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Men like rules. Rules are what make things interesting. After all, how much fun would it be if you had endless downs to reach the goal line, if the strike zone were an infinite expanse, or if the only time you got called for a double dribble was when you stopped to gawk at a cheerleader? Not very. Rules are what make the game. Rules are how you know who’s winning and who’s losing.
Seven simple rules. Consider them pledges—pledges to yourself. And you’re going to be amazed by just how easy they are to follow.
“I Will Eat Protein with Every Meal and Every Snack”
Here’s why this rule is so important: At any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building up protein, says Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, a nutrition and exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut. Substitute the word “muscle” for “protein,” and you quickly understand just how dynamic your body is and how your muscle content can change considerably in the course of just a few weeks.
But muscle doesn’t come just from pumping iron, hauling lumber, or visiting Roger Clemens’s “nutritionist.” Muscle buildup is triggered by eating protein. In fact, every time you eat at least 10 to 15 grams of protein, you trigger a burst of protein synthesis. And when you eat at least 30 grams, that period of synthesis lasts about 3 hours—and that means even more muscle growth. Here’s a quick look at what those numbers translate into when they actually hit your plate.
30 Grams of Protein
1 4 ounces ground beef
1 large chicken breast
1 4 ounces sirloin steak
1 large egg vegetable omelet with 3 strips bacon with meat sauce
20 large peel-and-eat wild shrimp
1 haddock fillet
1 6 ounces pork chop
10 to 15 Grams of Protein
1 fruit-and-yogurt parfait with granola
2 medium carrots with 1/2 cup hummus
3/4 cup chili con carne
1 pouch chunk light tuna
1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 cup 2% milk
12 ounces lowfat chocolate milk
6 ounces Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp peanut butter on whole wheat
Your Plan: Eat protein at all three meals, which can include meats and eggs or other options such as cheese and milk. You need to boost your protein intake to between 0.8 and 1.0 gram per pound of body weight in order to preserve your calorie-burning muscle mass. (That’s a total of between 83 and 126 grams daily for a 185-pound guy.) That means aiming for approximately 30 grams of protein at your main meals, and two snacks of at least 10 to 15 grams of protein.
Trick Yourself Slim: Make a snack out of yogurt once a day. A University of Tennessee study also found that people who added three servings of yogurt a day to their diets lost 81 percent more belly fat over 12 weeks than those who didn’t eat yogurt. And a study in Molecular Systems Biology found that yogurt-based bacteria can prevent the body from absorbing fat. Bugs that eat your fat! Who knew?
“I Will Never Eat the World’s Worst Breakfast”
What’s the world’s worst breakfast? No breakfast at all.
It’s true. Regularly skipping breakfast increases your risk of obesity by 450 percent. And breakfast is the one meal where, calories be damned, eating more is almost always better than eating less—in an ideal world, you’d get between 500 and 750 calories at breakfast alone. Just make sure some of those calories come from protein. In a 2008 study, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that people who regularly ate a protein-rich, 600-calorie breakfast lost significantly more weight in 8 months than those who consumed only 300 calories and a quarter of the protein. The big breakfast eaters lost an average of 40 pounds and had an easier time sticking with the diet, even though both groups were prescribed about the same number of total daily calories.
If you read and follow the The Men’s Health Diet you’ll know exactly how to select a great breakfast that mixes protein, calcium, fiber, carbs, and other nutrients. The better the quality of the food you put in your body, the better a body you’ll get in return. But, if it comes down to something sketchy or nothing at all, in most cases, eat what’s there and make up for it by eating as healthfully as you can for the rest of the day.
Your Plan: Eat a considerable portion of your daily calories—30 to 35 percent of your total intake—in the morning. The very best breakfast will match proteins and whole grains with produce and healthy fats. For example: fried eggs on whole-grain toast and a protein and fruit smoothie. If you have neither the time nor the stomach for a big breakfast, eat two small ones—have cereal with your coffee, then grab a yogurt and fruit to eat at your desk. But the bottom line is this: Get some protein for breakfast, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.
Trick Yourself Slim: So you absolutely, positively, no kidding, have zero time for anything but a cup of coffee? Okay: Before you pour the coffee, fill your cup with milk. Drink it down until you have just the right amount to lighten your joe, then add the caffeine. Eight ounces of 1% milk gives you 110 calories and 8 grams of protein, along with a hit of fat-burning calcium. Even if you can’t possibly eat breakfast, well, guess what: You just ate breakfast!
“I Will Eat Before and After Exercise”
As in romance, comedy, and the stock market, timing is everything when it comes to food and exercise. And the great news for any guy who loves to eat: You probably need to eat more. In fact, eating more of the right foods at the right times can turn every workout into the best workout of your life.
Indeed, when it comes to exercise and nutrition, researchers are worrying a lot less about the what and thinking a lot more about the when. Here’s what eating at the right time can do for you.
