As someone who’s worked with personal training clients for decades, one thing I’ve learned is that, if someone is desperate to shed extra pounds, any boost they can get which doesn’t involve more cardio at the gym or greater caloric deprivation is worth looking into. For years, nutritionists and fitness trainers have counseled their clients that, not only is what you eat important but when you eat it is also a factor in getting and staying slim.
Here are three important findings about timing your daily calorie intake which science, and personal experience, suggests can help you maximize your weight loss efforts…
Workout first thing in the morning.
Don’t suck down a high calorie shake before you go to the gym. Rather, work out first and eat immediately after. In a recent study from Glasgow University, a team of researchers led by Dr. Jason Gill studied the different rates of weight loss among study participants who worked out in the morning. The study essentially compared the rate of weight loss among those who worked out immediately after waking up and those who worked out after their morning meal. Participants who waited to eat until after their workouts burned up to 33% more than their counterparts who ate prior to hitting the gym. As an additional bonus, working out before eating also decreased levels of artery-clogging fats found in the blood stream.
Don’t begin a fitness regimen without also counting calories.
Here’s a myth that hopefully you’re savvy enough to not fall for. “If I just start an exercise regimen, I’m sure to lose weight.”
Get over that one.
Recent research clearly indicates that, unless you’re vigilant about watching calories, your body’s natural inclination is to crave more calories, as you expend more energy at the gym. Depressingly, in a recent study from Cornell University, study participants who simply read a story about a 30 minute run ate more than 50% of the free snacks offered to them at the end of their study period than those who were asked questions about their music listening habits. Moral of this story: if you are looking to your gym regimen as a means to lose weight, you had better prepare to monitor your caloric intake appropriately. Your body naturally wants to accommodate for the increased activity level working out brings with increased intake.
Think strategically about what kinds of food you eat during what part of the day.
Modern nutritionists looking into the science of losing weight and working out have developed numerous strategies regarding what sorts of foods are best to eat during what part of the day. These strategies vary depending on individual goals. Are we talking about a 45 year old mom, whose principal goals are to get and stay lean or are we talking about 25 year old male bodybuilder? Most strategies for food timing involve the intake of either carbohydrates or protein. With that in mind, here are a couple of thoughts:
- Protein. Protein is your body’s principal means of building muscle and repairing tissue. Years of research indicate that, immediately after working out (window of opportunity’ during which protein ingested is more likely to be used to build muscle, in response to your workout. One aspect of timing protein intake, then, is pretty straightforward. Be sure to try and eat or drink a protein rich snack after working out.
- Carbs. Carbohydrate intake is a more complicated and hotly disputed issue than when to eat protein. Carbs are the most easily metabolized energy source your body can draw from so, in general, they should be eaten when you need energy. This, for most people, translates to a strategy of front loading carbs early in the day and tapering off towards the end. However, there are varying opinions about this and some bodybuilders, for instance, follow a strictly defined routine called “Carb Back Loading.” This strategy, which is based on how your body stores and uses energy, actually allows the eating of lots of carbohydrates late in the day, on those days you’re training. But it’s really only appropriate for bodybuilders or those training seriously and regularly.
So, whether you’re in the cutting phase of a bodybuilding regimen or just trying to maintain the semblance of a youthful figure into middle age, it pays to understand not only what to eat but when to eat. Our bodies have their own unique rhythms, requirements and natural tendencies. Learning to harness these to your best advantage can help you lose weight faster and stay lean longer.
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(Chris Bradley is a personal trainer and owns vTrainers, a network of four gyms in the greater Philadelphia area.)