The top 5 nutrition mistakes you’re probably making

September 14th, 2011  |  Published in Eating, How to eat  |  14 Comments

by guest author Kyle Byron

Female athletes come in all shapes, such as runners, power-lifters fighters, dancers, or women just out there having fun! Yet they all seem to make the same nutrition mistakes.

Don’t feel bad. I blame Weight Watchers, fashion magazines, and well-meaning but wrongheaded advice that you can find all over the media.

The good news is that if you fix these things, you’re way ahead of the game!

One thing at a time

If you’d like to improve your nutrition, don’t tackle these all at once. Yes, it’s tempting. (Blame the “New Year’s Resolution” phenomenon.) But you’re much more likely to say “forget it!” and give up. It becomes overwhelming and hard to implement.

If you decide to make nutrition changes, pick one of these concepts until you master it. And give yourself plenty of time to practice and get it right. I recommend 2-3 weeks.

Only add another improvement once you get the first change down. That’s how successful people improve.

Mistake #1 – Inappropriate body composition goals (light instead of lean)

If you have ever said, “But I don’t want to get bulky,” this section is for you.

The pressure to conform to a certain body type is ubiquitous, so I don’t blame any woman for feeling this pressure. But I am going to try to convince you that lighter is not always better. Your weight is irrelevant because it doesn’t tell us anything about your muscle or fat.
For example:

Athlete A is 130 lbs with 15% body fat (19.5 lbs fat).
Athlete B is 115 lbs with 24% body fat (27.6 lbs of fat).

Comparing their weight gives the wrong message. We need to compare muscle and fat.

Athlete A has a better strength-to-weight ratio. Ever hear that muscle is denser than fat? It’s true. Drop some chicken into a glass of olive oil and you can prove this to yourself. Muscles store water (which is also heavier than fat).

If you lift weights and optimize your nutrition, you won’t get “bulky”. You’ll get stronger and lose fat and lose inches. To get bulky, you have to have the right hormones (i.e. plenty of testosterone), lift tons of weight, cut your cardio, and eat lots of extra food. (And by the way, lots of extra calories from sugar will usually add fat, not muscle.) Oh, and some performance-enhancing drugs won’t hurt either.

Muscle will help you stay lean because it’s like making your body into a little furnace!

And oh yeah, YOU NEED TO LIFT WEIGHTS TO BE A GOOD ATHLETE!!!!

A thought for fighters and other weight classed athletes:

A healthy and lighter fighter will defeat a heavier fighter who is dehydrated, tired and diet crazy. If you really want to cut weight for your fights, call me and we can see if it’s a good strategy.

A thought for runners:

Muscles store energy and water that your body can use. Runners need to do a bit of resistance training to improve gait and prevent repetitive
stress injury. Proper nutrition will do the rest.

A note on your health:

The healthy range for body fat for a female athlete is 11-21%. This is a huge range. 11% is like Madonna when she gets ripped, and at 21% there is enough fat on you to grab a handful. Measure with underwater weighing, a BodPod or a fitness pro that is experienced with calipers.

You should also monitor your body signals closely to evaluate your healthy body fat level.

For example, monitor your cycle. If it is less a day, lighter, or skips a month entirely, that is your body telling you it’s hurting/starving! This leads to lower estrogen levels which can lead to bone loss. Some of you out there will experience this at 20% body fat! Beware!

Other body signals:

  • Lack of interest in training
  • Emotional ups and downs; moodiness; irritability
  • Chronic infections and viruses — you seem to catch every cold and flu bug that goes around
  • Chronic injuries, aches and pains — you can’t seem to shake that tendonitis or plantar fasciitis
  • Difficulty sleeping (trouble falling asleep, poor sleep quality, or early wakeups around 4 am)

Sadly it is only in hindsight that some athletes see how beat-up their body was. Talk to Krista or myself about your body composition, and what might be right for you.

