A quick scan at any fitness magazine, website & fitness youtube title. You are bombarded with the following words: best, worst, never, always, only after, only before, optimal. These words are then placed next to exercise names, nutrition protocols etc. e.g. “top 3 best very abdominal exercises” or “Never eat carbohydrates after 6:00 Pm”.
As a society we like to have everything black and white, we want to know the precise answer to everything, we usually think there is a magic trick or formula that people who are in excellent shape have, that they are hiding from us, so no one can know the answer too. A parallel to this is the “get quick rick” society, what’s the one trick I need to get rich or build muscle or lose fat?
There isn’t one. It is a grey area.
Sorry for the disappointment. There are very few things black & white with regards to training & nutrition however most is a grey area. The main reason for this is everybody is extremely individual, here are a few factors that need to be considered when assessing someone’s goals: age, weight, height, body fat percentage, current eating habits, sensitivity to insulin, strength, current training regime, stress, sleep patterns, their expenditure during work. (There are more as well)
As you can see there are a huge number of factors to consider. Despite this there are a lot of people in the industry who will preach one size fits all formulas, diets, training regimes etc.
So what do I do?
In your quest to find and effective training & nutrition protocol you will need to spend some time in the trenches (trial & error).
Here are few examples of one size fits all protocols:
• Low carbohydrates
• Low fat
• Low volume strength training only
• High volume training only
• High intensity style cardio only
• Low intensity steady state cardio only
• Intermittent fasting
• Carb back loading
This list could go on. Which ones are right and which ones are wrong?
All of them are right, and all of them are wrong.
Like a stated earlier, someone’s nutrition and training regime should be as a result of both assessing their goals and making calculated estimates & in the trenches trial and error, progress should be tracked and tweaks should come as a result of how their body responds.
This doesn’t mean to say, you go into this blind. I will give you a few tools which will give you estimated calculation of what you should be doing. This will require further tweaking however.
An example for someone’s goal for fat loss. Would be too use one of the following calculators to assess total calories needed for maintenance. These figures are only estimated values, they are not 100% accurate but they give us a guide for a trial. Here are the formulas to google (harris-benedict, Owen, Mifflin- St. Jeor, Katch-McArdle.)
As Alan Aragon states “All formulas are merely ballpark starting points that must be put to trial and adjusted to individual response.”
After this we can establish protein/carbohydrate/fat requirements.
I will give you ranges, remember trial and error.
Protein value would be set between 2-3g per kg of body weight.
Fat requirements are more of a grey area but 0.66-1.32g per kg of body weight would be a good starting point.
Carbohydrates fill in the remainder of the calories.
Try these Macro’s for a week, no progress? Easy, you could drop the carbohydrates or fats slightly or increase expenditure through exercise. Each week continue to tweak if necessary. If you are making progress keep doing the same. Only make small decreases in calories or increases in energy expenditure through exercise. These are your “trump cards” when you plateau (and you will). If you started on 500 kcals with 7 days a week of training, what can you manipulate when you plateau? Very little.
The goal with fat loss should be to consume as many calories as possible while still losing fat. Keeping your calories as high as possible allows more room to change down the road. As you progress fat loss will become harder and harder therefore high carbohydrate re-feed days can be useful to reset leptin and briefly spike your metabolism.
Reluctance to measure progress past the newbie phase will often lead to extreme disappointment as general rule. (with fat loss and muscle gain goals)
People tend to be lazy in respect to this, if you are not measuring your progress, how can you expect to know whether what you are doing is working or whether you are just spinning your wheels.
I often get asked for advice with regards to hypertrophy. I receive very similar questions: “How many protein shakes should I take a day?” or “I’m not making any gains, what do I do”
To answer the first question briefly, protein shakes are a tool to hit your protein requirements for the day (they are not mandatory). With regards to the second question, I ask what is your current training routine and do you track your macro nutrient intake? I usually receive a very blank face expression and a “don’t know answer”. I am not saying everyone should track their macro nutrient intake (very individualistic again) but you should at least track your progress somehow e.g. regular measurements/bodyfat testing/pictures etc.
Other considerations (judging your current settings)
An often neglected topic, is judging your current settings. This is in the sense of your current status or condition. An example would be; did you go out drinking last night and have gotten little sleep etc. If this is your current setting, going into the gym to try and set a new personal best 1 rep max on the squat is probably not the best idea. As you get more experienced as a trainer you will become a better judge of this. This isn’t always an excuse not to train though. Another example is illness, yes you may feel like you are a hard man/woman training when you are ill but if that means you are prolonging your illness by training then you need to take some time out to recover.
Training & nutrition is grey area however using trial & error you can bridge the gap between what is being suggested and the practical response from your body in relation to the protocol you are trying.
If you are moving closer to your goals, keep doing what you are doing, if you are not, some tweaking is required. This doesn’t necessarily mean whole sale changes; often this may mean small tweaks in carbohydrates or fats with relation to gaining muscle/losing fat.
• Track your progress.
• Are you progressing with your workouts? If not why not? Find the reason and fix it.
• If you plateau, small changes are often all that is required to progress (small changes to carbohydrates for fat loss is a great example).
• Whole sale changes often leads to extreme disappoint.
• Be patient and give it time.