The Balanced Diet
What is a balanced diet and why is it important?
Programming your body for positive results
Diet sets the scene for how your body will adapt to the type of activity you are doing. Doing the exact same activity will get you different results for your body size and composition depending on what you are eating AND how much you are eating. Diet on it's own is not enough. And exercise on it's own is not enough. Work them in synergy and what you are actually doing is programming your body for positive results. Work them separately, and what you are actually doing is programming your body for either completely random, or negative results.
Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats.
The recommended percentages of your calorie intake for an active person, of carbohydrates, protein and fats are:-
Carbohydrates 40% to 65%
Protein 10% to 35%
Fats 20% to 35%
Although these figures may vary slightly depending on which source they are derived from, generally speaking, these percentages are commonly recommneded as a healthy balance.
A simple way of looking at it is that protein repairs and builds muscle, whilst carbohydrate and fat based foods provide fuel and important nutrition.
Protein builds muscle.
Protein repairs and builds muscle. When you exercise you break your muscles down which signals to your body they need repair. Like a pruned flower under the right conditions, they will grow back bigger and stronger as a survival mechanism. Without enough protein for your intensity of exercise, however, their repair and growth will be impaired, as would a pruned flower without sunlight for instance. So this is why you need to ensure you are eating enough protein for your size and activity levels when you work out regularly. Without it, your results and recovery will be poor. Not only will muscle growth be poor on a low protein diet, constantly breaking your muscles down without providing the ingredients needed to rebuild them, will cause you to actually lose muscle tissue over time. When you exercise regulalry, you should consume more protein than someone who doesn't exercise. There's a whole section on protein if you want to know more.
Protein should be consumed relevant to your body mass and activity levels / level of muscle breakdown rather than just a percentage of your total calorie intake. To sum up for the optimal levels of protein for maintaining and building muscle mass, you could use the following formulas:-
For a sedentary person,
Protein required = (0.36) X (your weight in lbs) grams of protein
For an endurance athlete,
Protein required = (0.5 to 0.7) X (your weight in lbs) grams of protein
Protein required = (0.7 to 1) X (your weight in lbs) grams of protein
For bulking up,
Protein required = (0.8 to 1) X (your weight in lbs) grams of protein
Protein required = (0.7 to 1) X (your weight in lbs) grams of protein
You can use the Quick 5 Guides to get an approximation of how you could make that up in your diet.
Aim to consume your optimal protein amount in up to 30 gram portions every 3 hours or so throughout the day to meet your quota. Above these levels, you won't get any further gains in building muscle but might see improved results with better muscle preservation when losing weight on a calorie deficit diet, or for staying lean due to the much higher thermic effect of protein than carbohydrates and fat.
Carbohydrates and fats provide fuel and nutrition.
Carbohydrates and fats can be worked out from the remaining percentages of your calorie intake after protein has been accounted for. Both provide fuel and both are found in foods that provide important nutrition. Carbohydrates provide fuel for high octane activity, fats for low octane activity. Carbohydrates also preserve protein. In the absence of carbohydrates with high intensity exercise, fat alone cannot meet the rapid demand for fuel, so proteins are used for fuel less efficiently than carbohydrates, leaving less for repairing and building muscle after physical activity. Carbohydrate based foods also provide most of your vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre, important for releasing sugar into the blood slower, and are what refill your glycogen strores. Fats, again, allow carbohydrates to release sugar into the blood slower, help reduce muscle and joint inflammation, assist in keeping joints well lubricated, and help to produce important hormones such as testosterone. Again, there are whole sections on carbohydrates and fats, if you want to know more, and also a section on insulin to help you understand why it's beneficial to release sugar into the blood at a slower steadier pace.
Things work better together.
In other words, when you jumble it all together in the food that you eat, protein, carbohydrates, and fats, in a healthy balance, all work in synergy with each other and your metabolism to produce improved results for your health and body along with exercise.
Using the nutrition calculator is the simplest way to find out how much protein you need for your body weight and activity level along with varied choices of healthy balanced food ratios of carbohydrates, and fats, based on all the principles above. It will also give you your caloric targets tailored for you and your fitness goals. You'll note there is no single answer here. There is leeway and there is room for personal choice and preference. After all, your diet and what you choose to eat is always your own personal responsibility. No one elses.
