Training to become the best possible version of yourself requires time, dedication, persistence, and just plain hard work. To get the most out of your training, regardless of your goals, you need to get a stronghold on your nutrition. That doesn’t mean you need to be a Nazi and never indulge in anything outside of mineral water and steamed broccoli, but you certainly have to demonstrate some discipline and recognize the red flags when they’re placed right in front of you at the dinner table.
Nutrition can sometimes be like a chess game with its complexity, numerous choices, and the need to constantly adjust according to your current situation. However, with experience comes wisdom. Just like a savvy chess player, you learn what moves set you up for the greatest chances of success, you make fewer mistakes, and you start to win most of your battles.
To simplify the nutrition game, make more sensible choices, and get better results out of your training, I’ve laid out some tips that I apply to my daily routine as well as others that I’ve learned through years of research.
Let’s take a look at nutrition tips for optimal health and performance:
1.”When it comes to fat loss, genetics may somewhat ‘load the gun’ but you don’t have to pull the trigger and reload it twice.” I love this quote. Don’t use bad genetics as an excuse to eat poorly and not make an honest effort to get in shape. The power to transform your body is in your hands, the question is how bad do you want it?
2. Never be hungry, never be full – Somewhere in the middle is just right. When your body is in a comfortably fed state, your blood sugar levels don’t spike causing you to store excess fat nor do they plummet causing you too burn valuable muscle for energy. Think of it this way, when you’re stuffed after a big meal how do you feel? When you’re starving because you haven’t eaten in over 6 hours how do you feel? Neither is a good feeling. Aim to feel good all the time.
3. If it’s comes in a box or a can it’s not worth eating – Man has created many marvelous things to improve our lives, unfortunately food is not one of them. Most foods that come in a box or can are highly processed and contain very little real food. Stick to fresh, whole foods as much as you can. This gives a whole new meaning to “keeping it real.”
4. “All You Can Eat” is a bad idea – Buffets provide great value but you are pretty much guaranteed to go overboard on your portions. Especially for those trying to lose fat, this is the last place you want to be. “All You Can Eat” might be light on the wallet but heavy on the waistline.
5. Don’t fear fat – There’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding fat in the diet. Your body needs both saturated and unsaturated fats to function optimally. Healthy sources include eggs, fish, avacados, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and lean meats. The key is to keep your fat intake in the right proportions relative to your protein and carbs. Depending on your goals, fat should be make up 25-30% of your total intake.
6. Replace your starches with more colorful veggies – With the exception of sweet potatoes and yams, you want to moderate your consumption of starchy carbs especially if you are trying to lose fat. Colorful vegetables are more nutrient dense and cause less inflammation and bloating than refined starches like bread, pastas, and other grains. As long as you consume adequate protein, you can still build and preserve muscle without a lot of starch.
7. Don’t drink your calories – It’s pretty easy to start the day with a latte with whip cream followed by a soda or fruit juice to go with your afternoon snack. These empty calories add up quick and before you know it, you’ve consumed an extra 750-1000 calories and you’ve got nothing to show for it except 2 extra inches around your waist. Stick to water, dilute your fruit juices if you drink them, and remove all pop including the diet stuff (which is probably more poisonous).
the calories add up faster than you think!
8. Cut out sugar – There’s not a whole lot more to say about this other than sugar is public enemy #1. With the exception of fresh fruit, you want to avoid processed and refined sugar as much as you can.
9. Avoid gluten if it affects you – There’s a lot of buzz surrounding gluten these days but it only needs to be avoided if you have an intolerance to it. For the rest of you, consume moderately and get on with your life.
10. Gluten Free isn’t always healthier – To further elaborate on #9, unless it never had gluten to begin with, like meat and vegetables, then that food is most likely processed and contains minimal nutritional value anyway.
11. Keep your carb intake highest around training – The body best utilizes carbohydrates during intense workouts and post workout. This means it’s OK to consume carbs prior to training to make sure you’re fueled properly and fast acting carbs should be consumed post workout to replenish glycogen stores and maximize recovery.
