This article today is the 5th within the “How to Be a Bodybuilder” series. It will focus on Eating Clean. I know, I know, what you’re thinking. Eating Clean is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. Everyone and their mother is saying you should eat clean.
In this article, I will go in debt about eating clean. What eating clean is and isn’t. This is not about supplements. It’s about eating food(natural foods) and not a fad diet that tries to be a quick fix. It’s more about eating clean as a lifestyle.
I’m not going to lie. Eating healthy is really hard and boring sometimes. When you visit the grocery store, there are so many unhealthy options which make it even more difficult. Every aisle has some form of unhealthy sweet or savory product. To make it even worse almost everything healthy has to be prepared. Junk food on the other hand is easy to get and very accessible. Though always eating clean in every meal isn’t realistic, it would be good to minimize the junk food as much as possible.
What is Clean Eating?
What does it mean to Eat Clean? Eating clean is the practice of eating unprocessed and unrefined foods. Consider eating foods in their natural state and not something in a package. For example, eating an apple from a tree would be better than going for apple juice.
Eating Clean is not only eating whole foods but also avoiding refined sugars and processed food. Whole foods are foods that are not tampered with in a lab or manufacturing plant. Foods that are coming straight from the farm.
Minimize Processed Food
The truth is you won’t be able to eliminate all processed foods from your diet. The best approach I found is to simply try not to avoid but minimize your processed foods. The easiest way to identify processed foods is to verify the number of ingredients on a label.
I always tell my friends if you can’t pronounce the ingredients put it back on the shelf. Stick to food with ingredients that you know. If you look on a package and the ingredients list has a lot of ingredients you can’t pronounce you probably shouldn’t be consuming it. The sad thing is a lot of popular products you use will have that problem. This forces us to be extra vigilant in our food choices when purchasing food to eat clean.
Minimize Refined Sugar
Sometimes I think refined sugars will be the death of me. I love cake! Every cake you can think of I’ll eat it. Sadly, refined sugars don’t do much good at all for your body. They are mainly empty calories. Food that normally contains refined sugars are pastries, some fruit juice (contains corn syrup as a sweetener), flavored yogurt, some nutrition bars and the very long list goes on. It’s almost impossible to avoid. It’s everywhere. Therefore, minimizing the consumption of these products can prevent subtracting a few years from your lifespan.
If you are part of a social media community you might have seen the phrase “#EatClean” thrown all over the place. Companies have noticed this craze and are now advertising their products as being vegan, gluten free, organic or clean eating as people get more health conscious. People are blinded by these tags. Once it is labeled vegan, organic, sugar-free, cholesterol free or gluten free, they will buy it because they feel they are making a healthy decision. This makes it more difficult to identify what is actually “clean”.
What isn’t Eating Clean?
The media has presented clean eating in a way that if you are not eating clean you are eating dirty. They say if you are not eating clean you probably lack discipline, you’re sloppy, fat and you have some chronic illness. That’s simply not true. Eating clean is a mindset that reminds you to read the nutrition facts to know what you are consuming and choose wisely.
People who sometimes don’t choose to “eat clean” are not always aware of what it means to eat clean. Even some people who think they know also get it wrong. This food shaming only makes people feel bad about themselves and what they are eating, which is not helping the situation.
Guess what! Eating clean doesn’t prevent you from being fat or having a chronic disease. There, I’ve said it. “I’m eating my vegan salad”. That salad doesn’t make a difference if it is over coated in oil that is loaded with unhealthy fat.
Eating clean doesn’t mean you can eat an endless supply of natural foods and be ripped. As a Bodybuilder or anyone for that matter, you have to eat in moderation. Moderation in all things is a sound nutrition principle. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and not overeat.
Eating Clean is a Lifestyle
My idea of eating clean is to not approach it as a “fad diet” but instead make it part of your daily routine. As we make small decisions consistently upfront they turn into part of our lifestyle.
Losing weight is one of the top resolution goals in people’s list every year. Every year many people don’t achieve their exercise goals. Why? Because they are trying to lose weight using some form of fad diet.
