In this article I am going to discuss the importance of context within your training and nutrition and to help make educated decisions when applying what is being taught to by others.
Firstly statements that state whether something is good or bad, or you must never or you must always without context of a situation are worthless statements in my opinion.
An example maybe, HIIT (High intensity interval training) is far superior to LISS (low intensity steady state) for fat loss. This would depend on a huge number of factors, both have pros and cons. HIIT can be time efficient and can burn more total calories post training, however HIIT requires more recovery which can hinder your weight training, HIIT can mean a greater chance of injury. LISS may illicit an endurance response, therefore having an interference effect on the body’s adaptation to weight training, LISS requires less recovery time. The list goes on, both have pros or cons.
Despite reading this, some would still say HIIT is superior to LISS. However if you had a client with a slight hamstring injury who was prepping for a bodybuilding show who was already training their legs 2x per week, would you still have them perform HIIT sprints? Probably not due to the greater chance of injury and greater hamstring activation during sprinting. Therefore saying whether one is better than the other without context of an individual or scenario is silly.
Another example would be placing an emphasis on the glycaemic index when again context is not considered. The studies performed to establish the index were performed on fasted individuals consuming only that carbohydrate and nothing else within that meal. This just isn’t real life, when most will consume a protein source and possibly a dietary fat source alongside (as well as fibre) it will greatly impact the glycaemic response. Those endurance athletes who train twice a day will benefit from high glycaemic carbohydrates between sessions, but those training once a day (where speed of glycogen replenishment is of less importance), consuming their carbohydrates with protein, fat and possibly fibre. It is not worth having a headache about when deciding between white rice or brown rice or sweet potatoes or white potatoes.
Individual preference & long term adherence.
An often unconsidered topic is what is your clients preference and is what you are asking them to do attainable long term. Despite how optimal a training plan or nutrition regime is, if the client cannot be consistent or just hates doing certain things, they will not reach their goals. Sometimes, depending on the person, creating something slightly suboptimal can intern create better long term adherence and eventually better results.
An example maybe training style. The evidence is pretty clear for natural lifters with goals of hypertrophy (muscle growth), training body parts 2-3 parts a week is more optimal than the traditional body part splits that typically hit each body part once a week. Now I am not saying you cannot make progress with these splits, you can. However they are not as optimal. Having said that, if I had a client who really hated a full body routine/ maybe an upper lower split 2x per week etc. If a client really can’t stand this method of training and they truly enjoy and work harder at a once per week each body part split. I will come to a compromise, quite likely a trainee who enjoys a certain style will more than likely work harder at it and in the end still get great results. Will this method be as a efficient at training everything 2-3 times per week, no but taking into account clients preferences & looking at long term adherence is extremely important in my opinion, and quite often overlooked & can result in better progress over a longer period of time.
Clean food vs Dirty food debate
Another example is the clean foods vs dirty foods debate, a topic I have discussed before. As I discussed in the article, it is very difficult to judge a food in isolation with looking at the diet as a whole, their goals, their training style, frequency and volume. Typically quote on quote dirty foods are often easier to over consume, purely because they contain a lot of calories per unit of food. That is why people will often gain fat eating these foods, purely because they are very easy to over consume. Typically non processed foods are as a general rule less calorific and tend to be far more satiating, therefore making them much harder to over consume. Having said that you can still get fat eating only non-processed foods, provided you are in a non-used caloric surplus, you will gain weight. That’s why this concept of context is so important. I think most fitness professionals would recommend the majority of food consumed, should come from nutrient dense, single ingredient foods however if adding some processed foods within ones calorie controlled diet in moderation leads to long term adherence and less tendency to binge it can be a good idea for some.
To give you an extreme example I’m going to quote Alan Aragon regarding the “clean” vs “dirty” food debate: “To give an example, most people would call celery a “clean” or healthy food, and ice cream a “dirty” or unhealthy food. In the far-fetched/hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose only one of those foods to survive on, guess which one would sustain your health (and ultimately your life) longer? Hopefully you chose ice cream over celery, unless you’re anxious to knock on Heaven’s door. “
Finally classifying certain foods as good or bad is extremely difficult as some have been altered from their original state but still offer huge health benefits e.g. whey protein has been altered from its original state but has large number of health benefits as well as being a very convenient and cheap food source to consume.
Trial & error period
Despite all that I have written in this article, despite all the research you have done to put together your nutrition and training plan which is specific to your goals and lifestyle; comes inevitably a trial and error period. Unfortunately due to the complexities of the human body, nothing is black and white, despite what others say there is a huge grey area (I see this as the trial and error period).
The important factor to consider is to measure your progress, without measuring you will not know whether or not the protocol you are using is moving you closer or further away from your goals. This data will help you make changes when you plateau (and you will at some point), measuring the changes made and your body’s response to those changes will mean you will require more and more data on how your body responds to certain changes. From this you can then be more accurate once another plateau is reached to elicit the response you want. An example might be the degree of caloric restriction, once a plateau is reached for a goal of fat loss. An individual may only require as little as a 20g-30g drop in carbohydrates (from what they are already consuming) to see weight loss the following week, some may need more, or a restriction of dietary fat or an increase in caloric expenditure or both.
Distinguishing between fact and what’s actually important
Often in the fitness industry there is an obsession on minute details which often are correct, but are unlikely to effect overall progress and can often make things more complicated which can hinder long term adherence. An example maybe, the current trend to delay your post workout meal to elicit a greater human growth hormone response. Yes this would be true. But would this mean more muscle growth? No, human growth hormone is not anabolic in the natural physiological ranges. This has recently been preached by Kai Greens nutrition coach, this I find truly strange, trying to optimise natural human growth hormone when most, if not all in the IFBB division will be consuming large amounts on exogenous Human growth hormone, taking their ranges outside the natural physiological range. This paragraph is a pre warning to focus on the important stuff (energy balance, total macro nutrient intake) etc.
To conclude, I have discussed many points that should help understand the concept of context.
The goal of this post was to help educate you into making sensible decisions regarding your training and nutrition for you to realise the huge number of factors that need to be taken into account the large number of factors that need to be considered by a coach/trainee: what are your goals, are you male or female, how old are you, do you have an active job, what’s your training volume, training frequency, do you have any food intolerances, how frequently can you train consistently, preferences, can you maintain what you are doing now for another year and beyond?
There are many more I can assure you; hopefully you can see all of the individual variables when setting up a training and nutrition plan.
This should help you be aware of people who make black and white statements without context and apply what is applicable to you and not what may have no relevance to you or your goals.
Nail the basics first, progression within your training. Energy balance (and total macro nutrient intake) manipulated to suit your goals and tweaked to make continued progression. Focus on one goal at a time also e.g. muscle gain or fat loss.
Finally I will leave you with another Alan Aragon quote:
“Ignoring context is just plain dumb”