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Dense Nutrients for Hard Muscle – Get Rock-Hard by Lifting – Your Fork
If anyone ever called you dense, you can now take it as a compliment. Muscled men are dense: they have thick, tightly-packed muscle that runs their bodies like a sports car. They have power and pack a punch. And one major thing that can make dense muscle is not lifting weights. It’s not even found in the gym. It’s eating nutrient-dense foods.
Most fit guys know that eating extra calories can help your body composition by improving your lean muscle mass. But taking on more lean muscle mass, and reducing body fat, is not just a matter of eating low-fat and fat-free foods. “That’s the mistake that is often made,” says James Sealy, a personal trainer in Houston. “If the idea was simply to reduce the fat you eat, everyone who lifts weights could become more muscular easily.” The substitute often made for replacing the fat is a “healthy” carb choice, such as whole wheat grain, fruits or vegetables. While these certainly aren’t unhealthy foods, Sealy points out, there is a better choice: nutrient-dense foods. Foods that are dense in both calories and nutrients can give you more power for lifting, overall energy, via protein and carbs. Even better, nutrient-dense food is more likely to make you feel satisfied and help you resist fattening foods and empty calories when they tempt you.
You actually reduce calories when you switch from high-fat foods to a better choice, even if it’s not nutrient-dense food. A gram of fat has about twice the number of calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate. “So if you substituted something that was purely carbohydrate for fat, you’d be getting a healthier choice,” says Sealy, “but you’d also be cutting your calorie intake in half.” And as we all know, calories create body fuel–a necessity for the lifter type of guy.
CHOOSING ‘DENSE’ FOOD
“The best way to increase the amount of nutrient-dense food into your diet is to substitute using foods packed with protein and carbs that feel like eating the same amount of less-worthy food you were eating before,” says Sealy. “The more challenging part is discovering what foods have this more nutrient-dense quality.” An easy comparison is an eight-ounce glass of soda versus an eight-ounce glass of orange juice. Though they are both sweet drinks almost entirely transformed into carbohydrates in the body, the juice has more vitamins, a healthier and more digestible form of sugar (fructose, or fruit sugar, instead of sucrose) and some fiber.
A less-obvious example is eating a bowl of oatmeal (with added skim milk and honey) versus a bowl of sweetened cold cereal with skim milk. “Even if the oatmeal and cereal had exactly the same ingredients and amount of fiber, the difference is the honey,” says Sealy. That small amount of honey (say, one tablespoon) has 17 grams of carbohydrate and 64 calories. A small difference, yes, but one, if part of a series of intelligent choices throughout the day, can make a big difference to the workout-oriented guy. Another example is soup. While any lunkhead realizes that cream of broccoli soup is more fattening than vegetable soup, there are even more differences that most athletes don’t evaluate.
“It might seem like the right idea to substitute the vegetable soup, because it’s so much lower in fat,” says Sealy, “but that’s where you can make the mistake. You need to go the extra step to choose something nutrient-dense…something that’s not fattening.” The man who bypasses the cream of broccoli soup should also forego the vegetable soup and choose lentil soup. It is similarly low-fat, but generally higher in fiber and higher in protein than vegetable soup.
“Discovering nutrient-dense food is a matter of reading food labels and learning about food–even if you don’t like to cook,” says Sealy. But, he adds, a general easy rule of thumb is to pick high-protein, low-fat foods. Foods like beans, tofu, egg whites and chicken breast are good examples.
While you don’t have to give up all the foods you love, it’s helpful to change your thinking if you view food as something for pleasure. “It’s fine to enjoy a nice meal, but when you’re on the go, and trying to make healthy choices, reframe food in your mind as an energy source, not something just for fun or pleasure,” says Sealy.
A lunch choice in the past when you thought you were making the “healthy” choice might have been to have apple juice and the salad bar. At the salad bar, you choose the fat-free dressing, lots of veggies, and just a bit of cheese for flavor. What’s wrong with this picture? Hint: the cheese isn’t the problem. You didn’t eat enough protein, and the mid-afternoon hungries are likely to come crashing in. A better choice, Sealy says, would have been a skinless chicken breast with the apple juice–even if you had no carb or vegetable side dish.
“A steady supply of protein helps you build muscle in the resting state,” says Sealy. “A protein shake at work in the afternoon would be a great snack.”
KEEP THE CARBS LOW
It might sound like the Atkins Diet, but part of the process in choosing nutrient-dense foods is to avoid taking in too much carbohydrate. As you have probably heard, human growth hormone has been proven to help one build muscle and look and feel younger. Trouble is, it’s harder for the older man to get naturally. You don’t have to run to a shady clinic in a developing country to get an illegal injection. There is something you can do to help your body.
Among the factors that stimulate the release of growth hormone, according to Michael R. Eades, M.D., author of the book Protein Power, are and increased protein diet and carbohydrate-restricted diet. But how much protein should you eat, if you don’t know? An article in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that for the man who is into building muscle, you could approximately double the daily recommended dietary allowance of 0.36 gram per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 180 pounds, you’d take in 64.8 grams (2.276 ounces) of protein in the mere daily recommended allowance. Upping this somewhere between .75 and 1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight gives you 135-180 grams (4.74-6.32 ounces) of protein per day.
“It all sounds very scientific,” says Sealy, “but don’t worry about it. Give yourself time to learn about high-protein, low-carb foods. Go to the grocery store when you’re not hungry and have time to read the labels. Remember, all packaged food has labels.” In many grocery stores, even the produce section has signs with the nutritional value of fruits and veggies.
The goal is to have a daily diet that is not only physically satisfying, but which makes your every rep as valuable as possible. It saves you precious gym time and makes it more likely that you’ll get the results you want. It’s an all-the-time thing, not about what you ate that day. “So don’t sweat it when you have the occasional cheat day, or make a wrong choice or two,” adds Sealy. “The good part is, by driving in the direction of eating nutrient-dense foods, you enable yourself to get the lucky bonus of building more lean muscle mass–even if you haven’t changed your routine.”
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