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Friday, April 18, 2014

7 Dietary Mistakes Fitness-Minded People Frequently Mess Up

You can't out-exercise a bad diet
Over the four weeks I’d trained him, he developed muscle but also a pudgier midsection. I became baffled and started brainstorming reasons he might be gaining where he shouldn’t be. Food intolerances? Work-related stress? Maybe I needed to tweak his carb load or switch up his post-workout meal?
Nope. Nothing so complicated as that. He was completely forthcoming about why he put on weight.

“I thought burning a ton of calories when I trained gave me permission to eat whatever I wanted,” he admitted. “Guess not.”
While I felt relieved to be off the hook for his fat gain (notice how I didn’t say weight gain), this situation provided a potent reminder lifting heavy or burst training didn’t give anyone carte blanche to eat whatever they wanted.
On the contrary, when you work out hard, you want to choose nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods to support muscle synthesis, repair, and recovery. Sorry, but a double with fries along with a chocolate shake at In-And-Out Burger – a staple in my client’s meal plan – does not fit into that nutrient-dense food category.
My client got me to thinking about common dietary mistakes athletes and heavy lifters make that jeopardize their success. Some are just bad habits that need a little (or a lot of) tweaking. Other things you might not even realize can be detrimental; you might even consider them healthy. And that last one I mention might totally shock you, but I see it all the time among fitness types.
Tough though it was to narrow down, these are the top seven mistakes that derail your fitness goals, your weight, and your health.
Gorging on overpriced candy bars protein bars
Loaded with protein, convenient, and delicious-tasting… Okay, most protein bars don’t actually taste delicious, but I’ll give you the first two. Convenience comes at a cost: A few weeks ago I discussed how many protein bars – loaded with cheap soy protein isolate, artificial sweeteners, and unpronounceable crappy ingredients – basically constituted expensive, fortified candy bars.
Evidently no one at my gym reads my blogs, because I witnessed two men in the past week scarfing down junky protein bars purchased at the front desk. (If my training gig ever falls through, I can start a Jinifit Food-and Fitness Intervention business.)
You’ve got so many better pre- and post-workout options than shoveling in a cardboard-box tasting wad of corn syrup, damaged protein, and magnesium oxide (the poorest-absorbed form of magnesium).
Nuts and seeds make great snacks. So do real foods like chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, and raw veggies. I know: They don’t have that enthralling sugary flavor your protein bar gives. At least stick with my five Jinifit recommendations if you choose the protein bar route.
Using cheap protein powders
I’m a huge fan of warehouse stores. Massive quantities at super-cheap prices: God bless America! Stock up on toilet paper and legal pads, but do a massive U-turn with your cart when you get to the supplements section.
I’ve written before about how most commercial supplements are junk. That goes double for protein powders. Sure, getting a gargantuan tub of vanilla-flavored whey protein for under $20 is quite the temptation, but look at its ingredients and you’ll see it’s no bargain.
High heat denatures (damages) the fragile amino acids when many manufacturers process commercial whey. But that’s the least of your problems as you read through that container’s lengthy ingredient list. Good luck pronouncing some of those things.
Many bargain-basement protein powders aren’t just whey. They come blended with casein (from milk and a potential food intolerance), albumin (from egg; ditto on food intolerances), soy protein isolate (all-around garbage), or some rancid protein combination.
Whatever you get, it won’t be a bargain.
Despite the recent backlash (plant-based protein powders are the new it protein), I’m a big whey fan. Just look for a high-quality powder with few ingredients, no artificial sweeteners or other additives, and no more than five grams of sugar per serving. Hint: You’re not going to find it at your warehouse superstore.
Making a cheat meal a trans fat, HFCS debacle
Cheat day makes busting my butt all week at the gym totally worth it. Maybe I’ve got my eye set on some chocolate-y concoction at a local bakery, or I’ll go out with my boyfriend to that new gluten-free Italian restaurant. I earn my cheat day and I take full advantage of it.
What I advise my clients not to do is turn cheat day into an all-out carb blowout. You know what I’m talking about. You start the morning with a sugary, creamy coffee drink (my friend JJ Virgin calls them adult milkshakes) and a few krullers. By noon, all eyes are on you when your receptionist asked who ate all her chocolate chip cookies. You would argue back, but you’ve already lapsed into your day’s first sugar coma.
Enjoy your cheats, but do them mindfully. If you’re craving cake, go to the best bakery and get a slice. Don’t swing by Safeway after work, buy one of those prepackaged cakes with a frozen pizza, and devour the whole thing with a six-pack of Heineken watching season one of Game of Thrones on DVD. I don’t care how hard you’ve worked at the gym. No damage control can save you there.
Speaking of pigging out, intermittent fasting (IF) has become all the rage in fitness circles. I’ve got mixed feelings about it (I’ll save that for another blog), but starving yourself for hours or days and then going whole-hog on a deep-dish pepperoni and two pints of Ben & Jerry’s is not the way to do IF, but it’s a surefire strategy to derail your fitness goals.
Dairy-ing out
