You are what you eat – Part I

You are what you eat – Part I

As a personal trainer, I am constantly seeing and hearing things in the gym that boggle the mind. Some of the more comical examples include:

1. Guys who use the same exact weight day-in and day-out for 3 sets of 10 and look the same now as they did three years ago.

2. An Epidemic of Inflated-Lat Syndrome (ILS).

3. “Universal Bench Day” (Monday, of course).

4. Women who wear make-up to the gym. Why?

5. “Dude, did you check out the latest issue of Muscle & Fitness? I am so gonna buy that Mass Formula Protein Synthesizer 3000 that this huge dude is pimpin’. My man got jacked using that stuff.”

Needless to say, the list could go on and on. While all these examples are quite comical, there are many issues that are just downright frustrating and make me want to pull my hair out. Most notably, it drives me crazy when I overhear someone’s tale about how they spend hours upon hours in the gym, and yet they just can’t get rid of that stubborn excess body fat. These are the same people that proclaim, “I eat so healthy; I just don’t understand why I am 20 pound overweight!” These are also the same people I see purchasing pizza and fried chicken fingers along with diet soda (cause it cancels out the pizza) in the cafeteria each day for lunch. With these misguided souls in mind, I decided to write this article. I like to think of it as the “Cliff’s Notes of Grocery Shopping for Newbies” – or those simply interested in a lean AND healthy body.

Let’s get to it!

There are many things in life that we covet. Some desire noble things such as world peace and a cure for cancer. Some desire tangible, pricey items such as a 60-inch plasma screen television, or a stereo system in their car that would rival that of any rap star or professional athlete you see on MTV “Cribs.” And others even desire outlandish things such as Jennifer Garner feeding grapes while on vacation in Hawaii, or a law that mandates that anyone caught curling in the squat rack shall be executed immediately. Personally, I am quite fond of the final two options. Then again, why have one Jennifer when you can have two? Come on down, Mrs. Lopez! Your husband is a skinny, no-talent tool, anyway.

Suffice it to say that many people want different things. If you’re reading Wannabebig, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that to some degree or another, you want a healthy, strong, and lean body. Many of you are quick to take up the latest training routine about which you’ve read, and you walk into the gym with a sense of dedication that would make any 30 year-old virgin proud. You spend endless hours counting your total number of sets and reps and calculate TUT with meticulous fervor

You make certain that you are constantly pushing yourself by lifting more weight with each training session and gauge your progress with complex mathematical formulas. All this devotion is fine and dandy – not to mention quite admirable – if you are willing to put that much effort into changing your body. However, while some may come across as Einstein in the weight room, many come across as Bozo the Clown when it comes to matters outside of the gym.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am referring to the fact that what people stuff down their pie holes has a HUGE impact on their progress (or lack thereof). It never ceases to amaze me how dense people can be when it comes to their diet. Many will automatically assume that since they just spent 90 minutes “working out,” they can eat whatever they want. I use the phrase “working out” hesitantly, because some individuals’ definition of “working out” consists of walking on the treadmill at a pace an 85 year-old grandmother could handle while watching Oprah. Or, these folks simply do chest and biceps three times per week because, well, deadlifts and squats “aren’t as fun and are too hard!” Sure, one of the many benefits of participating in a consistent training program is that you can get away with eating more food. However, I have seen people bust their tail in the gym only to follow that up with a meal consisting of pizza and french fries! Then they’re left perplexed when they try to figure out why they’re not getting any leaner despite spending inordinate amounts of time in the gym.

So I have compiled a list of the types of foods that I tend to give all my new clients when they want to “lean out,” or do a “clean bulk.” With respect to both of these goals, diet tends to be the X-factor and I often stress to my clients that no training regimen is going to compensate for poor food choices. Who woulda thunk it? After all, you are what you eat!


In recent years, carbohydrates have gained a notoriety that would rival only that of a BackStreet Boys reunion tour. In other words, people fear them. Today, we are bombarded with foods that use the term “net carbs” on their labels and many of the popular fad diets advocate few to no carbs, including fruits of all things! Sure, we all know that fruit is responsible for the modern obesity epidemic! Listen, carbohydrates are not your enemy. Going into depth about carbohydrate metabolism and storage is beyond the scope of this article and quite frankly is not necessary. Yes, carbohydrates do play a role in why obesity and type-2 diabetes have become serious problems in this country, but to say that carbohydrates in a broad sense are the sole culprit would be completely incorrect. More often than not, it’s the TYPES of carbohydrates that people ingest or poor meal timing and lack of regular physical activity that cause the problems. Needless to say, most people just need to learn that there are times in the day where you want to ingest certain types of carbs and times in the day when these carb sources are best left in the cupboard. Then, there are a host of carb sources that don’t belong in your cupboard in the first place!

And those times would be?

Significant carbohydrate consumption should be limited to the 4-6 hours post-workout only. The lone exception would be if you train late in the afternoon or in the early evening. In this scenario, it would be feasible to ingest some quality carbs as part of your breakfast in order to take advantage of normal circadian rhythms (preparing the body for the activity ahead in the day) and the fact that one has been fasting for 8-10 hours (therefore, liver glycogen is relatively low). Your body is most insulin sensitive first thing in the morning (after an overnight fast) and post-workout when muscle glycogen is depleted and glucose transport is working at optimum efficiency. Generally speaking, these are the times when your body is going to make good use of those carbs, not wear them.

