Food can and should be delicious, and our bodies need food to survive and thrive. However, many of us each too much, too often. Even if we are eating whole, nutritious foods, we can easily eat more than our bodies need, thus leading to unintentional weight gain. When we eat out regularly, we are even more likely to have unintentional weight gain for a number of reasons. Primary among them is portion size. I love to eat out, and always will (who doesn’t like it when they don’t have to do the dishes?!) but it is important to keep your goals in mind when you do so.
Let’s look at one quick example of how portion size can derail your goals. Most men should be eating between four and six cooked ounces of protein at each meal, and most women should be eating two to three ounces. If you are a smaller woman, when you order an eight ounce steak and eat the whole thing, you’ve just eaten up to four times as much as you should be eating! If you eat out several times a week, even if you are staying on track at home, those meals can make the difference between losing weight or gaining weight over time.
So how do we avoid overeating when someone else is responsible for the portion sizes? Here are a few tips:
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, with a smile, so that you can enjoy yourself and meet your goals at the same time!
Do you participate in endurance activities? If so, do you know what your sweat rate is? If not, you may want to find out, because you may be compromising your performance potential.
During exercise, humans sweat. Some of us sweat a lot! That loss of water can impact your sports performance. Your body needs water to perform many of its essential functions, including keeping your muscles operating properly. If you lose too much water, things don’t work as well. At the extreme, they don’t work at all and your body starts to have lots of problems.
So how do we know how much we should be drinking during exercise to prevent us from losing too much water? Well, there are two schools of thought. One suggests that you should drink when you are thirsty. This works well for some, but not all, people. The risk here is not recognizing thirst early enough to prevent dehydration, and thus performance loss ensues. The second school of thought is to drink on schedule, regardless of whether you feel thirsty or not. The risk here is drinking too much for the particular conditions, leading to some unpleasant and potentially dangerous consequences.
Is there a compromise between these two schools of thought? YES, and that is where accumulating data comes in. When I work with endurance athletes, I encourage them to keep a journal that includes the environmental conditions in which they are training and their sweat rate for the day. This allows them to have a good sense as to how much water their bodies need under particular conditions. On race day, they assess the conditions, check their journal, and get a good sense of what their fluid needs are likely to be. Keeping that estimation in mind, they can avoid drinking too much and still respond to thirst cues as needed.
How do you calculate your sweat rate? There are a number of examples of how to do it out there. Here are a few of my favorites:
If, like me, you are mathematically challenged at times, here’s a handy online calculator:
The moral of the story? Planning ahead means you won’t need to sweat the small (or not so small) stuff regarding hydration on race day!
Water. We all know it is important, but why? And how much do we really need? Well, I have some answers for you.
Water is the way in which our body moves nutrients from our blood into our cells. It also is the way in which our cells return waste products to the blood for processing by our organs and eventual excretion. Without water, our body cannot function properly. Losing as little as one percent of our body weight in water can lead to decreases in physical and cognitive performance.
Most of us know that we lose water every day in our sweat, urine, feces, and other bodily excretions. Many of us don’t know, however, that we also lose water through our skin and our breath. The rate at which we lose water in those ways varies tremendously based on where we are and what we are doing.
Even when we aren’t doing much of anything, our bodies are using water to meet their basic needs. In general, most men need about a gallon and most women need about three quarters of a gallon of water each day to meet their basic needs, including the water in other beverages like tea and coffee as well as in fruits and vegetables. I carry around a 28 ounce water bottle with me throughout the day, and if I drink two or three of them during the course of the day, I am generally on target with my hydration needs.
When we exercise, we lose more water, so it is important to hydrate before, during and after exercise whenever possible. Aim for two cups of water several hours before exercise, one to two cups about half an hour before exercising, and drink at thirst during exercise. Make sure you keep drinking after exercise as well. If you engage in endurance activities (ones that last for more than an hour), you may want to calculate your sweat rate. To learn more about that, feel free to contact me or stay tuned for next week’s blog!
I love a nice glass of wine. Or a good pint of beer. Or one of those fruity drinks while lying on the beach under a palm tree. I always have, and I expect I always will. However, there are times when that glass of wine, pint, or fruity drink just doesn’t fit in with my nutrition goals. Here’s why.
First, alcohol is pretty calorie dense. At seven calories per gram, it’s right on the heels of fats as a source of calories. However, those calories are largely empty by comparison. While your body can use alcohol as fuel, you get no macro or micro nutrients with alcohol, meaning you still need to eat to get what your body needs to keep it healthy and make it stronger. Therefore, people who drink either regularly tend to take in more calories than their body needs or fail to maintain adequate levels of protein, leading to muscle loss.
Second, your body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over anything else you ingest. However, your liver can only process a certain amount at a time. On average, that’s about one drink (twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or a little over an ounce of hard liquor) per hour for most people. This means that your body does not use other sources of fuel while your body is processing the alcohol.
Third, alcohol makes us more likely to make poor food decisions. Pizza and ice cream while on a diet usually sounds like a much better idea after a drink or two! As a result, even if you have taken into account the caloric cost of alcohol, you may not have taken into account the caloric cost of the additional decisions you might make after having it.
Fourth, regular excess alcohol use can create problems with your body’s ability to use and absorb the nutrients found in your food. In particular, regular excess alcohol use can slow or prevent your body’s appropriate use of protein, fat, and many vitamins.
Finally, even in small quantities, alcohol affects your sleep. Since adequate sleep is essential for weight loss, muscle gain, and sports recovery, regular use of alcohol can affect just about any nutrition or performance goal.
Do you have to give up alcohol entirely to make gains? No. Like everything else, moderation and understanding how alcohol affects your goals are the keys. Just make sure you think before you drink!
Amy Mariani is the owner of Fit & Fabulous LLC in Winchester, Massachusetts. She is also the nutrition coach at www.mountainstrength.com. Her mission is to help people eat healthy and love life.
Please note that you should consult with your physician prior to embarking on any major changes with regard to your nutrition. Unfortunately, absent authorization from a medical professional, we are unable to provide individualized nutrition coaching to anyone under the age of eighteen, or to persons with certain medical conditions. We are always happy to work with authorized medical professionals under these circumstances.