Got milk? I certainly hope not, yet the “chocolate milk as your ideal post-exercise fuel” myth refuses to die. I still see the ads in some gyms. Protein and carbs: The ideal refueling drink, right?
“But where do I get my calcium?” a (usually female) newbie usually asks me. The dairy industry spends billions convincing us unless we have two glasses of skim milk every day, we’ll become calcium deficient and develop osteoporosis by 48.
For strong bones, skip the milk and focus on leafy greens as well as nuts and seeds (excellent calcium sources). Take a high-quality bone-support supplement, lift heavy, and incorporate some safe high impact exercise into your routine. Those are your best defenses for strong, supple bones as you age.
Dairy mania goes beyond milk. Low-fat fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt still gets touted as health food in some circles, even though it can have more sugar than a candy bar. (Seriously.) And don’t even get me started on the fro-yo trend touting its “healthy” probiotics.
I don’t think dairy is entirely bad, though I become increasingly concerned about the hormones and antibiotics conventional cows are fed and shot up with. Too many problems exist with modern dairy farms, and too many healthier alternatives like coconut milk exist today.
If you’re not intolerant, Greek yogurt can be very healthy and delicious blended with frozen berries. (Tastes like ice cream!) But you don’t need dairy for strong bones or anything else, and downing a pint of fat-free mint cookie ice cream isn’t going to do any wonders for your performance or your waistline.
Crutching on a java jolt
God help the man or woman who tries to take away my morning dark roast. I think coffee is perfectly healthy and I’ve got an arsenal of studies to prove my point.
What becomes unhealthy is using caffeine to pull you through the day after a crappy night’s sleep. If you’re downing your third cup to get a pick-me-up, you need to do some soul-searching to determine what’s causing your energy lag. A good night’s sleep might be required, or it could be something more complex like adrenal or thyroid issues.
Among its problems, excessive caffeine keeps your stress hormone cortisol revved up. That’s OK in the morning, when cortisol should be highest, and even during your workout, which also raises cortisol a little bit. But after your workout and as evening unfolds, your cortisol levels should gradually taper till you’re nice and chilled.
Having a cup of coffee post-workout, then, becomes a really bad idea. Among elevated cortisol’s problems, it breaks down muscle and stores fat. Especially for slow metabolizers, caffeine can also keep you tossing at night, creating a vicious cycle.
A holistic practitioner recently told me she treated coffee medicinally. She enjoyed it, and she appreciated how the caffeine gave her workout a boost. But like a drug, she didn’t overuse it because excessive caffeine becomes a Jekyll-and-Hyde stimulant.
Ignoring food intolerances
“Look, they have a gluten-free menu now!” my friend said sarcastically about a recent favorite restaurant. “I guess they officially fit in with the cool crowd.”
I know what she’s talking about. Seems like gluten-free everything has become the rage, whether that’s my favorite bakery doing gluten-free chocolate chip cookies or a favorite brunch spot’s banana walnut gluten-free pancakes. You’re a smart reader. You know just because it has “gluten-free” in the title doesn’t automatically make it healthy.
Because “going gluten free” has become a laughingstock phrase in some circles, overlooking food intolerances has become too easy. They do exist, and their symptoms are rarely immediate or obvious. Fatigue, inflammation, brain fog, and bloating are some of those symptoms that could steal your performance and your confidence.
Several food sensitivities tests exist, but a more practical, cost-efficient way to determine whether you have food intolerances is to completely remove the offending food and document any changes you might feel. I had a friend completely remove dairy and bam, her headaches disappeared after four days.
Perhaps the most controversial food intolerance is eggs. In the fitness world, we love eggs, but eating them every morning like some folks in the low-carb/ Paleo world do can create intolerances over time.
I recommend cycling eggs: Keep them to three or four days a week. And for the love of all things good, please do not ever order an egg-white omelet around me (unless you just hate the taste of yolks.)
Becoming so abstemious that you don’t enjoy your food
Los Angeles is swarming with these places. I think of them as fast food for health freaks, and you’ll often see people in spandex and spray-tanned over-exposing tank tops frequenting them.
You can get a bland chicken breast atop soggy greens or the aforementioned egg-white omelet along with various protein-enhanced juices at such places. Nothing tastes particular good, but that’s not the point. You’re here to get your post-workout grub on, even if the food offerings make hospital cafeteria food taste like a four-star gourmet bistro.
I often hear the phrase “eating clean” among fitness foods. Becoming so religiously fixated on eating “clean” drains every ounce of pleasure from your diet. Healthy foods can be delicious (avocado, anyone?), and especially as an athlete, you can occasionally indulge in your favorite foods without suffering a major metabolic debt.
Balance is key here. Eating In-And-Out Burger all the time isn’t healthy, but neither is obsessing over how many calories your meal contains or worrying whether kale provides more nutrients than broccoli. Eat mostly whole foods, let yourself eat your favorites every so often, and enjoy your meals. Life is short.
Your Turn
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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