Breaking Down the Fundamentals of Nutrition

Healthy eating demonstration is held at Fort McCoy.
Mayo Clinic Health System employees dish up pico de gallo during a cooking demonstration Sept. 19, 2017, at Fort McCoy, Wis. (Aimee Malone/U.S. Army photo)

When people stop exercising and no longer care about what they eat, they can gain an average of 5-10 pounds a year, on average.

That's why in five short years, people step on a scale and cannot believe that they are nearly 50 pounds overweight. Weight has a way of sneaking up on you. Gaining weight doesn't happen overnight -- and you don't lose weight overnight, either.

Both take time, and fortunately, you can lose weight faster if you follow a strict nutritional and exercise plan. Here are a few eating tips and some ideas on quick exercise routines to try when time is limited:

1. Lay off fast food

Before you go on a trip or a long day at work, try to eat before you leave and pack a lunch. Foods high in protein, mixed with a natural carbohydrate, are great energy meals.

Try a lean turkey or chicken sandwich with vegetables like lettuce and tomato. Watch out for the mayo -- too many calories and fat grams. Go for mustard instead.

Fruits are great quick snacks, too. Try apples, oranges and bananas for natural sources of energy.

Read The Stew Smith Way of Watching What You Eat for more ideas.

2. Wake up and burn some calories.

As busy days pile up with more obligations, the scheduled 5 p.m. workout easily can get bumped. Fit 30 minutes of exercise into your mornings and do some type of workout.

  • Try biking, walking or running for 30 minutes.
  • Go to your gym for a quick circuit routine.
  • Try calisthenics like jumping jacks, push-ups, a crunch routine, jumping jacks, squats, lunges and crunches.
  • Try using dumbbells for arms and shoulders.

3. Start now.

Why wait? When you can, you should try to eat at regularly scheduled times during the day. Healthy snacks and meals will carry you through your stressful days much better than skipping meals or binge-eating.

You will find that if you keep a good schedule, you will lose weight and inches. Add exercise to the plan, and you also will get fit and feel better than you have in years. Try an eating schedule of the following recommended times:

6:30 a.m.: Breakfast

9:30 a.m.: Morning snack

12:30 p.m.: Lunch

3:30 p.m.: Afternoon snack

6:30 p.m.: Dinner

If your days are longer than 15-18 hours, you should try another light snack (yogurt, grapes, milk) at 9 p.m. Other snacks during the day can be salads, fruits, lean meats, small sandwiches, boiled eggs and others. Refer to the chart below for better ideas on what to eat during the day and before and after exercise sessions.

4. Walk more.

When safety is not an issue, try to walk farther than normal when going about your normal day. Burning a few more calories by walking is one of the easiest ways to drop that extra weight. Just 20 minutes of brisk walking can burn more than 100-150 calories.

5. Keep working the abdominal region.

Not with food but with exercises like crunches, sit-ups and lower back stretches. Check out the articles Achieving Washboard Abs and Lose the Love Handles for ideas. When you do these exercises for 5-10 minutes daily, it's easier to remember to watch your food intake and stop yourself from gorging.

Overall, it's important to keep up the habit of moving more and eating foods that are better for you. These tips can help you prevent unneeded weight gain. Also helpful is the Fundamentals of Nutrition Chart below:

The Fundamentals of Nutrition


Morning Meal (Serving = fist size): Eat 2-3 servings of any

*minimal fat

1 quart water

Proteins: boiled egg whites, yogurt, milk, lean meats, protein shake, vegetable beef stew ...

Carbs/protein mix: some fruits like grapes, bananas, blueberries, cereal with milk ...

Mid-Morning Meal

Eat 1 serving

SlimFast meal bar, boiled egg, Go-Gurt, tuna ...

Fruit salad, apple, orange, banana, etc. ...


1 quart water

Chicken, tuna, fish, lean meat sandwich on wheat bread, no mayo. Mix meat with salad

Mixed salads with variety of vegetables: green leafy lettuce, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, onion

Mid-Afternoon Meal

1 quart water

Optional: peanuts, almonds, high calories

Optional: juice, fruit, vegetable/small salad

Evening Meal

1 quart water

Lean chicken, fish, meat, broiled 

Large salad - above eggplant


Pre- and Post-Workout Meals


Before Your Cardio Workout

Before Your Lifting or PT Workout

Carbohydrates: 75-100%

Carbohydrates 75% & Protein 25%

Prior to running, swimming, biking, etc., at medium to high intensity levels for 30-40 minutes, it's best to eat a small snack to boost sugar levels in your body, especially if your workout is before your morning meal. After a night of sleeping and not eating for more than 10-12 hours, you need a boost to help you get through the workout. Fruit or fruit juice is fine 20 minutes before and during workout. Foods with small amounts of protein can be eaten pre-workout and will help post-workout requirements of protein, too. Sample ideas for pre-workout snack are:

1-2 hours before lifting, eat protein foods and carbohydrates so the protein is there for you after the workout. Lifting weights and doing high-repetition calisthenics will break down your muscles and require protein immediately after your workout – within 30 minutes. Foods high in carbohydrates to replace the loss of glycogen stores are needed within this time, too. A great rule of thumb: After your workout, eat protein, carbohydrates and minimize fatty foods. Foods that should be considered are:

Bananas, apples, oranges, carrots, juice, Gatorade (any fruit of your choice). Before workouts longer than 30-40 minutes, add some protein to stabilize absorption rates so you can last longer: Eat the following about 1-2 hours prior to exercise: Yogurt, protein drink*, milk, boiled egg, slice of meat or cheese, or SlimFast meal replacement bar. Sip water and carbohydrate drinks throughout the workout. *Met-Rx powder is highly recommended; I like to take half of the recommended amount.

Bananas, berries, boiled eggs, tuna fish, Met-Rx drink/bar. Protein or carb replacement drinks are great if post-workout occurs midday or early morning. See above meal options for protein and carbohydrates sources and these below: Tuna, chicken, boiled eggs and green leafy salads with tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber, carrots, onions and light dressing or oil.


Post Workout Meals

The key is to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during the workout - drink Powerade/Gatorade immediately after workout. Another important factor is to add protein to help rebuild muscles - see above meal/snack ideas within 30 minutes of working out.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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