Nutrition for Body Fat Percentage Improvements

During the past seven years of creating and running PayneFitness Health & Wellness I have worked with many people to assist them with improving their health and looks with fat reduction and muscle maintenance. The two essential components to acheive these goals are Nutrition and Exercise Habits. To successfully execute the correct Nutrition and Exercise strategy you must first have the education and knowledge to set realistic, accurate goals and plans. After having an awareness of "what's really going on", you need to execute a certain percentage of "compliance". In other words, how often are you executing the plan? In addition, you must consider; Are you executing the correct activities to move in the right direction?

The primary reason that people struggle to improve their health and looks is due to poor nutrition habits of which poor education, focus and compliance are the catalyst. With regard to education, it can be an easier fix. With regard to compliance, it can get complicated and is a bit of a "slippery slope". The objective of this article is to provide information and improve your education level in regard to Nutrition Habits and Strategy body fat reduction and muscle maintenance of which improve health is a catalyst.

Primary Reasons People have Poor Nutrition Habits:

  1. Poor Levels of Education in regard to Nutrition and Exercise. Without education and knowledge, people can set incorrect goals and focus. Without education, people can easily become the victim of products that have an interest in selling you their products. There are soo many products that are marketed to us that make invalid claims. There are so many myths that have been passed down and lead people on a "wild goose chase". For example; "I thought orange juice was good for you" or "I heard that you are not supposed to eat after 6pm" or "I heard that this type of meat is bad for you". The fact of the matter is that some myths may have partial truths, but as we all know, the devil is in the details. Orange juice may be good in regard to it's vitamin content, however if you drink orange juice all day, you will gain weight of body fat. In regard to the eating after 6 myth, what does that mean if you work nights? There is a difference from eating pie after 6pm which will promote fat storage. However, eating a few ounces or protein and a cup of your favorite green vegtable will maintain your muscle and provide fiber.

  2. Lack of Disclipline and Compliance. Discpline and compliance is a struggle for groups of people that know what they should do and for those that dont totally know or understand what to do. At this point in time, most people know that candy, donuts and soda will make you fatter. But, there are times most of us slip. For example, if your at a friends birthday party, the person of honor may get offended if you don't have cake for their celebration. I have noticed that many people are borderline sugar addicts. It's only human to crave a tasty snack sometimes, but people will have problems with "reckless" sugar and carbohydrate consumption. The reason that people continue to behave recklessly when they know they should not is a grey area. Your state of health and how you look is directly a result of how NUTRITIONALY compliant you are.

Nutritional Focus: Keep the Lean Muscle & Reduce the Body Fat!

The common problem for most people that are aging too fast, experience deteriorating health and unhappy with their looks, is in regard to what we call body fat percentage, the distribution of organ and muscle tissue .vs the distribution of body fat. A person's body fat percentage is the leading incidator to how they look and therir chances of procuring onset, avoidable diseases. Even though the media, some health organization and most people refer to their weight, the issue is actually about weight of muscle/organs .vs weight of body fat. As a fitness nutritionist, I'm not necessarily concerned with a persons total body fat weight and neither should you. Instead of asking someone what their body weight is, I ask them "what is your body fat percentage?". The ironic, sad truth of this question is that most people don't have a clue and understand why this is more of an accurate gauge.

A reason that the focus should be on body fat percentange is due to the fact that it's a better gauge of your health vitals. The odds are that if you have a body fat percentage greater than ~27%, that you are at a higher risk of or probably have issues with blood pressure, chronic high blood glucose, high bad cholesterol, problems with insulin sensitivity and at higher risk of some cancers. Your body fat percentage has an affect on how you look as well. If you SIMPLY focus on your overall body weight and starve yourself and hit the treadmill for hours per day you will still have a "soft" body as opposed to a "hard" body. A healthy fat reduction program is the loss/reduction of about 2-4 pounds per week. We know that if you are reducing more than about 4 pounds per week that you are reducing weight of lean body muscle!! But, the question is, why should it matter? You simply have a weight goal in mind right? Loss of muscle weight is what we call "atrophy". Atrophy refers to wasting away and deterioriating. The LAST thing that any of us need to do is to expedite the reduction/loss of muscle! Muscle is the key element in determing your metabolism. The rate of which you process and burn energy and calories.

