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The leaves are falling, the air has a chill, and holiday temptations are abound. That’s right, winter is upon us—that diet-busting, spare-tire-inflating season that brings us Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, each replete with its own variation on pigging out, be it on food or alcohol, or both.
By virtue of its frigid disposition, winter also has a slowing effect on the metabolism and provides us the chance to hide the results of our December bingeing. In other words, it’s not the season you typically associate with getting ripped. But it can be, with a little dedication, some intestinal fortitude (muscular as well), and a knowledge base exactly like the one that follows.
We’ve compiled 20 nutritional tips to help keep winter weight gain at bay. Oh, and while we’re at it, we might as well add our unofficial Rule No. 21: Go easy on the eggnog.
Apples are a great slow-digesting carb with numerous beneficial antioxidants. One group of compounds known as apple polyphenols has been found to boost muscle strength, endurance, and even fat loss, especially around the abs. While apple polyphenols appear to directly improve the body’s ability to burn fat while limiting fat production and storage, the boost in endurance and strength is helpful as well, allowing you to train longer and harder. A typical large apple provides about 200 milligrams of apple polyphenols and about 30 grams of carbs.
When you reach for carbs, choose slow-digesting whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread, which keep insulin levels low and steady, and prevent insulin spikes from halting fat burning and ramping up fat storage. A study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that men or women following a low-calorie diet with carbs coming only from whole grains lost significantly more abdominal fat than those following a low-calorie diet with carbs from refined sources.
A study from the Scripps Clinic (San Diego) found that men who ate half a grapefruit or drank 8 ounces of grapefruit juice three times a day lost an average of 4 pounds in 12 weeks, without changing their diet. The effect is likely due to grapefruit’s ability to lower insulin levels, thereby limiting fat storage. To test the effects yourself, try regularly adding half a grapefruit to a few of your daily meals.
Eggs are packed with protein and have been shown to promote muscle strength and mass. Research shows that subjects consuming eggs for breakfast not only eat fewer calories throughout the day but also lose significantly more body fat. We recommend eating eggs for breakfast daily, scrambling three whole eggs with three egg whites.
Certain fats—particularly omega-3s—do not lead to fat gain and can actually promote fat loss. Eating fat to lose fat seems counterintuitive, but if you keep your fat intake at about 30% of your total daily calories by choosing fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, or trout as well as other healthy fat sources such as olive oil, peanut butter, and walnuts, you can actually boost your fat loss when compared with eating a low-fat diet.
Dairy products are rich in calcium, which can help spur fat loss, particularly around your abs. This may be due to the fact that calcium regulates the hormone calcitriol, which causes the body to produce fat and inhibit fat burning. When calcium levels are adequate, calcitriol and fat production are suppressed while fat burning is enhanced. Adding low-fat versions of cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt (Greek or plain) to your diet are great ways to boost protein intake and aid fat loss.
Sure, it’s pricier, but organic beef and dairy are worth the extra bucks. U.K. research shows that organic milk has about 70% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk, and a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science found that grass-fed cows produced milk containing 500% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than cows who ate grain. Since omega-3s and CLA can both help you drop fat as well as gain muscle, it makes sense to shell out the extra cash for organic cheese, cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt as well as grass-fed beef.
A high-protein diet not only promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth) but also enhances fat loss. Researchers at Skidmore College found that men who followed a high-protein diet—40% of total daily calories from protein—for eight weeks lost more body fat than those following a low-fat/high-carb diet. One reason eating more protein may work is that it boosts levels of peptide YY, a hormone that decreases hunger levels.
A study from California’s Loma Linda University reported that subjects following a low-calorie, higher-fat diet (40% of total calories from fat)—with the majority of fat coming from almonds—lost significantly more body fat and abdominal fat in 24 weeks than subjects consuming the same calories but more carbs and less fat. So be sure to include nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and walnuts in your diet.
The main ingredient in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), inhibits the enzyme that normally breaks down the neurohormone norepinephrine. Norepinephrine keeps the metabolic rate up, so preventing its breakdown helps you burn more calories throughout the day. Drinking green tea is a great way to stay hydrated during workouts, according to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition, which reported that subjects drinking green tea while exercising lost significantly more abdominal fat than those drinking a placebo.
Drinking whey protein as a between-meal snack is a smart way to enhance not only muscle growth but also fat loss. U.K. researchers found that when subjects consumed a whey protein shake 90 minutes before eating a buffet-style meal, they ate significantly less food than when they consumed a casein protein shake beforehand. Scientists reported that this was due to whey’s ability to boost levels of the hunger-blunting hormones cholecystokinin and glucagon-like peptide-1.
Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat, which isn’t usually stored as body fat. They also contain mannoheptulose, a sugar that blunts insulin release and enhances calcium absorption. Keeping insulin low and getting plenty of calcium is critical for encouraging fat loss. Try adding a quarter of an avocado to salads and sandwiches.
German researchers have shown that drinking about 2 cups of cold water can temporarily boost metabolic rate by roughly 30%. The effect appears to be mainly due to an increase in norepinephrine.
Certain energy drinks have been shown to boost fat loss. University of Oklahoma researchers reported in a 2008 study that when 60 male and female subjects consumed a diet energy drink containing 200mg of caffeine and 250mg of EGCG from green tea extract for 28 days, they lost more than 1 pound of body fat without changing their diets or exercise habits.
Even though artificially sweetened drinks are calorie-free, drinking too many can hinder your fat loss. It seems that beverages like diet soda mess with your brain’s ability to regulate calorie intake, causing you to feel hungrier than normal, so you eat more total calories. Other research suggests that the sweet taste of these drinks can increase the release of insulin, which can blunt fat burning and enhance fat storage.
As mentioned in tip No. 5, the essential omega-3 fats in fish oil promote fat loss, which is enhanced with exercise. This is also true for fish-oil supplements containing omega-3 fats. For the best burn, take 1–2g of fish oil at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The majority of studies showing the effectiveness of green tea for fat loss have used green tea extract. One study confirmed that the EGCG from the extract was absorbed better than the EGCG from the tea. Take about 500mg of green tea extract in the morning and afternoon before meals.
Green, oolong, and black teas all come from the same plant, but different processing causes black and oolong teas to lose their green color and turn either brown or black. Oolong tea has been shown to enhance metabolic rate due to polyphenols other than EGCG. Black tea may also aid fat loss: Researchers from University College London found that drinking black tea regularly can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that encourages fat storage especially around the midsection.
Hot peppers contain the active ingredient capsaicin, a chemical that has been shown to promote calorie burning at rest as well as reduce hunger and food intake. Its effects are particularly effective when paired with caffeine—in fact, research shows that the pair can significantly boost fat burning during exercise. Try adding crushed red pepper, hot peppers, or hot pepper sauce to your meals to burn extra calories and fat. If you can’t stand the heat, consider taking a supplement that contains capsaicin instead.
Soy protein is a proven fat burner. In fact, in a 2008 University of Alabama study, researchers found that guys drinking 20g of soy daily for three months lost a significant amount of abdominal fat. The effect appears to be due to soy’s ability to decrease hunger levels.