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I went to the doctor for an annual checkup a year and a half ago.
Doc told me I had a lot of LDL cholesterol build up (the bad kind) and high blood pressure.
I was at risk of hypertension at the age of 26.
“I’m too young for this” I thought.
If my health could slip like this in youth, what would it do at 35? 40? Or 50?”
Blessed, I didn’t need Statins that day…
But I did need a gym membership.
Yeah, that was me a few months ago, after I received the news.
I’m flexing my stomach hard as hell, trying to make it look effortless. But that was all the ab I had.
I was lifting weights and KILLIN’ it in my beginner’s Brazilian jiu jitsu class three times a week.
And don’t get me wrong, I looked…okay. But I was still unsatisfied.
I was never really a person with abs NO MATTER how hard I tried and my body fat always hovered around 10-15% EVEN at my most active (If you’re like me, your body fat hangs on your stomach/chest like its redlined from everywhere else).
There are plenty of reasons a healthy body is difficult to achieve and maintain for a lot of Black folk like me.
First, Racism has lost little sleep… And it’s affecting peoples’ health.
According to 2011 research on African Americans from the Journal of the National Medical Association, modern racism can act as a form of trauma that LITERALLY harms your mental and physical health, negatively impacting the quality of your life. Internalized anger, coping with unhealthy foods, and the frequent assault on the human regulatory system via stress can lead to illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am not overly dramatic:The chronic stress of racism is likely to have detrimental outcomes for cardiovascular health, increase the likelihood of hypertension and can even set the stage for diabetes by heightening insulin resistance. 1
Add to this, the basic way in which we think about food.
High sodium and saturated-fatty foods like salted fries and burgers, or, if we’re vegetarian, highly salted potato chips and processed garden burgers…
But we aren’t powerless here.
That’s why I’m writing this. In order to thrive, we must rethink food and establish complete health across the physical, mental/spiritual, and financial domains of our lives.
Call it crazy, but I believe our mental and physical health (even fiscal health) is impacted by what we eat, do, and think.
This article is meant to provide research-based concepts on how to optimize our diet and our workouts.
If you master these concepts, you don’t need someone to make you a diet plan or an exercise program. Your new lifestyle will support quality health on its own.
For Freedom Fighters, I hold that taking care of our health IS a form of oppression-resistance in society.
In a system that has benefited from the deterioration of bodies of color, what is more powerful than building and sustaining strong bodies and minds FOR people of color?
It’s actually easy. I made some SMALL tweaks in my LIFESTYLE and strengthened my body, mind and numbers at the doc’s office.
I’m about to describe in detail what to keep in mind as you attain your immaculate well-being:
Principle #1- Macronutrients:
What are Macros?
Macronutrients include fats, carbohydrates, and protein.
Our body needs these three large components in order to build muscles, regulate key hormones i.e testosterone and insulin, and maintain strong cholesterol levels in order to stay healthy.
Grams of Fats, carbs, and protein are going to be our NEW way to think of food.
If you think that every dinner plate must have a potato, rice, bread, a piece of meat, and maybe a vegetable, then you were raised like me and most folk I know.
However, I’m calling for us to conceive of food in terms of how many grams of carbohydrates, fats, and protein each piece of food entering our body has.
Carbs: Since losing weight was my goal, I took in around 100-170 grams of carbohydrates in each day. This is not the only way to do it…just the way I did it.
Carbs transport energy to your system, but if we have too many, this energy gets stored as fat and piles on our gut and thighs.
If most people take stock of how many carbs they get in a single day, they will see that they are eating several hundred grams of unhealthy carbs.
No wonder we can’t lose weight.
Forget the bowl of cereal, that’s like 30 grams of carbs in a cup, instead, grab a piece of wheat bread, a salad with berries, and a good protein shake.
This way, you increase your protein load to about 30 grams, which by the way, is about all your body can process in a single hour, AND you establish a sufficient Carb:Protein ratio.
Your meals need to establish healthy Carb: Protein ratios.
Protein: If you want to slash fat while maintaining muscle, you’re going to need protein.
People used to say 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
So if you weighed, 180 lbs, you would need 180 grams of protein.
Most body-builders and other competitive athletes only. Most people can make due with about .6 to .88 grams of protein per lb. of body weight.
So if you weigh 180 lbs, you would need 108 to 158.4 grams of protein. If you’re obese, over 30 lbs. overweight, you can make do with less protein.
