Freckles in April: My Tips for Gym Success: The Food Part

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Tips for Gym Success: The Food Part

One of my fav reminers. Food is fuel and exercise is a celebration. [source]

I've spent several weeks writing various iterations of this post and then something would change and I'd delete the whole thing and start over. Here's the truth: I have not totally figured out the food part. I feel like I've got the gym down; I go 4-5 times a week, I follow my lifting plan, I know what I'm doing and I'm seeing slow-but-steady progress.

Food is more difficult for a lot of reasons:
  • I'm not the only one I'm feeding and my kids and husband are particular about their food. 
  • Unless you see a professional food coach or doctor (and even if you do) there's bound to be some trial and error finding the right balance. 
  • I'm kind of a picky eater and some of the staples of weight lifters (eggs, fish) make me gag. 
  • We generally eat Michael Pollan style and a lot of protein powders and supplements that people use to hit their goals have long, sketchy ingredient lists

Here's where I SHOULD have started (but didn't): figure out how many calories you should be eating and how many you actually are eating. 

I didn't think I needed to do that. I ate fairly clean and had trained myself to stop eating when I started to feel full. I figured following my body's cues was getting me what I needed.

Surprise! I was undereating by quite a bit. I'm an ectomorph, which means I don't carry a lot of extra body fat. And since I wasn't eating enough calories to sustain my activity levels, my body was basically metabolizing my muscles for energy, even as I tried to build them. I dropped 3 lbs and started to feel totally trashed the rest of the day after the gym. Not in a "that was a good workout!" way, but in a "am I coming down with something? I might be dying" way.

There are a LOT of great options for fueling your body for exercise. I started counting macros because the logic of it appeals to me and I follow a lot of people on IG who have gotten really great results. I calculated my macros and it spit out higher calories along with a high carb/protein and low fat ratio for me. It didn't take long for my energy to come back and I started building a little bit of muscle. I bumped my calories up a little higher to put me into a surplus based on the caloric burn I saw from my FitBit and I finally gained back the weight I lost and a little extra.

Left was May 2016, right was earlier this week. Also, if you don't follow me on IG you may have missed my big chop

I debated long and hard on whether or not to share these pictures (so awkward for me) BUT it was these kinds of side-by-sides that convinced me to revamp my eating and increase my calories.

It took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to get here. Counting macros initially drove me INSANE and made me food obsessed. I went back and forth with it for ages. Also, even though I knew I needed to eat more there was a big mental block that kept me from doing it consistently. Eating more is scary. I had to slowly work my way up, especially because I'm a pretty light eater and had to train myself to eat more food more often. I got to 1900 calories. Then 2000. Then finally bumped to 2200 a couple weeks ago and I'm feeling really good (if a little uncomfortably full some of the time).

Very sad realization I had after I hit 2200 calories- in order to hit my protein goal I was consuming a LOT of dairy. Whey protein powder, Fairlife Milk, greek yogurt, etc. And I broke out like whoa. I decided to go off dairy for 2 weeks and see what happened. Within 3 days my skin cleared up. This is seriously the saddest lightbulb moment I've had in my entire life. I've struggled with breakouts for like 15 years and apparently dairy wasn't helping anything. So I'm off dairy at the moment. In a month or two I'll slowly reintroduce and see if there's a level I can tolerate without breaking out. I really miss cereal and milk.

My biggest and best tip to macro counting success: plan your food out and log it in the morning. Initially I was eating what I felt like over the course of the day and adding it to My Fitness Pal and then getting SO FRUSTRATED at the end of the day when I'd still need like 50g of carbs or 27g of protein. Now I sit down in the morning and plan out my whole day of food. I start by inputting breakfast (my big post-workout meal) and dinner (the meal I share with my family that needs to be something they'll eat). Then I use lunch and snacks to fill in as needed to hit my goals. I can mess with the amounts and types of food until it fits my macros before I even start eating for the day. Also, it's really nice to know exactly what to eat when I get hungry. I used to get so hungry in the mid afternoon and it was always a scramble to figure out what to eat. Now I just check my food log for the day and go grab my snack. It makes life easy.

I'm not an expert. I barely know what I'm doing so I'm not going to give any more real direction but I AM going to give you a list of resources so you can decide if this is worth trying.

Some resources for other people who are also trying to figure out The Food Part:

Macro Counting 101: If you have no idea what I'm talking about, start here.

TDEE calculator: "Total Daily Energy Expenditure" aka how many calories you burn in a day. This is also where my FitBit came in super handy- I adjusted my calories upward based on the average it charted over the course of several weeks.

