FreeWorkoutLog Blog

Tips on How to Increase Your Bench Press

Bench Pressing


Courtesy of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet

There are plenty of tips to help you increase your bench press, but it’s usually the most basic advice that makes the best impact on your workout routine. It isn’t about how much you exercise: it’s about making sure you get the most out of the exercises you perform.

Your efforts should not be limited to your sessions on the bench. There are plenty of additional workouts and lifestyle changes you can make to help you get more out of your bench press. Combining your efforts in every aspect of your workout routine can help you build strength!

Following the Right Lifestyle

If you want to get the results you are looking for you will need to transform your body the way you are hoping for.

  • If you want to boost bench press results you are going to need to eat a caloric surplus so you wind up consuming more than you are burning. If you are not eating enough you will not have enough energy to get through your increased reps. You can get an idea of how much you should be eating each day by using our daily calorie estimator.
  • Increase your protein intake, particularly increasing your intake of poultry, fish, eggs, whey or red meat to ensure that your body has the right fuel to build the muscles you are hoping for.
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest and get enough sleep every night. Sleeping for eight hours and resting when you are not exercising will help your muscles repair so you can take on a greater load when you take your next workout.

When you are trying to increase your bench press it may seem logical to work out as much as you can! In fact, if you overwork yourself you may wind up preventing your ability to grow muscle.

On the other hand, if you quit working out you can wind up losing the progress you have made. So what’s the best way out? You can focus on finding the right balance by spending the occasional week dropping back to an easier weight level to help you maintain your progress.

Using the Right Equipment

If you are planning on using equipment to further your workout make sure that you select machines that will not harm your progress.

  • Use a bench press machine that allows you to use a proper technique. Do not flare the elbows, roll the wrists back or roll the shoulders forward.
  • Make sure you can keep a balance when training, using machines that will train your muscle to the full potential.
  • Make sure your strength training equipment allows you to keep proper posture to help prevent your risk of injury.

Focus your workouts on exercises that include compound lifts. Shoulder presses, squats, deadlifts or barbell rows are great examples. Machines can be helpful if they allow you to work out several different muscle groups in one session.

This can help you build muscle all over the body and encourage proper technique so you are less likely to injure yourself.

Adjust Your Workout over Time

While a flat bench press can be a great place to get started, you want to make sure you work on adding more advanced items into your workout so you can continue to improve your stamina.

  • Perform exercises that will help strengthen your biceps to add to your overall strength. Hammer curls are ideal for this. You can also use a brachialis act during your bench press to add strength.
  • Work your triceps using exercises like a JM press, close grip bench press dips or a floor press so it’s easier to lift.
  • Look for bench press equipment that will help you strengthen the upper back and lats to get more out of your lift. Barbell rows are very helpful for this and allow you to work muscles in the opposite direction of your bench press so you get a well-rounded workout.

You must pay attention to your workout to determine which of your muscles is failing first. In most cases people’s shoulders or triceps burns out fast. Choosing exercises that will help boost the right muscles groups are thus important to be able to increase the amount you can lift.

When you are looking at how to increase your bench press you want to get out of the mentality that you need to work out as often as possible. Instead, focus on getting the most out of the reps you do!

A few high quality reps are going to do a lot more for you than several reps that you struggle through with poor posture.

Foods That Build Muscle: Eat Your Way to the Physique of Your Dreams

Eating the proper foods is paramount for muscle growth. To build muscle you need high quality protein sources that are low in saturated fat, complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber, and healthy dietary fats.

These foods are also filled with important vitamins and minerals that the body requires to build muscle. By eating the right foods for muscle growth you will not only pack on muscle in the process they will also help with you lose fat.

Greg Plitt


Greg Plitt knows how to eat.

Eat High Quality Protein Sources

Protein is the building block of muscle. It’s important to choose lean proteins that are low in saturated fat. However, don’t completely eliminate saturated fat from your diet. Saturated fat should consist of 10% or less of your daily caloric intake.

Summer lunch with spring vegetables, cherry tomato & steak

Below are some example protein sources:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef (90% lean)
  • Tuna
  • Wild Salmon
  • Egg Whites
  • Whole Eggs (in moderation)
  • Whey Protein

Eat Complex Carbohydrates Packed with Fiber

Carbohydrates give your body the fuel (muscle glycogen) it needs to take on intense workout sessions. High fiber complex carbohydrates give you energy while also keeping your blood sugar levels in check which helps minimize fat storage.

