The Day in Food
An hourly plan to keep you fit and fueled
WE'VE ALL SEEN THOSE GUYS who spend $400 on a bike seat four ounces lighter than their old one, only to have five pounds of fleshy love handle roll over their shorts when they sit on it. Extra weight slows you down, whether it's in your gear or on your body. But it's not only how much you eat that determines what's stored and what's burned; it's how you eat. Downing too much at once—think of a typical dinner—is like trying to overfill your car's gas tank. That's why nutritionists have been trying for years to free us from the tyranny of three meals a day. To dial in your meals and snacks at the right time, you have to understand the ebb and flow of your body's metabolism and fuel demands, then put that knowledge into practice with an eating plan that makes the most of it. Follow our guidelines below and the schedule on page 80 and you'll have the engine and energy stores for whatever comes your way.
KNOW YOUR METABOLIC FLOW
Your body requires hundreds of calories a day just to breathe, pump, and process at rest. Referred to as your resting metabolic rate, this daily burn is a direct function of your weight, particularly muscle mass, though genetics also plays a role. But your metabolism gets little boosts throughout the day from factors as varied as exercise, stress, and temperature. Even digestion itself provides a small spike.
Muscle Mass: No factor has a greater impact on your resting metabolic rate than muscle mass, since muscles are constantly burning calories. Strength training provides a metabolic boost by building muscle, which can help offset the decline in metabolism that comes naturally with age.
Exercise: A focused hour at the gym easily adds a few hundred calories to the outbox of your energy-balance equation. Combine cardiovascular and strength training for a steady metabolic burn.
Sleep: When you sleep, your metabolism falls by about 10 percent. But maintaining core body functions (heart, brain, lungs) drains your liver of its carbohydrate supply, and by morning your fuel gauge is on empty. Eating breakfast revs up your metabolism and helps you think more clearly by restocking your glucose—your brain's main source of fuel. It's this daily flux that makes meal timing so important. Replenishing with steady eating throughout the day maintains glucose levels and staves off hunger.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
While the best meal timing is different for everyone, there are a few important considerations. "After eating, we sustain a normal blood- glucose level for about three hours, four hours at most," says Dan Benardot, a sports nutritionist at Georgia State University's Laboratory of Elite Athletic Performance. Then hunger sets in, and you eat inflated portions. "But a single meal may exceed your body's capacity to optimally handle that amount of calories at one time," says Benardot. As a result, the excess calories go to storage (as fat), not fuel (in the muscles and liver).
Breakfast: Don't skimp. This meal sets the tone for the day, so make it count. Whole grains, fruit, and skim or soy milk are a winning combination, and can even be supplemented with protein, such as egg whites or peanut butter.
Lunch: Eat on time and look for a balanced intake of lean proteins, whole grains, a few veggies, and healthy fats.
Dinner: This shouldn't be a feast but, rather, a nutritious finish to round out your day.
Snacks: Midmorning and midafternoon eats fight the hunger pangs that can wreak havoc with your lunch and dinnertime choices and portioning. Also, when you go for longer periods without eating, your body switches from using fat and carbs as your primary fuel sources to burning up your hard-earned muscle as well. So smart snacking can actually help you maintain all-important muscle mass. As always, though, keep it healthy: "Snack" and "candy bar" are not synonyms.
Before Exercising: Food intake should be timed to your workouts. If you can't stomach a real breakfast before a morning workout, down a small glass of juice, a banana, or an energy bar. Make sure that your evening workouts run on good fuel by eating something a few hours beforehand.
All-Day Hydration: A good nutrition plan involves a hydration strategy. Don't worry about how many glasses or ounces you're drinking throughout the day, and don't worry about making it all water. Flavored waters and juices are fine. You know you're properly hydrated when your urine is pale to clear.
1. EATING AFTER 8 P.M. PROMOTES WEIGHT GAIN
Wrong. As with any other time of day, it's fuel demands, food choices, and portions that count.
2. MORNING WORKOUTS SHOULD BE DONE ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
Nope. Unless you've taken in a bit of fuel before you exercise, you won't be able to push your body nearly as hard. So, from a conditioning standpoint, you're missing out.
3. FROZEN VEGETABLES HAVE FEWER NUTRIENTS THAN FRESH ONES
Not necessarily. Produce can be stored for only so long before it starts to lose nutrients. Vegetables frozen immediately after harvest will contain more nutrients than ones that have spent a week in your crisper.
4. 98 PERCENT FAT-FREE MEANS JUST 2 PERCENT OF CALORIES COME FROM FAT
Wrong again. Those numbers refer to weight, not calories. Because a gram of fat contains more calories (nine) than, say, a gram of protein (four), the percentage of calories from fat can be much higher. Make sure you read the labels.