It makes sense, then, that calories in can't all be equal either. Think about it. 1200 calories of broccoli looks very different from 1200 calories of fried chicken - specifically, in volume. Per the calculator on MyFitnessPal, one breast piece of KFC's extra crispy chicken weighing 176 grams has 510 calories. The same weight in broccoli? Only 60 calories.
One of Fitzgerald's main points, though, is that calories aren't everything. There's a much bigger picture of nutrition we need to be looking at. The foods we eat - our sources of carbs, fats, and protein - should be high-quality in order to best benefit from them. Just because we budget in our calories for the piece of fried chicken doesn't make it the best choice; at the same time, though, eating exclusively certain foods can be just as detrimental to your health. (Upon reading this, I remembered a conversation I had with my sister a while ago about why even though I love it, I can't eat only cereal every day, because I'd end up malnourished.)
Humans, athletes and non-athletes alike, need carbs, fat, and protein to function. The proportions of each vary slightly from one person to the next, and for athletes, they can depend a lot on your sport. As a runner, I need to make sure I have a good amount of carbs in my diet, since that is what my body uses as fuel when I run. That doesn't mean piles and piles of pasta - we need to still be mindful of calories - but it does mean not freaking out and avoiding all carbs because the dieter's mindset tends to criminalize them.
As important as what we eat is when we eat. This doesn't necessarily mean the dieting trick of "don't eat after X o'clock," but more specifically, it means timing your meals and snacks based on your workouts in order to get the most out of it, specifically in terms of nutrients. Fitzgerald explains how to eat before and after a workout (and during, for "endurance exercise") in order to maximize fat burn and muscle growth. He also provides example menus for morning, afternoon, late afternoon, and twice-a-day exercisers with times included.
One of the biggest issues for athletes who want to lose weight is managing appetite - after hard workouts, our bodies want to be nourished, and if we do not refuel properly, there's a tendency to overeat. Fitzgerald says that we need to make peace with food - our appetites suffer greatly due to our modern food environment - and he offers the following strategies for appetite management (p. 150):
- Practice nutrient timing.
- Eat mindfully.
- Eat high-satiety foods.
- Eat low-density foods.
- Eat less.
The information about nutrients and calories is all fascinating, but one thing that stood out to me especially was how often he suggested weighing yourself - and what other measurements should be taken. He said there is a merit to daily weighing, and essentially what you choose to do should be whatever you feel most comfortable with, but if you honestly eat well and stay active, the scale should move. (He also suggests a scale with a body fat percentage calculator, as that is a better measurement than just weight.) He recommends that when you weigh yourself, you should also take body measurements and do a time trial for whatever your sport is - for runners, for example, run a 10K and record your time. That will help show how you (hopefully) improve at your sport with reduced body fat and better nutrition.
The scale thing always gets me. I'm a total addict about it, totally envious of people who can weigh in weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. Weighing myself is as much a part of my morning ritual as brushing my teeth and taking my vitamin. Ever since Tim referred to the site in a post of his a few months ago, I've looked forward to the daily update from Thought Questions. I like to spend a few minutes each evening meditating on my response to the day's idea. There are hundreds of questions in their archives, but the one that I keep in my pocket for an offline conversation starter is the one that Tim originally referred to:
how old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?I love the idea, and lately, I've been applying the same concept to thinking about weight. What if I didn't know how much I weigh? How would I measure success? What non-numeric cues would I rely on?
Certainly some food for thought.