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9 Hacks That Make Calorie Counting A Breeze

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The way many people do it, calorie counting can sometimes be boring, laborious, and downright discouraging. But note that I said “sometimes,” not “always.” Controlling calories doesn’t have to be difficult, and it is perhaps the most powerful tool we have for troubleshooting nutrition.

Maybe you’ve never done it because it seems overwhelmingly complicated, but it can actually be quite simple. Use these easy tips to improve your eating habits and see results without getting bogged down in numbers.

1. Start With How You Actually Eat

No matter where your fitness journey takes you, the nutritional part of it should start where you are now. Create a simple meal plan based on the way you already eat, without making any big changes or thinking about calorie targets yet. Ignore the “daily goal” that apps or calculators will set for you, and don’t worry about BMR and TDEE equations yet.

Quick and Dirty Calorie Counting

Remember, we’re going quick and dirty. Just put together the amount of food you know will get you through the day. If you’re going to make any changes at this point, make them qualitative, not quantitative. In other words, stick largely to whole foods, eliminate totally junky processed items, and do your best to keep sugar fairly low.

2. Use an App

Thanks to modern technology, counting calories no longer has to involve much actual counting. Apps like MyFitnessPal calculate calories for you. You can also put foods together into meals, which is a huge time saver.

Have an activity tracker? Use the built-in calorie tracker that lets you see calories in versus calories out, not just totals. It won’t be 100 percent accurate—especially if you lift and use a basic tracker that just counts steps—but it will be inaccurate in a consistent way, giving you a reliable baseline.

But here’s the key: Be honest and log everything.

3. Identify Obvious Patterns

A common reason meal plans fail is that we tend to underestimate how much we consume during cheats. Maybe your “occasional treat” has become an everyday thing, or what you thought was 200 calories of Greek yogurt is more like 500.

Quick and Dirty Calorie Counting

It’s shockingly easy to more than double your calorie intake, which is why counting calories is so much more effective than just writing down what you eat in a food journal. If you see big spikes, consider finding different delicious foods to indulge in.

Inevitably, you will have days where you don’t stick to the template—whether it’s a planned cheat day or a spontaneous night out with friends. Pay attention to what else is going on when you eat more than you planned. Do wings and fries always come after beer, despite your best intentions? Alcohol impairs our ability to make good food choices, so it might be worth limiting the days you drink.

If you find you’re not eating enough to stay satisfied on a day-to-day basis, look for places to add some satiating protein and healthy fats to your template.

4. Establish Your Baseline, Then Adjust

After tracking your intake for a few days, you’ll probably see it fall into a consistent range. This is your baseline.

If you feel good sticking to the plan, (you aren’t too hungry, and you aren’t seeing any changes in your body composition) the template you’ve created is close to your true caloric maintenance needs. From here, you can play around with things.

Think you need to cut calories? Try reducing your portion sizes, or look for places you can swap oils, nuts, dairy, or grains for less calorie-dense options. Hungry all the time? You might not be eating enough. Try raising your baseline or throwing in an occasional refeed day.

At this point, you can designate targets for daily calorie totals. Try shooting for 100-500 calories below or above your baseline, and see how it makes you feel. If you use an activity tracker app, you can decide on a goal range for your daily calorie deficit or surplus.

5. Build Around a Few Core Meals

Trying to figure out the exact ingredient measurements for each meal and writing it all down can make calorie tracking time consuming. A more time-efficient approach is to structure your diet around a few essential meals that are easy to track and prepare the same way every time. This helps remove the guesswork and cuts down on data entry.

Quick and Dirty Calorie Counting

No, this doesn’t mean you have to—or should—eat the same thing all the time. Far from it! But having a basic lineup of meals with numbers and ingredients you know by heart makes everything easier.

It might sound boring, but you could even try to eat the same thing daily for a while. Doing this means you’ll only have to enter 3-6 meals into the app once. And speaking from personal experience, the repetition can be satisfying if you pick things you like to eat.

Don’t try to be too perfect, though. Healthy eating shouldn’t be about depriving yourself. If having a slice or two of cheese at lunch helps you get through the day, do it.

6. Get Familiar With Pre-portioned Foods

When it comes to switching from eyeballing your portions to measuring them, pre-portioned foods can be a lifesaver. I’m not talking about single-serving bags of chips, but the rule that food needs to come without nutrition labels to be nutritious isn’t always true.