Post Workout Carbohydrates (High GI) Maltodextrin and Dextrose

Results from numerous of scientific studies have demonstrated that supplementing with some fast acting (simple) carbohydrates, in conjunction with some protein, during and immediately following a training session will drastically improve performance as well as help with gaining lean muscle mass and losing body fat (3-5). This research is the basis for writing on the topic from many prominent fitness and nutrition experts such as Dr. John Berardi and Dr. Lonnie Lowery to name a few. Incorporating such nutrition during and after training sessions will replenish depleted glycogen stores, blunt cortisol secretion, and promote protein synthesis. If you don’t understand a thing I’m saying, just trust me, all are good things.

Of course, a noteworthy debate actually rages on concerning post-workout nutrition and the use of fast acting carbohydrates in weight-training individuals. A resistance training session typically does not deplete muscle glycogen (stored sugar) stores nearly as much as an endurance training session, and the need (or lack thereof) to supplement with liquid carbohydrates or not is a matter of both exercise volume and intensity. In essence, one might not NEED to supplement with liquid carbohydrates in the post-workout period and could instead use whole food options. Truthfully, when I work with an ordinary person (with general fitness goals) who is trying to diet down, I often recommend that they just stick with the whole foods listed below. In my experience, when one is dieting, it is more fulfilling for them to eat their calories rather than drink them, but this can be highly individual. With that being said, a general rule to follow would be liquid carbs while “bulking” and whole food carb sources while dieting.

Other Times in the Day (Low GI)

At other times in the day, you should focus more on low GI carbohydrates in order to keep insulin levels in check. I advocate that you follow up your post-training drink with 1-2 meals consisting of protein and some of the following carbohydrates:

Rolled Oats – These are a superb choice for both breakfast and during the “anabolic window” following a training session. You get 32 grams of quality carbs (all of which are sugar free) – including 5g of fiber – from ½ cup of oats. I like to add a scoop or two of chocolate whey protein with some blueberries or a banana to the mix. Just be certain that you use 100% rolled oats and NOT the flavored, kiddy version oatmeal packets.

Sweet Potatoes/Yams – Okay, first off, for the love of all that is holy, a sweet potato is NOT a yam. While they are generally viewed as the same thing, they are actually quite different. Sweet potatoes originate from the root of a vine in the morning glory family and are native to the “New World tropics.” They often have pale/orange and smooth skin. Yams, on the other hand, originate from the tuber of a tropical vine and have a brown/ black and rough skin; they may grow to be up to seven feet long! That’s a whole lotta’ yam. Yes, I am officially a dork because I know this information. Yams are actually quite hard to find here in the US, but the Department of Agriculture requires that the label “yam” always be accompanied with “sweet potato” – hence the confusion. In any case, I like to cut them up, bake them in the oven, and then mash them up with Splenda and cinnamon to use as part of a post-training meal.

Whole Grains (Pasta, Bread, Cereal) – Any time you can substitute whole grain variations of food over their alternatives, you are better off. These variations tend to be less processed and therefore retain much of their original fiber, vitamins, and minerals after packaging. In terms of pasta, I like a brand made by Hodgeson Mills. This brand has whole wheat and spinach versions with added flax; they pack a whopping nine grams of fiber. However, almost any whole wheat or spinach pasta is a great choice. As far as breads are concerned, you have to make certain that you read labels. Many brands are sneaky and claim to be whole wheat when in fact they are just white bread with added brown dye. Seriously, be adamant about reading labels. I prefer flax and multigrain breads.

Cereals deserve their own section because they hold a special place in my heart. God created women, and he created the people who invented cereal, and I love them all. Depending on an individual’s goal, I recommend different types of cereal. If an individual is looking to lean up a bit, I recommend more whole grain cereals such as Fiber One and Bran Flakes. They may not be all that tasty, but they do have MUCH less sugar and are therefore more conducive to fat loss. Again, one way you can tweak them to taste better is to add some flavored whey protein or Splenda to them.

If someone is looking to “bulk,” I encourage them to go ahead and eat some “fun” cereal, as these cereals tend to be a little more calorie dense and lower in fiber. These two characteristics make it easier to meet caloric needs when someone is looking to eat at a surplus. Some good ones that immediately pop into my head are Smart Start, Fruity Pebbles, Golden Grahams, or anything that is in a really bright box and has a leprechaun, a silly rabbit, or a certain tiger with the same name as me on its cover.

Fruits/Veggies – This goes without saying, but your mother was right when she told you that you need to eat your fruits and vegetables. Doing this guarantees that you get a healthy dose of essential vitamins and minerals – the more variety the better. I strongly encourage clients to ingest some sort of fruit and/or vegetable with each meal. Let’s be honest – eating a bowl of veggies is about as enticing as a 20-rep set of squats. So a little trick that I like to do is to add vegetables to certain meals. In the morning I will add some mixed vegetables or fresh leafy spinach to my omelet; at night, I’ll put some broccoli in my pasta. As far as fruit is concerned, just be a little leery of eating it immediately post-training. The goal during this time is to spike insulin levels quickly so that it can do its job and shuttle nutrients into muscle cells. Fructose, while still a sugar capable of spiking insulin, must first be metabolized by the liver and converted to glucose, which takes time. Hence, it isn’t ideal to ingest fructose at this crucial time. A good way to ensure a wide variety of fruits in the diet is to buy certain fruits as they are in season; doing so will also be cheaper.

Enjoyed that? Check out You Are What You Eat – Part Two!

Written by Tony Gentilcore

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – You are what you eat – Part I discussion thread.

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