With New Years resolutions now on full tilt this is the time of year that I regularly get a lot of inquiries by people set on changing their diet and improving their physique. Some people want to lose body-fat, others want to gain bodyweight, while others want to improve their performance. Now from my end, as a coach, let me start by saying training is 10 x easier than diet.
Diet Is Much More Difficult Than Training....
When it comes to training all you really have to do is show up an hour or so per day. Your diet is a 24 hour per day process that requires MUCH more round the clock dedication. I can make general recommendations for any goal, but with regards to diet in most cases I am extremely limited in how much I can help a person because most people don't have the knowledge to put any solid recommendations into practice or don't have the dedication. Giving out macronutrient presciptions is easy - in fact here are a couple of general prescriptions for weight gain and/or loss:
Macronutrient prescription for weight gain:
To gain muscle weight eat 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day, and start with around 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound and adjust from there until you're gaining at least 1 lb every 2 weeks.
Macronutrient prescription for fat loss:
To lose fat eat 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight per day, and simply adjust the carbs down to around 75-100 grams per day, or enough that you're losing an average of 1-2 pounds per week.
Those prescriptions are very easy but most people are not in a position to put them into practice because they wouldn't know where to start. So why not just lay out a menu and tell people exactly what to eat? Good question. I can do that but in my experience most people won't be able to follow it longer than a couple of days before they go crazy. People are creatures of habit and manipulating or drastically changing food intake in practice is a lot tougher than one might think. Eating clean is simply a chore that goes beyond the level of dedication most young people can put forth. Modern society is geared around junk food and it's hard to find clean food unless you plan it out and prepare it yourself and meal preparation is tedious. As an example here is a sample fat loss menu for a 150-200 lb individual:
Meal One 3 whole eggs 3 oz lean ground beef 1-2 cups mixed peppers, mushrooms, onions
1.5 servings oatmeal
1 scoop protein powder (any protein as fine as long as carbs are under 6 grams per serving)
1/2 cup milk
or 2 servings beef jerky
1 serving fruit
6oz lean protein (chicken, turkey, fish)
1 large green salad with 1-2 servings green vegetables
40g protein shake
1 serving fruit
6oz protein (red meat, chicken, turkey)
2 servings broccoli or green beans
1/2 cup beans or 1 medium potatoe
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup berries
1/2 scoop protein
That diet is by no means super extreme, but in my experience most people that go from a standard american diet to something like the above will fall off the wagon inside of a week. They'll be starving to death, have no energy, and will eventually binge.
What about gaining weight?
Although it sounds easy getting people to follow a menu geared towards gaining weight is at least as hard. Gaining weight requires consistent around the clock food and protein consumption at regular intervals. The average bro can't be bothered to eat with any sort of consistent schedule, much less actually take the time out to plan his meals out in advance. Therefore, as a coach it's a helluva lot easier on us to simply throw out a general recommendation for weight/muscle gain like, "Just drink a gallon of milk per day!" It's simple, easy, and takes care of the lack of dietary knowledge and discipline most people have. In a perfect world everyone could easily implement and follow the perfect diet, but as a coach sometimes you have to make things simple because you know people will screw things up if you don't.
My typical dietary recommendations coincide with the population I'm working with. I'm probably capable of wankering over advanced theoretical dietary mumbo jumbo as anyone else but for teenagers anything outside of, "Cut back on junk food, eat more fruit and veggies, and consume more wholesome protein" is more often than not an exercise in futility. If your goal is fat loss, a very basic presription would be,"Eat more stuff you can shoot and grow." A lot of people don't even know what junk food is. Most of it is covered by what I call the C's: cookies, cakes, candy, ice (c)ream, chocolate, chips, crackers, kiddie (C)ereal and fried foods. Those also happen to make up about 80% of the average teenage diet, which explains why diet is difficult to change.
The main theme is when it comes to diet your coach can't be around with you around the clock. He or she can only work with your current level of knowledge and experience and guide you in the right direction. When someone asks for advice on on their diet the first thing I ask them is what their daily diet currently consists of and how many calories they're taking in. VERY few people know because most people have absolutely no clue how much they're taking in. The average person over or under estimates their food consumption by 50%. It's not that they're intentionally trying to do so, it's just that difficult. Most people have no idea how to read food levels and correctly measure portion sizes.
What You Need To Do
So, if you're serious about cleaning up your physique the best thing you can do is learn how to monitor your diet and start doing so. THAT is the only secret! To do that you'll need to do the following things:
1. Learn how to read food labels
2. Learn how to weigh and measure out portion sizes
3. Start keeping a food log
When you get to the point where you can take a week of diet logs and KNOW with absolute certainty how many calories and how many grams of protein and carb you're consuming your battle is 95% done. The sheer act of monitoring your diet gives you a level of accountability to the process that pretty much makes your goals guaranteed from that point forth. That alone will take care of 95% of diet and physique related problems. If you need to drop fat you'll drop fat. If you need to gain weight you'll gain.
Now, having said all that, here are a few tips to get you on the right track of holding yourself accountable to what you put in your mouth:
1. Watch this video on "how to read food labels" and get in the habit of doing so:
2. Start a free account at www.fitday.com Virtually every food you can think of (including fast food) is built into the database and all you have to do is type it in.
