The concept of embarking on any sort of a diet or structured nutrition plan is terrifying for most people. They envision hunger pangs, constant tracking, low energy, mood swings, and downright unhappiness. Sounds fun, right? No, actually it sounds like total fucking torture. Why do people do this to themselves? Frankly, they don’t know any better, and the majority of the information available is overly complex, contradictory, or not right for that person. The end result is a failed diet. It happens over and over again. Let’s break that cycle.
Why does someone start to change his or her eating habits? Usually it’s to improve health, performance, looks, or feelings. Mistake number one is starting any sort of a plan that has an expiration date. Unless you’re competing in a bodybuilding show or have a meet coming up, your diet should be something that can be easily assimilated into everyday life—that is if you want to have long-term success. Sadly, most people believe that the only way to carry a decent physique requires constant tracking of macronutrients or calories. I assure you that this isn’t true.
To me, a plan that requires tracking every single day is unnecessary, unrealistic (for most), and a bit obsessive. Don’t get me wrong—when you have a specific goal and set timetable to achieve it, tracking becomes necessary. If you’re using it in moderation to compete or break past certain plateaus, it’s OK. It’s also something that can be used initially with a beginner so that he or she can become more aware of food intake including calories consumed and amounts of protein, carbs, and fats. Eventually, the person should be able to wean off of this.
However, if you constantly come “off” your diet and your body fat balloons up because you can’t eat sensibly without tracking, you may have a problem. Religiously tracking intake can be very time consuming and can easily turn into an unhealthy obsession. Skipping social events because a restaurant’s menu may not fit your macros, needing a scale for everything you eat, and never being too far from your next meal—this is an eating disorder and it’s holding you back in life. Maybe it isn’t holding you back in lifting, but it is holding you back from life. Less social interactions/experiences equal less networking or relationships being built, which equals fewer opportunities to grow beyond just some dude who lifts and counts his lucky charms.
“I’m just dedicated, bro.” This is a very common answer when my view point is presented. I get it and I’m not trying to persuade you to change. I’ve seen some people diet away their 20s and 30s with nothing to show for it other than some cool Instagram photos of their abs. As long as you realize this, fine, but for those of you who want to look good and enjoy life, keep reading.
After my last few articles, many readers have commented or emailed me to ask what type of nutritional plan I follow because I don’t track calories or macronutrients. Here are some of the things that I focus on:
I want to start by saying that intermittent fasting itself isn’t a fad. And no, it will not eat all your muscle. A diet being sold to you that uses some form of fasting might be a fad. But this isn’t true if it’s a well studied dietary intervention and its host of benefits are why it continues to warrant more and more studies. Just recently two separate studies found that fasting triggered stem cell regeneration of the immune system in patients receiving chemotherapy (1) and 10–12 hours of fasting led to LDL (bad cholesterol) being pulled from fat cells and used for energy (2).
Sure, this has nothing to do with muscle building or strength, but remember that thing we mentioned above? Life? I have implemented fasting in powerlifters/strongman competitors while their strength continued to increase and their body fat decreased. So please save the bullshit rhetoric that it eats muscle, kills the metabolism, and is only good for fat loss. Increases in insulin sensitivity, lowered blood glucose levels, increases in mitochondrial biogenesis, reduction in fat stores, increased resting glycogen levels—these are beneficial for all lifters and all people.
I have thoroughly studied the benefits of fasting for the last few years and I have seen the results that it can produce when programmed properly. The best thing fasting did for me was release the shackles that conventional dieting wisdom had placed on me. Everywhere you turned you saw, “Eat every two hours,” “Always have protein ready,” and “Don’t go catabolic.” I was a slave to my kitchen and to food. It sucked.
Eventually, I found fasting and was able to produce the exact same gains as before, yet eat less frequently, lose body fat, have large satisfying meals, not stress about food all the time, and have far more flexibility in my food choices. This is also when I started to toy around with calorie shifting, moving calories/nutrients around based on what I did the day before or what I planned on doing later. I never looked back.