Whole Grain Cereal with Raisins

Below are some example complex carbohydrates:

  • Steel-cut Oats (Hate oatmeal? – Make oatmeal taste better)
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Wild Rice
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Natural Yogurt (low fat)
  • Legumes (Beans)
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Other Whole Grains

Vegetable sources:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Green Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower

The Best Time to Eat Simple Carbohydrates

Keeping simple carbohydrates (simple sugars) low in the diet will help with fat loss, however, there are times when they are beneficial such as immediately after your workout. After a tough workout, your blood sugar levels are lowered and consuming simple carbohydrates (like Gatorade or a sports drink) will provide an insulin spike that will put your body in an anabolic (muscle building) state instead of a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state. I generally drink some Gatorade right after my workout and then shortly after drink a whey protein shake.

What About Fruits and Berries?

Both fruits and berries are simple carbohydrates, but they are also loaded with fiber and nutrients. They generally are very low in calories and have a low glycemic index. For example, a cup of raspberries has a whopping eight grams of fiber and is only 60 calories. They’re also packed with antioxidants which help fight free radicals in the body.

Fruits and Berries

This is not a complete list by any means, but these Fruits/Berries are staples in my diet:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries

I generally have a 1/2 to a whole banana every morning in my morning smoothie or berries depending what kind of smoothie I make. Fruits and berries are also great as mid-morning or mid-day snacks when combined with quality protein and fat sources. You can add some berries to yogurt or eat an apple with peanut butter, for example.

As long as you don’t over do it you really can’t go wrong with fruit. What you really need to stay away from and keep minimal in the are the processed simple sugars such as table sugar, white bread, high fructose corn syrup, sodas, cakes, cookies, etc. These sources provide no real nutritional value and are considered “empty” calories.

Eat Healthy Fat Sources

Dietary fats are absolutely essential for human health and eating the right fats will actually aid with fat loss and building muscle. A diet consisting of 20-30% fat has been shown to boost testosterone levels which will aid you muscle building endeavors.

Almonds and Nuts

Remember, as stated earlier around 10% or less of the total fat consumed should be saturated fat. Trans fat is the true “bad guy” in the fat world. EFA’s (essential fatty acids – think Omega 3’s) are also very important as they cannot be produced by the body. The only way you get them is through the food you eat, and they have a whole range of health benefits to boot.

Below are some example healthy fat sources:

  • Fish Oil
  • Flax Seeds
  • Almonds and Other Nuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Natural Peanut Butter

Should You Avoid Dairy?

No, not at all unless you are lactose intolerant. Dairy is a great way to add the extra calories needed in your diet in order to build muscle.

Dairy examples:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Buttermilk
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream

Milk is great to mix with protein shakes and smoothies and consists of 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. It has near perfect balance of fast digesting protein (whey) which is absorbed quickly in the body and slow digesting protein (casein) which will feed your muscle slowly over a few hours. It also contains important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, vitamin b-12, and vitamin D just to name a few.

Ice Cream

That’s right even ice cream (in moderation) is good for building muscle. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ice cream triggers a better insulin response than most other foods. In laymen’s terms that means less protein breakdown and more muscle. So, have a bowl of any type of ice cream you want 2 hours after your workout. Now that’s a treat!

Do not be afraid of dairy. There are some misconceptions out there about dairy. You won’t get fat from the fat content in dairy. However, I recommend you get low fat instead of full fat dairy products. The essential fatty acids in dairy help regulate your metabolism and keep your skin, hair, and nails in healthy, shiny condition.

Another misconception about dairy is sugar content. The sugar in a glass of milk is not going to hurt you. The sugar in yogurt actually gets consumed by the live cultures (the good bacteria) while it sits on your shelf or the fridge!

Increase Calories to Pack on Muscle Mass

In order to gain muscle mass you’ll need to eat a calorie surplus which is simply eating more calories than your body burns off. You can use our daily calorie estimator tool to get an idea of how many calories you should be eating each day.

Remember, even though these foods listed are healthy doesn’t mean that you can over eat. You can still gain fat by over eating healthy foods and eating too many calories. Good luck on your quest for muscles, and be sure to include some of these foods on your next grocery shopping list!

