The dehydration dogma is universal: It’s dangerous so you need to drink a lot of fluids, especially in extreme conditions such as heat and exercising for long periods.
For decades the prevailing advice from sports coaches, the media and most notoriously, the companies who manufacture ‘sports’ drinks and supply bottled water, has been to drink at least eight glasses of water a day and to constantly sip on (hypotonic) sports drinks before and during bouts of exercise. These are myths that just won’t die.
Where do these myths come from?
There is certainly no good research behind either approach. It’s believed that the eight glasses of water a day myth stems from a recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board in ‘Murica for people to consume at least 2.5 litres of water a day. What everyone neglected to do was continue reading beyond that recommendation. The board followed that recommendation with advice that most of that water would come from food. Whether you call it a misunderstanding or misdirection, it’s unsubstantiated. Much like the advice to drink copious amounts of sports drinks during exercise.
Aside from staying hydrated, the culture of drinking lots of fluids during exercise and sports is founded on beliefs that it will prevent heat stroke and exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC). EAMC are most likely caused by neurological changes brought on by fatigue – NOT due to an undue loss in water and electrolytes. Knocking down gallons of water or sports drinks will not prevent or stop the cramps, and it could kill you.
The body’s innate systems for measuring water and electrolyte concentrations are finely tuned. When you need water, that system tells you so by inducing thirst. The eight glasses a day and sports drink advocates will tell you that it’s too late if you’re already thirsty, but we’ve already called their BS 😉
It is dangerous to become dehydrated, but that is why the body will induce thirst if water levels begin dropping below normal. What most don’t know, however, is that hyperhydration (too much water) is just as dangerous and arguably more prevalent than dehydration.
Hyponatremia occurs when a person drinks so much hypotonic fluid, like water and sports drinks, that blood sodium levels decrease. In bad cases the excess fluid floods the lungs and brain. Much like dehydration, hyponatremia can be fatal.
Therefore, to stay adequately hydrated you should drink when you’re thirsty. The best fluid is of course water, but hot drinks like tea and coffee do contribute to your daily fluid intake. Avoid fizzy drinks, fruit juices and concentrates. Eat vegetables everyday along with some fruit – they provide a lot of water. If you are exposed to extreme environmental conditions such as heat and altitude, or are exercising for long durations, you are still more likely to experience hyponatremia than dehydration so keep drinking to thirst.
It should go without saying that drinking soda during an endurance event is a no-go, but the fact that soda companies support fitness events and are the largest producers of bottled water should indicate that these hydration myths are no coincidence.
There’s always a new expert in the field of nutrition, new books, new approaches, and lots of new information. If you are someone who’s looking to optimise health and fitness, nutrition is the foundation of your efforts, but how do you decipher all of that information?
The reality is that there’s nothing new to all the (good) nutrition information. We’ve known most of it for decades. And when you dig in to all the information out there you’ll see that almost everyone who knows a bit about the topic agrees on the most important facts. Your nutrition is almost sorted when you have these factors down.
- Eat well raised sources of animal protein. Even if you are training intensely on most days of the week, you don’t need to consume massive quantities to get your daily protein needs in.
- Eat vegetables everyday.
- Get your fats from animal sources, olives, nuts and their oils, egg yolks (why would you waste the best tasting part of the egg?), and avocado.
- Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (and other man made products).
- Having a knowledgeable coach is a well placed investment
Keep it simple by getting your ABCs locked down and don’t focus on anything else until you do.
You’re exercising a lot, you think that you’re eating well most of the time, everyone says you’re looking “slimmer,” and the scale shows that your body weight is dropping. But you’re lacking “go” in your workouts, your strength has either plateaued or is regressing, and your body fat percentage (BFP) has actually gone up. What the……??!!
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Your body weight is the sum weight of your organs, bones, muscle, soft tissue, etc. Weight loss simply takes into account a drop in this sum.
