In the world of dieting, trends come and go. And just like trends in pop culture, Today’s trend is tomorrow’s mistake (the trick with trends, of course, is to hold on to whatever falls out of favor until it becomes cool again. One day my POG collection will be cool again, trust me!). Low-fat dieting came and went alongside the brat pack, crimped hair, and acid wash jeans. Low carb was here while we watched Clarrisa explaining it all and Bill rocking the sax while wearing our flannel jackets (or maybe that’s just me summing up my early teens.). After we managed to survive Y2k everyone got a little crazy by going back to the beginning and starting from scratch and thus were born the alternative diets. Now we have carb cycling, keto and carb up’s, and one of the ultimate rule-breakers, lean gains/intermittent fasting (IF)/eat-stop-eat.
Sometimes it seems like using “old school” dieting techniques would amount to an act worse than the social suicide that would result from showing up in LA gear sneakers (with 2 different color laces, of course), large framed glasses, and a massive perm. But the basics that help you lose fat can be found with almost any of the dietary methods that have climbed ol’ mount de trend only to thrust themselves off the cliff of popularity in a fashion only a lemming could truly appreciate. Like so many issues in the lifting world, people would be stunned if they would focus on the fundamentals instead of fighting for whatever dogmatic dietary decisions happen to be popular this week. If you find that your diet isn’t taking you where you want to go, reflect on these points, and see if you need to change some things around.
Your body is designed to survive. If you don’t give it food it will react, which is the primary reason cyclical dieting was developed in the first place. But remember the old adage; you can survive 3 weeks without food, but only 3 DAYS without water. Fail to give your body the water it needs and your body will fight even harder to survive (survival=NOT giving up stored fat and NOT keeping extra muscle mass). Chances are if you aren’t already thinking about keeping hydrated, you aren’t, and if you’ve read all the way to this point of the article without having to pee, you aren’t drinking enough! Welcome to the world of the cliché’ health-conscious guy who always has his trusty gallon jug. Embrace the image, and get some water in your system.
Beware, however, that drinking lots of water will flush your system of both the good and the bad. Overhydration can lead to depletion of vitamins and minerals, which means a multi is even more important if you are staying well hydrated.
Most lifters are well aware of the benefits and mechanisms of protein. It helps your body rebuild muscle tissue after a workout, and nary a young lifter goes without his whey immediately following every intense, stimulant fueled workout (Nothing like a scoop of pre-workout mixed with an energy drink to get you through those 10 curl variations!). By just as cutting often leads us to make the mistake of abandoning the type of lifting that got us big in the first place, we also often toss protein to the wayside when it comes time to cut, instead of placing our focus on carbs and fats, reverting to the lessons we learned during the fat scare of the ’80s and the carb hatred of the ’90s.
Protein’s benefits are numerous to both the lifter and the non-trainer who wants to shed pounds alike. Everyone wants to keep what muscle they have, and the body will gladly relieve itself of the burden of excess muscle mass if it isn’t given both a reason to keep it and the materials to rebuild it. Protein is also the macronutrient that takes the most effort for the body to digest. This is helpful on many levels. Not only will you burn more calories in the process of digesting protein in comparison to carbs and fats, but you’ll also stay fuller longer. Protein has the same ability to keep you full that comes with fat, along with the lower calories per gram of carbs. It’s the best of both worlds!
When planning out your intake, start with protein. 1 gram for every pound of lean mass is a MINIMUM. For me, this number is 170. If you aren’t sure about your numbers, take your bodyweight and subtract 20% (BW x .8). When you calculate everything out you will find that getting this much protein probably won’t leave much room for carbs and fats. If you find this to be the case, then you have a good reason to believe that to this point you haven’t been getting enough protein, and I’d bet dollars to low-carb fat-free donuts that increasing your protein intake will have a positive effect on your diet.
I know. I know that you were told that if you do intermittent fasting or ketogenic dieting then you wouldn’t need to count calories. I know that weighing and keeping track of your intake is a pain. I know that it’s more fun to eat based on what you want instead of measuring out portions of food you probably aren’t that into in the first place. But if you want to know how much is going into your mouth then you need to keep track of it! If you read a scientific article about a study where nothing was measured, you probably wouldn’t take it very seriously. Well, if you aren’t keeping track of what’s going into your mouth, you’re more in the dark than an FBI agent in a blacked-out basement chasing after a genital-tucking, skin-sowing serial killer (“It puts the brown rice on the food scale, or else it gets the hose again!”).
But take solace in the fact that after a very short amount of time you will be rewarded for your diligence. You will know what you are eating, and you will be able to compare these numbers to your body’s reaction and change your diet accordingly. Knowing your intake will give YOU control over your diet, instead of leaving your progress up to your whims and emotions. After a short time, you will find that you are almost inherently aware of the caloric value of foods you regularly eat, to the point where you may not even need to log every day. I’ll often use my log to plan out my days ahead of time so that I know with complete certainty that I will meet my goals for the day. All you have to do is eat the food on your plan around the time you planned to eat it.
“But what if I plan things out and I’m not hungry when I’m supposed to eat/hungry when I’m not supposed to eat?” If you planned to have a big lunch and you aren’t hungry, then just wait to eat until later. If this isn’t possible, just follow your plan then use the knowledge you build about yourself and your hunger patterns to refine your plan.
You’ll also be happy to know that the days of holding a label with nutrition facts in one hand and a calculator in the other area in the past. There are a number of websites that have simplified the calorie counting/food logging game to the point where anyone can do it successfully. Many of these sites even help you calculate how many calories you will need to reach your goals, which gives you a great starting point to experiment with.
- If you aren’t sure if you’re getting enough water, you aren’t.
- Getting enough protein is essential to dieting success. You’re already not giving your body enough calories, don’t keep it from getting enough protein as well.
- Even if it’s for a short time, log your food, and keep track of your calories. You have to know what you’re eating before you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t!
We all know that you still have your parachute pants in your closet. I don’t know if they’ll ever come back into style, but I DO know that when it comes to dieting, these fundamentals will always work. Pay attention to these basics and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results!