They say that abs are made in the kitchen — and they’re right! But what does that mean? Maybe it means we should do all of our cooking in plank position or do 10 crunches for every time we stir the pot? Well, as discussed in my article about the core, that isn’t how you get that flat stomach/6-pack. Also, what about those who actually want to gain weight? Yes, there are people like that in this world… Skinny doesn’t automatically mean healthy! Well, the truth is that to achieve the look/feel that you want, your diet has to be on point. Now, when I say “diet”, I don’t mean a 6-week programme that gets you phenomenal results while risking your health and also increasing the likelihood of rebounding to go even further from the results that you want. Here are some pointers on nutrition to help you on your path.
First of all, I told you what a diet isn’t, but not what it is. The term diet simply refers to your nutritional habits. A diet can be short-term if you want to achieve certain results in a short space of time (such as the last few days/weeks before competition in a sport), but ideally, it should be long-term. You should figure out what you want and eat to achieve that goal for the rest of your life (unless your goal changes).
When is it okay for a diet to be short-term? Only when your profession or your most important hobby is involved should it be so, and even then, you need to understand that rebounding after can be risky. A bodybuilder eats to lean out just before competition. A distance racer will carb-load and pre-hydrate for 1-3 days before a race to ensure that he/she has the energy to complete the race. A model will also lean out (or not, if the person is a plus-sized model) just before a shoot or show so that he/she can look his/her best at the event. Otherwise, they all maintain whatever their version of “normal” is.
So how do you decide what your “normal” is? That depends on your goals. The primary factor that determines how you eat should be your caloric requirements. Calories (or kiloCalories) are a unit of energy — the same energy that we need to eat, walk, play, build muscle… anything. If you have any unused calories, they get stored as fat. Therefore, the concept is simple; if you want to maintain your weight, you need to keep your calories in balance, if you want to lose, you need to burn more than you consume (caloric deficit — this is where you want to be if you want to see your abs pop) and if you want to gain, you need to consume more than you burn (caloric surplus/excess).
In creating your “normal”, you should understand that there are three macronutrients (the nutrients we use the most). Carbohydrates (basically there for energy), lipids (there for energy and used for many other things) and proteins (not used for energy unless your body is in dire straits, but used for just about every function in the body, including the immune system and muscular development). All you need to know is that you should be eating all 3 (in roughly a 50:20:30 for carbs:prot:lip for a normal adult) to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you want to build muscle, you need more protein. If you want to lose weight, you should drop all three a bit. People demonise carbs, but the reality is that reducing carbs simply reduces your total caloric intake and it is the easiest macronutrient to reduce (more on this in a later article).
There you have it — everything you need to know about nutrition for a basic and sustainable standpoint. I can go further into calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and body fat percentage, sport nutrition, micronutrients and a host of other things, but I think this is a good start. I hope this helps you attain whatever your fitness goal is. Enjoy your healthier life!