Back To The Basics - Nutrition 101

By Molly Galbraith
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“Carbs are evil, don’t eat them!”
“You need carbs for energy! “
“Fat makes you fat!”
“Good fats are good for you!”
“Protein helps you lose weight!”
“Too much protein is bad for your kidneys!”

When reading information about how to get fit and healthy, I can almost guarantee that at some point you have read each of the statements above. No wonder many of us are left confused and feeling helpless about what we can do to look and feel our best!

I want to help clear up some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the basics of nutrition, and arm you with the information needed to make good nutrition decisions in the future!

Let's get started.

Carbs

The word “carbs” is unfortunately considered a "dirty word" by so many people, thanks to the low-carb craze of the past decade! What some people may not realize is that there are different categories of carbs, and they have very different effects on the body. Here are the different categories, along with examples and how often they should be consumed:

Fibrous/Leafy Carbs:

Eat these as often as you’d like in large quantities, at least 5–6 servings a day. Some examples include: spinach, broccoli, asparagus, chard, cabbage, celery, sugar snap peas, kale, etc.  And although not as fibrous or leafy, vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, onions, and cucumbers, should also be a regular part of your daily diet. A serving of the fibrous/leafy carbs is typically 1 cup while a serving of the other vegetables is typically ½ cup. Keep in mind that if you increased your fibrous vegetable content too quickly you may experience some digestive issues.

Fruit/Sugary Vegetable Carbs:

Eat one to two servings of these per day, as they tend to be higher in sugar per serving than the fibrous or leafy carbs. Some examples include: all types of berries, apples, oranges, grapefruit, carrots, beets, cherries, and peaches. Try to eat at least a little bit of protein and fat along with these carbs to help keep your blood sugar nice and stable. A serving of these types of carbs is usually one-half to three-fourths cup.

Starchy Carbs:

Eat one to two servings of these two to three times per week (after weight training or intense workouts) to help replenish muscle glycogen.  Some examples include: rice, oats, all varieties of potato, and quinoa. A serving of these carbs is typically around one cup cooked.

Refined/Sugary/Processed Carbs:

These are not part of a healthy diet and should only be included as an occasional treat. Examples include: cakes, candy, doughnuts, cookies, ice cream, and soft drinks.

As you can see, not all carbs are created equal.  Follow the advice above and you'll be on the right track to looking good and feeling your best!

Fat

Myths surrounding the consumption of dietary fat may be some of the most pervasive myths in the health and fitness community, period.  For years, dietary fat was demonized, and everyone from doctors to nutritionists told us it would make us fat. During this time, fat was actually removed from many of the foods we normally consume, and was replaced with sugar so it would still taste good. What happened? We got fatter and unhealthier. Oops!

Here are just a few of the positive effects of a diet high in good fat: reduced body fat, reduced sugar cravings, reduced inflammation, increased ability to heal, more stable blood sugar, lowered bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, increased good cholesterol (HDL) levels, increased absorption of certain vitamins and increased production of mood-boosting chemicals in the body.

Sources of healthy fats:

Consume a serving of one of these with each meal or snack every day. Some examples include: olive oil, real butter, coconut oil, avocado, almonds/almond butter, whole eggs, walnuts, ghee, cashews, fatty fish, and grass fed beef.  A serving of these fat sources is between 10–15 grams of fat and actual serving size will vary wildly among fat sources.

Sources of unhealthy fats:

Consume these infrequently as possible and in small amounts.  Some examples include: conventionally fried food, mass produced cakes/pastries, most vegetable oils (corn, soybean, cottonseed, canola, safflower), and all hydrogenated oils.

As you can see, most of the healthy or "good" fat sources are natural and minimally processed, while most of the unhealthy or "bad" fat sources are highly processed and/or refined. Stick with the healthy fats and your body will thank you with a better mood, smaller waistline, and improved immune system... all great things, of course! Oh, and did I mention that fat makes your food taste incredible?

Protein

Unlike carbs and fat, there hasn’t been a major movement to slander protein in general. Sure there are debates about how much and what kinds to consume, but in general, most experts agree that protein is a good thing and we should eat it regularly.  It can help decrease body fat, increase muscle tone, and keep you fuller longer. Keeping in mind that there is no evidence to suggest that high-protein diets are harmful to healthy individuals, use the guidelines below to figure out just how much protein you should be consuming every day for optimal health and performance.

Minimal Activity Level
(engage in strenuous, weight-bearing activity less than 1x/week):

.6-.8 x body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you would consume 90 to 120 grams of protein a day (.6 x 150 = 90 and .8 x 150 = 120)

Moderate Activity Level
(engage in strenuous, weight-bearing activity 2-3x/week):

.8 - 1 x body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you would consume 120 to 150 grams of protein a day (.8 x 150 = 120 and 1 x 150 = 150)

High Activity Level
(engage in strenuous, weight-bearing activity 4-5x/week):

.9 - 1.1 x body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you would consume 135 to 165 grams of protein a day (.9 x 150 = 135 and 1.1 x 150 = 165)

Extremely High Activity Level
(engage in strenuous, weight-bearing activity 6-7x/week, usually collegiate or professional athlete):

1 - 1.2 x body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you would consume 150 to 180 grams of protein a day (1 x 150 = 150 and 1.2 x 150 = 180)

Some examples of good sources of protein include: grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, salmon, tilapia, cod, crab, tuna, shrimp, bison, pork, venison, lamb, elk, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Although the guidelines above might seem like a lot of protein, you have to remember that the higher your activity level, the more calories you need to consume in general, and the more protein you will need to help repair your muscle after your training sessions. If you focus on having a large serving of protein at each meal, and some protein with your snacks, you should be able to meet your requirement in no time.

You can also make up a protein deficit easily by making a super yummy shake using a scoop or two of protein powder!

A serving of protein is typically about four ounces or the same size as the palm of your hand, but you may need to eat more than one serving per meal to meet your protein requirements.

I hope this breakdown of nutrition basics was easy to understand and has helped to clear up some confusion for you.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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