Dietary Fat: “If I eat fat, won’t I get fat?” No.
There is a difference between BODY FAT and DIETARY FAT.
What you will get when you consume dietary fat is: Improved cholesterol levels, improved insulin levels that will help combat high blood sugar levels, reduce your body fat and decrease your risk for heart disease.2
So how much to get? This, like all other things in life, will vary.
However, it is argued that around 20-35% of your calories should come from healthy dietary fats.
You can calculate this by multiplying your body weight by .4 grams.
So if you weigh, 180 lbs., you will need 72 grams of fat. These fats, however, need to be healthy fats.
Healthy fats: Polyunsaturated fatty acids and Monounsaturated fatty acids are the way to go.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 that come from fatty fish and nuts are going to be key.
Hormone and Metabolic Research produced a 2008 study that demonstrated that Omega 3 intake can lower insulin resistance, decreasing chances for diabetes and for storing fat on the body.3
27 Almonds have 13-14g of good fats in them.
Healthy nuts and seeds (not peanuts, surprisingly) will help you to establish and maintain healthy fat levels according to a 2006 study from the British Journal of Nutrition.4
Try to get and snack on Almonds, pistachios, cashews, and make use of peanut butter, not peanuts. Peanuts often come roasted, salted to perfection, rolled up in garlic-butter with a cool mascot. You don’t need that in a nut. Stay natural. Stay healthy.
WHAT IT BOILS DOWN TO: RETHINK FOOD- SEE YOUR MEALS AS CONSTELLATIONS OF HEALTHY FATS, ENOUGH PROTEIN, AND STAY GET ENOUGH HEALHTY CARBS.
Principle #2- Vegetables & Micronutrients:
So we have macronutrients out of the way.
Macros are the way to think about food. How much fat does it have? How many carbs?
How much protein? Just like with your money, before picking up any item for consumption, asks yourself, “Can I afford this today?”
But while Macros are the way to think about food,
Micronutrients, or nutrients that come from vegetables, are going to be essential for mental functioning and to improve the quality of your life.
Micronutrients are required daily in small amounts.
These include vitamins and minerals essential to running basic processes in the body. Calcium, for example, is a micronutrient needed to generate healthy bone mass.
Folic acid is a micronutrient needed to help pregnant mothers carry children to full term and, according to a 2010 study from Complementary therapies in clinical practice, may play a role in the treatment of depression.5
Folic Acid and Vitamin B-12 may play a role in preventing mood swings, dementia and Alzheimer’s in our elderly according to a study from Lancet neurology.6
Basically, there is plenty of data that suggests that we eat the right amount of Vitamins and minerals in order to maintain mental and physical health. In order to do this, I am suggesting we eat up on the veggies.
You need leafy greens. Let me tell you something, I’m not ashamed to say that I buy vegetables I don’t even know the names of!
If it’s green and looks like it belongs on a forest floor, then it’s for me. And I want it to be for you, too.
Too simple? Let me explain:
Dark Green leafy vegetables can reduce your chance of developing cancer and help you maintain the mental clarity associated because of high micronutrient content. Green vegetables include fiber, folic acid, magnesium, Vitamin C, potassium, etc.
For example, kale, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts have been shown to protect against lung and chemically induced cancers.
These foods are also linked with lower levels of cardiovascular disease in humans and animal studies.7
Vegetables, fruits and whole grains, green or otherwise, also include “phytochemicals” that activate antioxidant activity, “super-charging” your body’s ability to fight against cancers and cardiovascular disease.8
Imagine if 1 in 3 cancer related deaths could be reduced just by including more vegetables in your diet.
According to the American journal of clinical of nutrition, 1 in 3 deaths CAN be prevented by changes made in micronutrient and phytochemical intake.9
With greater health disparities in the Black community globally, I think we safely assume this number is “a bit” higher for Black folks.
WHAT IT BOILS DOWN TO: Eat Vegetables of all colors, but stick with mostly the dark green variety, every day, period. Around 5-9 servings.
Principle #3- Calorie Deficit
If Macros are our new way to think about food AND we know vegetables are still good to eat, we still have an issue of Calories.
Some people say “calories in/calories out”, which means that you can have as many cheeseburgers as you want as long as you “burn it off” with exercise.
I don’t like this.
Here’s why: We’re never going to burn off 400 calories (of a good cheeseburger) each day through exercise alone.
