET THIS ENTIRE CHAPTER ONCE A WEEK!
If you’re sticking with a strict diet, you can blow one meal a week and use that meal as a reward for staying the course. If you do the math, eating 7 meals and snacks each day means eating 49 separate times in 1 week. Throwing out all of these rules and enjoying yourself for one hedonistic meal a week still means that you’re following a healthy diet 98 percent of the time, which is more than most people can say, and it won’t affect your results in the least.