The bottom line is if you want to be able to live life and enjoy some meals out and spontaneous get-togethers, try some periods of fasting and cycle calories. For me, my diet features some days with long fasts and very low calories as well as days without any fasts, a lifting session, and a high caloric intake. With this type of setup I can be very lax with food choices on lifting days. On the weekends, I eat like a maniac and I follow it with a long fast on Monday. It’s a day where I usually have over twenty training sessions and don’t have much time for food anyway. Plus, I know that I ate enough the previous few days to be able to survive for a damn week without any food.
Smart food choices
I love food. I’m from Buffalo, so chicken wings and pizza are my holy grail. That being said, how can you enjoy delicious, fat and grease-filled food without eventually looking like John Goodman? It’s a delicate balance. I tell anyone who comes to me wanting a nutrition plan that every meal can’t be the most delicious thing you’ve ever had. Deal with it.
Those who follow IIFYM accomplish this by tracking everything that enters their mouths and making sure that their “cheat” foods stay within the boundaries of their macronutrients and calories. This works just fine. Usually though, this is limited to higher carb, low fat foods like Pop-Tarts, cereal, and pancakes, as things like cheeseburgers, pizza, and wings would make it too difficult for them to still hit their other numbers. Therefore, they are still limited in their choices. I don’t like limitations. When I spoke at the elitefts™ LTT seminar, we went to Thurmans where they had a four-pound burger. It didn’t fit any sort of macros, but it fit inside my stomach and that’s all that matters.
Where am I going with this? Control the meals you can control. For example, if you eat breakfast at home, make sure that you nail this meal. I’ve written previously on what breakfast I feel is the best. None of this sitting in a corner alone and binging on chocolate. If you are social and have a life, you will have plenty of opportunities to eat at restaurants and have some “sub-par” meals.
Outside of this, make sure that you are ingesting plenty of lean proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats and keeping carbohydrates within the peri-workout window. If I’m not about to train and I’m not out to eat, I am perfectly content having a high protein, moderate fat, low carb meal. If you aren’t about to perform some strenuous activity, there isn’t a huge need for a bunch of carbohydrates anyway.
Train your ass off and be very active
Sure, you can do too much, not control the volume/intensity, and “overtrain” to an extent. It’s rare but possible. By that, I just mean that you can inhibit your ability to recover from said sessions in an appropriate fashion. If you’ve been lifting for a while now, you should be relatively in tune with when you feel good and recovered and when you don’t. I’m not an athlete anymore and frankly training is one of my favorite things to do, so I don’t give a shit what my HRV is. I will do “something” every day unless I’m feeling very run down.
If you’re extremely sedentary but lift three times a week for 45 minutes, your expenditure is low and your intake can only be so high. But cardio will eat my muscle and potentially kill me, so what do I do? Stop being an idiot and implement cardio work or whatever word you want to use to increase energy output. If you can’t seem to do this without losing strength, you need to hire someone qualified to put together a plan for you.
Many powerlifters email me for help with their body composition and I see the same problems. First, their diet sucks. They follow carb back-loading or some other random pile of shit plan they put together. I don’t understand how anyone can believe carb back-loading is an ideal diet for a strength athlete. It literally blows my mind. To me, it’s the exact opposite of what you should be following. If you have someone who wants to drop some quick weight and not worry much about strength or body composition, it will work fine. If you use it because it’s easy and fits your life, that’s fine and I appreciate that. However, don’t believe that it’s the optimal plan for your goals because it isn’t. The lifters who came to me using it are shocked at how much better they feel, look, and perform with a more customized and intelligent plan.
My last bit of advice is to lower your body fat. The more metabolically flexible and efficient you are, the more you’re able to get away with. Lower levels of body fat will lead to a better hormonal environment. This will make gaining tissue and warding off fat much easier than if you are sitting at 18 percent body fat.