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Do gym rats need more than cheese to stay fit?

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Story by Cpl Logan Snyder on 05/23/2017
I was always under the impression that I could eat anything I wanted as long as I burned it off in the gym, and that nutrition wasn't that important when I was looking for results. The occasional fast-food value meal wasn't hurting my fitness. I was wrong.
"Nutrition is one of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect, to see improvements in the gym," said Jonathan Durham, health promotion coordinator, Hopkins Hall Gym. "If you're only working out but not eating the right things, it would be like owning a car with a Lamborghini body and a Pinto engine."
When I began thinking about nutrition and how it effects the body, as an engine effects a car, I was able to better understand the importance of eating right. But then I asked myself what eating right meant. I couldn't come up with an answer with there being so many different diets to choose from.
"When you break down a lot of the diets, you're still getting the basic concept. Most of them seem to focus on limiting the sugar you ingest and increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you're taking in. I think the basis of those diets are basically the same; they're just being marketed differently to reach different audiences," said Durham. "A good diet is going to be well-rounded. It will include a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables, good sources of protein and whole grains as the main source of carbohydrates. It will limit the dairy, sugars and everything that has been overly processed."
The way Durham described eating healthy didn't seem to be so hard to do, especially when I think about how what I eat affects how I perform physically. Then I thought about how a healthy, nutritious diet doesn't include sweets or fast food. Is there a way to still enjoy those but in moderation?
"Cheat days are a way for people to avoid worrying about what they're eating. It kind of helps people stay on track when they have a day or a meal they can look forward to," said Durham. "I've seen that with guys who aren't seeing results by sticking with their diets Monday through Friday but then eating whatever they wanted over the whole weekend."
Since someone can ruin all their progress by overly embracing the "cheat day," then I should definitely limit the amount of cheat days I take. Understanding that proper nutrition does fuel the body and prepare it for a great workout, how does proper nutrition affect someone's workout recovery?
"Right after you work out, you want to consume carbohydrates because that's going to replenish that stored energy you had. If you don't replenish it then you won't be ready for your next workout," Durham said.
A different way to look at how nutrition affects your recovery is that you're supposed to eat some type of protein within 45 minutes of working out to help with the recovery process, according to Chris Harper, High Intensity Tactical Training coordinator, Hopkins Hall Gym. "I always tell my clients to get some chocolate milk, it's the best protein shake ever."
If a nutritious diet would help me improve my workouts in the gym, I wanted to know exactly how to get the desired results.
"People who are trying to put on muscle should increase their protein intake. Someone who wants to see abs has to keep an eye on the amount of sugar they are taking in. Someone who wants to lose weight would need to take in less calories than they are burning," said Durham. "If you are not eating properly, you're not going to have the energy for your work out, so you're not going to be able to put out in that particular session. Poor nutrition also slows recovery. The next session will be even worse and they will have a snowball effect. They would feel a lot better and recover faster if they maintain a healthy diet."
Throughout my interviews I learned that not only does nutrition matter, but how it affects everything from pre-work out and work out performance to post-work out recovery. Nobody wants to spend all their time in the gym without seeing results.
"If you work out in a deprived state, you're burning muscle and not fat," Harper said. "Nutrition is more important than fitness. No matter how much you exercise, if you're not eating properly then you're not going to see the results you want."
What did I learn? Without a nutritious diet all my efforts in the gym are going in vein. If I keep eating sweets and fast food then I'll never see results or recover properly. I'll be setting myself up to fail. From this day forward I will be partaking less in the sweets and more in the leafy greens.


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