Should I train on an empty stomach to lose fat? How soon after my session do I need to eat? Should I drink a protein shake or have a meal? All of these are frequently asked questions by clients and I always respond by asking-What are you doing outside of the gym?
Before worrying about nutrition around your training sessions, get your daily nutrition on point first. For the average, healthy individual exercising for health and fitness goals, the focus should be on food quality and quantity. Eliminating processed foods, which are high in sodium, sugar and processed oils would be an excellent place to start. To begin, when grocery shopping stay on the perimeter of the store. This helps to insure that you are buying plenty of whole, minimally processed food. When purchasing foods that have labels, stick with those having only 3-5 ingredients. Next, check the sugar content and stay around 5 grams or less. This small change will naturally cut down on the sodium, added sugar and processed oils improving the quality of your food.
Next, focus on the quantity of the food or portion size. The key to success for anything is keeping it simple. First, let’s look at two common methods people use to control their intake. I hate counting calories! It is tedious, time consuming and I believe not sustainable in the long run. At best, it is merely an estimation or ballpark figure of intake anyway. Most people start calorie counting then a couple of weeks later they are skimming over meals then all at once stop doing it. Another common method is measuring food via a portable scale. This is also tedious, takes equipment and is difficult to manage when eating out? Once again, not something that can be done consistently or easily.
In order to make something a habit, you must be able to consistently do the action everyday. This then imprints the action on your brain making it just happen naturally. A simpler method to control portion size doesn’t require measuring cups, a scale or a tracking device. We teach our clients to use their hands for portion control. Your hands are in proportion to the size of your body and are always with you. Super easy and something you can consistently do. Here are our recommendations for the quantity of your food:
Protein-1 palm size width and thickness
Carbs-1 cupped hand
Fats-1 thumb size
Protein-2 palms width and thickness
Carbs-2 cupped hands
Fats-2 thumb sizes
These guidelines are a visual tool and a general starting point that can be adjusted based on activity level and goals. By using your hands, you keep things simple and easy to do which increases the odds you will keep doing it.
So in conclusion, don’t worry about what to do around your training sessions until you have built good habits around your daily nutrition. Start small, focusing on the quality and quantity of the food you eat on a consistent basis. This alone will help you to create sustainable change and once in place then move on to the next step of pre and post training nutrition. We will cover those in our next article.