Muscle Building Supplements

Supplements will never replace a good diet. I’ll be the first to tell you that many supplements do not help you at all or are out right scams. However, there are some decent supplements that can help you build muscle such as whey protein and creatine.

Did I Miss Anything?

I know I haven’t listed every possible muscle building food. Are there any great foods that you eat to build muscle that I’ve missed? Leave a comment below.

Protein – The Building Block of Muscle

Steak on Grill

The human body has certain requirements to remain healthy and support daily activities. Protein is a nutritional building block that supports the body’s natural ability to build muscle. Upon hearing the term “protein”, many people will assume that the topic has shifted to a health craze that requires extensive exercise and a radical change in the daily diet. Many different foods offer sufficient amounts of protein to offer most Americans more than enough protein throughout the day.

Protein Basics

Every bodily organ, tissue and cell is constructed of different protein strands. The natural rejuvenation process ensures that the proteins are broken down and replaced at regular intervals. As protein-rich foods are consumed and digested, the amino acids are used to replenish the protein throughout the body. Without sufficient amino acids, the body will consume muscle tissue to replenish the cells. Protein deficiency can lead to many different health problems.

Food Sources of Protein

Many different food sources offer significant amounts of protein in various forms.

  • Vegetable-Based Sources
    • Legumes (dry peas and beans)
    • Tofu
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Grains, certain fruits and some vegetables offer smaller amounts of protein per serving.
  • Meat Sources
    • Poultry
    • Fish
    • Beef
    • Pork
  • Dairy Sources
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Cheese

Anyone who eats a healthy diet will find sufficient sources of protein to support normal activities. Additional sources of protein can be added to the diet during times of excessive exercise and hard physical labor.

Types of Protein

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. In the human body, there are 20 types of amino acids that are assembled to make various proteins that are the building blocks for cells, tissues and organs. The diet must include essential amino acids, which cannot be manufactured in the human body. A protein-rich diet will include two different types of protein, complete and incomplete.

Chain of Amino Acids and Protein Molecule

Complete Protein

A complete protein source is known to provide all of the essential amino acids. The proteins called complete are also considered high-quality protein sources, which are provided through animal-based food. Cheese, milk, eggs, fish, poultry and meat are complete protein sources.

Incomplete Protein

An incomplete protein will not provide all essential amino acids. Some protein sources work together to provide sufficient quantities of the essential amino acids, so they are called complementary proteins. Rice and beans consumed on the same day will provide complementary proteins for the body.

Recommended Protein Amounts

Normal activity levels require a protein percentage between 10-35 percent of the daily caloric intake. High activity levels, including body building, weightlifting and physical labor will require more protein than average activity levels. The percentage of calories should change to 40 percent from protein, 40 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from fat.

Throughout life, the protein consumption will changes because of physical growth rates and gender.

  • Young children – 13 grams per day
  • Young teens – 34 grams per day
  • Girl teenagers – 46 grams per day
  • Boy teenagers – 52 grams per day
  • Women – 46 grams per day
  • Men – 56 grams per day

Consuming sufficient protein is easier than most people assume because of the wide variety of high-quality foods that are available. Eating enough protein reduces the body’s cravings for foods that are not healthy. Certain foods should be consumed with each meal to provide a steady supply of amino acids throughout the day.

  • Milk – 8 ounces – contains 8 grams of protein
  • Meat – 3 ounces – 21 grams of protein
  • Dry beans – 1 cup – 16 grams of protein
  • Yogurt – 1 cup – 11 grams of protein

These four foods will provide the 56 grams of protein an adult male requires throughout the day. Other foods have lower protein levels, but each one plays an important role in the diet.

The daily adult diet should have balance throughout the waking hours. Healthy foods provide necessary vitamins, minerals and proteins in lower quantities, which support weight control efforts.

Too Much Protein?

An American diet contains more protein than the human body needs in a day. With sufficient water, the kidneys can process excess protein without incident. Caloric intake increases with additional protein in the diet. Lifestyle should be considered when changing the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. High activity periods should be supported with more foods that are high in protein. As activity levels change, the ratio can shift to complex carbohydrates.

Cholesterol is an important consideration since animal-based protein foods are sources of saturated fat, which is considered the cause of elevated LDL cholesterol. Doctors have concerns over the risks of heart disease when the LDL cholesterol remains high for long periods. Other sources of protein can be beneficial for those with this condition.

