Everyone knows that if you want to attain any sort of physical results, having good nutrition is a top priority. We hear sayings like this all the time – “abs are made in the kitchen”, and “losing weight is 20% what you do in the gym, and 80% what you do in the kitchen”. We all understand that it’s important to make healthy choices if we want to make progress with our fitness goals, but how many of us ACTUALLY understand what good nutrition looks like?
I’ve worked with and trained a lot of people over the years, and there’s one extremely important thing I’ve come to learn: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A ONE SIZE FITS ALL APPROACH TO NUTRITION.
I used to believe that there were only a handful of foods that you could eat that would make you “lean” and help you build muscle. I was the person who literally ate chicken & rice six times a day because I thought that was the secret recipe for getting big and staying shredded. Well guess what? It worked! I was building muscle, still had a six pack, and continuing to progress week after week. Seeing these changes only solidified my belief that if you wanted to be healthy, you needed to eat the exact same foods at the exact same time every single day.
With this understanding came a lot of frustration early on in my training career. I’d have a client explain to me their goals, and I’d immediately set them up on a chicken and rice, six times a day type program. It was like hitting my head against a wall as I would take someone who had been eating 2-3 meals a day for the past 10 years, and try to get them to start eating 6 meals a day instead. When that person wouldn’t adhere to the program, I immediately wrote them off as being someone who “just didn’t want it badly enough”.
It wasn’t until years later that I started to develop a better understanding of what truly mattered when it came to someone’s nutrition. Instead of trying to prescribe a specific eating program for someone that was COMPLETELY different than what they were currently doing, I began working with each person individually to help them make better choices based on what stage they were currently at in their lives. I began focusing less on simply giving someone the solution to their problem, and started focusing more on actually teaching them how to figure that solution out on their own. When you can help someone develop a better understanding of WHY their body responds the way it does to different foods, they have a much better chance of continuing to sustain their results over time. Although it requires a little more responsibility & work on the clients end, you will be providing way more value to that person than you would by trying to simply map everything out for them.
Fast forward to now, I’ve come to realize that there’s a few simple principles that if followed, make up the majority of someone’s progress both with their physique, as well as their overall health.
FILL THE GAPS
One of the first things I have someone focus on when we begin working on their nutrition, is filling the gaps in their diet. What this means is instead of immediately taking away everything that’s “bad” in that persons diet, we’ll always start by ADDING foods that their diet may be lacking in. A good place to start is by having them focus on consuming 3 large servings of vegetables per day. That’s it. We’re not eliminating the soda, or the candy, or the cheese burger and fries on the weekend. All we’re doing is simply getting this person in the habit of eating more nutritious foods, and allowing them to start making the connection with how those foods make them feel. The next thing I’ll usually work on adding is either more healthy fats, or more quality sources of protein. This will usually depend on what specific nutrients their diet is lacking at the time.
BEGIN SEEKING OUT FOODS FROM WHOLE, NATURAL SOURCES
The next thing we’ll work on is exchanging foods this person is currently eating, with healthier alternatives (Notice here, we’re still not focusing on taking anything away from their current diet). The sooner you can get someone to transition from packaged & process foods to natural sources, the better off they will be. Not only are whole, natural foods going to be much better for your overall health, your body usually has a much easier time digesting and absorbing the nutrients that those foods contain. At the end of the day, it’s not about what you eat, but what you actually absorb and assimilate. When it comes to protein, you will be much better off leaving the protein bars and powders on the shelf, and getting this nutrient from REAL food. This goes for everything in your diet.
BEGIN INCORPORATING VARIETY
As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to have variety in your diet. If you want to optimize your health, it’s extremely important that you begin cycling the different foods you’re consuming on a regular basis. When working with a client, if they’re someone who regularly sticks to rice as their carb of choice, I’ll have them gradually begin incorporating different types of carbohydrates throughout the day. Whether that’s quinoa, oats, potatoes, different vegetables, etc.. my goal is to help them develop more freedom with their nutrition and the choices they are able to make. When you develop a deeper understanding of what different foods contain, you will have a much easier time adhering to your nutrition program down the road.
BEGIN TRACKING YOUR CALORIES
Although it does require some time and effort, tracking your calories consistently can provide you with tons of insight on your current behaviors, as well as how many calories you should actually be consuming to reach your goals. Tracking makes it much easier for you to look at the scale each morning, and understand what your caloric limit is for both gaining and losing weight. Done over the span of a week or two, a person can usually pinpoint their caloric maintenance number pretty accurately, which can give you a much better understanding of how to manipulate your calories based on whether you are trying to gain or lose weight.
As we get further along, I will eventually have each person also begin tracking their macronutrient consumption (their fats, carbs, and proteins). Since this is a little more advanced for the average person, we tend to save this for down the road. However, I do provide a few basic guidelines for people to aim for when they are just starting out.
Consume between .5-.8 grams or protein per lb of body weight each day. If your goals are to add muscle, you’ll probably want to be on the higher end of that.
Based on how many calories you’re consuming, fill the rest with a moderate amount of both carbohydrates and fats. Obviously this is extremely basic, but is a good starting point for someone just beginning. I will usually have someone fluctuate their macros over time to help educate them on the effects that each one has on their body, however this is usually done later down after a person has developed a solid understanding of the other principles.
There are many layers to nutrition and learning what works best for your own body. Regardless of how educated you are on nutrition, I think there will always be a deeper level of understanding on how certain foods effect you personally. The most important thing to realize is that every single person is different, and every person will have a different response to certain diets. The more we can educate ourselves on the things that make the biggest difference when it comes to our health, the more we will be able to make good choices, and continue to stay healthy later on in our lives.