12. Drink more water – Most of us are far too dehydrated which impairs our ability to function and perform in the gym. Start the day by drinking 300-500ml of water. Depending on your activity level, muscle mass, and water content of the foods you eat will determine how much water you need each day.
13. Learn how to cook – Eating meals prepared at home will be far healthier than eating out at restaurants. There are lots of quick and simple recipes that you can use to make healthy meals that actually taste good! For quick and easy recipes click here.
Robert Irvine knows his way around the kitchen and the gym!
14. Shop the perimeter – It’s safe to say that 75-80% of the foods in the grocery store aren’t designed for human consumption. Sure they taste great but that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re highly processed and put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and any other diseases that haven’t been named yet. The perimeter of the grocery store is where all of the fresh produce and lean meats are found and this should be where you spend most of your time.
15. Prepare meals in advance – “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Having your meals prepared at least a couple days in advance is the best way to avoid impulse eating. If you work long hours, having dinners prepared in advance saves time and reduces the likelihood of ordering greasy takeout. Packing healthy lunches will save you a few trips to the drive thru as well.
16. Eat enough protein to support muscle mass – There will always be a debate about low carb and low fat diets but no one ever got great results on a low protein diet. Whether you’re training to get leaner or to build muscle, you need to keep your protein intake in check to support the cause. At least 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight will be sufficient.
Arnold definitely ate enough protein
17. Take a greens supplement – Although I’m not a huge advocate of supplements without a balanced diet first, a greens supplement can provide a lot of nutrients to improve energy and gut health. Start the day with a tall glass of water with some greens. Who knows, before you know it, you’ll be a morning person.
18. Supplement only what you can’t get from real food – As mentioned in #16, supplements should be taken when the rest of the diet is in order. There’s no point in drinking 3 protein shakes a day if you’re pounding potato chips and Pepsi between meals. Having said that, it can be tough sometimes to always get in enough nutrients from food so supplementing can help to make up the difference. Don’t get too caught up in buying the “latest and greatest” products, you can’t lose with real food.
19. Eat Breakfast – There is some debate nowadays about the importance of breakfast but I can say confidently that it has been the most important meal of the day for me. A high protein breakfast with healthy fats provides you with loads of nutrients to start the day plus you are more likely to eat healthy throughout the day if your first meal is healthy. Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions and a side of sliced bell peppers is how I like to get things started.
20. Eat the whole egg but skip the toast – The nutrients the egg yolk provides far outweighs anything you get from 2 pieces of refined toast. Try a side of avocado or raw veggies instead.
21. Never leave home without a healthy snack – Like your wallet or cell phone, you should always carry a healthy snack with you. A piece of fruit or some mixed nuts are easy ways to tie you over until your next meal. The last thing you want to do is starve then binge on comfort foods.
22. Avoid dairy – What I like to refer to as “the unnecessary evil.” Don’t be fooled, there’s nothing in a glass of milk you can’t get from less inflammatory foods. Again, if you’re trying to lose fat, this is a high calorie food group you can do without.
so right yet so wrong all at the same time..
23. Avoid grains – Speaking of inflammation, grains are a primary culprit. Bloating, allergies, and lethargy are just a few things to look forward to. With the exception of steel cut oats and wild rice, there isn’t a lot of value in these foods.
24. Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols – Found in a lot of “diet” foods and drinks, these are deceptive chemicals that the body doesn’t really like. Try to get most of your sugar from fresh fruit. If you want to sweeten things up try stevia.
25. Breakfast cereal is fast food – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day when it’s not a bowl of Count Chocula.
I guess I can thank my mom for never letting me have this as a kid
26. Everything in moderation – If 90% of your eating habits are favorable then you can afford to indulge from time to time in the things you enjoy. The further away your are from your goals the more strict you have to be. Don’t always use junk food as way to reward yourself. Looking better, feeling better, and performing better are the rewards.
