I have the opportunity to work with a handful of high level athletes. These individuals (and their parents) regularly make great sacrifices of time and comfort in order to achieve exceptional performance on the athletic field. I hope they learn a process that will stick with them after their athletic careers.
I also train and rehab a few middle-aged folks interested in improving their health, ability to function well, and their general awesomeness. They reserve an hour or two of their busy weekly schedules to spend time with me.
Nutrition is important for both of these groups. In all instances, it would be a shame to spend all that time and effort in training and come up short on the nutrition front. Your diet needs to match your training goals. But rarely do I broach the subject.
One human telling another what and how much they should be eating strikes me as an extreme over-step. Twenty three year-old fitness gurus do it all the time on social media. In the end, only -you- will truly know what works best for you. It’s a process that requires months and years of attentive experience.
Besides that, the whole subject is…touchy. What we eat is rooted in culture and expectation, emotion, billions of dollars the food industry spends on marketing (not just talking about fast food, but also “healthy” food chains), a boat load of science and even more quackery. Body image, self confidence, and control issues abound. When something…anything is wrong with your heath or general life, someone will tell you assuredly that the problem is because of your diet (whether or not that may be the case.)
Some people have a predisposition to weight gain, be it good (lean) or bad (fat) weight. Others struggle to gain but have an easy time staying lean. Lastly, everything from genetics to socioeconomic status to personal preference has legitimate implications on what “good” advice would look like.
And finally, this is not my specialty. My expertise is physical rehabilitation and optimizing human movement. Contrary to what the social medias would have you believe, neither a semi-related degree nor a set of abs justify making proscriptive statements on someone else’s diet.
With that being said-here is something about diet. ; )
-For weight loss and weight gain (both optimal performance and getting jacked), diet is critical. Don’t let anyone lead you to believe that a -precision- workout and training plan is the most important thing. Your diet is more important than your exercise regimen.
-The -quality- of weight gain and loss is going to be dictated by what you do. Gaining muscle requires consistent strengthening exercise. Carrying muscle helps tremendously with losing weight (fat) and keeping it off. Having strength, balance, mobility, and a tolerance for discomfort (all from your training program) help you to be capable of doing more, and feeling like doing more during the 98% of life spent outside of your workouts.
-There is a lot ($) to be made in the next diet fad. “Eat this during these specific time intervals, avoid eating that, and make sure to count and monitor this while supplementing your diet with that specific brand of these supplements.”
There is not much money to be made in telling people to get the basics dialed in for at least three months before even considering anything else. The basics?
YOUR 10-POINT CHECKLIST PRIOR TO CONSIDERING ANY SPECIFIC DIET OR SUPPLEMENT REGIMEN:
- Choose minimally processed foods when possible.
- Load up on fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
- Limit but do not altogether quit treating yourself. You cannot have it all. But you can and should live a little.
- Focus on altering behaviors and patterns far more than specific macros, calories, or ingredients. Commit to a plan for your goals and be mindful
- Measure your foods for a short time to get an idea of portion sizes etc. But other than that, quit stressing about it. No measurements for you!
- Willpower comes and goes three times a day. Create and lean on good habits to carry you through.
- One metric worth the time and effort to track is simple: the ratio of eating well to eating poorly. Most adults will make tremendous progress if they eat well 9 out of 10 times and sometimes eat what they feel like. Tie a string on your fingers if you need to.
- Limit your options to a handful of good choices, in just about any way that you see fit. You do not need a 500-page diet book to do this for you! “Bored and satisfied” works a lot better than hungry and always having to think about what you are eating.
- Shut the TV and phone off and get some sleep! This is critical for all health and performance goals. Because, hormones and stuff. Plus, your resolve to stick with any goal and plan will be all the greater.
- Practice gratitude, for our perspective is truly rare and skewed. Many people throughout most of history ate what and when they could to survive.
[For related reading, I do offer my own Diet System…found here.]
For gaining -lean- bodyweight. Plan ahead to eat a lot of nutrient dense foods often. If you are hitting the weights regularly, between 12 and 25 years of age, and taking in -mostly- quality calories, your body will have a VERY hard time putting on anything but muscle. Treat yourself sporadically, around 10 to 20% of the time, depending on your needs and inclinations.
For losing weight but keeping muscles, dial in your life patterns so that you are not often caught off guard. Don’t obsess over the details, and eat like an adult. Most -good- foods have a mix of protein and fat and carbs. You know what crap is. Paleo or low carb/low sugar bars, cookies and cakes are still crap. You will find that avoiding crap is a lot easier when you know that you can treat yourself 5 to 10% of the time, depending on your needs and inclinations.
So, there you have it. Remember, I’m just a guy with an opinion ; )
Thanks for asking!
For further reading from a team of legitimate experts, two of my favorite sources are Precision Nutrition and Examine.com. Read these thoroughly before you listen to supplement canisters and the Shaklee or GNC sales reps.