3. Get a food scale and measuring cups for your whole foods and begin calculating and logging what you're taking in.
4. Dedicate 3 weeks towards monitoring and calculating your daily caloric intake. Don't try to change anything drastic with your food choices or caloric consumption just figure out what your average starting point is. Try to keep your weight relatively stable. The basic idea is you want to know how many calories you average on a daily basis. Individual metabolisms vary as much as 45% so 2 people of the exact same size and activity levels could have a big difference in caloric requirements. Yes, it will suck at first but after 3 weeks it'll be a new habit and if nothing else you'll have a level of knoweldge that wasn't there currently.
Once you get in the habit of regularly logging your intake you'll then be able to make more precise adjustmnents.
Q&A and How To Set Up a Diet
Now, here are a few common questions I get on a regular basis with regards to dietary adjustments and specifics:
1. How many calories do I need to take in per day?
That is impossible to determine until you figure it out like I described above, Like I said, metabolic rates can vary considerably. If you multiply your bodyweight x 15 that'll give you a ballpark estimate, but the only way to truly "know" is to figure it out for yourself while monitoring your bodyweight.
2. Do I need to eat 6 meals per day?
No, but if you eat clean you'll tend to be hungry more often and you might "want" to eat more often. 4 meals per day is better than 3, but 6 isn't any better than 4. If you're the typical 2 meals per day kind of guy I suggest you start out with 3 meals and a hearty snack.
3. Should I separate carbs and fats or make use of any other esoteric food combining methods?
That will be more trouble than it's worth for most people. I suggest you focus on nothing more complicated than getting protein at each meal, at least initially.
4. What about meal timing? Should I avoid carbs before bedtime? Should I use a carb cutoff?
Avoiding carbs before bedtime works for most people not because there's any magic to it but because it subtracts a few hundred calories from the daily diet. In other words, if you regularly eat half a carton of fig newtons while watching TV before bed and you cut that out you'll probably lose some fat. Carb cutoffs work the same way. They simply make it easier to control your intake because when most people overeat they do so on high sugar foods. Make those high sugar foods off limits beyond a certain time and people magically lose fat. If you want to get nitpicky there are advantages to having more carbs for breakfast and for your postworkout meal.
5. What about supplements?
Supplements "supplement" a good diet. If you've read this far it's doubtful your diet is good enough to be supplemented. Protein powder is useful for convenience, but I consider that a food, not a supplement.
6. You said to eat protein at each meal but I heard the body can only digest 25 grams of protein per meal?
You heard wrong
7. What do I do to manipulate my diet once I know how many calories I'm getting?
A: First, figure out how to monitor your diet and start doing so
B: Next, map out a meal plan and start making gradual adjustments towards a better diet. Here is a simple way to set up a meal plan. The basic idea is you want to get a source of protein at each meal and a carb source.
Here is a basic list of proteins:
chicken breast, eggs, egg whites, lean ground beef, tuna, salmon, turkey breast, round steak, cottage cheese, beef jerkey, buffalo, lean pork, protein powder
Here is a basic list of starchy and simple carbs:
Rice, potatoes, beans, yams, oatmeal, beans, cereal, bread, all fruit, sugar, milk, maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose polymers, fructose
Here is a basic list of fibrous green veggie carbs:
Broccoli, green beans, asparagus, cabbage (all varieties), carrots, cauliflower, celery cucumbers, kale, lettuce, (all varieties), onions, peppers, (green, red, yellow, hot, etc.) radishes, spinach, string beans, squash, tomatoes.
Here is a basic list of healthy fats:
Nuts, peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, olive oil, fish oil
From there you simply mix and match from each group with a protein and carb source at each meal. Your fats are optional. You can have "some" if you like, but you really don't need to go chasing fat intake as your protein intake will tend to inherently take care of it.
If your goal is more fat loss eat more fibrous carbs and green veggies with your protein. If your goal is weight maintenance or muscle gain eat more starchy carbs and fruits with your protein. It's really that simple. For example, someone eating for muscle gain may have 5 meals per day with all 5 meals containing ample amounts of starchy and simple carbs.
Muscle gain plan:
meal 1: Eggs, oatmeal, grapefruit
meal 2: chicken breast, potatoes
meal 3: beef jerky, mixed nuts
meal 4: postworkout drink of protein power and dextrose
or postworkout meal of kiddie cereal, protein powder, and milk
meal 5: lean ground beef chili with beans and tomatoe, salad
meal 6: cottage cheese, banana
Now, here is virtually the exact same diet geared towards fat loss:
Fat loss plan:
Meal 1: Egg and spinach omelet, 1/2 grapefruit
Meal 2: Chicken breast, 1 pound of broccoli or green beans
Meal 3: Beef jerky, mixed nuts
Meal 4: postworkout drink of protein powder and dextrose
or: postworkout meal of kiddie cereal, protein powder, and milk
Meal 5: Lean ground beef chili with no beans, salad
Meal 6: cottage cheese
Protein and overall food volume remains pretty much constant but replacing starchy and simple carbs with fibrous carbs at most meals naturally lowers the caloric and carbohydrate level, thus fueling the burning of fat.
See how simple that is? Now get to it!