Mistake #2 – Inappropriate restriction of calories

This is usually part of mistakenly trying to get lighter. Remember your body is like a furnace now. Snacks like rice cakes and plain celery are not helping you.

To lose body fat, eat healthy snacks and meals 4-6 times a day (see below for examples). Avoid huge meals. Instead, eat enough to be satisfied (not full) and you won’t make new fat.

Exercise tells your body to divert nutrients to muscle and other lean tissue (such as bones) instead of body fat. Rinse, repeat.

Mistake #3 – Low carb meals at the wrong time

If you’ve been sitting at your desk all day, feel free to restrict or eliminate the dense carbs like corn, pasta, rice etc. Eat meals like salads with protein and 2-3 Tbsp of dressing. Or stir-fries with veggies and a bit of oil. In other words, fill up on protein, veggies, some healthy fats. Precision Nutrition has awesome cookbooks for these meals.

BUT if you’ve just beat the crap out of your body in the gym, do NOT restrict carbs!

Instead, cut down the fat and increase the carbs by adding 1/2 to 2 fists of carbs to the salad I described. Choose carbs like fruit, yams, lentils/beans/legumes or squash. (If you simply must have grains, go ahead. We can talk about them later.)

Meals after training should be the biggest ones you eat!

Why we need carbs after we train:

  • Carbs after training reduce carb cravings later (when you can’t deal with them metabolically)
  • Carbs get stored as glycogen so you can train hard tomorrow
  • Insulin spike brings growth hormone that repairs our tissues
  • You’ll have more energy later
  • It’s an emotional/psychological break from eating low carb
  • It’s a good time to have a little treat if you absolutely must have them

Mistake # 4 – Low protein meals and snacks

Eating protein with every feeding is absolutely essential. It keeps you full, raises your metabolism and helps you recover from exercise.

Snacks (that actually suck) that beauty magazines think are great:

  • A piece of fruit – Yay! You got 1 gram of protein! (I’m being sarcastic. You need about 20 grams every time you eat)
  • A handful of almonds – nuts brag about protein but only give you a few grams. Nuts have healthy fats, but keep the portions very small, as they’re calorie dense and it’s easy to put down 1000 calories of nuts without really noticing.
  • Yogurt and fruit – The big faker snack. Yogurt has 2-4 times as much sugar as protein. (Trust me. Read the label.) Yes, even the organic plain stuff has sugar. Greek yogurt, however is very high in protein.

Appropriate snacks:

  • Any meal like a salad or stir fry with protein, veg, and healthy fats
  • Some tuna with mayo and baby carrots, peppers, celery
  • Fruit and 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/3 cup beans, 1/4 cup quinoa, 1 cup veggies, 2 tsp oil, vinegar/lemon

If you are saying “Wow that’s a lot of food!” remember we are making our meals smaller and our snacks bigger.

Mistake #5 – Fat phobia

Eating fat doesn’t make us fat. Being sedentary and having too many calories makes us fat. Dense carbs at the wrong time will make us gain fat. A low protein diet will make us fat.

Fat is good for you. It helps our hormones and cells function (two big players in your system). It makes your skin nice. It keeps you feeling full.

Each meal and snack should have 1-3 thumbs of fat from oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, etc. About 30-40% of your calories should come from fat.

Summary

Don’t follow diet advice from celebrity actresses or models. Please. You are not them. You are a well-oiled performance machine, not a clothes hanger. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s doctor is probably pleading with her to eat more before her bones turn into jelly.

Unfortunately, the fashion world’s diet advice bled into female sports advice. Female athletes have to eat more calories than their sedentary friends, and maybe even more than their sedentary brothers or fathers.

Here’s a short list of “to-do”s. Again, implement these one at a time. Slowly.