So a balanced diet is ...
So, where ever a balanced diet is referenced to in The 4 Minute Max Outs, it basically means a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, that will allow optimal performance during exercise, and optimal muscle repair after exercise, whilst also providing a healthy supply of vitamins and minerals to your body. As well as improving your results from exercise, it will also help your recovery time making you feel less of a train wreckage in between workouts. A balanced diet allows leeway and room for preference too. After all, different people react differently to different foods, particularly carbohydrates, which some people can develop an extra sensitivty to. The nutrition calculator and other sections of the the 'Eat Well' section can help you to choose a healthy balance for you. You will see there is no one size fits all and there is leeway.
Not an exact science.
Whilst the correlation of protein to muscle repair is stead fast, undisputed, and well documented, the balance of fuel and nutrition between fat and carbohydrate intake is always a hotly speculated and largely unconclusive issue. Mainly because it differs for everyone, as people have differing levels of insulin resistance and tolerance to certain food types. But the fact remains that carbohydrates provide the most efficient source of energy to fuel high intensity exercise. But that's most efficient on paper again. If they don't agree well with you then obviously that differs specific to your circumstance. Use your body's feedback to work out what works best for you or see a specialist nutritionist if you have specific dietary restrictions or requirements due to health or medical reasons.
For the vast majority, however, rather than isolating any one macro nutrient as 'bad', the things to stay away from are 'added' sugar (not just carbohydrates in general which are beneficial for so many reasons), excessive saturated fats (not just fats in general which are beneficial for so many reasons), and high added salt content, particularly where all are combined. Simply avoiding heavily processed food and drinks, not adding sugar to cereals or hot drinks, not adding salt to food, and cutting off any visible fats / poultry skin from meat, will do this for you very effectively.
Quantity always matters.
Don't be under any illusion. Quantity matters. In many ways, more than anything else. You can absolutely over eat on healthy food. Energy is never created or destroyed, only transferred. Weight loss or gain is still a result of the balance of daily expenditure over time. Calories in vs calories out. Your macro nutrient percentages, along with the type of exercise you do, will determine what that weight consists of, that is your body composition. But if you way overshoot your caloric limit for your size and activity levels on a daily basis, your body will store that excess energy as fat, even if you exercise, and even if your diet consisted of nothing but 'healthy' vitamin and mineral rich 'super foods'. Calories matter. If you over eat, no matter what your diet is, you will put on weight. Energy is energy, and if it isn't used, it's stored for later use. And if you ever want to lose that weight, that is use that stored fat reserve, you will have to increase your calorie burn or (although in most cases 'and') reduce your calorie intake to put you in a substantial overall calorie deficit. Or in other words, exercise more and or eat less. If you are not in a sustained calorie deficit over a period of time, whatever fat reserves you use up exercising, will simply be refilled again. So if your goal from exercise is to burn fat and tone up, or gain muscle definition and get ripped, then a calorie deficit, along with a balanced diet as mentioned above, is paramount to achieving these goals. The metabolism & health section looks at this in greater detail.
Tools to help you.
The handy diet guide is just one example (not the only way!) of how you could eat to keep away from heavily processed foods, eat enough protein to repair and build your muscles, and eat enough carbohydrates and fats to provide energy for high intensity exercise. Adjust your portion sizes so that you are eating to meet your calorie allowance for your goal aswell, and you should be able to find a healthy balance that will get you excellent results from your diet and exercise. But remember it is just a guide. There are no golden rules and your food intake is always your own responsibility. Stay inside your caloric intake limit for your goal. Listen to your body's feedback. Find what works for you and your circumstance. The Food Guide section can help with the different types of food and the macro nutrients and calories contained within them. The Dieting Guide section has lots of practical tips to help you when trying to stick to a diet plan.
And remember, diet on it's own is not enough. Exercise on it's own is not enough. Work them in synergy and what you are doing is programming your body for positive results. And that's what The 4 Minute Max Outs is all about.
Now go get your results!