What are fad diets? Fad diets promise a quick weight loss solution that is not normally healthy or sustainable. I’m sure I can find many fad diets all the way through A – Z. There are so many of them. Every new year these diets are back in full swing. By February, you fall off track or you’re back to square one.
I fell into this trap too. If you come across any of my pictures you would see the yo-yo weight. I have tried a lot of diets. Some of which I’m not proud of, but all of them turned out to not be sustainable.
For the average person I would not suggest going on a diet; especially the extreme ones. I would recommend making small lifestyle changes. For example. Reducing the number of drinks you drink in a day and replace it with water. Remember, eating clean is a lifestyle change which requires a combination of making small healthy choices that add up over time. Continue making these small changes until they become habit.
Now, I’m not going to tell to avoid refined sugars or processed food 100%. My advice is to indulge in moderation. For example. I know that I love cake so I have decided to choose a day of the week where I’m going allow myself to eat all the things that I want to eat. It is what you would call a cheat day. This can be as small as eating a chocolate bar or a candy.
Your method might be different. You might have cheat meals where you have multiple cheat meals for the week instead of having a cheat day. It is all up to you. By having cheat meals or cheat days it helps you not feel deprived of all the junk food you feel you are missing out on.
For bodybuilders it will be different during competition season. As a bodybuilder you will go on a diet as it gets closer to the competition date but it is not any diet. It won’t be as unhealthy as one might think. In fact you might end up eating more than you’re used to. You will be energized and you won’t feel as if you are starving. During competition season bodybuilders experience the real deal of what it means to eat clean. Later in this article I’ll give you an example of what the diet looks like in the competition season for a bodybuilder.
How to Maintain Eating Clean
Making healthy decisions is an everyday struggle for me and I constantly mess up, but I always try to get back on track. Based on my experiences and the experiences of friends I have come up with a few things to do to make the entire process easier.
Make a Balanced Meal Food Plan
Make a plan. Formulate a food plan with the natural foods that you would like to eat on each day incorporating your cheat meal or cheat day. You can change this plan every two or four weeks; even every week so you can keep things exciting for you. Once you have a plan, you will know exactly what you want in the supermarket. This will help you minimize roaming the aisles and picking up things you shouldn’t. Visit the farmers market as well to get fruits, vegetables and ground provisions sometimes at a cheaper price.
Prepare Your Environment for Success
If you have a plan with all the things you are going to eat for the week, stick with it. Don’t buy pastries, sweets, and other junk food and put in the fridge. Once they’re there, you are going to eat it. No questions asked. You are going to find all the reasons in the world to justify eating it if it is in your environment in any given day. If the junk found is in sight the creeping thoughts enter the mind tempting you to think things like “I’m going to eat it before it spoils.” Haha. I’ve said that way too many times.
If you are planning to have a lifestyle change do it with the members of your household as well. Why? Because if you don’t it’s going to get even more difficult to avoid the bad foods. The people around you will buy all the foods you shouldn’t eat and put them in the same fridge you are using. It’s really hard to turn a blind eye to the things your tongue loves but are bad for the body.
Cook Your Own Food
You can’t go wrong when you cook your own food. You know where it came from and exactly what’s in it and how much of what is in it. You have complete control. It helps you to keep on track and you can cook anything you want. You also don’t have to choose from a limited menu since there is a wide variety of foods to use. Here are 5 tips to consider when creating your own foods from home:
- Be creative with your food: Be creative with the food you eat and recipes so you don’t get tired of the new lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes.
- Use natural seasonings: Parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, peppers, onions, garlic etc. Get as close as possible to nature. Try natural herbs and seasonings. Adding things like thyme, garlic and basil make food taste so much better even without using allot of salt!
- Reduce sugar and salt: When preparing your food you have control over how much refined salt or sugar is added. Use these two ingredients in moderation.