  • Ignore what the number on the scale. Measure your performance (times, skill, etc) and how your clothes fit, and body fat percentage.
  • Eat when you are truly physically hungry (every 2-4 hours), not psychologically hungry or “craving” something.
  • If you want to lose fat, stop eating when you’re just satisfied — not full and certainly not stuffed!
  • Each time you eat, ask yourself, “Where’s my protein?” You want to have a palm-sized portion on that plate.
  • Eat more than usual after training, and have extra carbs. The post-workout period is a special time when all the nutrients do their jobs better than normal.
  • Experiment with low carb meals at times when you are sedentary. Make sure to bump the fat up — as carbs go down, fat goes up.

That’s a lot of homework! For more info, check out the rest of this website, and:

Precision Nutrition

My website – KyleByronNutrition.com

Responses

  1. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday says:

    September 14th, 2011at 8:18 am(#)

    Great post! Very informative. I took a lot away from this post.

    I know I have trouble including enough protein into my snacks . . .I need to work on it.

    You mention eating a high carb meal after training. What about high protein?

  2. Dana says:

    September 15th, 2011at 6:57 am(#)

    Great post! I feel like I’m doing most of these things right, but I do have trouble in one area. After a hard workout I don’t have an appetite. And the harder I worked, the less I want to eat. I’m eating a snack before I work out but I know I burn through that in no time. About an hour or so after I’ve finished training I’ll be ravenous, but is that too late? Do you think it’s better to force myself to eat something right away, or wait till I’m hungry?
    (Right now for instance, I’m drinking coffee and not eating, after having finished my workout an hour ago)

  3. Louise says:

    September 15th, 2011at 4:00 pm(#)

    Probably one of your best food posts yet! love it. I was trying to eat super low carb before but it was making me crazy and I started to look up pictures of cake at work…

    thanks for the article!

  4. Juicy Lifter says:

    September 16th, 2011at 5:58 am(#)

    Love the post, I read it just after a big workout…

    It’s a big wrap on the knuckles for me and reminds of the proper nutrition I know I should be adhering to! Training is wasted if you don’t nourish your body. Im on it now…thanks!

    You can’t out train a bad diet, its the cold hard truth.

  5. Kyle Byron says:

    September 16th, 2011at 10:19 am(#)

    Hi! Thanks for all the comments!

    Samantha – post training doesn’t have to be “high” protein but you do need about 30 grams worth within about 30 minutes after training. It’s easy to remember b/c that’s the dose you need every time you eat something. Minimum 15 grams. Larger people (taller, more muscle) need more protein than smaller people.

    Hi Dana

    Coffee is an appetite suppressant, but a lot of people don’t feel hungry after training. I’d suggest maybe a 1/4 cup juice or a small fruit and 2 Tbsp protein powder or greek yogurt, within 15-30 minutes post training. Your body will burn through it really fast, but it will cue recovery, at least temporarily. It may also get your GI system moving and cuing natural hunger to kick in.

    Louise – thanks for the post! If you go low carb before training, you may benefit from 1/3 cup juice DURING training, as in half way through. then follow the Post recommendations here…

    Thanks!

    Kb

  6. Gwen says:

    September 16th, 2011at 7:08 pm(#)

    Great post. I have a question for you, though. Sometimes I work out (crossfit) in the evening and head to bed 2-3 hours later. It is simply the only time my schedule allows. I’ll have some coconut water after a class but usually am not very hungry. Can I just have a light snack and a bigger breakfast in the morning? I hate eating when I’m not hungry.

    Thanks again!

  7. varsha says:

    September 17th, 2011at 7:41 am(#)

    Krista you always have a knack for separating the wheat from the chaff _thanks for this post.Cottage cheese and fresh coconuts work as great convenient snacks for me.

  8. Juicy_lifter says:

    September 21st, 2011at 4:31 pm(#)

    Sorry, i do have a question…..Kyle, you say 30g of protein is essential at every meal. This might sound silly, but, does 30g of chicken/fish/meat or egg equal 30g of protein? Or do we need to look at how much protein makes up that food source? With for example, carbohydrates etc.

    Love yr work by the way. Your website is pretty good.

