Mar 012013

What and When to Eat

You will often see references to a “clean” diet. But what exactly does this mean? Simply put, it means your food should be as unprocessed as possible. That is, your food should be as close to its natural state as it can be. Grilled chicken breast is “clean.” Deep fried chicken nuggets are not. Baked potato is “clean.” French fries are not.

In addition, you may have also heard a lot of talk about “macros.” If you don’t already know, these are the individual components of your diet. At the top level, everything you eat can be broken down into one of three categories: Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat. Alcohol is a fourth category but we won’t even talk about that here since no one who is serious about losing weight drinks.

Within the aforementioned categories, there are further divisions: Carbohydrates are classified as either complex or simple. Fibrous carbohydrates are vegetables, which are a type of complex carbohydrate. Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated categories, with unsaturated being further divided into mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. The point of mentioning these distinctions here is not to make you into a food scientist but to empower you with the knowledge to make good food choices.

So what are the components of a clean diet? Lean protein (i.e., not loaded with fat), complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. The list below will guide you.

The Fit Shopping List


  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
  •  Boneless, Skinless Turkey Breast
  •  Tuna (water packed)
  •  Fish
  •  Shrimp
  •  Top Round Beef (aka London Broil)
  •  Extra Lean Ground Beef
  •  Venison
  •  Buffalo
  •  Ostrich
  •  Protein Powder (whey, casein, soy, egg)
  •  Egg Whites or Whole Eggs
  •  Tofu
  •  Soy products
  •  Low-fat cottage cheese

Complex Carbohydrates

  • Oatmeal (steel cut, old fashioned, or quick)
  • Potatoes (sweet or white – with skin)
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Oat Bran Cereal
  • Rye Cereal
  • Grape Nuts
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Bread

Fibrous Carbohydrates

  •  Lettuce (Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Romaine, Bibb/Butter)
  •  Broccoli
  •  Asparagus
  •  String Beans
  •  Okra
  •  Spinach
  •  Peppers (green, red, yellow)
  •  Brussel Sprouts
  •  Cauliflower
  •  Cabbage
  •  Celery
  •  Cucumber
  •  Eggplant
  •  Onions
  •  Pumpkin
  •  Tomatoes
  •  Zucchini


  •  Blueberries
  •  Cantaloupe
  •  Pears
  •  Strawberries
  •  Apples
  •  Grapefruit
  •  Peaches
  •  Raspberries
  •  Lemons or Limes

Healthy Fats

  •  Natural Peanut Butter
  •  Olive Oil
  •  Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
  •  Flax Seed
  •  Flax Oil
  •  Olive Oil
  •  Fish Oil Capsules


  • Water
  •  Water
  •  Water
  •  Green Tea (no sugar)
  •  Other Tea (no sugar)
  •  Coffee (no sugar)
  •  Diet Soda (1 per week)

Seasoning, Condiments, Sweeteners

  • Reduced Fat Mayonnaise
  •  Garlic
  •  Garlic Powder
  •  Onion Powder
  •  Soy Sauce
  •  Balsamic Vinegar
  •  Salsa
  •  Hot Peppers and Hot Sauce (make sure these are sugar-free)
  •  Chili Powder
  •  Curry Powder
  •  Mrs. Dash
  •  Steak Sauce
  •  Sugar Free Syrup
  •  Chili Paste
  •  Mustard
  •  Extracts (vanilla, almond, etc.)
  •  Beef, fish, chicken or vegetable broth
  •  Tomato sauce, puree, paste
  •  Stevia (natural sweetener)

How Much of Each Macro?

For people lifting weights, the general rule is to eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. You should then plan on another .3 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight. The balance should come from carbohydrates. So for someone weighing 150 pounds who should be eating 1500 calories per day, this works out to:

150 g protein (4 calories per gram of protein, so 600 calories)
45 g fat (9 calories per gram of fat, so 405 calories)
124 g carbohydrates (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, so 496 calories)
Total calories: 1501
Protein: 40%
Carb: 33%
Fat: 27%

Eat Often!

