by Andy Maus
Nutrition is a funny thing. Somebody finds something that works for them and then that ONE program is the only way to see success and they are going to shout that from the rooftops. On one end I think that’s great. Everyone should find something that works for them and as long as it is sustainable long term, they should stick with it. The problem in this situation is that what works for one person may not work for another. In 16 plus years of being in this fitness and nutrition game, I have realized one undeniable truth…there is no ONE program that works for everyone. There are lots of plans and programs that work. I have, however, come to the realization that there is a foundation or underlying principles that need to be followed to optimize results and make them stick in the long run. Here is what I know:
- Calorie Balance (50% of results)– If you are looking to grow, be it muscle gain or fat gain, you need to eat and you need to eat above your maintenance calorie intake. On the flip side, if you are looking to lose weight and/or lose fat you’ll need to eat below your maintenance calorie intake. Now there are other factors that play into this such as eating more will increase metabolism and eating less will decrease it. These factors will need to be taken into account with whichever direction you choose.
- Macronutrient Intake (30% of results) – Now this is where we talk about where those calories come from. Our macronutrients are the proteins, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol (yes, it counts too!). Let’s we’ve figured out that you need to eat 1800 calories a day to lose about a pound a week. How do we do that? We could eat eighteen 100 calorie snack packs or we could eat 1800 calories from lean meats, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables and maybe some healthy starches. I think that most of us know that the second option will lead to much better long term results. What your specific macronutrient intake is made up of will really depend on your goals, your activity levels and then there may be some tweaking depending on how your body is changing over time.
- Food composition (10% of results) – This is where we can start to geek out a little more on the foods that we’re eating and make sure that we are getting the most nutrient dense options. If you already have #1 and #2 down, now let’s try to swap out that farmed salmon for wild caught or those berries that were shipped a thousand miles to the supermarket for some that have been locally sources. If you’re eating starches, switch out your pasta for sweet potato. This will ensure that we are getting the most vitamins and minerals out of our foods as well as working to reduce pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fats that are found in commercially raised meat and instead choosing anti-inflammatory Omega-3 sources from grass raised animals and wild caught fish.
- Nutrient Timing (5% of results) – This is where we start to dive down a rabbit hole a little bit. Keep in mind that this should only be taken into account once numbers 1&2 have been achieved. This is where we can start to place our carbohydrates strategically after our workout to get the most benefit from them or we can experiment with nutrient/carb cycling or intermittent fasting. All of these are more advanced techniques that can (but may not always) move the needle a little bit towards results.
- Supplements (5% of results) – Here I say 5% but it may be even less than that if we are eating an optimal diet. We may need to supplement with fish oil if we don’t eat wild caught cold water fish. We may choose to supplement with protein powders, creatine or carbohydrate sources post work-out to help quickly replenish muscle glycogen (sugar) stores. This 5% (or less) is really there for those who are looking to either optimize performance and have numbers 1-4 locked in or they may be on the other end where the supplements are the training wheels and they are working on replacing protein powders with better sources of protein.
This is a short list of what I see are the 5 most important factors around what you eat. These numbers aren’t perfect but they’re pretty close. The one factor that I did not include in the list above and will make all 5 of these items a non factor is CONSISTENCY! If you’re the picture of health Monday through Friday afternoon but then the weekend hits and you stray from your healthy ways, you’ll constantly be working an uphill battle.
Author Michael Pollan who wrote Food Rules sums it up like this:
- Eat Real Food
- Not too much
- Mostly Plants
This is a very simple way to create a foundation for your nutrition and then experiment from there.