Things are pretty easy when you’re under thirty. You can party all night and get up and go to work on only a few hours sleep. You can drink and eat pretty much whatever you want. A few weeks of eating well and hitting the gym and you can melt your poor choices right off again.
But then you hit your late thirties and things change. Your body slows down. And suddenly you can’t get away with anything anymore. Suddenly you’re one of the many men who will soon be at risk of heart disease thanks to your expanding waistline.
Make no mistake – being overweight kills. And with more than 60% of the Western World being overweight or obese the odds are not in your favour. As society becomes more and more out of shape our own perspectives change. What we view as acceptable in most cases is still overweight and brings with it many, many health risks.
Men struggle for many reasons when it comes to eating well. Here are the four biggest problems:
You follow the wrong diet advice
When it comes to trimming the fat most men go to one of two sources. Either they grab the first bodybuilding magazine they see or they ask their partner.
If they grab a bodybuilding magazine they’re going to follow a diet for someone who is (a) training for up to two hours a day, and (b) is on a supplement program that has raised their testosterone levels to as much as forty times what is normal for an adult male.
Heavy training breaks muscle down. The more you train, and the heavier you train, the greater your need will be to repair and rebuild muscle. But you’re not training ten hours a week. You’re training three. You’re not deadlifting two or more times your bodyweight for reps. The damage just isn’t being done to justify the volume of food suggested in most bodybuilding magazines.
This doesn’t even take into account the effects of huge amounts of supplemental testosterone and growth hormone. I’ve seen competition bodybuilders talk about eating 10,000 calories a day to get into competition shape. For some perspective, Tour de France riders eat around 8,000 calories a day. To think you could eat 10,000 a day and get super cut is ludicrous unless you’re taking more hormones than the entire Kentucky Derby field.
But the problems don’t stop there. If you turn to your significant other for advice you may well be steered towards Jenny Craig or one of the various detox diets on the market. If you want to turn into a sedentary housewife then by all means eat like one. Most popular diets are designed around the caloric needs of a middle aged, medium sized woman with low activity levels. If that sounds like how you want to be built, then go for it, otherwise you may need a different strategy.
Eating to bulk
Another throwback to bodybuilding is the idea that to gain muscle you need to gain some fat too. It’s true, you do, but you’re not bulking. Like I pointed out above it’s likely you’re not actually in the gym enough to gain significant muscle mass. When you add in the difficulty in gaining muscle naturally once you pass your mid thirties all you’re really doing is gaining unnecessary body fat.
Forget a number on the scales that you think you should be. Judge how fat you are or aren’t by simply looking in the mirror. Can you grab more than an inch of fat around your waist? Then you’re too fat.
The side effects of carrying too much weight are compounded by age. Heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, gut inflammation, and atherosclerosis are all some of the fun things you can look forward to by permanently being on a bulking phase.
Drinking too much
Like it or not alcohol is a big problem for many. At some point in life you need to make a decision about the type of life you want to lead. If you choose a life of health and fitness then alcohol has little part in it.
Beyond the caloric and fat burning implications, which I’ll get into in a moment, drinking at night makes training well the next day nearly impossible. It makes getting up early harder. And on a side note, when you turn up for work bleary eyed and a little cranky again, everyone notices. If you want to be treated like an adult then learn to treat alcohol like an adult. That doesn’t mean the complete cessation of drinking but it does mean that alcohol is a treat to be enjoyed sparingly.
When it comes to losing fat alcohol packs a one-two punch that makes it hard to get any real traction. This twofold problem goes like this:
Alcohol contains a ton of energy. A single gram of alcohol has seven calories in it. Fat, for reference, has nine. Protein and carbohydrate on the other hand come in at roughly half that at four each. The maths on drinking isn’t pretty once you start to dig.
Let’s say you decide to drink a mixed spirit – something like a scotch and coke. Now, a normal shot of alcohol is roughly 30g. A 30g shot of scotch has 64 calories in it. That isn’t so bad, but the coke that you’re having with it? In a standard 300ml glass that means you’re going to pick up an extra 195 calories in sugar water. So each drink is roughly 250 calories. For reference, that is about the same as 100g of chicken breast. And which one do you think is more in line with your physique goals?
And don’t think that beer is a better choice. A single can of beer comes in around 150 calories. That six-pack you just drank watching the footy on Sunday afternoon? It has the same amount of energy in it as half a day’s worth of food for most men.
If, and it’s a big if, you’re disciplined enough to be able to just have a drink or two you might be able to get away with it. However, I’ve been to very few social situations where people limit themselves to only a drink or two.
But the problems don’t stop there. Drinking alcohol severely limits your ability to burn fat. And by “severely limits” I mean it stops it completely. For up to three days. So those drinks you had on Sunday afternoon at your kid’s birthday party mean that no matter what you do in the gym or the kitchen your diet doesn’t start again until Wednesday afternoon. And that’s from a single drink.
Many men simply roll over and die past a certain age. They don’t bother making any effort with their food preparation, as if cooking well is beneath them. I know plenty of guys past forty who will either starve to death if their wives die, or go on an all-takeout diet as their basic food preparation skills are so bad. Cooking doesn’t have to be fun. Part of being an adult is manning up and doing things you don’t like – that’s why we go to work, pay taxes, and visit the in-laws. Add food preparation to that list.
For many years there has been less social stigma attached to being an out of shape male. However, if you’re reading my blog you’re not one of those people. If you’re reading this you care about how you look and how you perform. As such you need to recognise that athletes don’t carry any superfluous body mass. If it doesn’t help you go faster, hit harder, or compete better then get rid of it. It doesn’t mean you need to have a six-pack – a level of body fat likely below ten percent – but it does mean you should fall on the lean end of normal, or around the fifteen percent bodyfat mark.
If you’re carrying too much bodyfat get rid of it. It makes everything else so much easier. Don’t worry about any kind of performance goals until you’ve nailed down this health goal. Get bodyfat levels down to the lean end of normal – around 15% – then worry about the rest.
Eating well is not as hard as you think but does require some effort. What a surprise that something worthwhile requires effort, right? This is especially true in the beginning as you’ll need to form new habits.
Limit alcohol intake. No, you don’t “need” alcohol. You need oxygen. That’s the difference. Quit using alcohol as a reward or medication.
Eat like an adult male keen on remaining athletic. Here’s what a sample day may look like:
- Breakfast (pre-training) – protein shake with 1 cup frozen berries made with water.
- Second breakfast – 2 eggs, 2 cups of spinach, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes.
- Lunch – 120-150g serve of some kind of meat such as beef, chicken, or fish. 2 cups of salad mix.
- Afternoon snack – 1 apple, almonds (about enough to cover half your palm).
- Dinner – as for lunch but replace the salad mix with vegetables like broccoli, peas, beans, and other leafy green vegetables.