So far, we’ve been focusing on exercise and ways to boost overall physical activity, breaking out of sedentary writing habits and the like. We can’t go much further though without addressing the health issue that goes hand-in-hand with exercise. In fact, if you’re trying to get into better shape, lose weight, or improve your general nutrition, how and what you eat has to be a central part of the process. Your diet.
Diet. I hate that word, honestly. It just has so many negative connotations. Most of us have tried dieting at some point or another. We see constant fad diets popping up on the news or as the subject of the latest bestselling book hawked by a particular celebrity trainer or another.
What word would I use? “Protocol” works for me. Maybe it’s semantics, but it lets me think of nutrition as more of a healthy system than something designed to starve me or severely limit any particular food types.
The reality is you can be intensely exercising every single day, but if your nutrition is out of whack, you’re still going to struggle—either with unwanted weight gain, nutrient deficits, and other health issues. There are so many approaches to eating it can be overwhelming, so we’ll build slow. First, we’re going to review the most basic needs an eating protocol should meet in your life and what factors you should consider to determine if any particular system will work for you. Then we’ll get a deeper understanding of how different macronutrients are processed by the body and how they impact energy levels, muscle loss/gain, fat loss/gain. This will be followed by a discussion of that rather stressful topic: calorie counting. Whoo!
So what are the essentials of any eating protocol?
- Calories – However you eat and whatever you eat, your caloric needs must be taken care of. Those specific needs are going to vary based on a number of factors including your current physical state as well as your long-term goals (muscle gain, weight loss, etc.). Balancing calories is a critical step in managing your energy levels—something you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever gone into a big calorie deficit for any extended period of time.
- Macronutrients – If you’ve ever heard anyone talking about “macros” in a diet context, they’re talking about three things: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. I’m betting that, thanks to culture-wide misinformation about the evils of one or two of these macros, some of you shuddered when you read this. Each of these three is essential in any diet/eating protocol. While certain protocols might reduce the amount of one or another macro, none of these three should ever be fully eliminated from your intake.
- Convenience – Traditional diets are usually high-stress affairs. They require you to constantly be on guard against whatever foods have been lumped into an (often lengthy) DO NOT EAT! list. Or they involve overly complicated meal preparation, expensive grocery lists, or tons of powders and pills that are false health shortcuts. It’s my belief that the more effective eating protocol is one that is adjustable around your personal needs, budget, and schedule. This leads into the next point…
- Long-Term Adherence – What’s the use of a diet that you barely manage to suffer through for a month or two and then give up because it’s too stressful/limiting/expensive/etc.? In many instances, any gains you’ve seen during that time will disappear quite quickly as your body readjusts. However, if you have a healthy eating protocol that you’re able to maintain year after year, adjusting slightly here and there as your goals change, then not only will you tend to enjoy consistent fitness improvements but you’ll often be able to avoid the frustrating weight yo-yoing that so many suffer as they hop on and off the latest diets.
In the end, an effective eating protocol is going to align with your needs in each of these areas. If any of these are ignored or out-of-balance, the likelihood of success is going to drop dramatically. Whenever you see a new diet or are considering a new way of eating, think through it. Will it be extremely stressful to stick to? Does it rely on nothing but huge calorie deficits? Does it try to eliminate one of the macronutrients for one ill-gotten reason or another? Is it a way of eating you feel you could maintain for more than a few weeks or months at a time?