Eating for Performance

Eating for your performance, physique goals and training stimuli:

For the longest time, there has been a lot of debate and confusion on what is the best diet for fat loss, muscle gain and performance improvement. 

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all. The best diet is the one that suits your body type and current training program.

Let us take a look at some of the problems with popular diets and the factors to consider before deciding on how to structure your diet.

Calorie deficit is all that is needed for fat loss:

It’s important to delve deeper into a few factors before taking this statement at face value.

One thing to realise is that you should be in this healthy lifestyle for health and longevity, not just short term aesthetic purposes. There is a saying “What is the purpose in attaining everything in the world only to lose your soul”, the same goes for this. What is the point of attaining a dream physique for a short period of time and having poor health after which will lead to a whole cascade of problems for a long time after.

To answer the question on if it fits your macros, well if the stars align and someone is perfectly fine in terms of their insulin sensitivity and thyroid function, yes, you can lose weight even if you eat McDonalds everyday, but in doing so, you sacrifice your health. 

However, for someone who is insulin resistant, this will not work for them. Imagine if they are in a calorie deficit at 1600 calories, but the majority of the 1600 calories come from carbohydrates, that is almost 400g of carbohydrates to consume. (That is 8 bowls of rice a day). This would spike your insulin levels through the roof to dangerous levels, not only should you forget about fat loss but you will have other problems to be concerned of.

Myth#1: Carbohydrates is the enemy:

For performance and muscle gain, carbohydrates are your ally. For fat loss? Carbohydrates may not necessarily be bad. It all depends on the training stimuli you are currently in.

If you were to be on a hypertrophy program either overloading on the tension stimuli (volume and intensity based program) or sarcoplasmic stimuli (volume and time under tension) for fat loss, you have to be in a state of higher carb ratio. Maybe even up to 40% of your total macros should come from carbohydrates. 

Again, this depends on how strong a person is, and how much volume is he doing. Too low in carbohydrate will lead one to go into a state of gluconeogenesis where amino acids are metabolised to blood glucose because no matter if you are in a low or zero carb diet, your body will always be burning blood glucose during training. If it isn’t available, your body will make it available. 

For gluconeogenesis to happen, it’s an extremely taxing process for the liver and it stresses the body out. With stress comes the release of cortisol and catecholamines which undermines recovery and produces an insulin cortisol seesaw, which is fine on days you are training but may cause issues when you are taking a break from training. You will store fat due to inflammation caused from the stress.

Even if you are in a calorie surplus for muscle gain, you will need carbohydrates to run cellular processes and it is needed for performance because if you look at the energy system pathway, creatine phosphate last a good 12s at high intensity efforts before going into anaerobic glycolysis to continue to support contractions. 

Anaerobic glycolysis requires carbohydrates to be present. Fat and protein is not the fuel of choice as they require an extremely inefficient process to break down for fuel. Therefore, performance will drop off the minute your set is prolonged past the 12-15s mark at high intensity once the body enters anaerobic glycolysis but doesn’t have the immediate fuel to replenish ATP which is glycogen.

Myth #2: Intermittent fasting is the way to go:

No doubt, studies have shown that intermittent fasting can produce the same results for fat loss as someone on a calorie deficit even though the group on intermittent fasting is in maintenance calories.

However, it has been shown that intermittent fasting is not the best for muscle gain especially due to the fact that for hypertrophy to happen, you need a constant supply of resources (glycogen and amino acids) to run the process which means you need amino acids present for the ribosomes to do its job of decoding mRNA. Also to note, you need sufficient carbohydrates for training at high intensity as well as to activate the mTOR pathway which is needed for anabolism to happen.

Intermittent fasting also may not be the best thing to do if you are training first thing in the morning as you are going into training after a fast as the body will not have the amino acids present during training and the carbohydrate as pre-training fuel to fuel a high level of training intensity.

Eating for your own personal training goals: 

There are three things to establish before you decide on your macros.

  1. Are you training for fat loss or hypertrophy and performance? 

Why: Fat loss requires fewer carbohydrate consumption, while hypertrophy and performance requires higher carbohydrate consumption. 

  1. What is your current training stimulus?

Why: Higher repetitions and higher volume burns through a ton of glucose. So you need a higher carbohydrate consumption even on a fat loss program. Lower repetitions and more sets burns through less glycogen and does not require a high carbohydrate consumption even when trying to improve performance

  1. The time of the day you are training

Why: If you are training in the morning, intermittent fasting may not be the best for muscle gain and performance, likewise, if you are training in the evening, you may need to plan your meal times in advance to allow enough rest before and after exercising. 

In the subsequent post, we will discuss appropriate guidelines on eating, where we will focus on bodyweight strength programs. A more in depth post will cover the different phases such as kettlebell training and full set up training in future.

If you have specific goals that you are working on, do consider our customized training programs which are created based on your current fitness level to help you achieve your ultimate physical potential. Check out our remote coaching and on-site training plans HERE

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