And two carb-conscious friendly fall recipes!
When I decided to take on the challenge of competing in a bikini competition about three months ago, my expectations for the experience mainly involved toughing out killer workouts, banning junk food, and looking way fit at the end.
What I didn't expect was that it would change my life.
Actually, I'm not even exaggerating. Whatever perspective I had on working out and healthy eating before totally changed because of this. Not because I hadn't known a thing about that stuff before, but simply because diet and exercise came to pervade every aspect of my life for three whole months.
Like, I didn't realize how many times a day I even made food or physical activity choices to begin with. Once I was in training though, each extra step and calorie and carb became cosmically important. Thinking about the effect of every little thing I did was like worrying that kicking a pebble in the parking lot could set off civil war in Australia.
Of course, when making small choices is tantamount to controlling the world's harmony, one tends to obsess. I became prone to scrounging the interweb for every possible tip or minutiae that could possibly help me be ready for the upcoming contest.
As I mentioned before, this was my first bikini competition - my first anything remotely like it - AND I was cemented in the idea of figuring it out le solo. No trainers. No dieticians. Just me, myself... and all the bodybuilders/doctors/trainers on the internet who expounded upon pre-contest diets that worked for them.
Okay, so I did have some help! And no, maybe it wasn't strictly the best way to do it if, say, I wanted to avoid stress or have a top-tier shot at winning this thing... but I was trying to learn something, here.
Important to note: I DID.
Also important to note: Having a decent foundation of knowledge prior to this preparation was crucial to understanding what I read on the internet. If I was coming in without a clue, I daresay all the information I came across would have sounded equally as sage or equally as bat-freaking crazy. At least this way I had a background to help me decide what to think when I read said internet-advice.
So when I started to learn about Intermittent Fasting (IF) and ketogenic diets, I dug around for research with a skeptical eye.
After thoroughly reading up on it, I decided to try Intermittent Fasting first - the technique of shortening your eating period during the day to a smaller timeslot to lengthen the fat-burning period. Every day for about a week, I drank only coffee and water mixed with a carb and calorie-free BCAA mixture (more on that later) up until about 11 am. My window of eating after that lasted until about 7-8 pm, when I would stop eating and wait for my next window.
The reason for abstaining from breakfast for a few extra hours is to allow the body to use up any carbs and energy from the day before and burn body fat longer into the day. Many people capitalize on this "fat-burning period" by doing cardio to burn the most possible fat before refueling. My window of eating was longer than some suggest for a couple reasons. I knew I would be active most mornings, teaching classes, and that would make me hungrier earlier; I also thought that it would be better to ease into something new like this slowly.
That week of no breakfasts was not actually as hard as I thought it would be!
Knowing me, you're probably thinking, No way, girl, you must be messin' with me - we all know you can't go two hours without getting hangry! As a matter of fact, I am not messin'. I used to eat a lot more carbs throughout the day without including enough protein or fats... and guess what. I had a lot more carb CRASHES! Yup. Even healthy, nutritious carbs, won't keep you as full for as long if you don't include them with some slow-digesting protein and/or fat.
So it would stand to reason that, while I might have been hungry for a short period of time, not having any carbs to gobble up and crash on an hour later helped my body get over it and move on to other things. Like fat burning.
And while I do believe that the addition of IF for the week actually did help get some extra fat loss going, I also acknowledged the fact that it might not be the best for every day. At least, not for me. Example: Teaching Zumba at 9:45 am. Halfway through a jammin' song, I forget what I'm doing and repeat the same move like eight extra times. I'm pretty sure only the regulars noticed... but still. Being able to actually focus is kinda important when you're TEACHING A DANCE CLASS. Seems logical to me that no food at all tends to equal less focus.
This is why, students (and also people in any job involving physical activity... or sharp objects), both what you eat for breakfast and the actual eating of breakfast is quite important.
With that said, I was really focused on fat loss, and at this point, that was important to me, too.
For the following weeks, I decided to just continue with the same fasting routine on the mornings I didn't need to teach. Then, any cardio I did would be something I could do without getting funny looks and people tripping as a result of my dietary choices.
At this point, I started to see a tiny bit more progress in my fat loss. Besides the aforementioned fat-burning throughout the mornings, it became much easier to eat a smaller target of calories. After fasting, I'd eat a larger, satisfying lunch that would hold me through to a medium-sized dinner (or at least until a small, protein-filled snack in the late afternoon.)
Still, after a couple weeks, I felt I needed to make changes a little faster to reach my goals in time.
I think my fat loss went so slowly because, honestly, I didn't have a huge amount of fat to lose to begin with. This does make it harder as you get closer to your goal, friends! To get over this little hitch, I used one of the principles of IF, ketogenesis.
Ketogenesis, or keto, is what happens when the body can no longer supply its energy with its preferred source of glucose from carbohydrates, so it begins to convert fat to usable ketone bodies. I won't get too scientific here - I'll leave that to the pros - but for those who do not have any kind of metabolic disorders, ketogenesis is something the body does naturally and allows the body to use more of its own fat stores for energy. During sleep, ketogenesis will occur to keep the body going through the night with no food. This is what continues to provide energy through the next morning if your body gets no carbs or protein. You got it. One of the ways IF works.
Still, if one were to go a step further and cut down significantly on carbs for a whole week or three, eating higher levels of fat to replace the carbs, the body can become very efficient at burning fat instead of carbs. This is the main principle of the ketogenic diet. I ended up following that style of eating, cutting down on my carb intake gradually for about three solid weeks, to really get close to my ideal competition body-fat level of about 13%. Luckily, doing this helped me finally lose my attachment to calorie-counting, as just knowing about how many carbs I was eating was the main idea now.
Goodness, there is a lot more I could say. I do wanna say, at least, that there are certainly times to diet like this, and times NOT to diet like this. Me telling you about this is not supposed to equal telling you that you should try this. What worked for me may not work for you.
I would definitely suggest against low-carb diets if you want to be on top of your game for a sport or are trying to gain a lot of muscle quickly. Still, for body-fat loss purposes, it could be a handy tool (with knowledgable guidance, of course.) But I thought you'd like to know how I really did what I did - no lies about eating apple-pie stuffed doughnuts and getting results.
Also! More about my exercise regimen coming soon! I do so love the new weight lifting trends I've come across.
But, now, seriously... You don't want me going into more detail here. I mean, what if I bore you? Or worse - make you think I stopped caring about giving you tasty treats. Nothing could be further from my goal. In fact, a couple recipes I love for fall (and a great ones for both carb-conscious times and not) are coming up like RIGHTNOW.
PS. Feel free to comment or send me any additional questions you may have, but here are a few of the links I found helpful!
Is Fasted Cardio the Best for Burning Fat? by Jim Stoppani
Beginner's Guide to Intermittent Fasting @ nerdfitness.com
Experiments with Intermittent Fasting by Dr. John M. Berardi
What You Should Know About the Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet (One of the better-written internet articles about ketogenic diets) by George Dvorsky
As always, keep doing your own research and look into where your information is coming from!