Anyone with kidney disease should consult a physician before embracing higher levels of protein in the diet. Kidneys are strained when too much protein is present in the blood.

Word to Vegetarians

Sufficient protein in the vegetarian diet is possible with good planning. Plant-based protein sources should be included in every meal to sustain a constant source of amino acids. Complementary protein sources must be consumed within the same day to provide all of the essential amino acids.

Protein and Weight Lifting

weightlifter-performing-deadlift


Photo Courtesy: mjzitek

Any physical activity places strain on the body and requires sufficient nutrients. Protein is comprised of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. At appropriate levels, the protein in the body will create a positive nitrogen balance, also called an anabolic state. In this state, the body will build muscle because all of the building blocks are present during the workout.

Failure to consume sufficient protein, or amino acids, prior to the workout will create a catabolic state in the body. The human body will find the necessary fuel by breaking down muscle for the energy it needs. All of the hard work invested in previous workouts can be sustained with consumption of high-quality protein-rich foods.

Anyone on a rigid workout schedule should consider increasing the protein intake for every meal through the day. Complete recovery between workouts can be achieved with 30-40 grams of protein in each meal. The body will remain in an anabolic state throughout the day with this type of protein-rich diet.

How Much Protein is Needed for Building Muscle?

Some experts believe that body builders should consume 1-1.5 grams of protein for each pound of body weight. A male weighing 180 pounds should consume 35 grams of protein in each of six daily meals.

Busy people struggle to include large quantities of protein through food sources. Another approach is to embrace whey protein shakes as an excellent source of protein. Before and after each workout, a protein shake can provide the amino acids required to replenish the body’s supply. Whey protein is the most bio-available type of protein. Convenience is another reason to add whey protein to the diet.

Whey Protein

Many weight lifters have discovered that six meals consumed at regular intervals throughout the day are better. Smaller meals prevent the overly full feeling that can come from consuming large quantities of protein-rich foods. Pre-measuring and planning will reduce the amount of time required to prepare food.

Sufficient water consumption is necessary to provide enough moisture for proper digestion and waste elimination. High-protein diets can create additional thirst. Water is the best source of hydration since other drinks include more sodium than the body needs. More than 48 ounces of water each day will be required when six high-protein meals are consumed each day.

Final Word

Physical activity levels dictate how much protein should be consumed in a day. Anyone with the desire to build muscle through a workout routine should consider consuming an increased amount of protein every two or three hours throughout the day.

Adults living with normal activity levels must adjust the protein levels to match the body’s needs as seasons change. Higher activity levels require support from a diet rich in high-quality foods that will provide the building blocks of muscle. Protein levels should vary depending on the needs of the body. Adjustments will be noticeable because the energy level will improve when the right nutrients are present in the body.

Low energy levels can be raised when eating the right foods in sufficient quantity. Reduce the amount of junk food to support the body’s physical requirements. Long life is the reward for the person who eats right and exercises on a regular basis.

Carbohydrates Act as Fuel for Your Body

Carbohydrates are foods that fuel the human body constantly. They are produced by plants through a process called photosynthesis. When carbohydrates are consumed, the digestive system breaks them down into small, sugar molecules that enter the bloodstream easily. These sugar molecules are called blood sugar or glucose, which is the primary source of body energy. Scientifically, a carbohydrate is an organic compound consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms- where the atom ratio of hydrogen and oxygen is 2:1.

Running in a Marathon

Carbohydrates can take any of the three basic forms described below:

Sugars – Sugars are either monosaccharides or disaccharides that typically form straight chain structures. Sugars are alternatively called simple carbohydrates. They are used by the body to generate energy, and they mainly include glucose. Other examples of sugars are galactose, maltose and fructose. Humans consume sugar usually in the form of granulated substances (sucrose), which is a disaccharide.

Starches – These carbohydrates are polysaccharides, which means that they contain several merged units of a monosaccharide like glucose. Plants use starches to store energy for later use. This is why many starch-containing grains boast an insoluble outer shell for energy storage. Examples of starches include corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, breads, nuts, and seeds among others.

Cellulose – This carbohydrate type forms a ring molecular structure, consisting of 1500 glucose molecules. It is the most plentiful organic compound on the planet. Cellulose boosts formation of cell walls in all living things. Because a human digestive system lacks sufficient enzymes to break-down cellulose, it can only be introduced to the body as a fiber. The key sources of a fiber are whole grains, green vegetables, fruits and beans.

