You are what you eat, especially when it comes to making gains.
By Raphael Konforti MS, CPT
The word diet automatically brings up nightmares of food restrictions and unappetizing low fat or low sugar versions of your favorite foods. Why? Most diets get it wrong when it comes to calorie control. The truth is you can still eat what you want as long as you do it strategically. The following three diets all take a different approach so you can find what works best for you. What's the best part? These diets fit into your lifestyle instead of forcing you to find a way to make your lifestyle fit the diet.
What's in a name? In this case, everything, as the name explains it all. Carbs are shifted to the back of the day. That means about 80 percent of carbs should be consumed around dinnertime.
Carb backloading is based on several ideas. First is that the most likely time for people to cheat on their diet is at night. It’s when appetites build up, which works great for this diet because you can eat your fill and make it a lot easier to not dig into late night treats.
Most people tend to have their biggest meal at dinnertime. It’s a social time with friends and family so having to cut back on that meal is the least appealing. You can stay busy during the day and maintain your willpower pretty easily, but at night it’s flat out tougher. Sound familiar? If so, you might want to give carb backloading a go.
Keep in mind that as important as it is to not overeat, you don’t want to under eat. Not eating enough will limit muscle and strength gains. The less you eat, the slower your metabolism is. If you find yourself feeling too full to finish dinner, you may need to add more carbs to your lunch or pre-workout meal to hit your macro targets. Your post-workout meal is how you'll get a good insulin response to promote recovery and growth.
Breakfast: 2 eggs, 4 egg whites, 4oz turkey sausage, peppers, onions, and spinach
Lunch: 8oz lean ground turkey, 1 cup green beans, and ¼ cup mixed nuts
Snack: Protein shake and large banana
Dinner: 8oz chicken breast, 2 cups cooked rice, 1 large baked potato, and 1 cup of gelato
As you can see, you can eat your fill and then some as long as you stay strong during the day. Eating lots of protein and vegetables throughout the day will make this easier. To turn this into a rest day diet, reduce the amount of carbs at dinner by about 50 percent.
Again, the concept is all in the name. Carb cycling involves having days with high-carb intake and days with low-carb intake throughout the week. The high-carb days will be training days and the low-carb days will be cardio or off days. To keep the overall calories and hunger in check, on the high-carb days there will be lower fat intake and on the low-carb days there will be higher fat intake.
We get it. It sounds like a lot to keep track of. So how do you get to eat what you want? Selective eating. On the high-carb days you can satisfy your cravings for sweets and grains. Eat plenty of pasta, breads, rice, or even gelato. On the low-carb days you can enjoy savory foods. This is the day to eat cheese, steak, and peanut butter. Unfortunately, you can’t enjoy both of those types of foods on the same day, but at least you can get all cravings covered by the end of the week.
Here’s what this could look like throughout the week with three training sessions. The training sessions are all in a row to maximize muscle growth from the high-carb days and to maximize fat burning on the lower-carb days. It can be tough to go three to four days on low carbs so you can alternate high and low-carb days.
Monday: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps (High Carb)
Tuesday: Back and Biceps (High Carb)
Wednesday: Lower Body (High Carb)
Thursday: Off/Cardio (Low Carb)
Friday: Off/Cardio (Low Carb)
Saturday: Off/Cardio (Low Carb)
Sunday: Off/Cardio (Low Carb)
Sample High-Carb Day:
Breakfast: 6 egg whites, 2 slices of turkey bacon, mixed peppers, 2 pop tarts, and ½ cup of mixed berries
Lunch: 8oz lean ground chicken, 1.5 cups of rice, and greens salad
Snack: Protein shake and pita with hummus
Dinner: 8oz shrimp, 2 cups of pasta, marinara sauce, and 1 cup of sorbet
Sample Low-Carb Day:
Breakfast: 3 eggs, 3 egg whites, 3oz turkey sausage, 1oz cheese, onions, and peppers
Lunch: 8oz lean ground beef, 2 cups of broccoli, and 4oz sweet potato
Snack: 4oz beef jerky, carrots, and hummus
Dinner: 8oz flank steak, asparagus, and 4oz fingerling potatoes
This diet offers plenty of flexibility to eat how you want as long as you can control when you eat. Intermittent fasting works by having designated periods of eating and not eating, or fasting. For instance, eat for eight hours out of the day and fast for 16 hours. Don’t worry. Your muscles won’t wither if they don’t get protein non-stop. Not eating will actually improve your insulin sensitivity so you can get a more powerful post-workout response.
The most popular way to do intermittent fasting is to pass on breakfast and have your first meal of the day at noon, a second meal at 4pm, and the last meal at 8pm. Another option is to have the first meal in the morning then have the last by early afternoon. If that sounds tough, rest assured there are benefits. For eight hours a day you can feast on big meals without any guilt. As long as your total calories are in line, you can choose to eat them how you want. Many people have found coffee and BCAAs, two non-calorie options, helpful in getting them through the fast. The first week or two of fasting will be challenging. Staying busy is crucial to avoid thinking about food all morning.
Ideally, you’ll time your workouts to just before your first meal. If lunchtime workouts aren’t an option, you can train in the morning and have some BCAAs till your first meal. Night owls can train in the evening, but try to push the bulk of calories to the post-workout period.