Our goal at WorkoutLA is improved health & fitness. That means different things to different people, but in any case, it means more then just physical ability, like how fast or how far you can run, how high you can jump, your flexibility or range of motion, or how much your strength and stamina have improved. The modern notion of health & fitness is first and foremost a question of body composition, probably due to the growing body of evidence suggesting that a higher body fat percentage is associated with a number of terminal but possibly preventable diseases. Over the last decade or so it’s been widely repeated that no lifestyle change will make as positive or immediate an impact on one’s life and longevity as losing 10% of current body weight. That might sound like an oversimplification, but there’s no denying that obesity is a life threatening condition. That’s why we created the WorkoutLA Nutrition Program. Actually, to say we just put a new twist on the process of losing weight wouldn’t do the program justice. Our program’s value really comes down to dispelling myths. We’ve integrated the best practices into a monitored and interactive, step by step process.
The most famous tenet of the WorkoutLA Nutrition Program is the “No Simple Carbs” day. In fact, we set aside three “No Simple Carbs” days per week: usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday to start, but any three days will work. On those days we abstain from dairy products and processed fruits and vegetables. This is a critical component to long term, sustainable improvement. It’s not about giving up old favorites. Just save that stuff for the off-days. We focus on creating new habits. In fact, this is the vary reason we have so many recipes posted on theWorkoutLA blog. Just seeing that there are so many options out there that don’t rely on processed foods and dairy can be an inspiration, but give them a try, and if you like them, check in with the authors for even more ideas.
How do we define dairy and processed fruits and vegetables? Dairy is easy to define. If a food product is derived from milk, it should not be consumed on the “No Simple Carbs” days. Our definition of processed fruits and vegetables is a little more nuanced. First let’s look at vegetables. The same rules apply across the board, but for our example, let’s talk about carrots. A carrot is considered unprocessed if it’s whole, chopped, sliced, raw or cooked. However, if it’s pureed/liquefied, it’s considered processed. Grains are vegetables too of course, but they tend to have specialized methods of preparation. Wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, couscous, etc. They’re all fair game on the “No SimpleCarbs” days, but if a grain is refined to a flour, it is considered processed and should be saved for the off-days. Fruit? We follow the same rules regarding fruit as we do for vegetables. Any type of fruit will do, but for our example we’ll use an apple. An apple would be considered unprocessed whether it’s whole, chopped, sliced, raw or cooked. However, apple sauce, and of course apple juice, are considered processed.
Why do we make these distinctions? Why would it matter if we’re still consuming the same number of calories whether in the form of bread or yogurt or strawberries? How could it help in the struggle for weight loss? All great questions and I’m glad you asked. The first benefit of consuming unprocessed foods is the increased thermic effect of eating. The longer it takes to digest an item the more calories are expended in the process. That means your body will expend more calories digesting an apple then it will digesting apple juice. Think about it. You expend more effort navigating your way around an apple core then you do drinking a glass of juice, and that’s just the first stage of the process.
A related topic is that of blood sugar spikes. For this example we’ll stay with our apple theme. Take two apples of the same size and variety. Presumably their nutritional value will be about the same, including potential calories. Now let’s imagine you throw one of the apples in a blender to make a simple fruit smoothie. Nothing else has changed. On the one hand you have about 115 calories in the form of an apple, in the other you have about 115 calories in the form of a smoothie. The real difference comes with digestion. In the case of the smoothie, its as if the apple was chewed before you even consumed it. That means not only a reduced thermic effect, it also means more expedient digestion. It means more calories (primarily in the form of carbohydrate, but even an apple will contain measurable amounts of protein and fat) will reach your bloodstream at one time. Now to be fair, even if all 115 calories hit your bloodstream at once it wouldn’t necessarily cause a large enough blood sugar spike to trigger any fat storage, but combined with any other food, the result will almost certainly be some fat storage. Why? Because the body doesn’t tolerate elevated blood sugar levels for very long. Your organs have a limited rate of absorption, so excess blood sugar (along with excess protein and fat in the blood stream) is therefor stored as fat.
Our first goal with the Nutrition Program is to slow the rate and quantity at which carbohydrates, protein, and fat reach the blood stream by slowing the process. The most effective way to slow the digestion process is by consuming less processed foods.
A third, and perhaps equally important reason for consuming less processed foods is to reduce sodium consumption. Processed foods almost always contain more sodium then unprocessed foods. Why? Ask the food manufacturers. The point is that if you can reduce salt consumption you will simultaneously reduce water retention. It’s true that water follows salt, and a reduction in salt consumption will also result in less water retention and therefore less water weight.
Side notes: There are no unprocessed salad dressings. Vinegar and oil, lemon juice, these types of things are the best compromise. Peanut butter? Really? Save anything with butter in the name for the off-days. Coffee and tea? Both are processed for sure, but they’re what you might call thermogenic aids. They can’t make you gain fat. The problem comes with adding cream(er) and sweeteners to your coffee and tea. Alcohol? Best to stick to water on the “No Simple Carbs” days. Fries? If their preparation is no more complex then slicing and cooking potatoes, they’re fine. Honey? Fine. That’s what it looked like when the bees made it. Oatmeal? Fine. It’s still recognizable as oats. Coconut water? Fine. This feels like a grey area, but that’s what it looks like when you break open a coconut. None of that coconut milk nonsense though. That goes for all the other milk substitutes as well. If it has milk in the name, save it for the off-days. Hummus? Processed. Juices and smoothies? Processed. Save them for the off-days. Everything you’ve heard about maximizing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables by juicing/smoothies is true, but it goes for maximizing the calories as well. And finally, what about processed meats? The higher protein content of meat slows the digestion process in itself, but one thing to consider, it’s easier for the body to convert fat present in the bloodstream into body fat then it is to convert carbohydrate of protein, so it wouldn’t hurt to keep fat consumption in check as well.