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125 delicious recipes that adhere to fitness phenomenon Mark Lauren’s unique “calorie shifting” nutritional philosophy to help you cook your way to weight loss, muscle gain, and improved fitness performance. Just as you don’t need a fancy gym membership to get the best workout of your life, you don’t need fancy kitchen skills or a personal chef to keep your body optimally fueled. You Are Your Own Gym: The Cookbook capitalizes on ingredients that are fresh and affordable, and simple preparations you’ll want to make again and again. Categorizing meals as either fast-fueling or slow-fueling (depending on the carbohydrate content), Lauren’s recipes cover your needs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, smoothies, and even dessert! Filled with tempting photos of delicious meals, handy shopping lists, and sample menus to help you fulfill all your fitness goals, You Are Your Own Gym: The Cookbook is your best bet for building a stronger, leaner, healthier you with each satisfying bite.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from You Are Your Own Gym: The Cookbook
Cook Your Way to a Great Body
With this cookbook, you’ll be creating delicious meals that support my secret weapon for fat loss and muscle building, which I introduced in Body Fuel: calorie cycling. Unlike the typical calorie-restrictive diet, in which you stick to a static, low-calorie plan, calorie cycling periodically changes your caloric intake, up or down; your calories never stay constant for more than a few weeks. By jerking your metabolism around so that it never gets sluggish but keeps burning fat, calorie cycling naturally leads to more body-firming muscle and less unsightly (and unhealthful) fat. This concept is similar to what happens when you change your workout volume and intensity from time to time in order to keep your body adapting to new stimuli. Periodic changes in your caloric intake (volume) and strictness of your fuel choices (intensity) do the same thing. Calorie cycling leads to more muscle and less fat than if you were to follow the same diet for four weeks straight or longer.
Calorie cycling also prevents diet plateauing, in which you seem to stop losing weight, or you find that your clothes aren’t getting looser anymore. You’re stuck. Every serious athlete, exerciser, or dieter has been there and done that. With calorie cycling, there’s less likelihood of plateauing until you have reached your target weight, because there’s more change, and that equals more adaptation.
On my plan, you’re also encouraged to eat a wider range of foods than most weight-loss diets prescribe. That’s because many of the foods (such as fruit and other carbs) normally restricted on diets purely about weight loss are actually required for building muscle and recovering from good, hard workouts.
Fast Fuel, Slow Fuel
When you are calorie-cycling, the adjustment of calories—up or down—comes primarily from the carbohydrates you choose. I look at carbs as “slow” or “fast” based on the speed at which the body absorbs them.
All carbohydrates must be converted to glucose, a type of sugar, before they are absorbed into the bloodstream. Carbs are absorbed at either a fast rate or a slow rate. That rate of absorption produces a proportionately strong release of the hormone insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. When we eat carbs that absorb quickly (fast-fuel carbs), such as candy, soda, fruit, or fruit juice, an insulin surge rapidly depletes blood sugar and converts these carbs to fat. We’re also left feeling tired, and we crave more food to restore normal blood sugar levels. There’s a positive exception to this scenario, though: eating some fast-fuel carbs during or immediately after intense exercise replenishes depleted muscles and aids in the recovery and building process.
By contrast, slow-fuel carbs such as vegetables are absorbed more slowly and do not produce this fat-gaining insulin reaction. Slow-fuel carbs also tend to be lower in calories, high in fat-burning fiber, and packed with many more vitamins and minerals than some fast-fuel carbs.
Glycemic Index Versus Glycemic Load
How can you tell which carbs are fast-fuel and which are slow-fuel?
I use a tool called the glycemic load, or GL. GL is a numerical ranking system for carbs that measures the amount of carbohydrates in a standard serving of food, say a banana or a cup of rice, and how fast or slow the carbohydrates in that food are released into the bloodstream. The GL number is the best indicator of what a particular food does to your blood sugar. The lower the GL of a food, the better it is for weight control and overall health.
Now, you might be thinking: “Is glycemic load the same as glycemic index?” No. The glycemic index indicates how quickly a carb turns into sugar in your bloodstream, but it does not consider how much carbohydrate there is in a particular serving—in other words, the amount you actually eat. It’s better to focus on the glycemic load instead.
Slow-fuel carbs have a GL rating of 1 to 6, and they include all low-calorie, high-fiber vegetables such as greens, salad vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, and so forth. These can be eaten with reckless abandon at any time. At most of your meals every day, you want to include slow-fuel carbs.
