I'm going to break down dieting in terms of baseball...you have to make your way around all the bases, touching them as you go, in order to reach home plate and score. When you score enough, for metaphor's sake, not only do you win on the field but also in life. Regardless of what your goal may be - improving your body composition (your fat to muscle ratio), dropping some pounds on the scale, or eating to optimize performance in a sport - there is a certain "order of operations" in accomplishing those goals.
Here are the "bases", if you will, necessary to score on your goals:
- First Base: Nutrition (everything from the macros to nutrient timing)
- Second Base: Training (tempo, rest, volume, etc)
- Third Base: Lifestyle (sleep, hydration, daily steps, etc.)
- Home Base: Supplementation
I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again - nutrition is the first and most important step in scoring in this baseball metaphor. Anywhere from 50-80% of your overall goal is attained with proper nutrition. There are so many pieces that come into play with nutrition; see below. - Macronutients: This includes protein, carbs, and fats. Diets manipulate these macronutrients to yield a result, i.e. your goal.
- Nutrient Timing: Do you fast intermittently? Do you eat three square meals a day, or six small meals? Do you include cheat meals in your diet? These different styles are nutrient timing.
- Nutrient Combinations: Certain nutrients can help absorb other nutrients. And by including these nutrients into your diet, you may need to adjust what types of and how much food you need to consume.
- How the food is farmed/raised: This is hot topic these days, especially as the food industry continues to be exploited for it's poor practices in animal slaughtering and using poisonous pesticides in the veggies/fruits that we eat. Do you buy organic? Do you research where your food is coming from?
When it comes to training, there's so much information available it can become overwhelming. To keep things simple, you need to consider three things: frequency, intensity, and duration. Individually and collectively, these three pieces determine what kind of diet you need to achieve maximum results.
Some ways to manipulate these factors include: Volume- The most commonly adjusted in training, is the total amount of work being done in a session. This primarily means total sets and reps. This also means total training volume, meaning how much overall work is done each week/month/year.
Tempo- Another way to manipulate the training stimulus, used primarily for hypertrophy training, but can also be utilized for fat loss. This is amount of time taken during each phase of a rep. For example, during the bench press, a tempo of 3-0-1-0 means 3 seconds during the lower phase (eccentric), no pause at the midpoint, 1 smooth press up (concentric) and no pause at the top.
Rest/Recovery- How much rest are you taking both during the workout between sets and between workout sessions? Working for Hypertrophy or fat loss? Better get in the gym a little more often. Strength and Power? Probably can make some significant gains with a smaller amount of training frequency and duration. Recovery methods such as ice/salt baths, compression, massage, acupuncture, cryotheropy, etc all would fall into this category as well.
Type of stimulus- Are you using free weights or machines? Ropes or sleds? Bodywieght or bands? They all work, i promise, but how you program them makes a difference.
Now, for what can sometimes be the toughest to change, lifestyle.I believe this to be the most overlooked and undervalued part of dieting. It's just like hitting a triple in baseball, it's hard to do and requires a lot of things to go right - placement of the hit, speed around the bases, and hopefully a missed ball by the fielder - but modifying your lifestyle doesn't just mean eating a certain way or training hard. It means that you need a strong glue to keep the nutrition and training pieces together. This "glue" comes from getting enough sleep, properly hydrating, and getting the right amount of daily activity. Just making a few right decisions during the day can help build a better lifestyle.
- Sleep: How many hours are you getting each night? If you're not giving your body the rest it needs to recover from your training and a restricted nutrient intake, then your "glue" becomes ineffective.
- Hydration: Check out my post about water and hydration here. Remember, your body is made up largely of water. By keeping your body fully charged (hydrated), you'll be able to take on the stress of a new training plan.
- Daily Activity: You see them everywhere - fitness trackers. Those steps add up; check out my comprehensive review about my FitBit experience here.
Its all the little stuff folks, start to optimize some of that "other time" during the day when you are not in the gym or eating a structured meal, that really makes the machine run smooth.
Here are a few ways I stabilize and maintain my "glue" lifestyle:
- Free time: How do you spend your free time? Are you channel surfing on the couch or are you out exploring, walking, and moving? When you go to the store, do you always need the closest parking spot? It's a beautiful day outside, do you spend it outside shooting hoops or playing catch with your kids? When you go on vacation, do you eat out every meal? Or do you try and find a healthy alternative or try to cook at home? This is the essence of living a well-rounded lifestyle, folks. Remember, all those little things add up - both positively and negatively.
Finally we reach Supplementation. Im a firm believer in supplements, but only when all of the other bases have been touched. Especially when following a diet, many nutrients (Especially micro-nutients) can be under consumed and this is when supplements really shine. Here are a couple of my favorite times to utilize supplements.
- BCAAs: You know how I feel about BCAA's, and NUUN tablets are perfect for optimizing your fast (if your diet calls for this).
- Caffeine: We all love caffeine (COFFEE), and research shows, undeniably, positive results on physical performance when you consume it.
- Greens Powders: I guarantee you, most of us don't get the full 8-10 servings of veggies we need each day. I take a greens powder every day to help ensure I get what I need. Here's what I use (Phytoform)
- Fish Oil: Fish oil plays a very important role in maximizing outcomes of diet and training; from fat loss to circulation and hormone optimization.
- Multi-Vitamin or Multi-Mineral: I log my foods everyday so that I can see where I'm deficient. I can fill in with supplements to fill any gaps in my diet. Where do you fall short?
In Conclusion: Once you've zeroed in on your fitness goal, figure out that "order of operations" to accomplish that goal. But remember, each "base" plays an important role for each fitness goal - once you've got the nutrition, training, and lifestyle habits consistent, your goals will quickly become attainable!