I’ve worked with clients who have told me they are gluten intolerant. I’ve worked with others who cried when I told them they needed to eat carbs again. I’ve had clients with ‘slow metabolisms’ and others who were ‘cavemen’. They all had the following in common.
- Fat intakes tend to be high. This tends to be irrespective of what type of training they do.
- Protein intakes were moderate, but not always from the best sources.
- A small variety of foods were being consumed, usually due to restricting certain foods or food groups.
- They were getting less than 8 hours sleep per night.
- Caffeine intakes were high.
- They had a trend towards ‘cheat meals or days’.
- Overall, calories consumed were over and above estimated energy requirements.
All of these clients were also frustrated. They were following the rules, but simply treading water. (Whilst I’m not saying that intolerances don’t exist, I don’t believe they are holding back as many people as much as they believe). What they weren’t doing was nailing the basics, which I’ve found get people to where they want to be 90% of the time.
We used 3 basic principles and a flexible dieting approach to empower them and make progress.
Calories Count. But What Makes Up Those Calories Counts Too
I often come across people questioning how some equation can predict an individual’s calorie needs given that they are a ‘special snowflake’ with different energy requirements and goals. I agree.
There are plenty of equations that try to estimate your metabolism. The key there is the word ‘estimate’. At best they give you a starting point. Sometimes this starting point will get you moving in the right direction straight away, sometimes you need to do some adjusting.
A much more thorough method would be to track your food intakes for a couple of weeks along with weight change and measurements. That would give you a much more accurate picture of what your calorie intakes currently are and you can adjust accordingly, but in lieu of that using an equation is simply a starting point.
It’s simply a matter of manipulating energy balance. If you are consuming more calories than you are using through your daily activities and through exercise, then you are said to be in a positive energy balance or a calorie surplus. Great if you are looking to build size, not so great for getting lean.
If you are consuming less calories than you are using on a daily basis through daily activities and exercise then you in a negative energy balance or a calorie deficit. This is great for losing weight but not for building size.
If you are consuming calories that match your energy expenditure through daily activities and exercise then you are simply maintaining an energy balance or maintaining.
Before the “well I’ll just get all my calories from pop tarts and ice cream then” crowd start loading their weapons with coconut oil and broccoli, let’s address this complete pile of BS that a flexible dieting approach simply means chowing down on any old junk crap.
This always confuses me because all the professionals I know who use a flexible dieting approach don’t advocate just eating junk food. In fact, they do the opposite and promote a blend of usually 90% whole foods and allow just 10% for more questionable intakes like refined, processed foods. If you are approaching the final stages of prep for a show, then there may be little or no room left for the refined stuff. On the other hand, if you are building size and strength then you may be able to get away with more ‘questionable’ foods in order to hit your calorie targets.
Here is a slide from Alan Aragon’s seminar in 20** on diet breakdown. I think this is pretty telling as Alan frequently comes under attack, as does the flexible dieting approach, for supposedly promoting a junk food diet.
So either these ‘experts’ can’t wrap their head around this very simple concept or it goes against their biases and/or products they promote. Hmmm I wonder which one it could be….
Once you’ve established your calorie target then I’d suggest first setting your protein intakes, then filling the rest of your allowance with fats and carbs in a ratio that reflects your own preferences and activity levels.
If you want more information on how to do this, then I’d suggest reading this 2-part article by Joseph Agu on how to create a diet.
When I first started working with any of the clients listed above, I didn’t begin with attacking them for what they were doing. I simply explained that provided we adhered to the above points, they could do so however they wanted.
2. Honouring Personal Preferences Is The Key To Successful Dieting
“Can I still follow an intermittent fasting approach providing I keep within my calorie and macro targets and fill them with nutrient dense whole foods 90% of the time and get 8 hours sleep?” – Yes
“Can I still eat gluten-free providing I keep within my calorie and macro targets and fill them with nutrient dense whole foods 90% of the time and get 8 hours sleep?” – Yes
We all have little qwerks that make us who we are and that’s ok. Imagine how narcissistic you’d have to be to believe that everyone should like exactly the same TV shows, clothes and music as you. Why should food preferences and diet be any different?
Most of what people argue over on social media is semantics. Regardless of what approach you’ve been following, if you’ve lost weight you were in a negative energy balance from being in a calorie deficit and if you gained weight you were in a positive energy balance from being in a calorie surplus. Understanding why it worked for you is only going to make it easier for you to continue making progress and control your body composition for years to come.
I’ve said it before but if simple and moderation were sexier, the world would be a hell of a lot less confused. I think Amber over at GoKaleo sums it up pretty well here.
3. Train Hard & Often
Trying to cover all the possibilities available here is way beyond the scope of a single blog post, but if you aspire to become a power lifter, then focusing on the big 3 lifts and getting weight on the bar is going to be the focus of your training. If getting shredded is your thing, then hitting the body often and not too heavy will get the job done.
For most people, a blend of strength training with some conditioning is often enough to get the job done. Simply find something you enjoy doing and do it often.
Time To Go Do It
Keep an open but informed mind and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration, money and end up in a much better place with less rules. Sounds good to me.