Most people tend to think that eating less is the key to a stronger and healthier body. But thats not necessarily true.
Because what you might not realize is that when you have fitness and skill goals, eating too little can actually hurt your performance.
In fact, heres what can happen when you try to significantly restrict calories when being active:
Its Hard to Build Muscle and Get Stronger
Our muscles need fuel to grow and get stronger. Without sufficient food, you simply wont see any change in our muscle size and shape, no matter how intensely you try to train.
Building muscle is not the priority for the bodythats not where it puts its energy first. Maintaining normal blood pressure, body temperature, digestive health, respiration and other basic body functions are the priorities.
If all the fuel is gone after taking care of the basics, theres nothing left for muscles, so theres just no building material left for them.
Youre Having a Hard Time Losing Fat
Similarly, when your goal is to lose fat, you shouldnt try to do it by eating like a bird.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that severe under eating makes fat loss very difficult in the long run. Sure, to lose fat, your body needs to be in a caloric deficitbut you shouldnt try to cut our calories too rapidly, especially when youre training intensely.
Extreme caloric restriction leads to slower metabolism and fast muscle loss, both of which you want to avoid. The bigger and stronger our muscles are, the faster also our metabolism is, and the better fat burners we are.
Youre Unable to Make Progress
Not eating enough also wont allow you to reach your full potential in your workouts. Maybe youre doing similar workouts every week, but your results are not getting better.
You may still be using the exact same or maybe even lighter weights. Your 100 Burpee challenge time is not improving. And you just dont seem to get closer to that first pull up. All that despite how much youre training!
If this is the case, you may want to seriously take a look at how much youre eating and even try counting calories for a few days to see how much youre under eating. Eating more will help you to fill your muscles with more energy that can then be used to hit those PRs youve been wanting to crush for so long.
Your Recovery is Slow
When it comes to recovery, its hard to stress the importance of sufficient food intake. When were working out, were actually creating micro tears in our muscles. Thats an essential part of muscle growththe growth and rebuild happens when those micro tears are healing.
The way to heal those micro tears and rebuild muscle as quickly as possible, is to eat after a workout.
The better fueled we are, the faster our muscles heal and the more likely well be ready to tackle our next workout. If you skip your meals or dont eat enough at your meals, muscle soreness may also last longer.
If we skip meals, our bodies start to use protein from our muscle tissues for fuel, because they have no other energy source. If were already over trained, there are things that help us back on trackenough food being one of them.
We May Lose Normal Hormonal Balance
To be healthy, our hormone production has to be on point. When we dont eat enough, we will sooner or later ruin that normal balance.
Cortisol is a hormone that is known as the stress hormone. We do need cortisol and its levels naturally fluctuate throughout the daythats completely normal.
What we dont want, however, is for cortisol to be chronically elevated, which is exactly what happens when were constantly underfed. Of course, other factors like poor sleep, stress, or even negative relationships affect our cortisol levels as well.
But not giving our bodies enough food is a big stressor for it too.
Whats more, the production of sex hormones may slow down when we dont eat enough. This is true especially for women. Its not uncommon that women who train hard but dont eat enough to support their exercise may harm their bone density, fertility, and even heart health.
Some Signs That Tell Us We Should Eat More
Here are some signs that may give you a hint that you may not be eating enough:
- Youre often exhausted even when youre just half way through the workout
- Youre far from hitting our PR-s, despite frequent and focused training
- You dont recover from your workouts as fast as you used to
- Its hard to lose fat, despite training a lot
- Its hard to build muscle, despite the hard workouts
- All of this leads to feeling unmotivatedyou simply dont want to workout.
Not only that, but outside of your workouts, you may also get hangry (hungry+angry) when you havent eaten for a while, so it makes us super moody. And you may also experience brain fog and have hard time sleeping, or on the other hand, you may want to sleep all the time.
Figuring Out Your Basal Metabolic Rate
BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate is an estimate of calories we should be eating every day to regulate or body temperature and keep our digestion, respiratory system and other most important functions of our body working properly. Whenever we exercise, even if its as light as just walking, our energy expenditure increases. So BMR tells us the amount of energy we burn when we basically lie down all day.
BMR is based on our height, weight and activity levels. You can calculate yours here. However, remember that although this number gives you an idea what you spend every day, its not 100% accurate.
You should never eat less than your BMR is, since doing so will sooner or later start to affect your health. It may seem like a good idea to eat less than this number if youre trying to lose weight, but doing this will backfire. And if youre fairly active and work out regularly, you should be eating quite a bit more than this (and if youre trying to build muscle, youll need to eat even more).
One that is absolutely sure is that by eating too little, youll never hit those new PRs, accomplish cool new skills, or gain muscle or much strength. On top of that, youll probably lose your workout motivation, because its tough to stay motivated when workouts are crappy!
Eat to Perform
Make sure to eat enough! Take care of your pre and post workout meals and eat all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat).
Keep in mind that even if skipping meals or significantly cutting calories may seem like a good idea for quick weight loss, this approach is not sustainable and may ruin your health in a long run. Fat loss will become more and more difficult, and crushing your workout goals will simply not happen.
Remember, food is fuel! Take care of your body and treat it that way.