Two Main Types of Carbohydrates

A few modern diet providers have continually discouraged consumption of carbohydrates. They have made people believe that these foods increase body fat, leading to high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular diseases. Carbohydrates are not bad for human health. Read on and learn their different kinds and how they affect human health. They are generally divided into two types: complex and simple.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates can simply be described as long chains of single sugar molecules or polysaccharides. Starch is the main polysaccharide utilized by plants to store energy for later usage. When an individual consumes starchy foods, an enzyme in the saliva and intestines (amylase) breaks the bonds that link sugar molecules together. This changes sugar to glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Excess glucose is stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. When humans demand an urgent source of energy, perhaps when working out, glycogen is quickly transformed into energy.

Brown Rice

A list of complex carbohydrates is shown below.

  • Grains and cereals such as rice, corn and oatmeal
  • Legumes like dried beans and peas
  • Vegetables such as potatoes
  • Fruits like berries, apples and pears
  • Different nuts and seeds, including cashew nuts, macadamia, walnuts, chestnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, dates, and flaxseeds among others

Consumers are encouraged to make great food choices with regard to complex carbohydrates. This means avoiding foods with “empty” calories, such as white sugar and white rice. These foods are generally refined, and their vitamins, fiber, and minerals are already removed. Whole foods containing unrefined grains are definitely excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. These may include brown rice, brown sugar, oatmeal, and corn.

Eat Complex Carbs for Dietary Fiber

There are several health advantages associated with eating high fiber foods. Dietary fiber helps in digestion and boosts absorption of useful nutrients. High fiber foods are recommended for those looking to lose weight in a healthy manner. After consuming high fiber carbohydrates, the stomach feels fuller quickly and remains this way for a longer period. This prevents overeating and unintended weight gain.

These types of fiber foods can be used to prevent and cure constipation, digestive tract inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids. Research shows that dietary fiber lowers the risk of catching coronary heart disease that is normally caused by bad cholesterol. One may also avoid type 2 diabetes and certain stomach cancers by eating a high fiber diet. A diet high in fiber contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber easily mixes with water. Since it delays the digestion of food, the stomach feels fuller for a longer period. Soluble fiber may therefore be used to control weight.

It is contained in the following complex carbohydrates:

  • Seeds and nuts
  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Carrots, cucumbers and berries
  • Fruits like oranges, pears and apples

Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. According to experts, this diet adds bulk to the foods, thus preventing constipation. Insoluble fiber is contained in foods such as:

  • Whole cereals including bran, wheat, corn and rice
  • Veggies like broccoli, spinach, green beans, carrots, cabbages and onions
  • Barley
  • Fruits like tomatoes and grapes

The following tips can help you introduce fiber into your daily meals:

  • Increase intake of fruits and vegetables that contain high complex carbohydrates. Good examples are dried beans (like navy, kidney, Lima and white beans), figs and dates, sweet potatoes, spinach, pears, apples, potatoes and berries.
  • Substitute white bread products for whole grain breads.
  • Eat whole cereals like oatmeal, bran and brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Aim for five grams dietary fiber per serving. It is important to read labels for all foods bought from a store to achieve this goal.

Simple Carbohydrates

The other name for simple carbohydrates is simple sugars. These are monosaccharide carbohydrates (have one sugar unit only) and disaccharides (have two sugar units only). Simple carbohydrates are generally sweet foods. They are metabolized very quickly in the intestines to form sugars like glucose and fructose. When people eat refined fast foods in a restaurant they are eating mostly simple carbohydrates.

Not all simple carbohydrates are bad carbohydrates. Some simple carbohydrate foods are good for consumption like milk and fruits. These contain natural sugars while bad carbs contain added sugars. So they give one’s body more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is good to avoid white table sugar, white breads and pastas, sodas, candies, cakes and other foods with added sugars and flavors.

Should You Eat Carbohydrates at All?