27. Eat more raw veggies – Cooking food kills a lot of the nutrients so try to get a good dose of raw veggies on a regular basis.
28. Eat more locally grown foods – The next best thing to growing it yourself is to eat from a local farm. The fresher and less preserved the better.
29. Paleo isn’t perfect but it’s a great start – There is no perfect diet for everyone but the Paleo diet sends people in the right direction. Less processed foods, more lean meats and vegetables and no sugar. For the majority of the general public, I’d say that’s a great start.
30. Use more spices and herbs instead of sauces – Cooking with herbs and spices like pepper, basil, garlic and tumeric provide lots of flavor without the preservatives and empty calories of bbq, teriyaki, and soy sauces.
31. Black coffee and green tea are great engine starters – Jumpstart your metabolism, burn more fat, and have more energy for your workouts with coffee or green tea. Nix the cream and sugar though.
32. Avoid seed and vegetable oils – Seed and vegetable oils are highly processed and are high in omega 6 fatty acids which can lead to a number of health issues. Stick to olive, coconut, and palm oils for cooking and dressing foods.
33. Avoid trans fats – Another highly processed fat that will do nothing for you except increase your risk of cancer. Instead of margarine, use grass fed butter or ghee.
34. Bulletproof your coffee only if your diet is bulletproof – Bulletproof coffee is as trendy as a foot long hipster beard. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing (the beard or the coffee). You have to keep in mind that bulletproof coffee is high in calories (400-450cals) and provides very little nutrients other than fat. It may keep you full longer but unless you are eating a lot of high quality foods the rest of the day you may be sabotaging your gains. The safer route would be black coffee and a protein rich breakfast.
it’s debatable which is trendier..
35. Bacon is Paleo but that doesn’t mean it should go on everything – Bacon gets a lot of love since it qualifies as Paleo. This is another example of how the majority of food you eat must be high quality if bacon is going to make the cut. High fat, high sodium, and filled with nitrates, bacon should be consumed sparingly. You don’t need to have it with your eggs, on your burger, in your cookies, AND in your salad.
36. Focus on food quality rather than counting calories – Not all calories are created equal. Just like not all exercise is created equal, the type of calories you consume are just as important as how many calories you consume. 100 calories from a bag of potato chips will be metabolized far differently than 100 calories from a sweet potato. Learn and understand the types of foods that give you the best bang for your nutrient buck. Eat more of those foods and less shitty foods and you’ll never have to count calories again. Does a stalk of broccoli have a food label on it? How about a bunch of bananas? There’s a reason why whole foods require less scrutiny than fruit juices, low fat granola bars, and frozen yogurt.
37. “Diet” and “Low Fat” aren’t healthier – When a food has been modified to reduce calories or fat it generally means that it has been replaced with artificial sweeteners or refined sugar to make up the difference. You’re better off eating a smaller portion of the real stuff since it will wreak less havoc on your metabolism.
38. Speed and nutritional value are inversely related – With the exception of raw fruits and veggies, the faster it can be prepared the less nutritional value it has. What takes longer, baking a piece of cod in the oven or deep frying it? Making a bowl of Wheaties or scrambled eggs with a side of spinach salad? The “slow food” industry is a niche market reserved for the patient and disciplined. Another example of the tortoise and the hare perhaps?
Sorry Mike, I DID NOT have my Wheaties this morning!
39. Avoid high fructose corn syrup – High fructose corn syrup is like the Justin Bieber of food. It’s toxic, annoying as hell and it’s everywhere!
Be careful, be very careful…
40. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Don’t get too caught up in trends and fads if you are getting the results you want with your current eating habits. Some of you might be eating more carbs than fats and vice versa and that’s totally fine IF IT’S WORKING! Having said that, if you aren’t getting stronger, building muscle, getting leaner, or even feeling better then to put it mildly “your shit is broken!” Take a step back and make small tweaks until you are headed in the right direction.
Hopefully these words of wisdom will help you take one step closer to reaching your goals.
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