Yes, packaged foods often cost a bit more than bulk produce or meat, but if you ain’t got time for #mealprepsunday, choosing healthy pre-packaged items can save you time and energy. Their nutrition content is marked right on the package, and they’re probably already listed in your app’s food database. Good picks to help kick off your meal-prep journey include individual packets of nuts, protein bars, chicken sausages, burger patties, jerky, canned tuna, sliced deli meats, eggs, protein powder, and single-serving cups of guacamole, hummus, and peanut butter.

Quick and Dirty Calorie Counting

Once calorie tracking stops feeling like a struggle, you can start making more meals from scratch. Initially, though, your goal should be to avoid getting overwhelmed by doing what makes life easier.

7. Have Your Staple Meals Pre-loaded in Your App

This is a serious pro tip! If you know what you’re going to eat, logging it the long way is time better spent elsewhere. Save your meals, and all you have to do is click on “Breakfast” to autofill your oats, protein powder, and eggs. Some apps will even let you autofill an entire day.

Over time, you may change some aspects of your meals, but memorizing the essentials and knowing their numbers will help you learn to eyeball food portions, which will help you stick to your approach over the long term.

8. Don’t Just Focus on Calories

Weight loss has a lot to do with calories, but other factors are also important. Use your app to monitor your fiber intake, and consider tracking your water intake, too. Getting more of both of these can make a big difference in how full you feel, even while eating the same number of calories.

Quick and Dirty Calorie Counting

Once you’re on top of calories, play with your macros and question your habits. Do you need those almonds in your oatmeal to stay full until lunch? What happens if you replace them with protein powder? Are your carb refeeds on point, or are they more like saturated-fat refeeds?

This is where a boring, repetitive meal plan can work for you. Changing one variable at a time will let you know pretty quickly if it’s going to help you or hurt you.

9. Finish the Job and Move On

Once you’ve fine-tuned your template and started seeing your body composition move in the right direction, look at what made the difference and integrate that information into a long-term, sustainable template. Create some alternative meals in your app and become a master at prepping your portions. Maybe you could even stop counting.

That’s right; quit counting! You can always go back to it occasionally, to make sure you’re still on track or to reassess if you plateau, but you should be able to stop using your app daily as your previous eyeballing technique becomes more on point.

Think of it this way: The skills you build through understanding the numbers are far more important than the numbers themselves.



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Sick And Tired of Dieting? Try This New Approach for 2017

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There are lots of different diets out there, but most of them are impractical and unsustainable, resulting in “yo-yo” dieting, where you lose and gain weight repeatedly. But successful long-term change isn’t about going on diets that are hard to follow.

Dieting in way that’s right for you is all about creating a plan you can follow consistently throughout your life. That only happens when the diet conforms to your tastes in foods, your schedule, and your exercise preference. When you eat like this, the only thing you need to change over time is your daily caloric intake. Your basic approach to your food choices remains the same.

So, instead of starting 2017 by hopping on the latest “diet of the year,” read how these three popular, research-backed, nutritionally sound diets can set you up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Just remember the golden rule of weight loss: Take in fewer calories than you burn. No secret strategy, no magical foods, and no perfectly timed meal plan can nullify this rule.

1. Ketogenic Diet

What it is: A ketogenic (“keto”) diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, very-low-carbohydrate eating plan that follows these guidelines:

  • 70-75 percent of calories from fat
  • 15-20 percent of calories from protein
  • 5-10 percent of calories from carbohydrate

The keto diet gradually shifts your body’s primary fuel source from glucose to fat. Your body has an extensive supply of fat at its disposal. By training your body to use more fat for fuel (a process called ketosis), you have the potential to lose a lot of weight.

Dieting in a way that's right for you.

Who it’s best for: The keto diet is good for people who mainly want to lose weight, and who may have struggled in the past with other dietary approaches. It also works well for people who prefer fatty, savory things like avocados, eggs, cheese, cream, butter, chicken, and beef over carb-laden foods.

If you feel this is something you want to try, check out this definitive guide to crushing the ketogenic diet.

