by Terry Arena.
When you’re training regularly, there’s a lot that goes along with it. Nutrition, and therefore what you fuel your body with, is a massive part of where you’re at with regards to physical performance. When you’ve given it your all in the gym, it can be difficult to put the same amount of effort into your diet.
A diet’s success depends on the individual
I’m not talking about will power – I mean that buying a book, and following a diet plan word-for-word will have different results for different people depending on their level of activity, their genetic make-up, heck even their tolerance to some foods. There’s no single secret to the ‘right’ diet, but there are some simple rules you can follow to help you establish what the right diet is for you.
Keep your goal in mind
While building your ideal diet will involve some calorie-counting, it’s important not to get too bogged down in the numbers game. Too much focus on food can result in you losing sight of your original goal: Improved performance. Start with the basics:
To gain weight, eat more
To lose weight, eat less
Ok, that’s very basic, but it doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that. Start off by establishing what ‘more’ or ‘less’ actually means to you as an individual by keeping a food diary for an average week. By the end of the week, you can tot-up your caloric intake and get an idea of what you’re regularly consuming.
Only fools rush in
Don’t use this food diary as the basis for any extreme changes. Working at a 500 calorie deficit off the bat will result in a massive dip in performance and you’ll likely not be able to keep it up, risking failure. If you’re trying to lose weight, use your average week, and adjust to reduce it by around 150ish calories a day. If you’re trying to gain weight, up it by 150ish calories. Try it for a week and if you’re not getting the desired results, adjust again. This method takes some time – and that’s often why off-the-shelf diets are so appealing – but it’ll pay off in the end because by listening to your body while you’re training, you’ll know what’s right for you specifically.
Rubbish in, rubbish out
I’m not about to rant about GMO and the chemicals you find in your favourite foods. I’m a firm believer in eating what makes you happy… but that rule you read about keeping to the outside aisles of the supermarket? It’s a good one. That one about not eating anything you can’t pronounce the contents of… less so:
Ensure you’re getting a good mix of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. Media coverage has meant that we’re all more familiar with the importance of protein in the diet and its part to play in pretty much all of our body’s processes. Fats still get a bad rap, but monounsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil, avocados and peanut butter) and polyunsaturated fats (found in walnuts, salmon and tofu for example) are essential for many bodily functions and when eaten regularly will help the body be more efficient in using fat as an energy source.
Carbohydrates have been both loved and hated in the health and fitness industry in the past, but luckily there’s more literature out there about them being integral to performance so we’re kind of loving them again. Glycogen from eating carbs is what helps keep muscles going through your training and any of that ‘carb-free’ malarky means the muscle’s glycogen stores are not replaced resulting in sluggishness – without carbs, you’re going to be zapped of energy pretty quickly. Potatoes and rice are good sources of carbohydrates, and fruit and vegetable sources also provide the body with essential fibre too.
Like I said before, I think relying on exact numbers can result in getting too focused on food and so when it comes to calculating macronutrients, don’t worry too much until you’ve got the basics of the diet down first. Enjoy meals that split calories into roughly one third carbohydrates, one third protein and one third fats. Nothing’s set in stone, and you can adjust according to your appetite so if you’re getting hunger pangs after dinner, you know that you went too heavy on the carbs. Bring them down next time and go for a little more protein instead.
Eat less more often
Boost metabolism and avoid overeating by spreading your calories out over the day. If you wait too long between meals, you’re more likely to over-compensate or over-indulge in a bigger meal. Your blood sugar will yo-yo up and then right down after a big meal, doing nothing for your energy levels, or your mood.
Instead of three big meals, try five smaller ones with a snack. Your levels will remain more stable through the day, and you’ll train your body to understand that it doesn’t need to protect its fat stores, it’ll turn to them as an energy source instead.
Admittedly, it does take a little more effort to eat more regularly. You’ll need to take some time to plan what you’re going to eat and when, but let’s put it in perspective. It doesn’t take an awful lot to remember to shove a tupperware in your bag, does it? The difficulty come when you are used to eating less more often and for one reason or another, your meal is delayed and the hanger sets in!
Listen to your body
To reiterate; buying a book, and following a diet plan word-for-word will have different results for different people. By studying what you’re already eating, relating it to your training programme and then making small adjustments according to your goals, you’re far more likely to hit the balance between nutrition and performance. Spend some time researching real food and build your meals around what works for you and what you enjoy. Only you can really tell if what you’re doing works, not some ‘expert’ dietician who you’ve never met.