Five Nutrition Tips – July 2012

Chocolate

Is dark chocolate one of the best pre and post-workout snacks? You bet. Read on to find out why.

1. Looking for a great pre-workout energizer? How about a post-workout muscle builder? Instead of wasting money on supplements that either don’t work or are tremendously overpriced, I’d recommend indulging on a little dark chocolate. Don’t believe me?

Chad Waterbury recently published an interview with Ori Hofmekler. If you want to read the interview in its entirety, click here.

“An excellent pre-exercise snack is dark chocolate. I’m talking specifically here about the kind with no sugar added. Chocolate has the highest concentration of flavonoid polyphenols, which, along with energy boosting co-factors yield the most powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and energizing effects on your muscle. Furthermore, cacao demonstrates fat burning properties, and it has the most profound effect on boosting nitric oxide, which is essential for the regulation of muscle performance, repair, and growth.”

This doesn’t mean to go and grab a Mars or a Snickers bar. Lindt makes a fantastic range of dark chocolate bars. Make sure you are getting the ones with at least 70% cocoa. 70-80% is a good range – any lower, and it is more like a candy bar. Any higher, and the taste gets quite bitter.

“I believe that along with whey protein, chocolate is probably the most effective functional food for your muscle before and after exercise. The problem is that virtually all chocolates today are made with sugar, fructose, synthetic sweeteners or chemical alkali. All of those additives negate the benefits of chocolate.”

2. Cheat meals are important. As long as you are eating healthy most of the time (the 80/20 principle is a solid standard to follow), it isn’t the end of the world to indulge from time to time. In fact, it may be to your benefit. From John Romaniello, of Roman Fitness Systems, on the benefits:

  • Increased thyroid hormone output. When in a caloric deficit, underfed individuals produce less T3 and T4—both important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase these hormones.
  • Increased 24-Hour Energy Expenditure. A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to upregulate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.
  • Increased serum Leptin levels. The big one that most harp on. Leptin levels drop while in a caloric deficit (lasting as little as 72 hours), and a periodic bump in leptin coming from a cheat day has several benefits including increased thyroid output, increased energy expenditure and BMR, and overall increased thermogenesis.”

 Those are the physiological and hormonal benefits of cheating. Of course, there’s the psychological benefit of being able to take a day off from your diet; eat whatever you like and be comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll still get lean. It’s hard to quantify how much that actually helps, but the majority of folks who opt to use cheating protocols cite this as one of the most significant benefits.

Personally, I like the feeling of eating healthy, which is why I do it. However, cheat meals and cheat days are a great reminder why you don’t eat junk food all of the time. The feeling of sickness afterwards is a great reminder to the body and mind.

My personal favorite cheat foods – chocolate covered raisins and any and all chips (salt & vinegar are my favorite). Fortunately/unfortunately I am allergic to dairy, so pizza and anything with cheese in it has been removed from my cheating repertoire.

3. Smoothies are your friend. I have at least one, maybe two smoothies per day. My magic bullet is super handy, and I’d recommend picking one up if you don’t already have one. My problem with making smoothies in a big blender is I would tend to make too much. The portion size of the bullet is perfect.

Smoothies are great for so many reasons. Here are some of them:

  • A great way to “sneak” vegetables in – some blended kale or lettuce doesn’t factor in to the taste equation
  • A really easy way to get a meal with real food in it
  • Small changes can make huge changes when it comes to flavour

My smoothie essentials:

  • A base – Greek yogurt or thick coconut milk
  • Liquid – water, milk, almond milk
  • A healthy fat – peanut or almond butter, or avocado
  • Vegetables – kale is my go-to – super healthy and gives it some nice colour too
  • Fruit – berries are the best. I prefer to go frozen as it makes the smoothie a lot colder.
  • Protein powder or protein source – whatever you use should be good. I find vanilla flavors mix better than chocolate ones do. I really enjoy the taste and mix-ability of Myofusion’s protein.

I sometimes mix in rolled oats to get some additional calories in my smoothies after a workout.

You can get creative, too. Add in some chocolate, coffee, or different fruit and vegetables depending on what you have in the fridge and what you feel like drinking. I don’t eat a ton of fruit (high in sugar), but smoothies are a great way to mix it in, especially before or after a workout, when your body will be using that sugar as fuel.

4. Don’t count your meals.

There seems to be some debate with how to eat. In recent years it seems like we have been bombarded with information about the benefits of five or six small meals per day. I am not a fan of this, for a few reasons. One – people don’t really understand what constitutes a “small” meal and end up overeating, and two, there isn’t really any scientific support for it.

From Mark’s Daily Apple:

“First of all, there is no metabolic advantage to eating multiple meals. Yeah, your body expends metabolic energy to process and digest food, but it doesn’t matter when or how it’s eaten. You could eat a steak in a single sitting or the same steak cut up into five pieces, each eaten an hour apart, and the total energy expenditure required to process and digest the steak would be identical in both cases. So, assuming macronutrient ratios and caloric content are identical, eating more frequently doesn’t make your metabolism “burn” brighter. If it did, this study would have ruled in favor of increased meal frequency as an effective tool in weight loss for obese patients. But it didn’t.”

My advice – eat healthy, and don’t worry about how much you eat or when you eat it. The more time you spend on your healthy eating choices, the less likely you are to stick to a meal plan or diet. Figure out what healthy foods you like, buy them often, and get creative with different recipes.

5. Get a set grocery list.

This ties in with my point above. Have a set list of foods you buy every week. Post it by your computer or fridge, or wherever you look. Here is my list, for example:

  • Eggs
  • Ground beef
  • Chicken
  • Frozen berries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Almonds/walnuts
  • Greek yogurt
  • Rolled oats
  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Salmon/Tuna
  • Almond milk
  • Almond butter
  • Condiments – olive oil, coconut oil, mustard, hot sauce, and so on.
  • And I’ll make sure to load up on specific fruits and vegetables when they are in season.