Kate Neeley, contributing writer
Read on for the skinny on how to (actually) get lean and sculpted. Spoiler alert. It means eating A LOT of good food.
You know that hitting the gym, getting outside, or hopping on your stationary bike can play a big part in setting and reaching fitness goals — but have you ever stopped to consider that in reality, nutrition might be an even more important part of the process than your exercise routine?
If you get outside and run every day, can’t you just eat whatever you want and stay fit? The short answer is no. If you’re working out hard and missing the right fuel, you might get discouraged and quit when you’re seeing minimal results after a lot of hard work. Maybe you’ll chalk it up to genetics or something else, but in truth, your body has the tools and function to use fuel to repair and build lean muscle and improve performance, you just need to dial in the right nutrition.
So, maybe you need to get out and exercise AND clean up your eating — but what does that really mean? Does it mean you need to cut sugar or carbs and eat salads all the time? The short answer to that is also no. “The problem is that sometimes people will cut so many calories that they’re starving their body and not fueling it, which wrecks their metabolism,” James Seamons, of Complete Nutrition on Logan Main Street, said. James and his wife Morgan Seamons are the dream team when it comes to health and fitness; both of them have spent years studying and applying principles of nutrition and the part it plays in fitness.
Morgan and James Seamons, owners of Complete Nutrition in Logan, with their children.
According to Morgan and James, if you’re not properly feeding your body all the essential nutrients it needs, a calorie deficit may temporarily bring weight loss, but you’re losing a lot more than that in the process. When your body isn’t fueled, and then it is pushed hard in workouts, all the systems, including your metabolism, will slow down so it can use the minimal nutrition you’re giving it to keep basic systems functioning. Essentially, “your body goes into panic mode, causing inflammation, and when you diet several times over a lifetime, it stops working because once you actually start feeding your body, it will hang onto anything you give it and cause weight gain,” Morgan said.
The emphasis is on feeding your body properly AND exercising. When those things are in place, that is when you will start to see lean muscle forming and inflammation going down — creating the right formula for a tighter, leaner, stronger body. What does the mindset of just working as hard as you can, without getting proper nutrition, look like? According to Morgan, you might see people who are training for marathons with very little muscle and a big belly because their bodies are under too much stress.
Why is that, though? In mainstream diet culture, a popular belief is that to slim down, you need to eat less calories — so the fewer calories you eat, the slimmer and trimmer you’ll be, right? No way. “People will cut out the junk they’re eating and start working out every day,” James said, “but what they’re missing is that they need to replace the calories they were getting from junk with protein.” But why protein? “Protein is the macronutrient that repairs your cells. It fuels your body and builds muscle.”
Wait, what’s a macronutrient? Here’s the scientific scoop. There are three basic macronutrients that make up every food you eat, and all three are essential to your body’s main function and fitness. They are:
Beside these three, there are also micronutrients — things like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help with your hair, skin, nails, and other details of the body. For the purpose of understanding how your body composition changes, i.e., getting fit or shredded, you’ll want to focus first on balancing MACROS — getting the right amounts of each of them for you specifically. Maybe you have heard a friend say something about “tracking macros.” Is that another fad diet like so many you can Google? Despite its gaining popularity, it is certainly not a short-lived plan to drop some weight by depriving your body. By tracking macros, you are not cutting any foods out, but including all of them in the right amounts to properly fuel your body, for the rest of your life.
Marianne Dixon, nutrition coach and professional fitness trainer at Soul Fitness in Providence (@live_fit_mom on Instagram), helps people understand how to dial in macros to reach fitness goals and maintain them for life. As a mother of six young children, she knows the challenges of a busy life, and she has all the tools to help you succeed in the face of crazy schedules, high demands, and stress. She has a unique gift for helping people see that they CAN do it. All of that comes from her personal experience and knowledge, and nutrition coaching is a way she shares that with people.
She relates why each of the three main macronutrients is essential to your fitness and well-being:
1. Fats help fuel the body, give you energy, and help the body absorb vitamins. They also are the building blocks of hormones and they insulate the body.
2. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the main source of energy for your body and brain. There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. They each do great things for your body’s function, such as provide energy, keep blood sugars level, and also help in the digestion process.
3. Protein is essential because it builds, maintains, and replaces the tissues in your body.
Of the three macronutrients, protein — the builder and the healer — is the macronutrient that the mainstream American diet lacks more than the other two.
If you want to start somewhere, James recommends, “Start moving your body and get your protein in.” Complete Nutrition is a supplier of high-quality and delicious tasting protein supplements in powders of many flavors, and some of the best protein bars you can get. But why can’t you just eat more chicken? That has a lot of protein. “With how busy life is and how on-the-go most people are, how likely is it that you’re going to eat a chicken breast in your car on the way to work or taking kids to sports and lessons? For me, if I have a bar with me, I am a lot more likely to get my protein in. It just makes it easier,” James said.
Morgan and James emphasize a realistic approach to fitness. They encourage people to take it one step at a time, with the commitment to keep learning over the years, improving understanding and habits, and being kind to themselves in the process. “Everyone has the potential to be the best version of themselves,” James promises.