Slow-fuel carbs are also low in calories and high in fiber—properties that fight weight gain and promote weight control. You can fill up on slow-fuel carbs because their calorie counts are negligible. You stay full longer and can resist the “urge to splurge” on fattening foods. Plus, the fiber in slow-fuel carbs is a true anti-obesity weapon. The less processed and the more natural the food (like slow-fuel carbs), the fewer calories and less fat your body absorbs. The fiber also keeps you feeling full, so you don’t overeat.
Carbs with a GL of 7 or higher—including healthful options such as grains, grain-based products, potatoes, pasta, sweet potatoes, rice, and fruit, and much less healthful options such as fruit juice, sports drinks, and sodas—are considered fast-fuel carbs. They stimulate a greater insulin release and are digested and absorbed quickly by the body.
There are two specific times of day that it’s okay to eat fast carbs: upon waking in the morning and after a rigorous workout.
Overnight sleep is effectively a fast. This overnight fast depletes glycogen—the carbohydrate stored in your muscles and liver. Unless you break the fast, your body will start breaking down muscle tissue for fuel—a bad scenario if you’re trying to develop muscle or burn fat. Eating a fast-fuel carb shortly after you awaken will crank out insulin and rapidly replenish your glycogen levels to halt the possible assault on your muscles.
Fast-fuel carbs quickly restock glycogen after exercise as well. Right after you exercise and up to about forty-five minutes thereafter, your blood flow is elevated, so any carbs you eat will get into your system rapidly. Your muscles and liver are more receptive to insulin at this time, so insulin can get to work to restock glycogen in your muscles. Other enzymes and hormones active in muscle repair and growth have peaked at this time as well. If you delay eating after exercise—say, for a couple of hours or longer—these enzymes and hormones fall by nearly two-thirds and keep falling from there, and your body quickly moves from an anabolic state (building muscle) to a catabolic state (cannibalizing muscle for protein and fuel). So don’t miss this important window of metabolic opportunity. Good post-workout refueling choices include brown rice, whole-grain bread, pasta, potatoes, fresh juice, or smoothies. So remember, if you’re active and training hard, it’s okay—indeed, it’s a good idea—to include fast-fuel carbs in your diet, especially if you’re trying to gain strength and build muscle mass.
In addition to slow- and fast-fuel carbs, you’ll want to eat ample protein. Beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and beans all supply protein. If you don’t eat enough protein, your metabolism can slow down. Muscle is metabolic tissue that requires calories, so if your body dismantles muscle to fulfill its protein requirements, you’re losing a key factor in fat burning.
Protein drives your muscle development and fat-burning mechanisms, particularly when coupled with regular exercise. After you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids, the building blocks used to repair and regenerate all cells. One of these amino acids is called leucine, and it seems to be the best of the bunch. Your muscles use it as fuel. It helps you develop and maintain lean muscle mass, enabling your body to burn more calories for a boost in weight loss. Animal-based proteins are very high in leucine.
Protein activates your body’s fat-burning mechanisms in another way: by helping to produce a hormone called glucagon. Glucagon is like an instant message to your body, directing it to move dietary fat out of storage into your bloodstream, where it can be burned for fuel.
Protein helps you feel full, too, by boosting levels of a hormone called peptide YY, which is obviously of benefit when you’re restricting food to lose weight. When you’re thinking about wolfing down some sweets or you’re craving carbs, eat a small bite of protein instead. More than likely your hunger will disappear.
There are other benefits to eating protein. The energy (calories) from protein is used to develop and repair all the body’s tissues, especially the muscles. Proteins regulate your body’s water balance. Protein is also key to the manufacture of red blood cells, enzymes, hormones, and antibodies that are essential for the proper functioning of your body.
How Much Protein?
I advise eating 3 to 6 ounces of protein foods with every main meal. That amount of food approximates the size of your fist. So play up protein—and watch your body change for the better.
If you’ve read You Are Your Own Gym, Body by You, or Body Fuel, you will already know that my fitness and eating goals are to maximize lean body mass and minimize body fat. It might surprise you to learn that the typical low-fat diet will not accomplish this; you actually need to eat a diet slightly higher in fat.
The current word on this comes from a study published in September 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers assigned a group of 150 men and women to follow a diet for one year that was low-carb (less than 40 grams of carbs daily) and either higher in fat or low in fat.
It turned out that the low-carb/higher-fat dieters lost about eight pounds more on average than those on the low-fat diet. The low-carb/higher fat dieters had significantly greater reductions in body fat, too, as well as improvements in lean muscle mass, even though neither group changed their exercise level. In fact, the weight lost by the low-fat dieters was mostly muscle mass. I was encouraged after reading these results, since my way of eating gives me a bit more fat than most diets.
There are two general types of dietary fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat comes mainly from animal sources as well as from coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are derived mainly from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and flaxseed oil, as well as from fish.