Build more muscle. Eating before training speeds muscle growth, according to Dutch and British researchers. In one study, men who ate a protein- and carbohydrate-rich meal right before and right after their workouts built twice as much muscle as men who waited at least 5 hours to eat. By fueling your body with protein and carbohydrates within an hour or two of exercise, you provide your muscles with enough energy to build strength and burn fat more effectively.
Burn more fat. University of Syracuse researchers found that when you down protein before and after weight training, you blunt the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone that tells your body to store fat. As a result, you burn more fat, not only during your workout, but for an additional 24 hours afterward. (Study participants ate a combo of 22 grams of protein and 35 grams of carbs—about what you’d get from a glass of milk and a turkey sandwich.)
Feel more energy—and less pain! British researchers discovered that a mix of protein and carbs before and after your workout can inhibit muscle breakdown and reduce inflammation. That means you not only build muscle faster, but also recover more quickly and with less next-day soreness.
All this just from eating a little more food? Now that’s a diet plan worth trying!
Your Plan: Eat a snack composed of carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes or so before your workout, and eat one of your protein-rich meals immediately after exercise. One of the mantras we use The Men’s Health Diet is “Lost time is lost muscle.” Your body breaks down muscle during and after exercise to use as fuel and rebuilds muscle using calories that you’ve consumed. The longer you wait after exercising to eat, the more time your body will spend breaking down its own muscle and the less time you’ll have to build new muscle.
Trick Yourself Slim: A protein shake right after your shower is the fastest nutrition delivery system there is. You’ll find a bunch of great recipes on page 000.
“I Will Eat It If It Grows on a Tree”
Or a bush, stalk, or vine, as well. In other words, if it grows on or is a plant, eat it. Fruits and vegetables should be included in every meal and as many snacks as possible. The reason: Your goal is to fill your body with muscle-promoting, fat-discouraging nutrients, and the very best source of them is fruits, nuts, and vegetables. By loading your body with the maximum amount of nutrients for the least number of calories, they’re a dietary bargain. A study at UCLA found that the typical person of normal weight consumed two servings of fruit a day, on average, while the typical overweight person ate just one piece. Another study in the journal Appetite found that eating whole fruit at the beginning of a meal reduces your overall calorie intake by 15 percent.
Another benefit to eating off the trees: You’ll get more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that this healthy fat may not only reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, but also possibly help prevent ailments as diverse as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—and those are just the As. On top of its mood-boosting, heart-saving, brain-enhancing powers, those who consume the most omega-3-rich foods live longer and carry less abdominal fat than those who eat the least. And scientists from Quebec found that omega-3s improve protein metabolism, meaning that more of the protein you eat is synthesized in your muscle tissue. Sure it sounds cool, but even better, this means faster muscle growth.
You already know that you can find this healthy fat in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, but it’s also found growing in trees: Two highly potent sources of omega-3s are walnuts and kiwifruit.
Your Plan: Eat at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal. You can and should eat as much of them as you want to help satisfy cravings.
Trick Yourself Slim: Eat your fruits and vegetables first! Not only will you consume more vegetables and fewer calories from other foods, but the fiber content will lower the glycemic load of your meal, helping you sidestep those swings in blood sugar that lead to hunger. Try at least one new fruit or vegetable each week, and make sure that salads and fruit salads have at least four different colors. For example: lettuce, yellow peppers, tomatoes, and carrots; or pineapple, blood oranges, kiwi, and grapes.
“I Will Eat the Salad Even If It Makes Me Feel Girly”
What could be more manly than green, leafy foliage—the stuff of the woods, the jungle, the open range, the outfield at Wrigley Field? Who came up with the idea that salads were wimpy?
For generations, hunters and soldiers have covered the outsides of their bodies in leafy greens, all the better to stalk their prey. Yet for some reason, we see a leaf on a dinner plate and we’re offended, as if eating it were somehow an affront to our manhood. Does that make any sense?
The confusion started when some crazy-eyed dietitian tried to convince us to eat salads instead of real food like burgers and ribs. Bad dietitian! A man should eat salads not in place of his other foods, but rather in addition to them. The reason is that salads deliver wildly important nutrients that are hard to come by elsewhere—nutrients that help promote weight loss.
Example: Take folate, a B vitamin that’s found primarily in leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens, and also in broccoli, brussels sprouts, and beans. It’s perhaps the best indicator of how healthy your diet really is. Folate deficiency is linked to most of the major diseases of our time: It leads to increased risks of stroke, heart disease, obesity, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and depression as well as a decreased response to depression treatments. Think of folate as the anti-fat-and-stupid vitamin. But it can also help you look better: A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dieters who ate the most folate were able to lose 8 1/2 times as much weight as those who ate the least.
Your Plan: At every meal, try to include a folate-rich food. The best way to up your folate intake is to eat leafy greens with as many meals as you can, and eat them first.
