Many of us have heard the mantras “You can’t outwork a bad diet” and “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Although exercise is an integral part of your health and fitness regimen, your diet is also crucial to achieving your goals. But just how much should you eat based on your daily activity level?
There’s no one-size-fits-all meal plan, so how do you know what’s right for you? After all, a very restrictive eating plan paired with long, intense exercise could leave you leaning on muscle mass for energy. Likewise, eating a calorically-dense, high-carbohydrate meal or snack makes sense for a competitive marathon runner about to endure a 26-mile race, but doesn’t for someone who is about to take a one-mile jog around the neighborhood.
Let’s start here: The amount of calories you should eat every day depends on your age, height, gender, daily activity level, and whether you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight. Going into depth about each one of these factors could begin to feel like a Rubik’s Cube of options. So for the sake of time — and keeping you sane for the next few minutes — let’s focus on the factors of weight gain (increased muscle mass), weight maintenance, and weight loss (getting lean).
The most effective and calculated way to meet body composition goals is through changing the quality and quantity of your diet and exercising frequently. Eating the wrong macronutrient portions (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), no matter how healthy, can thwart your results.
For the average adult, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) every week, and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Another option is one hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (like jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
In order to gain muscle working out at this rate, one should consume a diet of 40–60 percent healthy carbs, 25–35 percent protein, and 15–25 percent healthy fats. In order to maintain weight, one should consume 30–50 percent healthy carbs, 25–35 percent protein and 25–35 percent healthy fats. In order to get lean and lose weight, one should consume 10–20 percent carbs, 40–50 percent protein, and 30–40 percent healthy fats. This ratio of macronutrients is extremely important based on your goals. Essentially, you could be eating very healthy but in the wrong proportions and not see your goals coming to pass.
Your specific workout type is also important when selecting what you will eat. If you’re performing HIIT (high-intensity interval training), simple carbs such as fruits and vegetables are great for instant, short bursts of energy. If you’re planning to perform a long-duration workout, think complex carbs like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and sweet potatoes. Healthy protein includes nuts, beans, lean meat, Greek yogurt, tofu, edamame, quinoa, and Svelte plant-based protein shakes. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, albacore tuna, and salmon.
Hydration is also another key component. The average person should drink half their body weight in ounces of water daily. If you are extremely active, you should add about six ounces for every 15–20 minutes you work out. If you’re using caffeine or pre-workout drinks, you’ll need to increase your water intake as well.
The bottom line is every person is unique and has different dietary needs. A healthy lifestyle requires balance in the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, and the amount of physical activity you include in your daily routine.
Svelte Health and Wellness Contributor Deanna Jefferson is a National Health and Fitness Expert, Nike trainer, and Owner of Fab Body Factory. Connect with her @deannajefferson.