Nowadays nutrition information can be found everywhere and it’s so difficult to decipher between what is based on science and what is based on people’s opinions or if someone is just trying to sell you something! So, I thought it would be a good idea to take some commonly asked questions and answer them here for you so you don’t have to go searching through endless posts on social media or magazines. But it is important to remember everyone is individual and can respond differently to exercise and nutrition, therefore it’s worth taking the time to discover what works for you and your goals!
Can I build muscle while in a calorie deficit?
Yes, you can, but care and consideration must be taken into account. For example, you want to put yourself into a smaller calorie deficit than you would if fat mass loss was the only aim. But not too much so that you can’t build muscle (assuming you’re completing adequate training to support this growth). By putting yourself in a smaller deficit it may result in longer periods to lose fat mass. Each person’s exact needs/deficit will vary depending on current needs and body composition. If you have larger amounts of fat mass then the deficit can be larger without being at the expense of losing any muscle mass.
What is the best diet to lose belly fat?
We cannot target specific areas to lose fat from e.g. “belly fat”, this is commonly known as “spot reduction”. But this has been debunked time and time again, therefore, there are no best diets to target fat on your legs/belly/back/arms specifically. Whereas a more realistic approach to achieving change is through diet and exercise (and being consistent with it). Which will take time as unfortunately there are no quick fixes or easy methods.
Is protein powder the only option after a gym session?
Not at all there are many people that do not use protein powder in their diet and manage to hit their targets, here are some ideas for after the gym (or throughout the day), that you could use instead:
- Yoghurt: Skyr, Greek, Quark (you can also add your own toppings)
- Jerky (there are vegan alternatives available also)
- Cottage cheese (low-fat option available), maybe have it on some crackers
- Protein milk or regular milk (if opting for plant-based milk, soy is the closest in protein content to regular milk)
- Protein puddings
- Protein bars/pancakes/balls
- Chicken pieces (sandwich is a quick and easy option here)
- Babybel cheese (not as high in protein as other options but will contribute to total intake across the day)
How much fruit & vegetables should we eat?
We’ve all seen the food pyramid and from a young age, we’ve been told to eat fruit and vegetables. And nowadays some people have started to vilify these foods for having too much sugar or being too processed. When in reality they’re essential to a well-balanced diet and for assuring that we can avoid deficiencies by acquiring adequate vitamins and minerals every day! So, when it comes to how many portions it would be advised to “strive for five”. But if you can get upwards of five all the better and aim for 10, because it’s not often that eating too much vegetables is the issue! So instead of putting them in the same category why not aim for 5 of each to balance it out?
1 portion fresh/frozen = 80g
1 portion dried = 30g
I’m on track Monday to Thursday and once Friday hits I lose control, how can I change this?
This is exactly where a lot of people tend to struggle, so you’re not alone. Going out on weekends, and doing things you can’t do during the week is all a part of life and is essential to your well-being, therefore it’s so important to try and not let food consume us on the weekends. But if you have certain goals try to stick to similar eating patterns/exercise routines on the weekend. As well as that consider whether are you being overly restrictive during the week i.e. not allowing yourself certain food you enjoy and resulting in overindulging on the weekends.
So, going forward it might be worthwhile putting a plan in place for the weekends as well as the weekdays. For example, you know you’re going out for dinner on Saturday evening so maybe all your meals that day are primarily made up of protein and fruit and vegetables, to allow yourself some leeway for your meal that evening. But again, it doesn’t have to be a matter that you then go and eat until you’re uncomfortable, focus on the meal, enjoy and savour it, and take time eating it. Because it’s part of a meal we so often forget – to just enjoy it and chat with friends around you. Although this is just one scenario, if you can, try to create a plan that can be applied to any situation i.e., long drives you might require snacks, going out drinking consider the type of drink/mixers and the food you’re having before/after, all of those small factors will come into consideration!
How can I increase my fibre intake?
Currently in Ireland, the average person is consuming approx. 14g fibre when ideally, we need 25-30g fibre to reap the benefits. Fibre improves digestion as well as reduces the risk of disease and can lead to weight loss due to increased levels of fullness, these are some of the reasons why we should aim to include greater amounts of fibre in the diet. So, how can you increase it?
- Aim for a source at every meal
- Opt for your 5+ a day (as mentioned above)
- Aim for high-fibre cereals
- Include beans and lentils in meals i.e. stews, chilli, bolognese, salads
- Add seeds to cereals, yoghurts, salads
- Include snacks like nuts/dried fruit
- Opt for brown sources of carbs – pasta, rice, noodles
- Eat skins of fruit, vegetables, potatoes etc.
And just to be mindful if you don’t have a lot of fibre in your diet currently, aim to increase it slowly as it can cause stomach discomfort initially. But once your body adapts to the increase this will pass!