The reason that MOST starvation and "dumb diets" fail is due to the fact that this weight loss is primarily MUSCLE loss! In the scenario of rapid weight loss via starvation and lack of exercise to build/maintain muscle you will actually slow your metabolism which will make it easier to get fatter quicker! Have you ever bumped into someone that you have not seen in years and they are fatter? In this scenario, the person may say something like; "I don't know what happened, I guess why metabolism slowed!". The fact of the matter is that we know EXACTLY what happened. The odds are that they did NOT perform any regular exercise that had a focus on building/maintain muscle and, it's safe to say that their nutrition habits were not focused on this either. It's a fact that after the age of ~25, that we WILL start to lose/atrophy muscle if we do not address the issue with muscle building exercise. This means that as the sands of time tick, that's it inevitable that a persons metabolism will slow if they continue to allow for muscle loss/atrohpy. Again, this will make it easier to get fatter more rapidly.

For you to acheive your goals of gaining muscle and losing body fat you will have to learn and follow three basic rules of success that are easy to follow regardless to where your travels take you. But, before we discuss these rules, let's examine at a high level the physiology of human digestion, what causes acute fat storage and what causes acute muscle loss/atrohpy.

Understanding Digestion & the Glucose Curve! Key to Improvements!

Food consist of three macronutrients (they are so called not because of their size, but because of the amounts in which we need them), by name they are, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Whenever we eat CHO’s they first go to the stomach where they are digested, and then continue to the intestines where they are absorbed into the bloodstream in the form of glucose (blood sugar or blood glucose). As blood glucose levels rise, the body secrets insulin, a hormone that is responsible for storing glucose in muscle and organ cells in the form of glycogen. Normal blood glucose levels are between 80 and 120 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter, a way of measuring glucose concentration or “how thick blood gets”). Whenever blood glucose levels fall below 80 mg/dl the body would react by slowing down its metabolism to save energy. Of primary importance to us however, is the fact that whenever our blood glucose levels rise above 120 mg/dl the residual/extra glucose is stored as fat! With this fact, the secret to dietary success is to control blood glucose levels throughout the entire day as a means of maintaining a high metabolism and therefore minimizing fat storage. The practice of maintaining normal blood glucose levels alone will have the secondary benefit of helping you avoid food cravings and overeating.

Due to the fact that blood glucose control is very important in controlling diabetes, many studies have been conducted to determine how different foods affect blood glucose levels. One study is the “gastric emptying time test,” which measures how long it takes for food to leave the stomach. The reason that this is a very important study is that the more quickly carbohydrates leave the stomach, the more quickly blood glucose levels rise. Usually, the more quickly blood glucose levels rise, the more effectively glucose gets stored as fat due to the larger insulin secretions, and because of these larger insulin secretions, the more quickly blood glucose levels drop (right after the insulin secretion causes blood glucose to be stored), causing us to get hunger pangs and/or cravings. Gastric emptying time studies show that the longest time that CHOs will stay in the stomach is one hour. In contrast, protein will stay in the stomach for two hours, and fats will stay in the stomach for three to five hours. This is why you will find yourself getting hungry 20 to 40 minutes after having a piece of fruit, or some bread, pasta, rice, veggies or even some cereal. This also explains why you feel stuffed for four hours after having a high fat containing meal. These studies also found that when you combine a protein with a carbohydrate, both the protein and fat contained in the protein (since most proteins have some fat in them) cause the carbohydrate to stay in the stomach longer (approximately three and a half to four hours), which basically means that this will increases gastric emptying time, a good thing because a longer gastric emptying time also means a slow and controlled increase in blood glucose, which lessens the chances of storing a large portion of this meal as fat due to a quick and high increase in blood glucose followed by a large secretion of insulin. A longer gastric emptying time also means mild successive increases over time, as well as mild or slower successive decreases in blood glucose levels caused by the longer time that it takes for food to leave your stomach. As a consequence, you do not get hungry as quickly, and are able to do away with your sweet cravings, which are usually caused by the need to raise low blood glucose levels after such a drop as described above occurs.

With the understanding of gastric emptying, it makes sense to eat protein every time that you eat a carbohydrate. In this way, you will increase your gastric emptying time, temper blood glucose swings, and control your appetite/cravings. This brings the question, “what is a protein?” Even today with all of the fad protein diets, some people are still confused about the difference between a protein and a carbohydrate. It’s actually very simple: If it walks, swims, flies, looks back at you, or shows you its teeth if you corner it, it is a protein. This means that even if you have a “beef” with “beef”, you can eat chicken, alligator, bison or wildebeest; if it comes from a plant or grows out of the ground, it is a carbohydrate. I’m pretty sure that vegetarians and other readers are probably squirming at this broad brush generalization. It’s true that beans are high in protein, as are many other legumes, plants and even some vegetables. But, in an effort to simplify things and to justify our generalization, we have looked at the largest component of a food, and the foods are grouped based on this component.

