Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, Vegan… a quick search on the internet reveals a dizzying array of diets, each claiming that they are the best way to stay healthy and lose weight. Some are fad diets that have just popped on the scene making miraculous promises. Others have been around for years. If you’re a guy, you certainly don’t have a shortage of options. Thus, the question is which one to choose. What is the best diet for men?
In this blog, I’ll give you the answer. But, my aim is actually to do much more than that. I want to teach you how to eat. The goal is not to stay on a strict food plan, but to know what you can eat anywhere, whether you’re in your own kitchen or standing in line at McDonald's. I’m going to teach you how to build meals properly. You’re going to learn how to eat in a way that is healthy, allows you to lose weight, tastes excellent, and is sustainable for a lifetime.
Understanding Your Nutritional Building Blocks
Building a healthy, fat-burning meal is like working a puzzle. You have to put the pieces together correctly to get the desired results. So, before we start constructing a meal, let’s take a quick look at the fundamental building blocks.
At the most basic level, there are three different types of foods, called macronutrients, that you eat. You may hear them referred to as “macros” in the health world. These three macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with these groups, but there’s critical information you need to know about each to get your diet working properly. So let's take a quick look at each.
If you're asking, "What is the best diet for men?", the most essential macronutrient to have a firm understanding of is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are starches, sugars, and fibers. They’re found naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. Bread, refined sugars, pasta, and most “junk food” also consist primarily of carbohydrates.
It’s vitally important to know that carbohydrates are broken into two major groups: simple and complex carbohydrates. The primary difference between the two is their chemical structure. More importantly for our purposes, they also differ in how quickly they are digested and released into your bloodstream. With simple carbohydrates, this occurs very quickly. In contrast, complex carbohydrates are much more challenging to break down. Thus their sugars enter the bloodstream at a much slower rate.
This rate at which carbohydrates get absorbed and converted into sugars in your bloodstream is so crucial that scientists have made an entire scale, called the glycemic index, to measure it. Carbs that are absorbed and converted to sugars very rapidly are high on the glycemic index. Those that are absorbed and converted more slowly are lower on the glycemic index. Table sugar, for instance, has a glycemic index of 65. White bread is even higher. It comes in around a 75. By contrast, an apple has a glycemic index of 36.
This rate of conversion of carbs into sugar in your blood is so critical because of one thing: Insulin. I’ll explain why in just a minute. But before I do, let’s look quickly at the other macronutrients.
Proteins, as you probably know, are the primary ingredient in meat, chicken, eggs, and fish. They are vital building blocks of our muscle tissue and organs.
Proteins also take a long time for our body to digest. When you’re thinking about what to eat, this has a two-fold benefit: First, it means that proteins curb your feelings of hunger for a longer time than more rapidly digested carbohydrates. Second, since they are more difficult to breakdown, your body burns more calories in the digestion process. For both reasons, proteins are going to be essential when we start building meals.
Ok, now repeat after me, “Fats are my friend!” Yep. You heard me right. It’s not a typo. Research now shows that to lose fat, you need to eat fats. But, it is essential that you eat the right type of fats.
Fats come in three broad categories: saturated fats, trans-fats, and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal sources, especially red meats, some poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Trans-fats occur in small amounts in nature but are primarily created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Many types of processed food contain high amounts of trans-fat. These include fried foods, such as doughnuts or french-fries, baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines and other spreads. You can spot foods with trans-fats by looking at the nutrition label or for the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oils. (For more info on trans-fats, check out this excellent post by heart.org)
These saturated and trans-fats are the type of fats you mainly want to avoid. They are calorie dense and increase the “bad” cholesterol in your bloodstream, increasing your risk for heart disease.
But, as I said earlier, fats are your friend! Healthy fats are essential for proper nutrition, keep you feeling full longer, and actually help you burn body fat. The key is to stick with unsaturated fats. Nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts are excellent sources of healthy fats. So are natural oils, especially olive oil.
What's the Best Diet for Men?
Fat Loss Strategy #1 - The Calorie Deficit
You are now a master of macronutrients! As a result, we can move on to answer our original question, "What is the best diet for men over 50?".
When you strip away the fluff of all the different diets available, there are really only two methods of losing fat. The first is to create a calorie deficit. Simply put, you eat fewer calories than your body needs each day. To power itself, your body must then draw on its calorie reserves, some of which are found in fat. The bigger the deficit and the longer it lasts, the more weight you lose. It’s a strategy as old as dieting itself. Eat less!
Here's the Problem
But, is this really a good strategy? There is no denying that in theory this works, but it is a method wrought with a number of fundamental problems:
• First, this strategy leaves you hungry! When your body is starved of its needed energy sources, it sends hunger signals to your brain. The longer and larger the deficit the stronger the signals. Very few people have the will-power to consistently ignore these signals for significant periods of time, much less for a lifetime.