Who it’s not best for: While research results have been mixed, the keto diet isn’t recommended for people who want to improve rep PRs, 1RMs, or sprint times.[1,2] And if you’re almost addicted to carbs and are a long way from being “keto-friendly,” you might want to try one of these other ideas.

Key point: A common mistake when starting a keto diet is to eat too much protein. If your protein intake is more than 20 percent of your diet, you may never reach ketosis. It is only after your body has started using fats as its primary fuel that you start to lose weight.

2. Intermittent Fasting

What it is: Intermittent fasting (IF) involves intentionally fasting (going without calories) for a set amount of time. Following an IF plan usually means fasting 16 or more hours per day, which can increase your body’s ability to increase fat oxidation (breakdown), reduce body weight, and accelerate fat loss.[3,4] The nice thing about this diet is that you can eat just about anything you want. You just have to organize your meals so that you’re consuming fewer calories than you’re burning.

The most popular IF approaches include:

  • LeanGains: 16 hours fasting, 8 hours feeding
  • Warrior Diet: 20 hours fasting, 4 hours feeding
  • Alternate-day fasting: 24 hours fasting, 24 hours feeding

Who it’s best for: IF is best for people who want to lose weight. It is especially well-suited to people aren’t hungry in the morning then have a very busy schedule with few opportunities to stop and eat. It can also work for those who have trouble controlling their sweets-and-treats intake.

Who it’s not best for: IF is less ideal if you want to gain muscle. Going for prolonged periods of time without amino acids places your body in a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state for more than half of the day, which doesn’t help build muscle mass.

Key point: It’s best to start by fasting for short periods of time, then gradually increase them over time. Sleep counts toward your fasting window, so you can begin your fasting after a bedtime meal, then not eat again until the next day. If you’re following the 16/8 LeanGains approach, you would have your last meal at 9 p.m., then fast until 1 p.m. the following day.

3. High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet

What it is: In a normal diet, you should get from 45-65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates. A high-carb diet, however, looks more like this:

  • 65-75 percent of calories from carbohydrates
  • 15-20 percent of calories from protein
  • 15-20 percent of calories from fat

Who it’s best for: While this diet can produce modest weight loss, it doesn’t appear to be as beneficial for this purpose as a higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate approach.[5,6] However, it’s well-suited for people focused on their performance goals who want to lean out to further improve performance. Carbohydrates are your muscles’ primary fuel source, so high carbs can help you get through hours of difficult training—even two-a-days.

High Carb, low fat

Who it’s not best for: If, on the other hand, performance isn’t a high priority for you, or you’re more interested in losing weight, this approach probably isn’t for you. The same is true if your body doesn’t respond well to high-carbohydrate meals or if you have a history of prediabetes or type-2 diabetes.

Key point: Be sure to keep your fat intake at or above 15 percent of your total calories for this diet. Reducing fat any further can adversely affect vitamin absorption, hormone production, menstrual-cycle regularity, bone health, and recovery.

References

  1. Paoli, A., Grimaldi, K., D’Agostino, D., Cenci, L., Moro, T., Bianco, A., & Palma, A. (2012). Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 1.
  2. Langfort, J., Zarzeczny, R., Pilis, W., Nazar, K., & Kaciuba-Uścitko, H. (1997). The effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on performance, hormonal and metabolic responses to a 30-s bout of supramaximal exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 76(2), 128-133.
  3. Heilbronn, L. K., Smith, S. R., Martin, C. K., Anton, S. D., & Ravussin, E. (2005). Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(1), 69-73.
  4. Klempel, M. C., Kroeger, C. M., & Varady, K. A. (2013). Alternate day fasting (ADF) with a high-fat diet produces similar weight loss and cardio-protection as ADF with a low-fat diet. Metabolism, 62(1), 137-143.
  5. Bazzano, L. A., Hu, T., Reynolds, K., Yao, L., Bunol, C., Liu, Y., … & He, J. (2014). Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat DietsA Randomized TrialEffects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. Annals of Internal Medicine, 161(5), 309-318.
  6. Wycherley, T. P., Moran, L. J., Clifton, P. M., Noakes, M., & Brinkworth, G. D. (2012). Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ajcn-044321.



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3 Reasons Quinoa Is A Damn-Near-Perfect Fitness Food

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Indigenous to South America and considered a sacred food staple in countries like Bolivia, quinoa was nearly wiped out by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, only to experience a renaissance as a supergrain in modern times.

