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The personal trainer cooperating with 52Challenges.com – Dawid Pyra answers questions considering nutrition and regeneration: How important is proper nutrition in comparison to workout when we want to lose or gain weight? What’s the first step to changing our eating habits? What can we do to regenerate best after workout? And many others. Read the interview with an expert to get some professional hints on your nutrition and post-workout regeneration.

Dawid Pyra is an ex-decathlonist with over 8-year experience in professional athletics. Now, he works both as a coach of the top athletes, as well as a personal trainer and a biological regeneration instructor. He used to aim at medals, and now he aims at success of his protégés and clients.

This is Part 2 of the interview. Read also Part 1 concerned with workout and motivation.

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52Challenges: Let’s talk about eating now. You said that sessions with a personal trainer are not enough if we aim at significant changes in our weight. What else should we focus on, then?

Dawid Pyra: Exactly – as important as the workout is, we have to  remember also about proper nutrition. We should eat well regardless of our goals in workout – the body should be provided with all the necessary ingredients when we’re exposed to considerable physical effort. And if we additionally aim at weight loss or muscle gain, eating is equally important as workout on the way to success. 

As I mentioned before, we should follow specific rules of nutritioning – and I don’t mean only when being on a diet, but every day. Simply speaking, we should eat reasonably on a daily basis. Especially while aiming at weight loss, the factor affecting the odds of success to a great extent is simply wrong eating habits.

52C: And what would you recommend as a first step to changing those wrong eating habits? What seems to be the most common problem here, and how to set about handling it?

D.P.: Nowadays we don’t always have enough time for planning our meals, or sometimes even for eating regularly during the day. As a result, we eat meals that are not very well-composed and, additionally, we don’t eat regularly. So the first step to change this would be regularizing our meals, both in terms of their quality, quantity and timing. We should never omit breakfast, for instance.

When it comes to the quantity and quality, we tend to eat (and drink) too much sugar. While trying to reduce sugar intake, we usually think only of traditional candy, but we often seem to forget about different types of soda drinks that also contain a lot of simple sugars.

Another practice we should avoid is eating huge meals in the evenings – when we come back home after a whole day working so hard that we forgot about eating. Eating a big portion of food before sleep results in our body storing those calories over night, when we’re not physically active and our metabolism slows down. And those calories are usually stored as the fatty tissue we fight with so hard afterwards.

52C: So what is actually the “safe time” for eating in the evenings?

D.P.: We can eat something light no later than two hours before sleep. Mind you, however, that the timing is only one of the “safety factors” here – there’s also the quantity and the quality. The portion should not be dinner-size, and it should be something light, so that our digestive system handles it before we lay to bed.

52C: … immortal vegetables?

D.P.: Well, not necessarily vegetables, since they’re high in fiber, which means they need a lot of time to digest. I would recommend a little something containing proteins, or even carbohydrates – as long as in small dose. It shouldn’t be a plate full of pasta with a load of sauce on it. Instead, it should be something small and easy to digest – even a banana which is high in carbs, but at the same time contains substances that will help us maintain undisturbed sleep.

52C: What about supplements? Do we actually need them, especially working out regularly?

D.P.: People often ask about supplements, especially if they want to speed up the process of weight reduction or muscle gain. I usually don’t recommend taking such substances. What I do recommend instead is a well-designed diet, rich in those ingredients that will help us achieve our goals.

52C: Do you cook for yourself or rather eat out?

I cook myself. I used to eat out when I was younger, still at the university and in my training regimen. I guess that living in dorm and eating every day in the dorm’s cafeteria was the main reason for that. We needed something different from time to time. Plus, after an especially exhausting workout it was a kind of reward to go out with friends and eat something special.

I think it’s all about reasonable proportions and frequency. If you apply to some rules of healthy eating on a daily basis, there’s nothing wrong in having pizza from time to time.

52C: Do you prepare food to bring with you to work the next day? You know, just to be sure you’ll eat something decent for lunch.

D.P.: I do. I do it now, and I did when I was still studying, training, and working on two gyms. My day started at 6 a.m. with the work at one gym, then I had classes, a training session in the afternoon, and another work at another gym in the evening. I couldn’t be sure I would find enough time to get some decent lunch and dinner between all the duties. So in the evening I prepared several, sometimes even six, boxes with food for the other day.