Most of us do not have the time to burn off this many calories in a single day, and even if we did, we would give no time to our bodies to actually rebuild the muscle we just broke down during our workouts.
So what to do? The ancient Taoist master, Lao Tzu (above), reminds us that Nature has enough power to take care of our needs.
We don’t need to think about our hearts for them to beat, we don’t need to direct our blood flow.
They already know what to do and where to go. So, we must work with Nature in Life and in Fat burning.
Luckily, our bodies have built-in fat burning instruments. It is called…A Metabolism.
The metabolism transforms food content into energy. Let’s use this to our advantage.
We’ve heard plenty talk about having a “good metabolism” or a “slow metabolism”, I think we can safely place that aside for now.
Instead, we can realize that our bodies must burn calories in order for the body to run, right?
Just as it takes gasoline to provide combustible energy to propel our automobiles along roadways, so too the food we intake provides exhaustible power for our bodies.
What this means is that there is no such thing as a metabolism that DOES NOT work.
The body simply has no choice.
It must burn calories in order to function.
Thus, if you can achieve a calorie deficit, taking in fewer calories than your body naturally needs to run the business of your body, then your body will have to get its energy from the reserves of your body:
From Your FAT & Your MUSCLES.
Yes, it’s true.
There really is something called “Muscular Catabolism” where our bodies begin to eat away muscle for energy.
Don’t worry about this right now. I’m going to tell you how to get around this problem.
While losing some muscle in a calorie deficit is normal, you don’t need to look like a bean pole to be successful.
Back to calorie deficit.
When we pay attention to our macronutrients, we make sure to get enough protein so that our muscles have enough fuel to continue to exist as we cut BODY fat.
If we are eating enough protein, limiting our carbs so that they do not get stored on the body as fat, and eating enough DIETARY fat to lower our insulin-resistance (and increase our bodies ability to burn fat), then we can safely restrict our calories so that our bodies begin to draw on fat stores on the body for energy, rather than just burning through the carbs we feed it on any given day.
How many calories should we cut?
You need to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
I recommend actually having this done professionally, but you can get a rough idea by going here: http://mytdee.com/
Let’s say our body burns 2,200 calories a day. Let’s also say that we get enough protein, fats, and carbs at 1800 calories a day.
That means we would be in a 400 calorie deficit every day.
There are about 3500 calories in 1 lb. of fat (or muscle).
Thus, we would need to maintain this deficit for about nine days in order to drop a lb. of fat. We can increase the deficit by adding weight lifting and/or cardio workouts to our lifestyles.
Understand, though. With a calorie deficit and a healthy diet, there is no rule that says “YOU MUST USE cardiovascular training for weight loss”.
Cardio is still recommended for other benefits (like heart health), but with an understanding of Macros and calorie deficits, you don’t need it for weight loss.
Notwithstanding, I will explain how cardio can help in case you do choose to use it to increase your fat burning journey.
Principle #4- HIIT
You’ve probably heard of this before. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of cardio vascular training that instructs you to move as quickly and efficiently as you can for 30-45 seconds at a time, and at a normal or even slow pace for 15-30 seconds at a time.
Then repeat. Again and again and Again.
This is not for the faint of heart.
I love doing HIIT with sprints.
You can use swimming, jumping jacks, burpees, etc.
But I feel like nothing is more tiring than sprinting. And the point is to get as tired as possible.
Here’s what I do: I warm up with a 1 lap jog on a simple track.
Then, I hit my first sprint for 30 seconds at around 80% speed. Then I walk for 20 seconds. Then back to a hard sprint at 80-90% of full speed. Then walk.
I repeat this process for 5-10 cycles. Each cycle= 30 second spring, 20 second walk.
HIIT burns more body fat throughout the day than steady state cardio. You’ve probably heard that part before.
But here’s the beauty: It’s not about the calories… I don’t give a flying 747 if HIIT, in and of itself, burns any calories at all.
Why? Because HIIT has been demonstrated to increase testosterone levels post-workout.10
Testosterone, regardless of sex, is needed in order to build muscle.
HIIT improves our ability to burn fat while we support muscular development.
Muscle, as a highly metabolic tissue, increases the amount of calories your body burns at rest.
This means that more muscle increases your body’s ability to burn fat while you do nothing. (Not to mention, the oxidation effects of HIIT forces our bodies consume more oxygen throughout the day, burning more calories as a result).