Your BFP is the weight of body fat relative to your total body weight. Therefore, fat loss would result in a lower body fat percentage. Depending on gender, age and types of activity, healthy body fat percentages for women and men are respectively 12-20% and 8-18%.
How does that explain an increase in BFP concomitant to a decrease in body weight? That would happen if part of the weight loss comes from a loss of muscle. If BFP is the weight of body fat relative to total body weight, your total body weight (kg) less the amount of body fat (kg) leaves you with your lean body mass (LBM). LBM is made up of every part of your body – skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, organs, etc. – EXCLUDING boy fat.
The heaviest component of LBM is muscle. The amount of muscle you have directly affects the BFP equation.
If your body weight doesn’t change but you lose muscle, it will be reflected as an increase in BFP. Similarly, if you lose body weight and muscle, the loss in muscle would either mitigate a decrease in BFP or also reflect as an increase in BFP. You’re “slimmer” with a high body fat – what is referred to as skinny fat. That’s also why your performance in training drops – muscle is your engine!
Lose Fat & Maintain or Build Muscle
Your body weight tells us little to nothing about changes in your body composition. It’s also affected on a daily basis by your diet, water retention, the weather and possibly even mood states. So you need to change your mindset from wanting to lose weight to losing body fat.
Losing body fat requires you to maintain or increase muscle mass. Note: Increasing muscle mass does not mean you’ll “get bulky.”
What will happen when you maintain/increase muscle mass while reducing BFP, however, is your body weight often remains the same. That is simply because muscle weighs less than fat.
How To Avoid Skinny Fat
- Train functional movements at a high (relative) intensity with a variety of loads (light, moderate, heavy).
- Eat clean at least 80% of the time. You all know the deal: Eat a variety of meat and vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, little dairy and grains, and no sugar
- Ensure that part of eating clean includes a healthy amount of good carbs and protein.
- Avoid the “cardio” trap. Unless there’s a good deal of resistance-based exercises in your training regime to go with all that cardio, you won’t maintain good muscle too. That’s why I like to call endurance only athletes ‘skinny fat.’ Yes, they have low body weight, but a low percent of that is muscle!
So ditch the scale and mirror because they’re just playing tricks on your mind. Eat clean, train smart, be consistent, and results will come. If results don’t come, call in for a consult.
Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉
The term soul food refers to a variety of cuisine that became popular in the southeastern US of A around the 1960s. Soul food restaurants were largely black-owned businesses that were community meeting places serving dishes such as fried chicken, mac’ and cheese, cornbread and cobbler. It is said the name of the cuisine originated from the reminder it gave patrons of the home and family they had left behind to seek greener pastures – the food was good for their souls!
I’ve always maintained that the food you eat should be both healthy and enjoyable. The soul food I referred to above may be enjoyable, but it’s not the healthiest and I was talking about a type of cuisine. What I’m really talking about here is eating food that is good for you, inside out. That is, mostly consuming food that is good for your physical health and performance, AND your mental health and performance.
When talking about food we generally focus on physical health and performance. How is that going to affect my blood sugar? Will it give me high cholesterol? What is going to give enough energy to perform well in training? How will that affect my recovery before the next session? But how often do we consider the psychological effects of food?
While I’ve alluded to the psyche of eating through topics of balance, approaching food as a fuel, and habit formation, I’ve never talked about feeding your soul. That sounds a bit airy fairy. By feeding the soul I mean eating in a manner that takes care of you – your self esteem, self confidence, happiness, and general wellbeing. It’s having a regard – giving a shit – about yourself.
Taking care of yourself is making your nutrition a priority. When that happens your approach to challenges changes from excuses to solutions.
“I don’t know what to do” becomes “I’m booking a nutrition consult.”
“There weren’t any healthy options” becomes “I had a good meal before the function and packed some snack just in case.”
“I was preparing snacks for the family so I didn’t have time” becomes “We all mostly have the same food now.”
Getting your nutrition right is challenging, especially because your body and needs are forever changing. But it’s just challenging, not difficult. You just have to make caring for yourself a priority.
Posts tagged with ‘diet’