It seems Jennifer Lopez has it all, including an A-List body. Envious curves, slim, yet strong – JLo is in great shape. What’s the secret behind how the mum of two maintains her signature curves? “There are a number of weird diets out there but I don’t follow them,” she says, “I eat almost everything, only in moderation.” This is something we can get on board with.
According to J-Lo, “A little piece of something fattening is not going to kill you. It’s when you eat the whole box that it’s going to kill you.” It turns out you can enjoy all your favourite ‘treat’ foods without the guilt, if your sensible eating them.
Rather than caving to cravings, you should aim to eat these foods when they’re least likely to impact on your weight or health. ‘When you stop forbidding yourself, you’ll be less likely to binge and more likely to enjoy these foods in the appropriate quantities – and only occasionally,’ says fitness and weight-loss expert Marisa Peer.
We know that dark chocolate is brimming with free-radical blasting antioxidants – 20 times more than green tea – and that it’s a great source of magnesium, which can ease depression and migraines, as well as boost your metabolism, says Peer. Antioxidants called catechins in dark chocolate (with 70 per cent or more cocoa solids) inhibit the breakdown of fats and reduce inflammation. A recent study by Tel Aviv University showed that morning is the best time to consume sweet foods such as chocolate, because this is when your metabolism is firing at its best. Half of the people in the study ate a portion of chocolate cake with their breakfast during the 32-week study. Despite consuming the same total calories during the day, the cake eaters lost, on average, 40lbs more than those who didn’t eat the cake.
When: After Cardio
If long-distance running is your thing, have some chocolate milk to hand for a post-run recovery drink, says Peer. Endurance exercise depletes muscle glycogen so, while drinking water will replace fluid loss from exercise, having chocolate milk within 30 minutes of intense exercise will provide carbohydrates and a combination of whey and casein protein to replenish your muscles. Whey is fast acting, allowing amino acids to get right into the muscle tissue, while casein is digested more slowly, providing a steady stream of amino acids over time. A study published in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism tested this theory. Nine cyclists biked until exhaustion, and then rested for four hours. During this break, each consumed low-fat chocolate milk, the energy drink Gatorade or another high-carbohydrate sports drink. When they cycled again to exhaustion, those who’d drunk the chocolate milk were able to cycle for as long and some for longer the second time round. A leisurely 20-minute jog, does not qualify you for a milkshake though; water is just fine.
When: After Weights
Beef has had a bad rep because it’s high in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. On the contrary, a diet that includes lean red meat can lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol and increase absorption of omega 3 fatty acids, according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition. ‘Red meat aids fat burning, muscle building and concentration,’ says Peer, ‘so if these are your goals eat red meat at least three times a week.’ Red meat contains iron, which is an important nutrient for delivering oxygen to muscles, so grab a burger (albeit a healthy one, minus the sauce and onion rings!) after a weight training workout. Steak mince is also a great source of creatine, an amino acid that helps to speed up muscle recovery and fight fatigue. In addition a University of Illinois study has shown a pre workout meal of steak and eggs will help you burn more fat during your workout and help to increase lean muscle growth. Eat your meal 30 minutes to two hours before a workout, depending on the size of the meal
When: Before Training
‘Coffee aids fat burning, so drink it before a workout to see better results,’ says Peer. A study by the Australian Institute of Sport found that caffeine triggers muscles to start using stored fat instead of carbohydrate as an energy source. Drunk before a workout, caffeine allowed athletes in the study to exercise three times as long. Another study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that a pre-workout coffee can increase your power output in the gym by between five and eight per cent. Caffeine also increases stamina and improves physical performance, according to researchers from the University of Georgia, who say caffeine acts as an anesthetic, blocking muscle pain and soreness, helping you work out for longer.
What: White Bagel
It’s a general consensus that consuming processed ‘white’ carbs is bad for you because it causes your insulin levels to spike, but eating a high-carb meal, will ensure your body uses it for fuel instead of storing it as fat, says Peer. ‘White bagels are good for endurance training, because the body uses the carbohydrate for energy. If you’re running, hiking or cycling long distances, eating simple carbohydrates before and at regular intervals while you train will give you the energy you need to keep going,’ says Peer. Combine this high-GI white bagel with an egg filling if you want its energy to be released over a longer period of time. The carbohydrate will enter your bloodstream quickly and drive the nutrients from the protein in the egg into your muscles, helping you to get more from your workout.