We live in a strange time – and I am not even referring to politics. Thanks to technological advances, we have the ability to access more information easier and faster than ever before. Yet. At the same time, there are more confused – or misinformed – people than ever before. (Some even refute the existence of dinosaurs!)
In the fitness world, the picture is particularly grim: low fat, low carb, paleo, supersets, drop sets, all organic, intermittent fasting, occlusion training, beast mode … so may words and theories, yet very few good physiques.
People just can’t seem to see the forest through the trees anymore; they become victims (customers) of the fitness industry telling them the only way to succeed is by buying their products. I belong to the same industry, but I only run a humble personal training business and sell a kick-ass book (both actually provide value for the money).
So what really matters? We can wrap it up in two main categories: training and diet. For training, there are really two principles that matter most and yet they are constantly being violated.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. This principle refers to continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system in order to continually make gains in muscle size, strength and endurance. In the simplest terms: in order to get bigger and stronger you must continually lift more and more and make your muscles work harder than they are used to. If you don’t, your muscles will not become any stronger or bigger than they currently are.
Sounds simple enough, yet we all know someone who goes to the gym for years on end without getting anywhere. In nine out of ten cases, the overload principle was violated.
How can you overload this gym purgatory? Set up a program where you increase either load or volume for about 4-5 weeks, then take a week of active recovery. Switch exercises and start anew.
SAID: SPECIFIC ADAPTATIONS TO IMPOSED DEMANDS
Exercise is a form of stress. Your body adapts to the stresses you place upon it. This is the essence of specificity. Hence the term SAID — Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. This principle states your body will get better at performing the specific exercise you choose to do. The physiological adaptations you experience as a result of regular exercise depend on the type of exercise you perform.
Note the term “specific”; if you want to get better at squatting you should squat twice or three times a week – NOT squat on a wobble board to make it more functional.
Here is the ladder for success with your diet: calories>macros->meal timing > food quality.
First you must figure out your basic caloric needs. The following logic will help you:
Men: Baseline total daily calories = weight (lbs) x 12
Women: Baseline total daily calories = weight (lbs) x 9 or 10.
This will be your baseline calorie formula. From here you will need to adjust depending on whether you want to lose or gain weight.
Daily Macronutrient Breakdown
• Proteins: 1 gram/pound of body weight. One gram of protein has 4 calories.
• Carbs: 1.5 grams/pound of body weight. One gram of carbs has 4 calories.
• Fats: whatever is left from the daily baseline number of calories. One gram of fat has 9 calories.
This logic holds for reasonably lean people – outliers on both sides need to adjust their intake. But then, very lean people are usually very active, so they will know to consume more food, whereas very heavy people are not going to move a lot, meaning their energetic needs are lower. People with poor insulin sensitivity should lower their carb intake and eat more fats.
When you eat only matters only if all of the above is in check. Here are the three most important aspects of nutrient timing.
1. Eat protein evenly during the day
2. Eat carbs within a four to five hour window around your workout
3. Eat fats away from the workout
As for food quality (whether you eat organic or not), that is mostly an ethical question. If it makes you sleep better knowing you just ate a happy cow, go for it. All the the rest is white noise.