Getting started on a plan improve your physical health and overall lifestyle can be a difficult thing to do in the earliest stages. Even if you consider yourself a fairly active person, taking your fitness goals to the next level requires time, dedication, energy and, most importantly, a plan for success. These combined elements can help you start down a path toward not only trimming down fat and losing those extra pounds, but building stronger, healthier muscles as well.
The importance of a healthy diet
While developing and sticking to a regimented workout routine is vastly important for achieving your desired results, it's equally necessary to make sure you're following the right diet plan. Beyond skipping those late-night trips to the fast food drive-thru window, this means incorporating beneficial foods in the ideal quantities into your daily meals.
Of course, in your search for the ideal meal plan, it may be tempting to subscribe to the myriad popular diets that go in and out of style so quickly. Though some of these fad diets may offer a few benefits for managing weight and enhancing physical strength, the road to better fitness is rarely as quick and easy as these systems suggest.
"A successful weight loss diet is one that modifies eating habits in reasonable ways so that it can become sustainable on a daily basis," nutritional expert Harlan Stueven, M.D., founder and president of DiningGrades.com, wrote in an email. "Many are hungry to become healthier but they want a quick fix. Quick fixes fail. The best approach to weight loss is to start with education. Weight loss and resultant weight stabilization starts with an understanding of what foods are high in calories, what foods drive up temporary insulin production and what foods increase metabolism. The successful weight loss diet will modify and reduce the first two and increase the third. People I know who have maintained a healthy stable weight for years understand these principles and live by them."
Stueven goes on to note that using this information to design health goals is the best way to burn fat and build muscles, especially in a country where 36 percent of American men and women are overweight and 27 percent are obese, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Building a better diet plan
Working toward lean muscle growth requires a delicate balancing act of incorporating additional calories into your diet without eating foods that are too high in calories and harmful fat. Men's Fitness reports that the average person needs to consume approximately 2,500 additional calories in a week-long period in order to gain a single pound of muscle, though this number can vary based on your individual basil metabolic rate.
However, you also run the risk of increasing your stores of additional fat in your body by ingesting extra calories, so striking the perfect balance is necessary for healthy muscle growth. According to Muscle and Fitness, one of the best ways to shape your diet plan is by paying close attention to meal portions and times.
Eating larger breakfasts and meals immediately after training can be particularly beneficial for lean muscle growth, as these are often the times when the body has the greatest need for rejuvenating nutrients - immediately after sleeping and burning calories through exercise.
Additionally, managing calorie intake by controlling portion sizes can aid with physical growth. With the exception of post-workout meals, you should ideally be consuming between 40 and 60 grams of protein and 40 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per meal, with larger people on the higher end of the scale. During these times, it's also vital to limit dietary fats to only 5 to 10 grams, with the exception of healthy fats contained in nuts, olive oil and fish.
Cooking meals at home can help you exert greater control over the amount of food you eat, in addition to the nutrients going into your body.
"Dine out regularly and you will gain weight. Most restaurants simply offer too much food for their meals and we feel compelled to eat it," wrote Stueven in an email. "Unfortunately, in addition to large portions, restaurant food is loaded with breads, grease and calories. We love it. It is tasty, but it makes it difficult to maintain weight balance. We all constantly struggle to make good choices: broiled instead of breaded and deep fried, sauces on the side for dipping instead of smothered, lean cuts, poultry and fish instead of red meats, vegetables or rice instead of pasta and potatoes, red wine instead of mixed drinks, water instead of sugar soda."
Men's Fitness also recommends spacing out meal times and calorie consumption as much as possible throughout the day to avoid feeling overloaded. Instead of the usual three meals per day, shifting to five smaller meals can help evenly distribute nutrients for lean muscle development.
Choosing the right foods
Once you have an idea of the amount of protein, carbs and fat you should be looking for in your meals, it's time to figure out which foods contain these necessary dietary elements.
According to BodyBuilding.com, beef - preferably from cattle that have been fed with grass only - is one of the best foods for building muscle, as it is rich in healthy protein, zinc, iron and cholesterol. Grass-fed beef is also better than traditional meat, as its levels of conjugated linoleic acid are perfect for contributing to lean muscles while helping manage fat in the body.
If you're looking for a food that will keep you satisfied throughout the day while also contributing to your workout goals, brown rice is a sure winner. Unlike its nutrient-depleted counterpart, white rice, brown rice contains loads of whole grains, which can increase natural growth hormone levels. This allows your body to burn off fat while constructing lean muscle. Even better, brown rice is a slow-digesting food, meaning it can provide energy and nutrients steadily throughout the day.
Dark, leafy greens are tasty and advantageous foods for managing weight, spinach in particular. This is because spinach contains high levels of the amino acid glutamine, which contribute to building lean muscles and increasing endurance.
Men's Health also notes that dark green vegetables like spinach are often packed with magnesium, which can benefit muscle growth and movement while boosting testosterone in the body. Tuna is also a great source of protein, as are other cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel.
Of course, diet alone isn't enough to cut fat and build muscle - you also need to ramp up your physical activity levels.
"Food alone is only part of a successful weight loss, weight maintenance program and a healthy lifestyle. Regular aerobic and strength training is crucial to a healthy body. You have to sweat to appreciate the real benefits of exercise. While a casual walk or light housework burns calories, it doesn't burn calories or increase the metabolic rate the same way as moderately aggressive exercise does. It really isn't exclusively the amount of time at exercise, it is the intensity and the amount of time," concluded Stueven.