What is a “Perfect Day of Eating”?
It’s not easy to eat right, especially when summer holidays are set to derail your diet — vacations, barbecues, picnics, pool parties. In fact, every weekend now may seem to blow you off-course from your nutritional goals. However, if you keep a few guidelines in mind, you might be able to prevent a summer slip-up from making you feel as bad (or as bloated!), and help you eat “perfectly” every day (or nearly so):
RULE #1: HAVE A SHAKE BEFORE BREAKFAST
By the time you wake up, your body is already in a catabolic state from not eating for the past six to eight hours, which causes it to break down lean muscle tissue as a source of fuel. Unless you’re happy with letting your body whittle away all your hard-earned work, it’s a process you need to put a stop to.
The moment you wake up (and before breakfast), mix 20 grams of whey protein and ½ cup of a fruit (banana, strawberries, blueberries, etc.) with water. Why this combo, you ask? Whey protein is digested faster than any other type of protein (so your muscles are instantly spared any more damage) while the fruit will help quickly restore your body’s glycogen stores, so your body will have the energy it needs to start the day without stealing it from your muscles.
RULE #2: EAT THE “RIGHT” NUMBER OF CALORIES
The math is simple. Your body needs a certain amount of calories each day to maintain your current body weight. Eat that amount and, unless you’re burning calories from exercise or extra activity, you’ll stay relatively right where you’re at, weight-wise. Eat less or eat more and, well, you get the picture. That said, a perfect day of eating means consuming the exact amount of calories you should be eating—no more and no less.
There are more complicated ways to determine that magical number. One way, such as the Harris-Benedict formula, which involve calculating a series of factors, including your age, weight, height, and how active you are that day (from sedentary up to extra-active). You’re welcome to look that method up and break out your calculator, but if all you’re concerned about is calculating a single day, there’s a much easier way.
Instead, figure out how much you want to weigh, then take that number and multiply it by 12, and then by 15. (If you’re happy with your current weight, then take that number instead.) The two numbers you’re left with is the range of calories you should eat for the day. For example, if you’re 185 pounds, but really should be 165 pounds, then you would multiply 165 x 12 (1,980) and 165 x 15 (2,475). That means the total amount of calories you should eat for the perfect day is 1,980 to 2,475 calories.
RULE #3: DIVIDE THAT NUMBER BY SIX
To maximize how efficiently your body burns fat all day long, you need to give your body a reason to keep your metabolism revved at an elevated pace throughout the day. On the other hand, to minimize the volume of insulin your body releases (so you don’t store as many excess calories as fat), you need to keep your blood sugar at a consistently low level.
You can accomplish both of these tasks at by simply breaking up your calories up into smaller, more frequent portions that are about the same size throughout the day.
That’s why you’ll need to divide your daily caloric into six smaller meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with three snacks in between meals (and yes, that pre-breakfast shake counts as one of them.)
RULE #4: MAKE EVERY MEAL A MIX
For maximum energy throughout the day, every meal and snack should be a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. That’s because your body burns complex carbohydrates as energy faster than it does proteins and fats. When you eat a meal that combines all three, it can give your body a sustained level of energy all day long. The more all-day energy you have, the less likely you’ll be to reach for extra calories from other foods to provide energy later.
Some examples of a few of the meals you can try throughout the day include:
- A raisin bagel with low-fat cream cheese and fruit jam
- Instant oatmeal with fat-free milk and raisins
- An English muffin with lean ham on top
- Chicken breast or grilled fish (six ounces) with two cups of mixed greens and 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Canned tuna fish (three ounces) mixed with a half-cup low-fat cottage cheese, as well as diced carrots, onions and peppers
- Two slices low-fat Swiss cheese, 3-4 slices low-fat deli ham or turkey breast, one ounce of almonds and a teaspoon of peanut butter (to dip them in)
RULE #5: DRINK ALL DAY LONG
Pour at least 12 glasses of water into a pitcher (about 96 ounces of water), place it in the fridge, and be ready to drink all of it throughout the day. Sipping water all day long—especially before, during, and after every meal—can leave you feeling fuller, plus it reduces your appetite during that meal and throughout the rest of the day. That’s because what you may not realize is that oftentimes when you’re hungry, you may actually be thirsty instead, since your body draws a large percentage of its water from the foods you eat.
To stay satiated, experts agree that drinking a minimum of 8 to 10 glasses of water daily (whether or not you feel thirsty) is the standard. But going with an amount that’s slightly higher than that is always wiser, especially if you’re active. Waiting until you’re thirsty means your body has already lost about 4 to 5 percent of its total water. Losing a mere 1 percent of your body weight in water (roughly 32 to 64 ounces) can decrease your overall energy input by as much as 25 to 30 percent.
RULE #6: SATISFY YOUR STOMACH BEFORE YOU SLEEP
Remember what we said about your body sliding into a catabolic state when you sleep from not eating. There’s a way to minimize that from happening by eating right before you go to bed. Casein protein—the type of protein you find in dairy products—takes the longest to digest (between six to eight hours). To give your muscles a break, eat a low-fat mozzarella cheese stick, or a half-cup of cottage cheese right before bedtime. Each is only 80 calories, and, is slowly digested throughout the night, preventing your body from turning to your muscles as it looks for energy while you sleep.
—Myatt Murphy, Fitness Reporter
Fitness expert Myatt Murphy, CSCS, is the author of the best-selling books Testosterone Transformation (Rodale, 2012), The Body You Want in the Time You Have (Rodale, 2005), The Men’s Health Gym Bible (Rodale, 2006) and Men’s Health’s Ultimate Dumbbell Guide (Rodale, 2007). His work has appeared in innumerable magazines and online.