In part 1 of this article you learned how to calculate how many calories you should be taking in. Once you’ve arrived at that number, you want to split it up across 5-6 meals, no more than 3 hours apart. Eating often not only helps to stave off hunger pangs (we all have a tendency to make poor food choices when we are over-hungry), but it keeps your metabolism humming along at maximum efficiency. Many people who diet do so by eliminating breakfast, eating a tiny salad for lunch and then a large dinner. Even though their total number of calories are low, the insulin hills and valleys they inadvertently create through this pattern of eating sends the body into starvation mode. In a nutshell, your body thinks a famine is eminent – why else isn’t it getting the nutrients it needs? – and begins to slow its metabolism and conserve fat. The very same mechanism that lets us read miracle stories about folks being saved after being stranded for weeks with nothing to eat but snow will prevent you from losing weight if you don’t keep your metabolism busy.

So the rule is: eat every 2-3 hours. And make sure your meals are meals.

What is a Meal?

Often, when I am asked to critique someone’s diet, I see things like “1/2 cup oatmeal and a handful of raisins” or “yogurt and a piece of cheese” listed as a meal. These are not meals. A meal has three components: protein, carbohydrates (complex and/or fibrous) and fat. The exceptions to this rule are as follows: 1) Immediately post-workout (that is, the first meal after your lifting session) you don’t need any fat, as you want something fast digesting (this is an excellent time for a whey protein shake); 2) Your dinner can be protein + fibrous carb + fat (no need for complex carbs here); and 3) Your last meal of the day should be protein + fat only (cottage cheese and nuts, for instance).

Keeping a Balance

Your meals should reflect a balance of your daily intake. If you are planning to eat 1500 calories a day and 5 meals a day, each meal should be roughly 300 calories. Don’t make yourself crazy with this – some meals will be a little less and some a little more. As long as you are not toggling between meals of 500 calories and meals of 100 calories, it is ok. The thing to remember is to surround your workout with high quality protein and carbohydrates.

In the same vein, you should allocate your protein, carbs and fats fairly evenly across your meals (with the exceptions as noted previously). Again, you might want to have a slight increase in protein and carbs (complex ones, please) in the meals just before and just after your workout, but your other meals should have a balance of all three macros.

Putting it Together – A Sample Day

Here’s what a day could look like for someone who is targeting roughly 1575 calories per day:

Meal 1 (pre-workout): 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1T flax seed, 1 whole egg, 3 egg whites,
298 calories; 24g protein; 28g carb, 10g fat

Meal 2 (post-workout): Whey protein w/ 1 cup skim milk and 1 cup strawberries.
249 calories; 31g protein; 27g carb; 2g fat

Meal 3 4oz broiled salmon, .5 cup cooked brown rice, 2 cups broccoli w/lemon
321 calories; 32g protein; 31g carb; 8g fat

Meal 4: 3.5oz tuna, sweet potato, 2 cups mixed greens with balsamic vinegar and 1tsp olive oil
329 calories; 28g protein; 43g carb; 5g fat

Meal 5: 6oz Baked or broiled chicken breast (bone and skin removed), 1.5 cup green beans
199 calories; 31g protein; 12g carb; 3g fat

Meal 6: .5 cup lf cottage cheese, 7 walnut halves
182 calories, 18g protein, 5g carb, 10g fat

1578 calories
164g protein = 656 calories/42%
146g carb = 584 calories/37%
38g fat = 342 calories/22%

Summing Up
Eating too few calories is as detrimental to weight loss (and especially to fat loss) as eating too many.

A clean diet is a diet that consists of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

You should eat 5-6 meals per day, with your protein, carbohydrates and fats roughly evenly allocated across those meals.

Each meal should contain a protein, carbohydrates and fat. Exceptions are post workout (no fat) and the last meal before bed (no carbs).

Read on! Click for part 3 of So You Want to Lose Weight and Shape Up.

Image: David Castillo Dominici /