Remember what Lao Tzu said about using Nature to do the heavy lifting? Voila.
The more lean muscle I build, the easier it is for me to maintain a calorie deficit throughout the day and melt the fat from my body. HIIT can help.
2008 Research from Exercise and Sport Science Review demonstrates that HIIT training can increase endurance, your body’s ability to process oxygen and impact metabolic control.11
Of course HIIT also has its cardiovascular benefits. But the best part is it takes almost NO TIME.
10 cycles of sprints as I described above will take 12 minutes including warm-up and cool-down. I only do this once a week.
There will be days when you will not want to run or move. My advice:
WHEN LEG DAY ROLLS AROUND
Just move. Just get started.
If your first cycle of sprints is only 60 or 70% of your max speed, so be it.
Just begin. Never allow your walk cycles to last more than 30 seconds.
That is my only rule.
I know the last thing you want to do after work or school is speed your heart rate up
to break neck speeds, but it really can be very good for you.
You only need to do it once a week, but if you are inactive outside of the gym (no rec sports, martial arts, dance, etc.), I recommend 2-3 times a week. Either way, you will see fat melt.
Principle #5- “Fasting” to control Insulin levels
Intermittent Fasting has been investigated in the scientific community.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been demonstrated to increase the health span of the nervous system, helping the body fight against Alzheimer’s and other neurological and cognitive ailments that increase with age.
Studies have also demonstrated that IF is useful for obese folks in reducing weight.12
Here’s how this works: The moment we eat something, our bodies respond by producing insulin in order to provide energy (glucose) from the food we just consumed to the cells of the body.
All is well.
However, after each meal, your body is focused exclusively on digesting and utilizing the consumed food in order to supply energy.
This means that your body is not primarily focused on the fat stores on your gut and thighs.
Insulin is important, but we want it to do its job, then get out of the way so our body can get back to eating up stored fat on our bodies.
There is another problem: When we eat sporadically throughout the day, we send random signals to our pancreas to produce more insulin.
The problem is, over time, our bodies eventually get used to sustained and elevated insulin levels. Sustained insulin levels leads to insulin resistance.
When you become insulin resistant, your body creates more and more insulin, but it cannot use it effectively.
When this happens, the body’s cells have difficulty processing glucose (basic sugars).
As a result, many cells in the body do not get properly nourished and, since the glucose (sugar) is not going where it is supposed to, excess sugar runs off into the blood, leading to higher blood sugar in the body.
Yes, this is the way that people get Type II diabetes. Increased blood sugar can cause damage to your blood vessels, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
What’s worse: When our bodies are running mostly off of glucose, we crave carbs and continue to eat when we should stop, hypnotized by a “fake hunger”, we just keep eating unnecessarily and never get to tap into body fat stores.
Intermittent Fasting wants to help alleviate this problem. IF has been shown to increase metabolic rate, our fat burning potential, decrease risk for diabetes and improve oxidative functioning.13
Off-limits until 11
The process is simple: Eat during an 8-9 hour window, get all of your nutrients in the day including protein shakes, then stop eating.
I take my first meal at 11 AM.
I eat every single macro and micronutrient I need until 9PM at night.
I don’t eat again until 11AM the next morning (Water is free game all day. Black Coffee and unsweet Tea are free game all day).
This is a minimal 14 hour fast. This is optimal for reversing insulin resistance and burning actual fat on the body.
When we go to sleep, assuming we’ve had an 8 hour night of rest, we are not eating for 8 hours. That kills most of the fast right there. If I wake up at 6AM, I grab water, Black coffee, but no food until 11AM.
This allows the body time to digest food eaten from the previous night AND then dip into burning actual body fat stores to help me lean out.
After a while, my body ONLY gets hungry at 11AM and I’m ready to finish eating by 9PM. No more “fake hunger”. I take back control over my cravings.
Have you ever heard someone say you need to eat 5-6 meals a day to “keep your metabolism going”? Well, the reason for this is to help regulate your insulin levels throughout the day.
If you eat once at 11AM, again at 7PM, and again at midnight, your pancreas has to continually fire up in order to produce insulin so that energy can be supplied to run the cells of the body.
Eat like this and your body never has a chance to rest from producing insulin.
That, my friends, is a great way to develop some insulin resistance.
It’s a good idea to eat consistently from the hours of 11AM to 8PM (or from 12PM to 9PM, or 8AM to 4PM, which ever works for you), so that you sustain insulin levels throughout your “feeding” time and decrease insulin levels during your “fasting” time.
