For all of our fans who shoot us questions onÂ Twitter and Facebook, weâll tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with questions or challenges youâre having withÂ workout routines and diet programs.
This week, Dan Trink, C.S.C.S., director of personal training operations at Peak Performance in NYC and founder of TrinkFitness, answers your questions about how to eat toÂ score lean, shredded abs.
Seems like intermittent fasting is becoming all the rage. Is it a good plan for fat loss?
âI donât know that Iâve seen a nutritional trend catch on with fitness enthusiasts as quickly and rampantly asÂ intermittent fastingÂ since the reintroduction of low-carb and Paleo-type eating plans,â Trink says. âTo oversimplify, IF requires long periods of fasting (usually from one evening until the next afternoon or sometimes as long as an entire day) followed by higher calorie refeeds. The theory is that the fasted state drives up insulin sensitivity and reduces glucose levels, as well as creates more of an anabolic environment during the reintroduction of food. All of these factors should then translate intoÂ improved body composition.â
Skeptics of IF cite itâs actually an overall decrease in total calories caused by the fast that drive positive body composition changes and fat loss. Studies on IF have been around since the early 1940s, but have been performed almost exclusively on animals. Therefore thereâs no conclusive evidence on the effectiveness or safety of IF on human subjects.
âI think IF holds some promise but there are definitely limitations,â Trink says. âI donât know about you, but if Iâve just fasted for a long period, my first thought isnât to break the fast with healthful, non-processed muscle-friendly foods. And food does more than simply build muscles or burn fat. It also affects our mental sharpness, emotional state, andÂ immune system. I also believe itâs difficult and unrealistic to sustain drastic eating plans such as this one. So while I have no doubt that IF has worked for people, I question whether itâs ultimately a healthy, long-term strategy.â
Iâve been going strictly low-carb for months, yet I still canât get my lower abdominals to show. Any tips?
âWhile low-carb diets have proven to be effective, they arenât necessarily the answer to all yourÂ fat-loss problems,â Trink says. âLower abdominal fat can often be caused by the stress hormone cortisol. So if youâre going through a stressful breakup, burning the candle at both ends by training hard during the day and partying hard at night (or getting crushed by your current workload), diet may not be the only issue. Strict low-carb diets also reduce your ability to replenish muscle glycogen (the fuel stored inside muscle cells), which can make building andÂ maintaining muscleÂ a challenge. And since muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires constant energy to build and maintain, you want to build and keep as much of it as possible as it will contribute greatly to your fat-loss goals. I recommend you include some carbs in a post-workout shake in order to replenish muscle glycogen and bring down cortisol levels, which tend to peak near theÂ end of a workout.â
It doesnât matter how lean I get, I always have âlove handlesâ in my lower back. Is there any way to get rid of these?
âJust asÂ lower abdominalÂ fat is often caused by cortisol, âlove handlesâ (technically referred to as your suprailiac) can be a sign that youâre resistant to the hormone insulin,â Trink explains. âInsulin is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for shuttling glucose (sugar) from your blood cells into your muscles and other cells. When your muscle cells are âfull,â the insulin needs to take the sugar out of your blood (where itâll become toxic if it increases past a certain level) and place it elsewhere. Thatâs most often in a fat cellâŠand that fat cell very often resides in your love handles and abdomen. Try reducing the amount of sugary, processed carbs in your diet and see if your love handles fade away.â
How do I know if I have a food allergy or sensitivity and what can I do about it?
âA food allergy or sensitivity is basically an intolerance to a specific food,â Trink says. âEating that food, especially on a regular basis, may cause an immune system response leading to cellular inflammation, digestive distress and the inability toÂ lose fat. The top five reported food allergies and sensitivities are wheat (gluten), eggs, nuts, soy, and dairy. You can address food intolerance in one of two ways: An elimination diet in which you eliminate (hence the name) common culprits for a number of weeks, then reintroduce them one at a time and monitor their effects; or you can talk to your doctor about having a food-sensitivity panel performed, which involves a simple blood test thatâs processed by a lab.â
Note: If you do undertake an elimination diet, do so with the help and guidance of a qualified nutritionist or naturopath.Â
If Iâm looking to get lean, what should my meals before and after my workout look like?
âGreat question, as post-workout meals are truly critical to maximize bothÂ workout performanceÂ and body composition,â Trink says. âI should first mention that nutrition is highly individualized, meaning some people do well on higher-carb diets, some on lower. Some people can eat 10 minutes before they train, some canât stomach anything within two hours of training. So thereâs a bit of trial and error and knowing yourself in order to perfect workout nutrition.Â That being said, I highly recommend not sacrificing performance during your training sessions by cutting calories or carbs too low. Doing so reduces your ability to train hard and maximize theÂ muscle-buildingÂ effects of your training.â
Shoot to have a meal with protein and slow-digesting carbs (such as eggs and oatmeal) about 90 minutes prior to your workout. A carb and protein shake (with approximately two grams of carbs for every one gram of protein) immediately after your last rep and a protein and carb meal (such as chicken breast and sweet potato) 60 to 90 minutes after the shake.Â
âIâm a big believer in including a variety of fats in your diet, but try to keep them out of theÂ workout windowÂ as they can slow down digestionânot something you want around the workout when youâre trying to build muscle and get lean.â