It wasn’t long ago that quinoa was considered exotic and rarely found on store shelves. But due to a rise in the popularity of gluten-free eating, quinoa has become a supermarket fixture. Its reputation as a nutritional powerhouse has also helped quinoa work its way into more pantries than ever. And harried cooks appreciate that it takes about half the time to cook as brown rice.

This poster child of nutritious gluten-free grains should find a place in your fitness diet, and these recipes make it easy for quinoa to nourish your body from morning to night.

Reason 1: Quinoa Is Rich in Antioxidants

As with fruits and vegetables, eating more quinoa will infuse your diet with antioxidants, compounds that prowl the body looking for cell-damaging free radicals to “mop up.” For this reason, a higher intake of antioxidants is thought to be an important part of the equation in the battle against various diseases. Antioxidants like those found in quinoa might aid in exercise recovery by helping to limit the damage muscle cells experience after a vigorous workout.

3 Reasons Quinoa Is A Damn Near Perfect Fitness Food

Beyond the more customary beige grains, quinoa now comes in packages of red or black. Pigments that give black and red quinoa their striking hues are potent antioxidants; in fact, research shows colored quinoa can pack a bigger antioxidant punch than the paler counterpart.[1] They also tend to be less grassy tasting and have firmer textures, making them ideal for salads.

Reason 2: Quinoa Is High in Protein

One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein, but it’s not just any old lackluster plant-based protein we’re talking about here. Quinoa is a “complete” protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids—similar to animal proteins.

Of particular importance, quinoa contains the amino acid leucine, the same amino acid abundant in whey protein. Leucine is especially effective at promoting muscle repair and anabolism.[2]

Reason 3: Quinoa Comes Loaded With Fiber

Quinoa is a great way to infuse your diet with an extra dose of fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa delivers 5 grams of fiber (men and women should aim for 38 and 25 grams a day, respectively).[3] That’s an important dietary perk, considering higher intakes of fiber have been linked to lower blood pressure.[4]

3 Reasons Quinoa Is A Damn Near Perfect Fitness Food

And since fiber promotes feelings of fullness, via its power to slow digestion and support blood-sugar levels, adding more high-fiber foods like quinoa to your daily diet could help put the brakes on overeating and mindless snacking.

References
  1. Tang, Y., Li, X., Zhang, B., Chen, P. X., Liu, R., & Tsao, R. (2015). Characterisation of phenolics, betanins and antioxidant activities in seeds of three Chenopodium quinoa Willd. genotypes. Food Chemistry, 166, 380-388.
  2. Mota, C., Santos, M., Mauro, R., Samman, N., Matos, A. S., Torres, D., & Castanheira, I. (2016). Protein content and amino acids profile of pseudocereals. Food chemistry, 193, 55-61.
  3. Trumbo, P., Schlicker, S., Yates, A. A., & Poos, M. (2002). Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(11), 1621-1630.
  4. Aljuraiban, G. S., Griep, L. M., Chan, Q., Daviglus, M. L., Stamler, J., Van Horn, L., … & Frost, G. S. (2015). Total, insoluble and soluble dietary fibre intake in relation to blood pressure: the INTERMAP Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(09), 1480-1486.



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How To Crush Your Workouts On A Ketogenic Diet

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If you’re following a ketogenic diet, you can’t get away with slamming back a sugary sports drink as you step onto the weight-room floor. That hearty bowl of oats or chicken and rice that a bodybuilder likes to eat prior to a workout? It’s not for you. Instead, you need to get the fuel you need from within. 

Luckily for you, if you’ve set up your ketogenic diet properly, you’re uniquely equipped to produce your own fuel. Seriously, once you’re fat-adapted, you have access to tens of thousands of calories of fuel found within the fat distributed throughout your body.

Still, if you’re accustomed to the old way of fueling your training, it can be hard to know how to eat for performance under a low-carb model. Here’s what you need to know!

