The human body is a bit confusing: By the time it tells you it needs nutrients, it's already deficient. In fact, those hunger pangs are your body's last-ditch efforts to convince you to eat.
Stay ahead of the curve by eating before your stomach starts growling. If you're pressed for time, consider the following: A meal can consist of a four-ounce chicken breast, a small baked potato, and a salad, all of which can be made the night before and require minimal preparation time. Dining can also be as simple as a low-sugar nutrition bar—make sure to look for one substantial enough to replace a meal—or a small protein shake and a banana.
Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day, often - in an attempt to slim down - going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie three-meal plan, but you can't make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss.
A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds your body a steady stream of necessary nutrients and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like sweets and fats. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring your body won't cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts. So make your meals mini and spread them out. If you have trouble fitting in extra eating times at work, prepare food ahead of time that you can zap in the microwave or eat cold. And stock your kitchen right: Shed fat in just days with these essential 9 Flat Belly Superfoods!
How much protein is enough? If you're working a 9 to 5 desk job that you commute to by car, protein isn't an issue. But for someone who's active in sports and trains regularly, adequate protein is essential for losing fat and building lean muscle. Your safest bet is to get between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass.
When calculating that amount, use the weight you think you would look good at, especially if you're 20 or more pounds overweight. For example, if an ideal weight for you would be 170 pounds, multiply that number by 0.8 grams: Your daily protein requirement turns out to be 136 grams, which translates to 27 grams of protein per meal (at five meals per day). That's what you'll get from about one small can of water-packed tuna or four slices of turkey breast deli meat.
While eating anything raises your metabolic rate, protein boosts it the most. Chicken, turkey, beef, egg whites and cottage cheese are just a few of the choices you have for high-rev foods. Protein is also essential to building muscle, and the more muscle you carry, the more efficiently your body will burn the fat you're trying to fry. And don't forget about breakfast! Get an early jump on your protein - deliciously - with these 5 Protein-Packed Breakfasts for Weight Loss.
Muscle burns calories even at rest. Fat, on the other hand, just sits there. So the last thing you want from your weight-loss program is loss of muscle tissue. You can minimize this loss by getting enough protein delivered in relatively precise doses throughout each day. And for your body to put that protein to work for muscle building, you've got to log weight lifting time regularly.
Your last meal (or two, if you're eating more frequently) of the day should emphasize protein rather than typical slow-burning carbs like pasta. The carbs you do ingest should be the "wet" kind contained in high-water, medium-fiber foods such as cucumbers, leafy green salads, tomatoes and steamed asparagus. High-fiber, low-water foods leaching water out of your system; wet carbs, on the other hand, allow you to maintain relatively adequate levels of water during the night since you can't drink while you sleep.
Here's a bonus tip: Get in the habit of eating fish as part of your last meal of the day. Fish makes for a lighter meal, and it's a good way to replenish aminos while getting essential fatty acids. Fish is healthy as well: The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) per week.
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