Of the Three Pillars, nutrition is perhaps the most often overlooked. It is also entirely dependent on oneself. With consistency, to some measure, there is someone always looking over your shoulder, whether that is a coach or a friend who hasn’t seen you at the gym in a while. The same goes for intensity, especially in a place like AU. Coaches are there pushing you and your fellow athletes are pushing you as well. With nutrition, there is no one looking over your shoulder; it all falls on you.
Why are solid nutrition habits important? Why is putting the right grade of gasoline in your car important? Without the proper fuel, your body or the engine in your car will not operate at peak performance. Have you ever tried putting 87 octane in a car that requires 91? It’s not a good experience. There will be knocking and eventually you will destroy the engine. The same goes for your body. By putting the wrong fuel in your body you are robbing yourself of performance. Eventually you’ll destroy your engine with coronary artery disease, diabetes or other medical issues.
If your nutrition isn’t where it should be try these 5 easy strategies to help get you on the right track:
- Start a Food Log. Forget tracking calories, just start writing down all of the things that you eat throughout the day, and the approximate quantities that you ate. Become consistent with logging and be honest about what you’re eating and how much. The only person that needs to see it is you. For most people this is like having an accountability partner looking over their shoulder. As you start eating, there’s a momentary pause where you ask yourself if you really want to write that food down. You also have to think twice about the quantity you’re about to consume. At the end of the day, sit down take a look at your food log and decide what you can change. That feeling of guilt you get when you look at the three pieces of pizza, fifteen chicken wings and large bowl of ice cream? You’ll remember that, maybe not the next time, but eventually you’ll get tired of that feeling and it’ll turn into just the pizza and wings or less pizza and less wings with less ice cream.
- Portion Control. Again, you don’t need to measure and weigh everything out. Guiding principles for portion control include the following: You should leave every meal feeling satisfied, not full to bursting, and be hungry, not starving, again in three to four hours. Some visual aids that work really well, not only for the right amount of food but making sure you’re taking in all of the appropriate macronutrients are a softball sized portion of vegetables, a baseball sized portion of fruit, a deck of card sized portion of protein, a hockey puck sized grain and five dice for any sort of topping (dressings, nuts, cheese).
- Eat the Real Thing Not Substitutes. Desserts, carbonated beverages or anything with sugar in it typically have a sugar-free version. When it’s time to decide on sugar included or sugar-free, the best option is to go with the real thing, just eat less of it. When it comes to full fat, low fat or fat free, again stick with the full fat version. There are two reasons for this. First, food manufacturers are diabolical. When they take something out, they add something in. When a package says low fat, often more sugar is added. Likewise, when it states low sugar, often fat is added. Second, your body knows how to handle real food and real macronutrients. When you start talking about artificial sweeteners your body doesn’t necessarily know how to handle and process them. This leads into the next strategy.
- Shop the Outsides. When you go grocery shopping, stay to the outside of the store. This is where all of the real food is. The inside aisles are loaded up with all sorts of processed foods, that just like artificial sweeteners, your body has no idea how to digest them. Processed foods are loaded with preservatives that are designed to keep the food from spoiling. In essence this makes the food less digestible than its unpreserved form. A perfect example of this is the Burger King Whopper Meal that my mother’s chiropractor bought and left on a shelf in her office. The entire meal remained unchanged for over a year. No mold, no bugs eating it, no smells.
- Read Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Lists. Just being aware of the nutrition content of your food will do amazing things for you. First look at ingredients. Are their words you are not able to pronounce? That is an indication that they are man made. While they may not be harmful in a medical sense, they are not what is best for your body’s nutritional needs. Next, take a look at the serving sizes. In a lot of high calorie foods, the serving size will be so small that it makes the nutrition facts look reasonable. You may also discover some hidden calories, like additional added fat or sugar. Finally, look at the macro nutrient content. You always want to know how many grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates you are consuming.
In addition to these 5 strategies, make sure you are drinking plenty of water as a lot of people mistake thirst for hunger. If you are well-hydrated chances are you will feel less hungry in general, and it eliminates the confusion as to whether you are hungry or thirsty. Try to slowly implement any changes in your diet as well. Large, drastic changes have a habit of not lasting. Start small and slowly build on your successes rather than trying to conquer the whole nutritional puzzle in one giant step and becoming frustrated and throwing it all away. By slowly implementing these changes you are also making a commitment to longer-term lifestyle and nutritional changes instead of it just being a short term quick change. If you commit fully to these changes, you will not only see improved performance in the gym, but may perhaps find those elusive body composition changes as well.
Our nutrition seminar will assist you in learning how to get a handle on everything I reviewed in this blog. I suggest giving it a try. It is informative, interactive, challenging, and highly effective. When you are consistently employing the 5 strategies outlived above you are ready to explore an specific nutritional program like Paleo, IIFYM, Ketogenic diets or Zone. I will briefly introduce you to all of these next month and talk about the pros and cons of each.