Carbohydrates are building blocks for a healthy and energetic body. They make an integral part of a balanced diet. Listening to people or companies that disregard consumption of carbs is unwise. If one chooses their carbohydrates wisely, they can control body weight, blood sugar, and enjoy optimal body functioning. So it is good to start a day with servings of whole grains such as oats, wheat, and cereals. Although potatoes are great sources of complex carbohydrates, one should limit their intake. Brown rice, millet or barley could sometimes be used as potato substitutes. Beans and lentils are great sources of fiber and protein while fruits and vegetables provide high amounts of fiber, minerals and vitamins.

Cupcakes

Good Carbohydrates Versus Bad Carbohydrates

It is important to understand the difference between “good” and “bad” carbohydrates. A good carbohydrate (complex carbohydrate) aids digestion, prevents the formation of bad cholesterol and keeps the body safe from type-2 diabetes, heart ailments, and obesity. A bad carbohydrate (simple carbohydrate) introduces nothing useful to the body, making it store excess fat and experience quick blood sugar fluctuations. So it is a common knowledge to eat good carbs and avoid bad carbs.

Some of the bad carbohydrates to avoid include:

  • White grain breads and pastas
  • Beverages with tons of added sugars such as sodas and juices. People should drink pure water instead.
  • Candies and cakes that contain high amounts of white table sugar and white flour
  • White rice

Do Carbohydrates Promote Muscle Building and Fitness?

Numerous muscle builders consume more protein than carbohydrates. Some of them do not believe that carbohydrates are significant in their muscle building efforts. The truth that they have been missing is that complex carbs promote fast muscle development. According to fitness experts, a good diet should contain protein and carbohydrate calories in equal proportions. They recommend a diet that has 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. Carbohydrates are known to enhance the rate in which the nutrients from proteins are ferried to the muscle tissue. This brings a muscle builder closer to his goal.

Dumbbells on Rack


Photo Courtesy: plex

The following simple instructions should be followed by muscle builders when eating carbohydrates:

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates – These are known to facilitate development of muscle glycogen. This is excess glucose is kept in the muscle tissue and liver. It is the permanent body fuel needed by professional muscle builders to train hard every day. Complex carbs are not metabolized quickly, which means that they provide a long lasting energy supply. By controlling the blood sugar constantly, complex carbs minimize fat storage and tiredness.
  • Have many small servings of meals – Although a muscle builder needs constant energy supply to train longer, they must eat carbs in small portions. This should be done to keep the level of insulin steady. Insulin puts the body in a muscle building state, and lack of it could easily cause a muscle breakdown. Eating one big serving of carbohydrates before an exercise is not recommended. One should eat a small portion, combined with an equal portion of protein, after each training period.
  • Focus on high fiber complex carbs – Fiber does not only promote digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also helps the muscle tissue absorb amino acids quickly. Amino acids are proven to support muscle growth and development.

The Importance of Dietary Fat

Olive Oil

For people leading fit and active lifestyles, maintaining a diet sufficient in dietary fats is imperative. The human body cannot survive without them as every single cell must contain a fatty layer in order to function. Healthy fats provide a stable source of energy and are necessary for proper hormone production. Since hormones regulate numerous body functions, including metabolism and the building/maintaining of muscle, a low-fat or no-fat diet would make it extremely difficult to achieve lean muscle. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is a dietary fat commonly found in dairy products, mushrooms, and organic meats. It is widely used by fitness enthusiasts as it has been shown to help the body burn fat more efficiently.

The risks of eating a diet too heavy in fatty foods are well-known. Unfortunately, not as many people know the dangers associated with not incorporating enough fats into their nutrition. In a diet that is fat-deficient, the body’s level of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) goes down. Ideally, HDL levels should be kept within moderate to high levels in order to help protect against heart disease. When there’s an imbalance of these fats, and when LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels get too high, there is an increased risk of heart disease. Essential fatty acids have been proven to increase HDL. This, in turn, improves cholesterol levels and protects the heart. Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been linked to a deficiency in essential fats. It has also been proven that a diet sufficient in omega-3s slows prostate cancer cell growth.

Don’t Be Afraid of Dietary Fat

Eating a diet too low in fat can interfere with the body’s utilization of fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins are stored mostly in the liver and fat tissue and are important in bodily functions that include growth, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting. If there is not enough fat to bring these vitamins into the body and transport them around the body, they will be excreted, which can increase the risk for vitamin deficiency.

