If you spend a lot of time planning your workouts but not much on your diet, it’s hard to know where to start.
There’s an old saying in nutrition: Abs are made in the kitchen. It means that you can work out like a maniac, but you’re never going to outrun a subpar diet. It’s much harder to burn calories than it is to consume them. And while you work out at most once a day, you eat at least three times more often.
Given that, it’s safe to assume your physique is about 80 percent a reflection of your diet, and exercise makes up the rest. So your job is to find the right balance among carbohydrates, protein, and fat that nourishes your body, fuels your workouts and recovery, and makes you feel good.
For starters, try this simple breakdown: Get 35 percent of your calories each from carbs and protein, and 30 percent from fat. For a 170-pound man, that means 175 grams each of carbs and protein, and 65 grams of fat.
Of course, we’re talking about high-quality calories, centered around fresh fruits and vegetables; lean protein sources like chicken and fish; healthy fats like olive oil and nuts; as well as muscle-building protein shakes. Here’s a perfect day: vegetable-quinoa frittata for breakfast, a chicken-avocado salad for lunch, and a baked sweet potato loaded with lean ground turkey and vegetables for dinner—plus fruit, vegetables, and nuts for snacks, and a shake for a post-workout, on-the-go protein bump. (It’s most effective for muscle-building and recovery if you drink it within 30 minutes of your sweat session.)
There are nutrition apps that’ll help you hit your target calories, and make sure to note how much energy you have throughout the day, particularly when you wake up, as well as during workouts. All of our bodies are different, so play around with the ratios to find the ideal one for you.
Maryann Walsh is a West Palm Beach, Florida–based registered dietitian and consultant for SlimFast.
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