Eating some saturated fat is vital for active people because it helps maintain concentrations of testosterone circulating in the body. Testosterone helps develop muscle and promote strength. Research has shown that men who get less than 30 percent of their calories from fat produce 25 percent less testosterone than those who have more fat in their diets.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating that you go out and start packing away bacon, butter, and marbled rib-eyes like there’s no tomorrow. Too much of any nutrient is bad for you, especially when it’s out of proportion to other vital nutrients. Balance is key.
How Much Fat?
Fat makes up 25 to 35 percent of my total calorie intake. That fat comes from both saturated and unsaturated sources. You’ll naturally get the right balance of fats if you eat a small palmful of nuts and seeds, add 1 tablespoon oil (olive, flaxseed, or coconut) to your daily diet, and consume animal sources of protein.
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, using coconut oil in the diet will provide you with some needed saturated fat.
Calorie Cycling and Fuel Blocks
When you calorie-cycle, you will follow three eating “blocks,” each with differing amounts of carbs and calories. Think of the blocks in descending numerical order— 3, 2, 1—and as blocks that last as long as their label. This system is easy to remember and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle, but the most important thing to understand is that cycling through the blocks is something you can customize and keep doing and doing and doing. You can eat this way for the rest of your life. Your body and metabolism won’t become accustomed to the same old eating patterns—which lead to weight loss plateaus or ruts—but instead will continuously be tricked and triggered so that you continue to burn fuel efficiently and stay lean and strong, even after you’ve reached your goal weight or clothing size. Same blocks, but a fooled body every time.
The first block is the most liberal phase of the diet, and happily for you, it lasts the longest: three weeks, which is why I call it Block 3. You can have a lot of the fast-fuel carbs you love—one serving at each meal and one snack, for a total of four carbs daily. Think bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, and all sorts of fruit. Can you believe it? Don’t worry: you can lose a chunk of weight by eating these fuels. You can build more body-firming muscle and recover much more quickly after your workouts. And you won’t even feel like you’re dieting. You get to eat on Block 3 (in fact, you have to, in order to create the body you want) without continuously restricting calories. It’s a dream: the return of good food, which is absolutely necessary in the right doses for the development of an athletic, fat-burning body.
After three weeks of that, you’ll be noticeably trimmer. The scale will register a big drop in weight. The mirror will show a fitter you. Your clothes will fit better; in fact, you may have to go shopping for a smaller size. And you’ll feel more energetic, simply by making realistic, sustainable, and important dietary changes. But so that you don’t plateau, you’ve got to change up your metabolism—which requires switching to Block 2 after three weeks.
Worth mentioning here: Once you’ve achieved your fitness goals, use Block 3 to maintain your weight and stay in shape.
Meal Design for Block 3
Breakfast Pattern: protein + 1 serving fast-fuel carb
Lunch Pattern: protein + 1 serving fast-fuel carb and liberal amounts of slow-fuel carbs
Dinner Pattern: protein + 1 serving fast-fuel carb and liberal amounts of slow-fuel carbs
Snack Pattern (1 midmorning, 1 midafternoon): protein + nuts or seeds or a slow-fuel vegetable (or, after a workout, protein + a fast-fuel carb)
Block 2 comes next and, you guessed it, lasts two weeks. During this block, you’ll continue to eat most of the same foods, but with one exception: you’ll reduce your carbs slightly, to two fast-fuel carbs a day. Overall, Block 2 is a little less liberal than Block 3, food-wise, but it keeps you in a fat-burning mode, so you can taper down to your ideal weight.
Meal Design for Block 2
Breakfast Pattern: protein + 1 fast-fuel carb
Lunch Pattern: protein + 1 fast-fuel carb + slow-fuel carbs
Dinner Pattern: Protein + slow-fuel carbs
Snack Pattern (1 midmorning, 1 midafternoon): protein + nuts or seeds or a non-starchy vegetable (or, after a workout, protein plus a fast-fuel carb, if not eaten at one of your three main meals)
Mark Lauren spent fifteen years as a military physical-training specialist for the Special Operations community. Now a sought-after personal trainer to civilian men and women of all fitness levels, a triathlete, and a champion Thai boxer, he is the author of the internationally popular body-weight bibles You Are Your Own Gym, Body by You, and Body Fuel. He lives in Tampa, Florida, and Phuket, Thailand.
Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, PhD, is one of the country’s leading health and medical authors. She has written books on a wide range of topics, including nutrition, diet and weight loss, exercise, osteoporosis, diabetes, herbs, and more. Her articles have appeared in many major health publications, including Let’s Live, Shape, Women’s Sports & Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, and Female Bodybuilding.