Your body needs fuel to exercise, and the source of that fuel is food. That’s why some people report feeling hungrier when they start to work out. Obviously, if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s counterproductive to be hungry all the time. That’s why it’s super important to find the right balance of healthy, filling foods. (Snack AND lose weight with this box of Prevention-approved treats from Bestowed.)
The typical American diet is loaded with refined or simple carbohydrates such as white flours, rice, pasta, pastries, soda, and other sugary foods and drinks. These carbs lack the fiber found in complex carbs, like whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and are metabolized by your body quickly. So while you may feel raring to go after eating them, that energy boost is followed by a major energy slump, making it hard to give your all during your workouts.
In addition, if many of the foods you eat are metabolized quickly, you’ll find yourself feeling hungry more often, which could mean more snacking and a higher calorie intake.
To keep from eating back all the calories you’ve burned and maximize each workout, stick to a diet packed with these six science-backed nutrients.
1. Eat at least 20 grams of fiber per day from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Fiber helps keep you feeling full longer—a big benefit when you’re trying to lose weight. A study from Brigham Young University College of Health and Human Performance suggests that women who ate more fiber significantly lowered their risk of gaining weight. Each gram of fiber eaten correlated to half pound less body weight. The researchers suspect that the higher fiber intake led to a reduction in total calories over time. (Here’s how to sneak more fiber into your diet.)
2. Strive for three servings of calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods a day.
These nutrients often occur together in foods like dairy. And if the latest research is any indication, both of these nutrients may flex some muscle in your weight-loss success. In a study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, college students who ate roughly three servings of dairy a day (while eating an otherwise healthy diet) weighed less, gained less, and actually lost belly fat, compared to students who consumed little or no dairy.
Moreover, extra body fat holds on to vitamin D so that your body can’t use it. This perceived deficiency keeps the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you’re full, from recognizing when you’re satiated. That makes you more likely to overeat.
3. Eat three to four servings of healthy fat each day.
These include monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, found in oils, nuts, avocados, certain fish—and yes, even chocolate! A study published in the journal Appetite shows how these fats can help you feel fuller long after a meal. The study participants with a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids (more than 1,300 milligrams a day, either from foods or from supplements) reported feeling less hungry right after their meals, and up to two hours later, compared to those who had a lower omega-3 intake (less than 260 milligrams a day). Less hunger means you’ll have an easier time keeping calories in check.
Plus, an Australian study suggests that walnuts, a great source of healthy fat, can help you keep weight off in the long run. For the study, researchers asked participants to follow a healthy low-fat diet, either with walnuts or without. Both groups ate the same number of calories and lost approximately the same amount of weight in six months. But during the next six months of the year-long study, the walnut-eaters continued to lose weight and body fat, while the other group stopped losing.
4. Aim for three servings of lean protein.
Fish, white meat chicken, turkey, pork loin chops, and lean beef sirloin are great sources of lean protein. In addition to being an essential nutrient, protein helps to keep you feeling full, which is a big benefit when you’re trying to lose weight. In a small 2009 study, participants who ate a higher-protein breakfast were more satiated afterward (and took in fewer calories at lunch) than those who ate a low-protein breakfast. (Be sure to vary your protein sources and include plant ones, too. Here’s why.)
5. Drink at least four cups of water.
Studies from Stanford Prevention Research Center suggest that water helps promote weight loss in two ways. First, drinking more water—at least 4 cups per day—was linked to a five-pound weight loss over the course of a year. According to the researchers, this amount of water increases the amount of energy or calories your body burns. Second, substituting water for sugary drinks resulted in even more weight loss. The exact number of pounds participants lost depended on how many sugary drinks they consumed in the first place, and how many they replaced with water. Check out these 25 flat belly sassy water recipes!
6. Drink three cups of green tea.
Catechins, the antioxidants found in green tea, have been shown to promote weight loss, specifically belly fat. If caffeine is a concern, decaf tea is an option works just as well. Although, some decaffeination processes can lower the antioxidant content so you might want to have an extra cup or two.
In a study at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, participants who drank three cups of green tea a day lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t drink tea. The tea-drinking group also lost significantly more belly fat than the non-tea drinkers.
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