Follow a True Ketogenic Diet, Not Your Own Variation

If you want to have limitless fuel at your disposal while following a ketogenic diet, it’s imperative that you set your plan up correctly and adhere to it consistently. The ketogenic diet is a very-high-fat, moderate-protein, very-low-carbohydrate diet. To enter and stay in nutritional ketosis, your calorie distribution needs to look as follows, especially in the early going: 

  • 70-75 percent of calories from fat
  • 15-20 percent of calories from protein
  • 5-10 percent of calories from carbohydrates

Notice I used the word need? I’m not being dramatic. Some lifters, like EAS Myoplex athlete Jason Wittrock, find they can have an occasional moderate-carb day and not slip out of ketosis, but—and this is a big “but”—these are experienced athletes who have been following the diet for years and test their ketone levels regularly. Strict adherence is necessary, especially at first!

How To Crush Your Workouts On A Keto Diet

As Wittrock noted in the article “Ketogenic Diet: Your Complete Meal Plan and Supplement Guide,” being strict means counting your macros in nearly all cases. Otherwise, you not only put yourself at risk of eating too many carbs, but too much protein, which can also be converted to glucose in the body. 

Once you become “keto-adapted,” your body transforms into a highly-efficient, fat-burning machine. At that point, you may find you can tolerate more protein. But first, you have to earn it with months of consistency.

Become a Master Snacker

A banana or a handful of dried fruit before a workout isn’t for you. Instead, you need to be a bit choosier when it comes to your ketogenic fuel supply. But for many people, that can be problematic, because heavy fats in the stomach don’t always feel good during a workout. 

It will take experimentation to discover what works best for you, but in general, eating a high-fat meal minutes before training isn’t the best idea. A keto-friendly meal-replacement shake is one solid choice, but the following foods can also help you feel like you’ve got something in the tank without that something being a heavy load of bacon and whipping cream. 

How To Crush Your Workouts On A Keto Diet
  • Nuts: almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts and walnuts
  • Cheeses: mozzarella, cheddar, goat, Swiss, and blue cheese
  • Avocados
  • Pork rinds
  • Deviled eggs
  • Cream cheese and berries
  • Pepperoni slices
  • Cold cuts and cheese roll-ups (watch for added sugar content in both!)
  • Veggies (green and red peppers or cucumbers) with Ranch dressing
  • Celery with cream cheese
  • Coconut oil

Read that list again: Yes, veggies and berries are OK on the ketogenic diet. Don’t be afraid of either in moderate amounts! 

Try Medium-Chain Fats Pre-workout

If you’re pressed for time and feel you need a bit of a pick-me-up, consider medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, either on its own or in addition to the snacks above. MCTs digest quickly and can be readily broken down for fuel. 

Most sources of fat—think avocado, eggs, or nuts—contain long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which, once eaten, require help from a carrier protein molecule to get into your body’s fat-burning furnace, the mitochondria. This can be a timely process. MCTs don’t need this carrier protein to be broken down, so they’re readily available to fuel your workout.

Many keto dieters find MCTs to be something close to a dietary silver bullet, allowing them to more easily meet their ambitious daily fat goals, and even a rush of mental clarity and energy when they need one. But when you’re first trying them, I don’t recommend going over 15 grams or so in a single sitting, as more than that can lead to stomach distress. 

How To Crush Your Workouts On A Keto Diet

Use HMB to Protect Your Existing Muscle Mass

Becoming keto-adapted can take longer than many people realize. Sure, most of the important processes start to take hold in the first 2-4 weeks, but experienced ketogenic adherents will tell you it takes months for your body to be become fully accustomed to this dramatic shift in fuel. 

At first, when your body is still desperately seeking carbs, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep your existing muscle mass from getting used as fuel. Giving your body adequate amounts of dietary fat is essential here, but you can further guard your gains by taking an anticatabolic supplement such as HMB

This molecule is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine, and has been shown to both reduce muscle damage and muscle breakdown for fuel from weight training.[1,2] If you’re training in a fasted state, either just for cardio or as part of a combined ketogenic/intermittent-fasting protocol, then minimizing muscle loss is doubly important! 

References
  1. Panton, L. B., Rathmacher, J. A., Baier, S., & Nissen, S. (2000). Nutritional supplementation of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) during resistance training. Nutrition, 16(9), 734-739. 
  2. Nissen, S., Sharp, R., Ray, M., Rathmacher, J. A., Rice, D., Fuller, J. C., … & Abumrad, N. (1996). Effect of leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 2095-2104.



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