• Your body will adapt to the lower calorie intake. Humans are amazingly designed to adapt to our environment. If you were humming along burning 2,500 calories a day and you cut your diet back to 2,000 calories a day, your body will adapt. It will slow your energy burn to try to match the 2,000 calories you are feeding it. You’ll feel more sluggish and you’ll have to further reduce your calories to enter into a deficit.
• Your priming yourself for future weight gain. You’ve slowed your metabolism to a crawl by reducing your calorie intake. What happens when you return to your normal eating habits? You now have a large calorie surplus! Since it has been operating at a deficit, your body will now pack every bit of that surplus back into your fat reserves.
• You’ll lose muscle in addition to fat. When you’re in caloric deficit, your body pulls on whatever it can to meet its energy demands. It will burn fat. But it will also burn muscle tissue. This is a critical issue. Muscle burns far more calories that fat, even when you’re are sitting still. So, as your muscle mass diminishes, you will not just be losing your strength and your muscular physique. You’re also removing your ability to burn fat at a faster rate.
Fat Loss Strategy #2: Control Your Insulin Level
The second fundamental diet type takes an entirely different approach to fat loss. Instead of restricting calories, it seeks to limit the levels of insulin your body releases into your bloodstream.
Here’s why that’s effective. Insulin is released when you eat carbohydrates. When insulin is released, it does three things:
- It promotes the conversion of the carbs you have just eaten into fat that gets stored in your fat cells.
- Insulin encourages your cells to burn the carbohydrates for energy.
- It discourages the use of fat as a source of energy.
Now you can begin to see why I said that insulin is so critical! It discourages fat burning and promotes fat storage. The question now becomes, “How do you limit the amount of insulin our body produces?”
The Key is Carbs
As you now know, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Since simple carbohydrates are so easy for your body to break down, they lead to quick, high spikes in insulin. As we’ve seen, these spikes tell your body to stop burning fat, start burning carbs, and store the excess sugar as fat. The bottom line is that simple carbs make you fat.
Since complex carbohydrates are much more difficult for your body to break down, they lead to a slower drip of their sugars into the bloodstream. As a result, they lead to a lower and more gradual release of insulin. Whole grains, vegetables, and legumes all consist of complex carbohydrates. Good examples are brown rice, quinoa, barley, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, corn, and beans. These are the type of carbs you want to include in your diet. A good rule of thumb is “If God didn’t create it, then don’t eat it.”
What's the Best Diet for Men: Putting It All Together
Now you know everything you need to create a great meal. Whether you are trying to lose weight or just eat healthy, let’s look at a few examples.
The first thing I ask myself when I am putting together a meal is “What protein am I going to eat?” Having an excellent protein source with every meal is critical. I usually eat egg whites for breakfast, then lean meat for the rest of my meals. Your base meal should start with three to six ounces of lean meat like chicken breasts, ground turkey, or fish. (for a reference, a 3 oz. piece of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand). Note: if you are training consistently with weights in the gym, you will need more protein, around 5-6 oz. per serving per day.
Then pair this protein with a moderate serving of a complex carbohydrate. Eating your carbohydrates with a protein slows down the breakdown of the carb even further, which decreases the amount of insulin produced and keeps you feeling full longer. I shoot for six to eight ounces of brown rice or a similar amount of sweet potatoes or other complex carbs.
Finally, complete the meal with a vegetable and a small amount of fat (from a handful of nuts or an olive oil-based salad dressing).
Here’s the beauty of what you have just learned. You now understand all the principles you need to build a great meal no matter where you are. Whether you are sitting in your kitchen, or the fast food drive-through, think about your protein and how to pair it with a complex carbohydrate, a vegetable and possibly a fat. You can do this anywhere! And every time you do, you have created a healthy meal that promotes fat loss.
How Often Should I Eat?
Now, let’s talk briefly about how many meals a day to eat. It is essential to try to eat between four and six smaller meals a day, especially, if you are trying to lose weight, . This keeps your metabolism high, so you are consistently burning fat. Breakfast should be your most substantial meal of the day (I like egg whites and oatmeal). Then the next three to five meals should have smaller and smaller portions of carbs as your body’s energy needs diminish throughout the day. For a more in-depth discussion on meal timing, see my post “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?”
You're All Set!
What is the best diet for men? Now you know how to answer that question. If you’re trying to lose weight, it is not the latest fad diet. It is undoubtedly not to starve yourself. You now have the skill to create a healthy diet that will burn fat and keep you feeling great. It’s a plan that you can sustain into your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond!
If you’d like more details on how to lose body fat, be sure to check out my ACHIEVE program. It’s a twelve-week program, designed just for guys over 40. I’ll give you daily coaching on how to burn fat, build muscle, gain energy, and feel great.
About Porter Cottrell
Porter Cottrell was inducted to the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness Hall of Fame in 2011. Since his professional bodybuilding days, he has committed himself to helping men over 40 live their lives to the fullest. He is passionate about teaching simple principles that will help guys lose weight, build muscle, and stay vibrant and fit for a lifetime.