By Kim Duke
NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
Sure, you could eat whatever you wanted in high school and stay thin as a rail. But, unfortunately, you’re not 17 anymore, and even if you work out ‘round the clock, you can’t transform your body if you constantly give in to cravings, high-fat foods and sweet treats. The truth is, flat abs are made in the kitchen, and no amount of cardio and crunches can sculpt a sleek physique if you maintain an unhealthy diet.
If you justify frequent fried chicken or pasta dinners with bootcamp or CrossFit WOD on your schedule the following morning, you might want to recalculate how many calories you’re actually burning in comparison to the ones you’re taking in. “The majority of people are not serious athletes, meaning they don’t require the same type and amount of fuel as the pros,” says Sara Hass RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic. “Eating a calorically dense, high-carbohydrate meal or snack makes sense for a competitive cyclist about to endure a 100-mile road race, but it doesn’t make sense for someone who is about to take a two-mile jog around the block.”
Instead, opt for a healthier form of chicken such as grilled or poached and save the spaghetti for a post-race meal. Yes, it’s OK to have a cheat meal here and there, but try not to make it a weekly or even bi-weekly thing. And don’t bother justifying it with an intense sweat session you may have had earlier — it’s called a cheat meal for a reason.
To effectively change your physique and stay toned requires intense exercise. You won’t have the physical endurance to push through tough workouts if your diet isn’t up to snuff. Yes, that unfortunately means that while Reese’s Pieces and soda may give you a sugar high that you mistake as energy, however, this insulin boost is short lived and will not sustain you through a vigorous workout.
You’ll need a combination of carbohydrates and protein to recover following a workout, as well as adequate carbs beforehand, too. “They’re the preferred energy for the exercisers’ muscles and mind,” says Jennifer McDaniel, RDN, founder of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in St. Louis and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Watch out for taking in too much fat; that often translates to an abundance of calories as well, which quickly packs on as extra pounds. Another diet pitfall to avoid when training is extremely high amounts of carbs or fiber. “These could cause annoying digestive issues and prevent you from performing well,” says McDaniel. In general, aim to get about 30 percent of your diet from protein, 40 percent from carbs and 30 percent from fat.
Keeping your diet in check will help because to become truly toned, you’ll need to build muscle and burn more calories than you’re consuming at the same time. It’s easier to do so if you don’t treat yourself to nachos or ice cream in the first place.
Regular sweat sessions are, of course, key for staying in shape and maintaining your overall health. However, says McDaniel, “Remember that exercise sustains weight loss — but a healthy diet is what drives it.”