    Look forward your more of your articles :)

  9. Kelisen says:

    October 6th, 2011at 8:58 am(#)

    Krista-
    What is your take on fasting? When I wake up in the morning I usually don’t eat my first meal until noon (instead I drink about 40 oz of water). Because my first meal is at noon and my last is usually at 7, I generally only get in 3 or 4 meals. A shake at noon, bigger meal around 1:30, snack at 4, and dinner at 6. Do you think fasting for 14-18 hours and then putting all my meals into a 7 hour period is suppressing my metabolism?

  10. Mistress Krista says:

    October 7th, 2011at 7:17 am(#)

    @Kelisen: My take is that you should do what works and eat when you are truly physically hungry. There is no evidence that a “compressed eating window” (say, eating during 7-8 hours/day and not eating for the remaining hours) suppressed metabolism. The most important things: be mindful and deeply aware of YOUR body cues; and look at the results you’re getting. If you:

    feel good
    perform well
    have good indicators of physical health (e.g. blood work, hormone levels, etc.)
    have the body composition (i.e. lean mass, level of body fat) you want, and that feels right for your body type

    …then keep doing what you’re doing. If not, adjust accordingly.

  11. Candy Shapiro says:

    October 10th, 2011at 6:01 pm(#)

    I’ve been guilty of focusing on weight (light) versus lean (physique and natural mass) for like forever. I’ve recently let go of that inappropriate notion and now focus on having the healthiest body I’m meant to have, and not what an incorrectly formulated BMI would have me think.

  12. Kyle Byron says:

    October 12th, 2011at 2:47 pm(#)

    Hi Everyone. Sorry for the delay. I guess I didn’t set up the google reader properly. I wasn’t notified of your questions

    Gwen – it’s normal to not feel hungry after training. The fact of the matter is however, if you don’t eat, then you go to bed, you won’t benefit as much from the activity and you might end up one day with symptoms of overtraining.
    It’s good you have a light snack. Try to make it protein-based and if you can tolerate some fruit – awesome.
    The big breakfast in the morning is not necessary. Have a normal meal.

    Hey Juicy Lifter
    100 grams of meat = about 30 grams of protein. the meat is heavier b/c it has water and minerals etc. Look for food labels and online sources of food label info like the Canadian Nutrient File Food Serach (google that phrase)

    Candy – Great job. Changing our perspectives is extremely difficult!

  13. Suzy says:

    December 7th, 2011at 5:04 pm(#)

    I am on Weight Watchers and am very frustrated with it. The first couple of months I lost 20 lbs., but then I gained it all back in four months. Early in your post you mentioned WW; I’d like to know why and how you think it is detrimental to weight loss. I want to see if your opinion confirms my suspicion that 1200-1500 calories a day is not enough food on which to subsist. WW seems to encourage lots of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Was I just not eating enough?

  14. Rui says:

    August 26th, 2012at 10:54 pm(#)

    Now, I’m a man, so clearly not the target demographic.
    But I still find this pretty helpful (and I enjoy your writing, enough humor to be enjoyable, but not too much :3).
    Right now the only weight I lift is beer bottles, and the only diet I’m doing is the one my grandmother feeds me.

    But I think I’ll start living an healthier lifestyle, and get some power in my body. (Yeah, I pretty much lose to everyone in any strength contest :<)

    My question is the following:
    Is steak any good?
    It obviously has lot's of protein, but you didn't mention it.
    I'm asking for two reasons:
    1st I just ate a two palm sized, 5cm high steak, and reading that protein was healthy I just thought: "That can't be healthy" xD
    2nd I can't live without my meat. And I simply hate beans and anything of the sort. Hating like throwing up every time I try to eat them.
    So I'd like to know if meat is any good in an healthy diet (not really losing weight, I'm more under than overweight according to stupid pharmacy machines).
    Obviously not referring to that over-sized piece of beef that got me STUFFED halfway through.


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