Macros calculator: Useful even if you don't want to count macros because you can adjust for your goals and how aggressively you want to pursue them and it will tell you calories as well as macros.

My Fitness Pal: Use the free version to keep track of how much you eat. It's a pain at first and there's a learning curve as you figure out how to eat and track but I swear it gets easier. You'll need measuring cups and a food scale though.

Body type quiz: May or may not be useful to you, depending on if you fall heavily toward one body type or are more of a balance of the three. But if you're strongly one over the others then it may influence how you eat and train. I actually switched my lifting program, increased my rest periods, upped my carbs and changed my ultimate goals and expectations based on my body type and the recommendations I found.

Eating for your body type: related to the quiz above, I found this article and the graphics super useful on days I need a break from tracking my food. Some days I just do this:

From Body Type Eating

Some foods that make life easier
(I wrote most of this before I figured out my dairy thing. So there's a lot of dairy in here that I'm not eating right now)

Costco rotisserie chicken: I buy a chicken, shred it up, then stick measured portions into tupperware containers and keep them in the freezer. I'm chronically struggling to hit my protein goal so it's really nice to have a source of lean protein ready to roll at meal time.

Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes mix: This is a pancake and waffle mix that's pretty clean and high in protein. If you mix it with Fairlife milk and eggs you can get even more protein in. They're a little bland on their own but I kind of feel that way about most pancakes. The toppings make it for me- I like plain greek yogurt (more protein!) and berry compote (I use my frozen berry mix from Costco. Reduce on the stove, mash up, pour over pancakes) with a small drizzle of maple syrup to sweeten it all up. My Costco currently carries this for cheaper than Amazon!

Fairlife milk: I'm picky about milk. For years I've exclusively bought organic whole milk BUT, again, I have to work to hit my protein goals and I have trouble keeping the fat down so we've been doing Fairlife instead. It's filtered in such a way that increases protein and calcium but reduces sugar and lactose. I get 2% and chocolate (can't talk myself into skim. Maybe someday). The chocolate is mostly for Aaron but the other day we were out of other options so I used the chocolate milk in my Kodiak cakes and made chocolate pancakes and it was awesome.

Protein Powder: I was really reluctant to add protein powder to my diet because of the sketchy ingredient lists but the truth is that I can't consistently hit my protein macros without it. A girl can only eat so much chicken, you know? I found some yummy-ish flavored options but turns out all that fake sugar really upsets my stomach. I switched to plain whey for a while and my tummy handled it but my skin didn't. Now I'm doing brown rice protein (which tastes and smells exactly like brown rice. I actually really like it but it's still higher in sugar than I'd like and I'll be looking at other options when this canister is gone).

Greek Yogurt: I mix it into oatmeal, throw it on pancakes, and blend it into smoothies.

Halo Top: Not everyone likes this but, for me, the Chocolate and Oatmeal Cookie flavors are totally worth eating. If you're unfamiliar, it's a low-fat, low-sugar, higher-protein ice cream. An entire pint of chocolate is 240 calories. A pint of regular chocolate ice cream is just under 1000 calories. Tip: let it soften for a few minutes before you dig in. It'll go from sort of weird and crumbly to creamy. Although, confession: I like it weird and crumbly.

Quinoa and lentils: High in carbs and protein and low in fat, which is exactly what I need. I keep these stocked as well as whole grains like brown rice and barley.

Instagrammers who are better at this than I am and worth following:

@laurenbhealth - esp her IG stories. She does a lot of how-tos and good tips

If you made it this far, imagine me patting you on the back. This post was a beast.


Let's socialize // IG // FB // Tw // Pin //

Posts may contain affiliate links. Thanks for helping me support my blogging habit!


  1. Every time I've given up dairy it has made me so sad. I feel your pain. Here's hoping cheese and yogurt will be kind to you at least!

  2. I'm really interested to find out what kind of protein powder you end up liking. I've avoided it because of the sketchy ingredients too. I hear Arbonne has one but it's really expensive.

    1. I've heard good things about pea protein and this one has just one ingredient-

      I'm currently using this brown rice protein- I seriously LOVE it but it's so high in sugar, I don't think I can use it in the long term.

      I've read that you should actually mix pea and brown rice protein for a more complete protein so I'm trying to find a decent one that has both!

  3. I use the Orgain Organics Plant based protein powder. I buy it at Costco or in Amazon. I prefer the chocolate flavor. I struggle with most protein powders, but not this one. I also mix mine with peanut butter, banana and ice. I use milk, but it can be made with water.

  4. Oooooh, so interesting!! Bookmarking for reference.



Thanks for your comment!

Any trolls will be dragged into the trees and beaten soundly.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...