Proper nutrition can be pretty confusing and it’s hard to know what you should eat and when. Here are my top diet tips for improving your physique, making the most of that time spent in the gym and getting your summer six-pack! Remember – summer bodies are made in winter!
1. No sugar
If I only had one rule this would probably be it. We all know that sugar isn’t great for general health and your teeth etc. but sugar is pretty much the root of all evil when it comes to getting a six-pack. It spikes your blood sugar levels, which means they will eventually crash and will be turned by your body into fat almost immediately. Your body can only really absorb a small amount of sugar efficiently (think of it like a very small rocket fuel tank) and when you eat foods with sugar your body will try to start burning that instead of fat (not good). As soon as you go over the small level that the body can absorb/use, the sugar then gets turned to fat as well! I used to eat loads of sweets and snack bars. At first I thought it would be really hard to give them up, but when I decided to I found it actually wasn’t that difficult after all. Also avoid fruit juice which is very high in sugar content.
2. No bread
Okay so you don’t necessarily need to cut bread out completely – I still have a slice of wholemeal each morning with my eggs for breakfast. However, you should aim to totally cut down on the amount of bread you eat, especially if you normally have sandwiches for lunch. Why? Bread is high in carbs and contains gluten (which can make you feel bloated) but most importantly it has all the negative side effects I mentioned above for sugar. In the words of The Paleo Mama, “Most breads are made of pulverized wheat. They are easily digested and rapidly spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which can lead to the notorious blood sugar ‘roller coaster’ and stimulate overeating.”
3. No processed carbs
White bread, white rice and pasta are all pretty bad. They’re all ‘processed’ carbs which means that they are low in fibre and as a result get absorbed very quickly into our systems, creating a spike in your blood sugar levels. What you want are wholegrain oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa and my personal fav superfood – sweet potato.
4. Make your protein lean
Protein is the key ingredient for building muscle and tone and it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of it. If you’re aiming to make steady gains over time then the widely regarded benchmark level is to have approx. 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. So for an average guy that’s c.160-180g of protein per day or the equivalent of 6 tins of tuna. Lean meats like chicken, turkey and tuna are all great or lean meat like rump steak. Equally, white fish like haddock and sea bass is good and mackerel has lots of good fats.
5. Supplements are not a replacement for real food
Protein shakes are a great way to get nutrients into your system immediately after a workout and I would definitely recommend them (check out my post on supplements). But you shouldn’t kid yourself by the marketing – they are no substitute for real food. Sure, they are good for giving you a little extra boost or hitting your protein intake at awkward times of the day, but you need to be eating lean tuna and chicken etc. to deliver the kind of benefits that protein should bring your physique. In my own diet I have a shake immediately after getting up (around 6am) and then another after working out.
6. Fats are not the enemy
Bottom line – fats should make up a fair proportion of your diet. Eating fat does not equal gaining weight. Fats often get a bad rep and its true that certain types of fat aren’t great (saturated). But healthy fats are good for your body and provide much-needed energy. Try avocado, olive oil and non-salty nuts like almonds and Brazil nuts.
7. Lots of greens
It’s really important not to forget your greens. They are a great way to fill up and you should have them with as many meals as possible because they add crucial fibre to your diet. My favourites are asparagus and broccoli.
8. Green tea instead of coffee
If you’re a ‘5 coffees a day’ kind of guy/girl then reign that in! The calories mount up and you’ll see diminishing returns from all that caffeine. Instead, limit yourself to 1 in the morning and 1 before a workout to give you an extra boost. Otherwise, try to have green tea instead which can reduce your caffeine intake by as much as 70%!
9. Water, water, water
You can never drink enough water. It hydrates your whole body and helps you perform to your max potential. Make sure you get down 2-3 litres a day. It’s so easy to avoid doing this but it is so important and lots of people don’t really bother.
10. Always eat a big breakfast
Never skimp on breakfast. It’s a critical meal that starts the day and getting a proper meal in means you’ll be less prone to snacking or eating bad foods. You should aim to get the same amount of protein, fats and carbs as you do all your other meals. My breakfast is around 800 calories and includes 4 eggs, a bowl of porridge/oats, a slice of wholemeal bread and 30g of peanut butter. Every day.
11. Cut down on the booze
We all know it makes sense but actually doing it is incredibly hard. If you go for drinks regularly then try to limit yourself to one night a week. Vodka and soda is the best option and if you need any more motivation to cut down then remember that alcohol has more calories per gram than fat! Every night out is basically a ton of empty calories that are wasting all the hard work you’ve put in.
12. Cheat meals keep you sane
Keeping to a strict diet is tough so treat yourself to one day a week when you can have whatever meal you want. I’m a big fan of the Saturday burger! When I’m training for peak condition I’ve eaten cheat meals up until the last 5 weeks.
Let me know how you get on!