Every 3 hours is fine. Just make sure to get 14-15 hours of fasting each day.
This is intermittent fasting.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”- Fine, as long as it comes after 11.
Principle #6- Burning Fat, Preserving muscle
Remember I said I would tell you how to burn fat and preserve as much muscle as possible?
It goes like this: In any calorie deficit, some muscle tissue is going to break down.
In this, our goal is to retain as much muscle as possible while decreasing as much fat as possible.
This does not need to be super difficult as muscles, in and of themselves, are great fat burners.
Amino acid supplements really do help with this. Amino Acids serve as the building blocks for protein in the body. Protein, of course, is foundational for muscle building and general well-being.
Research has demonstrated that increasing dietary protein and amino acids is useful for endurance and strength training athletes. What does this mean for you?
Two things: First, Amino acids including BCAAs like leucine, isoleucine and valine supplements are useful for powering protein synthesis in the body and keeping the muscles from atrophying post workout.14
Second, Amino Acid supplements can also help regulate normal processes in the body like intestinal functioning, prevent obesity, and optimize metabolic efficiency.15
In short, Amino Acids, especially BCAAs like leucine, isoleucine and valine are useful for preserving muscle while you cut fat. Great.
*Black Health HQ receives a small commission based on the products purchased from Advocare. When you purchase through this link, you also help support us.*
I take three pills 30 minutes before a meal and call it a day.
Principle #7- Lift Heavy Weights
Taking Amino Acid supplements like Catalyst is great, but if you’re not putting in some work at the gym or home, you’re going to be upset with the results.
You need to lift weights.
You need to lift heavy weights.
If you can get 8-10 reps, you’re in good shape.
You don’t need to go so heavy that you only get four reps on the squat. You want at least eight reps.
When we lift heavy weights, especially in a calorie deficit, we send a signal to our body that says something like “Hey, This one needs to become stronger. Build muscle!”
The calories that are naturally siphoned off from the muscles in a caloric deficit get replenished with the amino acids and protein supplements and since you are tearing down muscles during exercise, you are also giving your muscles a chance to rebuild stronger.
Don’t get me wrong, some muscle is going to get eaten away as you restrict calories, but this does not need to be noticeable to the eye.
Thus, weight lifting can prevent muscular atrophy and helps combat insulin resistance.16
That’s a fat-burning double-whamy. Building muscles naturally helps burn fat AND building muscles helps fight insulin resistance WHICH naturally helps burn fat.
Principle #8- Cheat Days
Last, but not least.
With any new change in your lifestyle, please be gentle with yourself. Old Lao Tzu has some more wisdom in this regard.
He said: “If you want to be straight, first allow yourself to be crooked.”
We must be serene enough to allow for moments of weakness, in life and in training.
I have two cheat meals, one on Friday and one on Saturday.
I still get enough protein, but I go to town on carbs/fats. Pizza, soda (or pop), ice cream, whatever.
I just make sure that I don’t go so far overboard that I undo the work I completed during the week.
Have your cheat meal.
It’s even been suggested that having a day of increased carbohydrate intake (over 100 grams) will be useful to “shock the system” and rev the metabolism up a bit more.
Cheat meals are for lifestyle change, not just another diet.
No one size fits all: Of course, no one size fits all. Listen to your body. A part of any healthy lifestyle is finding out what works best for you in regard to your body.
If that means you need 150 grams of carbs each day, and more protein, you should probably do that.
You got this. Just remember…
Like anything, health and fitness takes an investment of time.
Some days it will seem like you’re doing everything right BUT STILL taking 2 steps backwards in your progress.
Just keep the work up and on one glorious morning, with the sun easing through your curtains, you’ll notice the air is a bit easier to breathe.
And lo’! Just under your tank top…
Is that a human washboard?
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Hi, I’m Shawn, a Health researcher and writer deeply dedicated to the personal enhancement of Black Bodies, Black Minds, and Black Bank Accounts. I’m also the Founder of Black Health HQ. I created Black Health HQ to be a research driven platform for the development of Black physical, mental and financial health. Black Health HQ works toward the extreme well-being of Black people, offering free content along with services and products to assist you on your journey to maximum Black Living. Together, I believe we can build a vibrant and thriving Black community by strengthening what is most precious: our health and wealth.
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