I started lifting weights in my 20s in preparation for specialized training. Back then, I was a young police officer and total adrenaline junkie. The guys on the SWAT team helped show me the ropes, including weight training. I was the only girl in the free weights room…that, of course, never bothered me.
Although I respect and admire female bodybuilders, that look is not for me. I wanted the best of both worlds – long, lean muscles and beautiful feminine curves. However, at some point in my training, I began to “bulk” and I hated it. I stopped lifting and thereafter relied mostly on cardio to stay in shape…
Yet, no matter how long, how hard I worked out, I was still unhappy with my body.
Before – size 8
Fast forward to today, weight lifting is a fundamental part of my training regimen and I’ve managed to create my dream body. I love my defined arms, my abs (yes, I have a six-pack!) and my lean, muscular legs – body parts I once hated. Seriously!
Today – size 4/6
Cardio did not get me this body…weight training did.
So what changed? Simply put…my diet.
Bad Diet = Bulking
When I first started weight lifting, I had no clue about nutrient timing, especially the importance of macros (protein, carbohydrates and fats). I ate a healthy, very clean diet, yet it wasn’t conducive to my fitness goals.
Healthy eating for athletes is not just about “good food” – it’s understanding how macros affect your body shape, strength and performance. You must adjust your eating habits to strengthen and repair your muscles – not bulk them, unless that’s your goal.
It’s not mine.
This means you must make sacrifices – i.e. the carb-rich, starchy foods you loved as a runner (aka cardio junkie). You also need to limit simple sugars and empty calories, such as alcohol. Carbs, especially when consumed en masse directly after a workout, will bulk you up. Carbs are the building blocks for “more” muscle, hence why bodybuilders go through “bulking” versus “cutting” phases.
Upping your protein is important, but make sure it’s a nutritionally good source – eggs, free range chicken and turkey, grassfed beef, wild-caught fish. Avoid most protein bars, which are laden with sugar, additives and simple carbs. Protein shakes help boost your intake. My favorite is Vega Sport® Performance Protein. For optimal results, consume immediately following your workout (within 30-45 minutes).
Eating healthy fats is critical. Besides Omega-3 rich fish, eat a wide-range of fats – mostly unsaturated, such as avocados, nuts, flax seeds, coconut and olive oil. Eating “fat” does not make you fat. Avoiding dietary fat is counter-productive, compromising your endocrine (hormonal) system and your body’s ability to lose unhealthy fat, such as visceral (abdominal) fat. About 30% of my daily macros is from healthy fats…more on days I distance run, and I’m the leanest I’ve ever been in my life!
Keep blood sugar levels steady by eating 5-6 meals per day, instead of the traditional big three. Large meals flood your system with calories, which, if not utilized, are stored as fat in your muscle tissue, liver and fat cells. Smaller meals throughout the day provide your body with a steady stream of nutrients, stabilizing blood sugar while keeping hunger cravings at bay. Eating protein with every meal also improves the GI (Glycemic Rate).
Now you know the basics…