Trick Yourself Slim: Make a salad dressing with mustard, vinegar, and safflower oil. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that the high amount of linoleic acid in safflower oil may keep your body from storing fat.
“I Will Not Drink Sugar Water”
This ought to be the easiest rule to stick to, right? After all, when was the last time you drank sugar water?
If you’re like most American men, the answer is: earlier today. In fact, the average guy in the United States consumes more than 7 percent of his daily calories from sugar water—about a gallon of the stuff, and hundreds of calories, every day. How is that possible? Well, sugar water makes up the majority of the soft drinks we consume each day. Here are some common sugar waters that you might have enjoyed recently.
Cola: sugar water + caramel coloring and flavoring
A typical cola is about 89 percent carbonated water and 9 percent high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Sweetened Iced Tea: sugar water + tea
Teas like Snapple are about 89 percent water and 10 percent HFCS.
Vitamin Water: sugar water + chemical forms of vitamins
One of the worst things to happen to both water and vitamins. An average brand is 92 percent water and more than 5 percent sugar.
Fruit Drinks: sugar water + fruit juice
If your juice has the word “cocktail” attached to it, it’s about 63 percent water, 27 percent juice, and more than 9 percent HFCS.
Energy Drinks: sugar water + caffeine and herbs
They list plenty of mysterious ingredients like taurine and guarana and milk thistle, but the average energy drink is 84.5 percent water and 12.3 percent sugar.
In fact, the average American now drinks more than 450 calories every day. By cutting that amount in half—which you can do simply by eliminating sugar water from your diet—you would cut enough calories to lose about 25 pounds in a year.
Your Plan: Replace sodas, iced teas, and “performance beverages” with water, seltzer, or other low-calorie or calorie-free beverages. If you don’t like the taste of your water, buy a home filter (like Brita), which will help take out any chemical tastes, and keep a container of it cold in your fridge. Researchers from the University of Utah found that the people who drink the most water have the highest metabolisms. In a study, subjects drank 4, 8, or 12 cups of water each day. Those who drank at least 8 cups reported better concentration and higher energy levels, and tests showed that they were burning calories at much higher rates than the 4-cups-a-day group.
Trick Yourself Slim: Drink the moment you wake up. The legendary Gracie family—the family that invented Brazilian jiu-jitsu and, in essence, ultimate fighting—lives by a code of always being ready to fight. And the first thing every Gracie does when he or she wakes up is drink a big glass of water, because being ready to fight means being properly hydrated. Now it turns out that their tradition makes sense even for those of us who don’t like getting punched in the face repeatedly. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that drinking a glass of water before breakfast can cut daily food intake by 13 percent. So on top of the calories you’re saving by swapping soda for H2O, you’re saving another 200 or so by staving off hunger pangs! (That’s another 21 pounds gone in a year!)
“I Will Follow the Rules of the Ripped 80 Percent of the Time”
If you make the right food choices 80 percent of the time, you can’t help but stay lean. That means that one out of every five times you step up to the nutritional tee, you get to shank one—into the ham and cheese sand trap, into the beer pong water hazard, into Black Forest cake woods. It happens, because nobody’s perfect—and not trying to be perfect is one of the keys to long-term success. Guys who try to be perfect eventually go crazy, and the next thing you know they’re driving their SUVs into fire hydrants while being chased by angry blondes wielding 9-irons.
Your Plan: Don’t let that be you. Don’t try to be perfect. Be 80 percent. That’ll still put you well ahead of most of the adult male population. And more important, it will send you on your way to the body you’ve always wanted. In The Men’s Health Diet, you’ll find a list of the 250 Best Foods for Men. If you want a chocolate bar, go ahead—but make sure it’s the best one. (That would be Dagoba’s Beaucoup Berries bar, which mixes in cherries and cranberries to pack in a whopping 7 grams of fiber for just 250 calories.) Craving a steak? Go get one, but make the very best choice. (At Ruby Tuesday, you can order a plain grilled top sirloin with just 391 calories—ordering it “plain” will strip off 1,000 milligrams of sodium.) Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but use the best PB, the best J, and the best bread in the world.
You’ll save hundreds of calories while still eating the foods you enjoy. And you’ll be stunned by how effective this strategy is. Simply do your best to follow the Rules of the Ripped 80 percent of the time, shoot for the 250 Best Foods for Men Whenever you need a break, and you’ve got this fat thing solved. More than 80 percent? You’ll be downright Schwarzeneggerian!
Trick Yourself Slim: If you want to eat something that’s really, truly horrible for you (like, you can’t stop thinking about Friendly’s Caramel Cinnamon Swirl French Toast), wash it down with a glass of milk. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consume calcium from dairy every day decrease the levels of triacylglycerol in their blood (a major form of fat in the blood) by 15 to 19 percent.