This means that even though a 1-cup serving of beans has 15grams of protein, it also contains 40grams of carbohydrates – beans are therefore deemed a carbohydrate. In an analogous fashion, although an avocado is a fruit, because of its high percentage content of fat, it is considered a fat. Another example of a caveat is milk, yogurt and buttermilk which all come from cow’s milk. Even though cows are protein, there milk products are carbohydrates due to the fact that milk has way more sugar than protein.

Given the short gastric emptying time of carbohydrates, it is no wonder that you can be hungry by the time that you get to the office after having a bowl of cereal with milk, a couple pieces of toast with jam or jelly, and a glass of OJ! These are all carbohydrates that leave your stomach quickly and raise your blood glucose levels quickly, which causes an insulin secretion that most likely stores everything you ate for breakfast as fat, and in doing so, causes your blood glucose levels to rapidly drop. You then go on without eating until 1 or 2 p.m., further slowing down your metabolism (remember, low blood glucose levels cause your metabolism to put on the brakes), which will most likely cause you to overeat at lunch, or if you are “disciplined enough” and just have a salad for lunch, by the time you have dinner at around 7:30-8pm you find that you are feeling starved and cannot be satisfied no matter what or how much you eat.

But wait! However, you have probably heard (somewhere along the way) that you are not supposed to eat after 6:00pm? So, this means that you may as well go to bed hungry. Because, once you fall asleep, you won’t need any energy will you? Actually, the fact of the matter is yes, you will need energy while you are at sleep to repair tissues, and to conduct many types of metabolic functions that take place while you sleep of which muscle tissue repair is one. All of these processes require energy. Said again, the “no food after 6:00pm” theory is another myth, fallacy and rubbish. The fact of the matter is that the human body will do anything it takes to survive; that is the body’s number on priority. Due to the fact that fat is long-term stored energy, the human body will bypass burning fat in the short term and will initiate a process called “gluconeogenesis”, which simply means “the formation of glucose”. This sounds harmless enough until you realize that the pathway in which new glucose is formed is through the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that is responsible for breaking down muscle tissue and turning it into sugar or glucose so that you can continue to breathe, walk, talk, think, exercise, etc. So even though you may think you are not eating, you actually are eating – you are eating your own muscle! – muscle loss, reduction and deterioration equates to slowing your metabolism which equates to storing more fat. These are certainly undesirable effects. Due to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat (muscle takes about two-thirds less room than fat for the same weight), as you eat your muscle you lose weight, meaning, there is no reason to get excited about seeing lower numbers on the scale! In the worst case scenario, your body may be entering a downward spiral of continual fat storage and a suppressed metabolic rate – This is something everyone needs to seriously think about.

Based on gastric emptying studies and blood glucose control, there have been three basic rules created to help you keep your muscle mass and get rid of fat. Rule No. 1 is to eat every three and a half to four hours, whether you are hungry or not. Is using a car analogy, you probably would not drive your car until you run completely out of fuel and have to call AAA or a friend to come rescue you – At least we hope you don’t allow that to happen too often. The same applies to your body and metabolism – you want to avoid continuously running out of “fuel” and having a candy bar, soda pop, ice cream or chips coming to rescue you either. The strategy and focus is to control your blood glucose levels throughout your day as to prevent crashing and craving cycles. Rule No. 2 – the most important rule – is to eat protein every time that you eat a carbohydrate. But of course, we want the protein to be low in fat. Before we get to the third rule, let’s discuss carbohydrate servings. As blood glucose control is the most important aspect of a nutrition and exercise program, and due to the fact that carbohydrates are the only one of the macronutrients that substantially effect blood glucose levels, we need to be able to determine what an appropriate portion of carbohydrates is. In addition to portions of carbohydrates, we must also define a portion of protein and a portion of fat so that we not only control blood glucose levels but that we control caloric intake as well. It’s fortunate that the American Diabetes Association, along with the American Dietetic Association (both are abbreviated ADA), have taken care of this for us.

