01.05.2015 Community

Eat Well, Stay Lean

In winter the temptation to eat more comfort food can pile on the kilos. But we can stay lean with the right nutrition, says personal trainer Sally Matterson

My food philosophy is all about lifestyle changes, not diets. Nutrition is, without a doubt, 80% of the battle. Get that right and you are cruising on the super fat-burning highway. By focusing on what you eat, you can take control of your body and your health for today - and tomorrow.

Protein is of utmost importance

Protein is made up of branch chain amino acids that are vital for healthy body function. They can also help accelerate fat loss as put simply, protein doesn't stimulate insulin. Insulin when produced in high amounts from too much sugar in the diet can lead to fat storage, particularly around the mid-section.

It is therefore absolutely critical that you hit your protein targets daily (see the meal plan below for extra guidance). You should be consuming:

approximately 100–120g of protein a day for the average female

approximately 240–260g for the average male.

As a general guide, there is approximately 22–30g of protein in every 100g of raw animal meat and in one whole egg, there is approximately 6g.

Our ancestors ate a lot of meat, plant-based carbs, nuts and seeds and I don't know about you, but I don't recall any cavemen - or women! - with man boobs or muffin tops.

In addition to hitting your protein target in at least 4–5 meals throughout the day, make consuming leafy green vegetables a priority for your daily fibre intake, along with grainless fibre sources such as chia seeds or slippery elm.

If you are struggling to hit your protein targets a good quality, easily digestible Whey Protein Powder can help. Use as a snack throughout the day (ie at meal 2 or 4)

Choose your carbs and fats wisely

Eat right - and at the right time - to improve your hormone health. Following is some general advice to guide you on your way that will help you regardless of where you are storing fat.

Plant-based carbohydrates and good fats in the morning can increase dopamine levels. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for attention and productivity.

Starchy carbs like sweet potato in the evening can help release serotonin, the feel-good hormone that helps you to relax at night and sleep better, as well as lower cortisol levels.

Good fats (such as unsaturated fats from fish, seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables, some oils and avocadoes) can actually help you burn fat.

Getting your dopamine and serotonin levels right can help control your moods as well as balance other hormones such as cortisol. Even better, the more we eat foods that fuel and balance hormonal activity, the better our body's ability to burn fat.

Of course, if you suspect you may have some hormonal imbalances, it is advisable to get your blood work done with a health professional.

Note that if you have starchy foods (or when you reintroduce them back into the diet regularly, for example once you have reached your target body fat), the two optimal times to eat them are:

within 30 minutes of training as it will replenish the body's glycogen stores

at your evening meal as it well help relax the body by releasing serotonin and improving sleep.

Too much fructose can hinder your progress

Fructose is a sugar that is found in large quantities in processed foods in the form of corn syrup, but it is also present in fruit. Unfortunately, the body responds to fructose, especially in large quantities, by turning it straight into fat.

It also alters liver function and if you eat large quantities regularly, it will upset the liver and make it harder to process glucose (energy from carbs) meaning you'll get even fatter in the long run.

Keep fructose to a bare minimum. Studies show the best time to eat fructose is after exertion or training. The body processes it more efficiently at this time, helping replenish energy stores quickly.

Gluten is not your friend

Have you ever eaten a bowl of pasta or a sandwich and wondered why you really bloated out? Maybe you feel like this all the time? It is possible you feel like this because of the food you ingest, in particular, gluten.

Gluten is found in many staple foods in the Western diet. It is a protein composite present in wheat and other grains. Gluten is big in the bread world - it gives elasticity to dough, helps it to rise and stay in shape. It's like the glue that sticks wheat together, literally. Unfortunately, it doesn't help us stay in shape. In fact, quite the opposite.

While you may not be a coeliac (someone who suffers from a severe intolerance to gluten), you could still be gluten- sensitive. In fact, if you ask me, most people are. Gluten is hard for our bodies to digest, makes us tired, bloats the belly and most importantly, adds extra weight and puffiness to our physique. It can also cause illness and sometimes, it can even influence your mental health.

The word on fats

Fat-free really means full of sugar and artificial fluff. It's a trap that a lot of people fall into - they think they are saving on calories but wonder why they can't shift the weight for good.

Basically, when you fill yourself up with sugar and carbs (and this includes fruit), you spike your insulin levels. Studies have shown that insulin is the main culprit of fat production, particularly around that pesky mid-section, so to counteract this you need to control the carbs, crush the sugar, ignore the calories and welcome in the good fats.

Forget fat-free. Good fats can actually help you lose weight.

Sample meal plan

I have developed the following sample meal plans, one for the average female. They should keep you on target throughout the day and get you started on the road to successful fat loss no matter where you are currently storing fat in your body.

The meal plans recommend eating three main meals and two snacks per day. If you are time-poor and/or this is difficult for you, try focusing on eating three times a day instead. Just make sure you still hit your total daily protein target.

Meal 1 (breakfast)

Start with 150g raw measure of animal protein such as smoked salmon, turkey or beef.

Alternatively, two whole eggs contain approximately 12g of protein.

Add a palm-size portion of good fats like nuts, avocado or haloumi, which is a great source of good fat and a fantastic breakfast option.

Mix things up by including some veggies like asparagus or parsley.

Meal 2 (snack)

Choose 75–100g raw measure of protein such as salmon.

Alternatively, try boiled eggs if you are on the run. They are an excellent snack as you can eat them cold and they provide a decent hit of protein.

Mix and match with some good fats such as nuts, avocado, haloumi or feta and add in some carrot or celery sticks and cherry tomatoes.

Meal 3 (lunch)

Choose 150g raw measure of protein.

Add some fibrous vegetables or salad.

Choose vinegar-based dressings or lemon or lime, to help reduce the glycaemic load on food.

Meal 4 (snack


Choose 75–100g raw measure of protein such as a tin of tuna or salmon.

Mix and match with some good fats such as nuts, avocado, haloumi or feta and add in some carrot or celery sticks and cherry tomatoes.

Meal 5 (dinner)

Choose 150g raw measure of protein.

Serve with veggies or salad drizzled with a good oil and vinegar if desired.

Sally Matterson's new book Healthy Body (Rockpool Publishing $24.99), now available at good book stores and online a twww.rockpoolpublishing.com.au

Sally Matterson

Sally Matterson is a personal trainer and author of Healthy Body available at good bookstores and online at www.rockpoolpublishing.com.au