And I must say the system works really well for me. The meals are always at hand, so I just take a box out of my backpack and eat when the time comes. That helps you control when, what, how much you eat – so the timing, the quality, and the quantity. And it may be something really simple – some sandwiches, rice with vegetables, or pasta salad.

52C: So, just to sum up the topic of nutrition, could you give us 3 main rules we should follow to eat better for our health, efficient workout, and a desired figure?

First, we should determine our energy expenditure in order to know, how much we can actually eat. We spend some energy during the day, depending on what we do – how we work, how often and how long we work out, and so on. It’s a good idea to ask for help a dietitian or a personal trainer, who know exactly how to count the energy expenditure. On this basis, they will also tell us how to plan our meals for the energy balance to be respected.

Second, we should eat regularly and keep the calorie proportions of the meals: usually it’s 25% for breakfast, 30% for dinner, and 25% for supper (plus lunch and afternoon snack).

Third, we should eat rationally – don’t overdo sugars, reduce simple carbohydrates, reduce saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, if in proper dozes, are beneficial part of our diet.

52C: You are also a biological regeneration instructor. Where is the place for regeneration in a well-composed workout plan, and how should such regeneration look like?

D.P.: We definitely should take some time for regeneration in our workout schedule. This could be just a day off workout. Alternatively, we can regenerate very efficiently by low-intensity exercises or any other light physical activity – a walk to the park, or even going shopping.

It’s all about keeping our ‘muscle pump’ active, controlling only the intensity of its work. In terms of regeneration, it’s more efficient than giving up any physical activity – in other words, laying on the couch for a whole day. Our body will regenerate faster and to a greater extent if we engage in some kind of light physical activity, than it would if we completely demobilized it.

When it comes to biological regeneration procedures we can apply at home, we can take a hot bath (about 40 Celsius / 104 Fahrenheit ) with some sea salt in it, or take a shower alternating the temperature of water (from hot to cold). Such a simple home procedure will boost regeneration processes and thus we’ll feel better the next day after workout.

52C: And how about the regeneration in workout specifically for strength. Is it a fact or a myth that we can overstrain ourselves, for instance working out a specific muscle group for several days without any break?

D.P.: In the worst case scenario, we can even injure ourselves if we don’t provide our body with some time for recovery. And this includes also serious and really painful muscles injuries, which will have to be treated for a longer time. So in the long run, pushing too hard without breaks in strenuous workout may cause more harm than good.

We have to observe our body’s reactions for the effort we serve it. If we cannot lift the exact load that we were able to lift a day or two before, this means our body calls for a break. In such case, we can give some rest the overstrained muscle group. Proper regeneration is never a waste of time, since we will probably observe improvement in our capabilities as we come back to a particular exercise after a day or two of break.

The regenerated muscles will be stronger than they had been before we overstrained them. So we should be able to lift not only the same load we were working out with the last time, but even a bit more than that. Shortly speaking, not only will we avoid stagnation, but it’s probable we’ll actually see progress.

The time needed for regeneration depends on many factors, for example, our age, general shape, and the extent to which we have overstrained the muscles.

52C: Right, but that’s the situation when our body actually signalizes to us it needs some time for rest. But can we plan ahead time for regeneration in our workout schedule?

D.P.: The problem is we don’t have any pattern for planning the regeneration. Each body is different, and we really have to know our body very well and have experience in workout to be able to plan regeneration ahead. It’s not that simple. Nonetheless, knowing our own body’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses is something that should be one of our most important training objectives.

52C: And let that last sentence be a nice conclusion of this conversation. Thank you for all those detailed explanations and helpful tips.

D.P.: Thank you.

About Cathy Patalas

The sports soul and the alleged specialist in words of 52Challenges.com. The main 52C Blog writer. A diligent student at the English Department of the University of Wroclaw, majoring in applied linguistics. An ex-acrobat and aerobic gymnast with the 13-year long experience in „training for winning”. A multiple medallist of Poland nationals in acrobatic gymnastics, and academic nationals in aerobic gymnastics. A fan of gymnastics of every existing type. Personally, finds making everyday choices in a healthy lifestyle even more demanding a challenge than making everyday sacrifices in the athlete’s lifestyle.