- Prepare for the week: The beauty about preparing for the week is I don’t have to cook every day. Cooking for the week can save so much time and it doesn’t feel very burdensome. I do one big cooking on Sundays and put the food in small lunch containers. Even if you don’t cook everything on the same day, you can do some meal prep on that day like cutting up veggies so that when you’re ready for a snack or to cook it’s already available saving you time and helping you make better food choices.
- Food recipes app: You can use food recipe applications to make your meals creative or even add your own flair to an old recipe. My favorite recipe app is Yummly. There is always something new to try.
Drink Lots of Water: I’m not going go into depth with this. I think you already have an idea of the benefits of water. The standard wisdom is to normally drink 8 glasses of water a day for an adult. That can be good but can also be stressful. I have found it best to simply drink when I’m thirsty. Some days you might be really thirsty and drink as much as 3 liters, other days you might drink a little under a liter.
It’s not written in stone how much you should drink per day. It changes sometimes based on your level of activity, the food you consumed or how hot the day was. Whenever you feel like going for drinks, try swapping it with a glass of water.
Did you know that it takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to register that you ate? Sometimes you can eat and still feel hungry. This is where water can help. Whenever you just finish eating and you feel the urge to eat more, drink a glass of water and you won’t feel the hunger anymore.
Here is a little trick I normally use to identify if I’m consuming too much water. If I go to the bathroom multiple times within a two-hour span and the urine is almost clear as crystal, my body is indicating that I’m drinking more water than I need to and therefore I can slow down. If my urine is dark I usually increase my water consumption.
Sleep – Having a good amount of sleep per day can help regulate your metabolism and also help you manage your weight. Sleep is great! A lot of amazing things happen when you are sleeping as well as when you have had adequate sleep. Unfortunately, I really struggle with this. I would go into more details but there will be an upcoming article just about sleep. Stay tuned.
Timing is Everything – It is good to eat clean but eating certain foods at a particular time of day allows your body to get much more nutrients out of it. This applies to both food and supplements. Please see this article explaining some of the foods to eat at certain times.
Social Support – Join communities with people who are trying to do the same thing you are doing. The gym is a great place to make like minded friends. There are also online communities that encourage this new lifestyle. For me, the Bodyspace forum controlled by BodyBuilding.com works well. You can share recipe ideas and knowledge with friends.
I know it’s a lot to consume at once but with practice you can adapt the clean eating lifestyle.
My Regular Day Meal Plan vs Competition Season Day Meal Plan
Let’s have a look at what my eating regimen in a day looks like.
1 omelet + two slices of whole wheat toast bread + 1/2 orange +1 cup of green tea no sugar
Lettuce + 1/2 cup of peanuts + Water
Veggies + Brown rice + Chicken Breast + Water
Peanut Butter and Banana+Protein Powder Smoothie(Before workout) + Water(Sometimes I make the smoothie too rich and have to drink water after)
Chicken Breast salad + Water
NB: Of course my day is not always this perfect. There are days when I might sneak in a cup of ice-cream or a slice cake.
Let’s have a look at competition eating regimen for a day
Six Egg Whites + 1 cup of old fashioned rolled oats + 1 Tsp of cinnamon + 1 cup of green tea no sugar
Lettuce + 1/2 cup of peanuts + Water
Lettuce + Sweet potatoes + Chicken Breast + Water
Lettuce + 1/2 cup of peanuts + Water
Lettuce + Chicken Breast + Water
NB: During competition season I normally cut sugar, salt and double my water intake. Cutting sugar allows me to lose a lot of weight. Cutting salt helps me to not retain water and doubling my water intake helps me to lose water weight.
There you have it. I have broken down my day and theory in more realistic bite-sized pieces so that you have any idea of how to maintain a healthy and clean eating lifestyle. I hope based on my explanations and examples you will have a better understanding of what eating clean means and also how to maintain it.
It will be challenging to consistently eat clean but, you know what? Anything gets easier with time, consistency and social support.
This is the fifth principle of the “How to Be a BodyBuilder” series. The next principle will focus on “Sleep” and how important it is in a BodyBuilder’s journey.