A diet that’s too low in fat can also negatively affect mental health. These essential dietary fats play an integral role in regulating mood behaviors, and they are the vital to many hormones and chemicals produced in the brain. One study has correlated low fatty acid levels to symptoms of depression. Fatty acids encase nerve cells in the brain, creating a protective barrier and allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with each other. As a result, people who are deficient in omega-3s may suffer from certain nervous and mood disorders.

Low-Fat or Fat-Free Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy

By always choosing low-fat or fat-free foods at the grocery store, many people unknowingly undermine their weight-loss efforts. Research has shown that people will often over eat these foods, thinking they’re healthy or low in calories. Fat helps carry the flavor in food. It leads to fullness and satiety, which means eating a meal or snack that provides healthy fat will decrease the need to eat again too soon.

When a person isn’t consuming enough fat in their diet, it is very likely that, as a result, they are eating too many carbohydrates and protein. This affects the nutritional balance of a healthy diet, which could lead to health problems. A diet too rich in carbohydrates can increase both appetite and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a high-protein diet overworks the kidneys and liver. Maintaining a healthy balance of all three macronutrients-fat, carbs and protein-is essential in ensuring optimal nutrition and disease prevention. A balanced diet for both building muscle and losing fat is 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat. 10% or less of your fat intake should be saturated fat.

The key to finding a healthy median is to know the difference between “good” (dietary) fats and “bad” fats. HDL (high density lipoproteins) are produced from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and help decrease fatty deposits in the arteries by actually transporting bad cholesterol back to the liver, where it is eliminated. On the other hand, consuming too much saturated fat or trans fat causes the liver to produce an excess of bad cholesterol (LDL-low density lipoproteins), some of which is deposited on the artery walls, causing high blood pressure and many other health problems. Consumption of these fats should avoided as much as possible.

The Misunderstanding of Cholesterol

Of all the information listed on the nutrition facts on food labels, cholesterol may be the most misunderstood. Although it is, of course, vital to limit cholesterol intake, especially for those with diabetes, for most people dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly as detrimental as it is portrayed to be. Part of the misunderstanding comes from the fact that dietary cholesterol isn’t the same thing as the cholesterol that clogs arteries.

While it is a fact that foods high in cholesterol can cause a rise in blood pressure levels, only about one in three people seem to be especially susceptible to the effects of dietary cholesterol. Just like foods that claim to be “fat free”, “cholesterol-free” labels can be very misleading. These labels may claim they contain zero cholesterol, but they’re actually loaded with saturated fats or trans-fats, which makes them more of a threat to the heart and arteries than foods with a little cholesterol and less saturated fat.

It’s also important to remember that “low-fat,” “reduced fat,” and “fat-free” processed foods are not necessarily healthy. One problem with the usual lower-fat diet is that, more often than not, it causes most people to stop eating good fats along with those that are bad. Low-fat diets are often higher in refined carbs and starches from foods like white rice and bread, potatoes, and pasta. Eventually, consistently eating these types of foods can raise the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to remember to not just cut out foods that contain saturated and trans fats, but to replace them with the healthy oils found in fish, beans, and nuts-not refined carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and snacks, white bread/rice/pasta, sweeteners, and canned fruit/vegetables.

Salmon with Vegetables

Here are a few ways to incorporate healthy dietary fats into any nutrition plan:

  1. When cooking or baking, opt for healthier substitutes. Instead of butter, use margarine or liquid plant oils. Olive, canola, avocado, and coconut oils are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Be mindful of the nutrition label and choose a product that has minimal to zero grams of trans fat. Refrigerated (solid) olive oil is an excellent healthy option that can also be spread on toast.
  2. Cut as much trans fat as possible. While grocery shopping, read the label to find foods that are trans free. The vast majority of food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products. However, for restaurants that don’t have nutrition information readily available, steer clear of fried foods, biscuits, and other baked goods, unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans fat.
  3. Have at least one serving of omega-3 fats each day. Fatty fish, walnuts, and canola oil all provide omega-3 fatty acids. The body cannot make omega-3 fats on its own, so it is essential that sufficient amounts of these oils are present in the diet. Omega-3 fats are especially necessary for optimal heart function.
  4. Consume red meat only in moderate amounts. Red meat and dairy products are high in saturated fat. Opt for leaner cuts of meat and reduced fat dairy products. Instead, choose fish, chicken, nuts, or beans. When enjoying milk, cheese, or other dairy products, keep in mind that low-fat and reduced-fat dairy products are often high in sodium.