Last week, we discussed the importance of picking the low hanging fruit first. These steps might seem remedial, but it's important to understand that they are the bedrock of sound nutrition strategies.
As we turn our attention to the mid-hanging fruit, we will rely on those fundamental principles to guide us in our application of more advanced concepts.
While last week's article dealt more with specific action steps, today's article is more strategic. We're going to look at how specific concepts might be applied to enhance performance and fat loss.
Naturally, the mid-hanging fruit are harder to get and our ladder must be on solid footing. Otherwise they will not deliver the result we're expecting. They also may not be applicable to our situation, depending upon what our goals are. In certain circumstances we can use the following tactics to boost our progress:
Most people just want to look and feel good. If your goals are oriented toward general fitness, nutrient timing and cycling probably won't help that much. However, if you have lofty muscle gain or fat loss goals (e.g. for competition), nutrient timing might help you bust through a plateau.
In practice, it looks like this:
Eating your biggest, most calorie dense meal following your workout
Cycling macronutrients based upon the day's energy expenditure
In the first example, we time our biggest meal to our workout because the body is craving the proteins, fats and carbs it needs to replenish and fuel muscle growth. This scenario is most relevant if you're working out in a fasted state or plan to have multiple workouts. Failing to get the necessary nutrients may lead diminished performance later on. You may also experience massive cravings that threaten to undo much of the progress gained during the workout.
If this is you, aim to make your post-workout meal your biggest, most calorie-dense one of the day. That means two palm sized servings of protein, two fist sized servings of carbs, two thumbs of healthy fats and plenty of veggies.
In the second example, we keep our protein, fat and veggie intake where it is, but cycle out carbs on non-workout or low-intensity workout days. This strategy offers us built-in calorie control that better matches our output for the day. This is, yet again, a more applicable strategy to fat loss for competition rather than general fat loss.
As an aside, I should point out that healthy carbs are not your enemy. Fruits, veggies, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa and other grains are a perfectly normal dietary staple. We get in trouble when we overconsume them, prepare them in such a way that we unnecessarily add calories and strip away their nutritional value or we eat too many simple, sugar-laden carbs. The occasional side of healthy carbs with your protein and veggies won't harm your progress. Quite the contrary.
Another strategy involves including more frequent meals throughout the day. In theory, it helps to control blood sugar peaks and valleys, while helping to maintain a steady level of satiety. The downside is that it can be a difficult schedule to maintain, especially if you're on the road or have a demanding job.
Also don't lose sight of the fact that body weight comes down to calories in vs. calories out. I've seen many people mistakenly look to multiple small meals as a primary calorie control strategy. If you're consuming more than you burn, your weight will go up. Therefore, protein and veggies must remain the base of your meals otherwise you'll be back at square one.
Also, if your focus extends beyond weight to body composition, you must understand that quality of calories is quite important. That's why consuming protein and veggies at every meal is essential.
Personally, I've not noticed much of a difference in terms of fewer/more meals throughout the day and its effect on energy levels or body composition. That doesn't make it a bad strategy. I have a few clients who swear that 5-6 meals has helped their progress. Some also find it helps their digestion. Different things work for different people – it really comes down to personal preference.
A supplement is defined as "something that completes or enhances something else when added to it". Therefore, in order to properly utilize and see benefit from supplements we should be consistently executing our low-hanging fruit strategies.
Sadly, I've seen people stock their shelves with a variety of things that are mostly driven by good marketing rather than good science. With that said, here are three supplements that might be beneficial for you to keep on hand:
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's): BCAA's are important to protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding) and maintenance of blood sugar levels. Therefore, it's important that we have enough available in the body to support our workouts. Find a powdered flavor that you like, mix 5-10 grams with water and off you go. Sip it before and during your workout.
Powdered Protein: Once the workout is over, you may not have a readily available meal – it happens. Not to worry, a scoop of protein powder usually contains 25-30g of protein, depending upon the type. You can mix it with your favorite fruits to make a post-workout smoothie or consume separately with a banana or your other favorite fruit.
Greens Supplements: If you need an easy way to get some extra veggies into your diet, pick up a can of powdered greens. You can use them to make a smoothie with the aforementioned protein or consume on their own in water. Either way it's an easy way get the necessary amount of veggies, when veggie sources might be scarce.
Ultimately, supplements can play a vital role in ensuring that you get the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to maximize your progress. However, I strongly encourage you not to rely on them. Whole foods come first. I also implore you to avoid purchasing a litany of fat burners, pre-workouts and products with no scientific foundation. Doing so is tantamount to lighting money on fire, money that is better spent on healthy food options.
As you can see, we can add several strategies to our nutritional repertoire. However, to be effective they are heavily reliant upon the foundational strategies that comprise the low-hanging fruit. These strategies are most applicable when our goals shift beyond general performance or aesthetic goals. Regardless, be sure that you have solid base to build upon before implementing them. Once you do, experiment. See which strategies work well for you and incorporate them as necessary.
Next week, we'll wrap up this series by discussing the high-hanging fruit and when it might be right to implement those strategies.
Lastly, if you're looking for a great foundational strength training program, then check out our 12-week ReBUILD program. We offer programs for both men and women. It's perfect for someone with some knowledge, skill and experience who'd like to reengage with strength training! If you have questions or would like to learn more about Vitalifit's programs please contact us today.