How Much Food You Need to Improve and Why

There was a study conducted that determined how small of a carbohydrate dose it would take to raise blood glucose levels by a measurable or noticeable amount. It’s important to note that body fat is acutely stored when your blood glucose levels shoot up too high too fast! It turns out that it took exactly 15grams of carbohydrates to do it. Due to the fact that the word “serving” has already been previously used by millions of manufacturers of food products, the ADA’s could not just redefine the word serving. The ADA’s decided to come up with their own terminology and decided to call a 15gram serving of carbohydrates an “exchange”. Therefore, even though an entire English muffin may be one serving according to the manufacturer, since it contains 31grams of carbohydrates it is considered to be two carbohydrate exchanges. So, instead of having a cup of oatmeal every morning, you’re actually having two carbohydrate exchanges. (1/2 cup of oatmeal = 15g of carbohydrates or 1carbohydrate exchange) You may choose oatmeal, bread, cereal, pasta, rice, potatoes, pancakes, muffins, etc., until you reach the allocated/prescribed number of 30grams of carbohydrates or two exchanges or as many as your CFN or RD recommends you have for that particular meal. It is import to note that when we cook carbohydrates, that they usually expand (rice triples in size, pasta, oatmeal, etc doubles), and meats shrink approximately 20%. Due to this, we measure all foods after they have been cooked. There is an exception to this rule which is oatmeal. Since people have so many different ways of making it, soggy and watery, stiff, like cement etc, we measure oatmeal before it is cooked; in this way, it does not matter how much or how little water.

There truly are a correct number of carbohydrates, protein, and a fat exchange’s that an individual needs per day to reach their health and fitness goals but, it is not a one-sizefits- all 40-30-30 or 60-20-20 recommendation. Therefore, Rule No. 3 is to become aware of what an exchange is and how many you need per day as well as in what combination. To determine exactly how many carbohydrate exchanges you need per day, as well as how many protein and fat exchanges to combine them with, we really need to go through a nutritional assessment that takes approximately one and a half hours. In this assessment, your basic metabolic rate (BMR) will be determined. A CFN and/or a RD can simply use a formula to estimate your BMR. This formula takes into account your gender, present weight, height, and age. Your basic metabolic rate will indicate how many calories you minimally need to survive. Once your BMR is calculated, the next step is to calculate your sedentary activity calories, in other words, how many calories you burn being yourself. The calories/energy calculated in this measurement does not take into account calories burned from exercise, only the activities of daily living are considered. Once we have determined the amount of calories spent in activities of daily living, the next step is to determine how many calories you actually burn while exercising. The amount is calculated using a value of calories per kilogram per hour so that we know exactly how many calories you burn during specific exercises, we can figure out how many calories you burn during weight lifting, interval training, spinning, swimming or running a mile for instance. Once we have calculated all of the above calories we then add your specific value for what is called the thermal effect of foods, which is a measure of how many calories you burn keeping warm and processing, digesting and absorbing your food. The next and final step is to design an ideal meal pattern or plan for you.

A qualified Fitness Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian can put together a sound meal plan based on all of the above data which will let him or her know how many exchanges of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that your body requires for optimal performance, fat riddance and muscle maintenance/gains. The number of carbohydrate exchanges you will be eating per day will depend solely on your weekly cardiovascular and daily living activities – just how active you are. In contrast, the number of protein exchanges that you will be eating per day will depend on your body weight as well as the type of exercise routine prescribed to you. If you already have and establish exercise routine, the CFN or RD will take it into account to ensure that your body is fueled adequately for the activities. Last but not least, the number of fat exchanges that you will consume each day will be equivalent of 15 to 30 percent of your total caloric intake. Such a balanced meal plan will ensure that you attain your goals of gaining or maintaining muscle mass while getting rid of body fat.

Let’s Review the 4 Rules of Fitness Nutrition:

  1. Eat every three to four hours; hungry or not! Why? Going more than 4 hours without the correct types and portions of food promotes MUSCLE LOSS!

  2. Every time you eat carbohydrates, make sure to eat them with protein. Why? Due to the fact that we know that carbohydrates alone have a profound affect on blood gluose levels. When you consume carbohyrates alone, we know that this spikes blood glucose, causing extra insulin secretions which lead to acute FAT STORAGE!

  3. Know what an Exchange is and how many you get per meal/day and in what combination. Why? This is YOUR specific portion detail with regard to YOUR blood glucose levels. It’s very important to note that there is a big difference between consuming 30grams of carbs .vs 50. It could be that at 30grams your not storing fat but at 50grams you are.

  4. When Choosing Carbohydrates, avoid those in which sugar content is greater than 20% of the total carbs. Why? This is what is referred to as the glycemic index. The greater the sugar content percentage, the quicker the carbs are digested. The quicker your food is digested, the greater the odds are of acute fat storage.

When Testing Body Fat, We Look for the Following 4 Signs:

  • A gain in muscle and a loss in Fat = you have a perfectly designed meal plan.

  • A gain in muscle and a gain in Fat = the meal plan includes too many calories.

  • A loss in muscle and a loss in Fat = getting enough calories, but perhaps not enough protein.

  • A gain in fat and a loss in muscle = either not enough protein, not enough calories or both.