You think you’re eating right and there’s definitely no shortage of time spent at the gym tossing around the weights, but for some unknown reason you still can’t reach your goal of a magazine-cover midsection and sleeve-splitting arms. What gives? Perhaps you’re sabotaging your diet without even knowing it. It’s a humungous duh that stuffing your pie-hole with double chocolate donuts and fried onion blossoms will fast track you to pudge city, but you might be overlooking a bunch of pesky little toxic diet pitfalls that could increasingly be creeping into your everyday eating. The outcome? A physique that looks more station wagon than Ferrari. To ensure you’re eating as clean as possible, your nutrition police peeps here at MuscleMag have the lowdown on 10 diet missteps that could be messing with your buff-to-blubber ratio and the offensive strategies needed to send them packing.
Diet Foul #1: Too many suds with your buds.
While research has found that alcohol, especially red wine, in moderation has its health perks such as helping guys dodge heart disease, too much is a serious ab-killer. Like carbs, protein and fat, alcohol contains calories (7 calories per gram of ethanol) but unlike the former, the human body is unable to store these calories. The upshot is that when you have a couple of cold ones, your body has no choice but to burn off the alcohol calories first, which completely shuts down any fat burning that might otherwise occur. So the fat in the side order of nachos and cheese has a better chance of padding your midriff, not to mention all the sugar that might be lacing those mixed drinks.
Fight Back: If you’re serious about building your physique, you’d be wise to limit alcohol consumption to no more than about five drinks per week. Light beer usually has less of an alcohol content so your body would be able to dispose of the ethanol calories faster.
Diet Foul #2: Giving beans the cold shoulder.
Too many of the bodybuilding sect turn exclusively to the bird, swimmer, cow and hog for a protein fix, leaving beans and lentils for the tree-hugging, crunchy granola types. Big mistake! Beans and varicolored lentils are nature’s perfect health food, packed with all sorts of nutritional goodies that bodybuilders need to excel such as antioxidants, iron, folate and magnesium. Did you know that one cup of cooked black beans has 15 times more protein than fat? Not to mention a whopping 15 grams of fat-burning dietary fiber. This brag-worthy nutrition résumé is likely why Spanish researchers recently found that a diet high in legumes improved cholesterol levels and reduced bodyweight in subjects who could stand to shed a few fat pounds.1 And you get all this nutrition at a very recession-friendly price.
Fight Back: Once or twice a week make legumes a main player in a meal. If you’re at a loss of what to do with them, check out www.vegcooking.com for a bunch of easy, breezy recipes. Dried lentils and beans are your best bet since they come minus the belly-bloating sodium in the canned version and make a cheap food group even more ridiculously inexpensive.
Diet Foul #3: Spinning your wheels without a plan.
A 2007 study in the Journal of Consumer Research determined that people who show up at the grocery store with a shopping list are less likely to make impulsive choices on nutritionally corrupt foods. The researchers found that having to come up with options from memory led to more in-the-moment decisions such as deciding to snag the carton of muffins in the discount bin. Another shopping faux pas that can derail sound eating is foregoing a snack prior to marching through the aisles. Pushing the cart famished with blood sugar levels falling faster than a Nolan Ryan splitter makes it all the more tempting to choose jelly beans instead of green beans.
Fight Back: Plan out a week’s worth of meals and make a detailed grocery list from this menu … and stick to it! Most of the healthiest items in the supermarket are found around the perimeter of the store. Read: Spend less time in the dangerous middle aisles where many of the processed sugar, sodium and fat bombs are placed.
Diet Foul #4: Chugging a shake only post-workout.
With all the hoopla reminding you about the importance of sending a bunch of protein down the gullet after pumping iron for optimal muscle building, you might overlook the vital importance of it preworkout. Studies have reported that consuming protein just before a workout can reduce muscle breakdown during and after exercise and help you build glance-stealing biceps. In a recent study, Finnish scientists determined that doing so leads to increased production of a compound called Cdk2, which aids in the process of building muscle and improving your body’s ability to heal after hoisting the iron.
Fight Back: About 30 minutes before hitting the squat rack, chug a protein shake with around 20–30 grams of protein. A liquid meal is more appealing than whole foods preworkout because it’s quicker to digest so there’s less chance of tossing your cookies. And don’t be a whey snob. A Baylor University (Waco, TX) study found that males who took a whey-casein mixture before their workouts built more fat-free muscle mass than guys consuming whey sans casein.4 Unlike fast-digesting whey protein, casein takes longer to digest, so it provides a steadier supply of amino acids during exercise.
Diet Foul #5: Pigging out at “healthy” restaurants.
Shunning the golden arches for what you believe to be a smarter eating out option could backfire. Researchers reported in the Journal of Consumer Research that patrons are likely to underestimate to a greater extent the calories in a meal from a restaurant they believe is “healthier,” like Subway, than those in a meal from a perceived bad guy such as Burger King or McDonald’s.5 This mistake could lead to overeating through the purchase of extra or bigger sides, suggest the study authors.
Fight Back: Be the chef. Because most restaurant fare is a sea of nutritional no-nos, it’s prudent to prepare as many of your own meals and snacks as possible. Consider making big batches of muscle-friendly dishes such as chili and soups and freezing leftovers for times when you’re too pooped after the gym to muster much more than a half-hearted chop or two.
Matthew G. Kadey, MSc, RD