As those of you who follow me know, I am VERY passionate about health, fitness and in particular, bodybuilding. You’ll also be quick to note that I am no expert, and I am certainly not yoked (at least not by my own high standard).
In fact, of late, I’ve even had modest success, pushing my lean body mass to its highest point yet while holding an all-time personal-high bodyweight of 180lbs. And as I begin to flirt with success, a number of friends and family have asked for a little help and guidance in pursuit of their own physique goals… something I am more than happy (and flattered!) to do for them.
In terms of individual advice on programming and diet etc., I’ll keep that private, for no other reason than that advice was intended specifically for them. However, the reality is that I can distill most of what’s important from my advice down to just a handful of useful nuggets… ten, in total.
- Discipline is critical. You won’t always feel like training, eating right, and making the smart choice. But if you can be disciplined most of the time, then you’ll be ok. We can all have the occasional drink or a slice of pizza — life’s not worth living otherwise. But we do have to earn it. Few things in this world worth having are “free”.
- Consistency. Get it right. 80% of the time, 90% if you can. But know that one missed workout or one crappy meal does not unravel ten good meals or ten good workouts. If you have a bad day, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you have six good days to make up for it.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The reality is that you can achieve success with just about any program of exercise or eating regimen. ANY. They nearly ALL work. The problem is that most people don’t stick to a program or regimen long enough. Six weeks in, progress is slower than they want so they change something; often, they change EVERYTHING. And the cycle continues. Yes, refinement is fine, necessary even, but stick with a plan and give it time to work.
- Macros > Food Quality > Nutrient Density > Meal Timing. i.e. focus on the balance of protein/carbs/fats first, get as much food as you can from high quality sources, pick nutrient dense foods when you can, and eat largely when you want to — thanks to Adam for distilling that one so succinctly.
- Eat as MUCH (not as little) as you can while still moving forward. The bottom line is that to reduce body fat, you have to consume less calories than you need. There is NO OTHER RULE AS FUNDAMENTAL. But, faster is NOT better. When you cut 800kcal a day, you’ll often strip hard-earned muscle away as well as the fat. Keep calories as high as you can and you’ll hang on to that hard earned muscle and still burn the fat. When you do cut calories, reduce them slowly, watch for progress (weight, measurement, mirror) and then adjust as little as possible to continue making progress.
- Eat MORE exercise MORE. Eat LESS, exercise LESS. Never, ever, eat LESS exercise MORE. When we cut calories, we start fighting our body’s natural behavior — to survive. So when you cut calories AND up the exercise, your body thinks screw this, and hangs on to every ounce of fat it can, for as long as it can. You have to trick your body into letting the fat go by ensuring there is ample supplies of energy in the form of quality food.
- Protein. Make it a priority. Not only will higher protein satiate you, it also helps to preserve lean body mass. In addition, the thermic effect of foods (TEF) means that for every 100kcal of protein you consume, you only net ~70kcal. i.e. 20-35% of the energy value is lost in the break-down of the protein. Compare that to 5-15% for carbs and just 0-5% for fat. Factor in that fat has 9kcal per gram, compared to the 4kcal for protein and carbs, and you can see why fat needs careful consideration.
- Don’t be afraid of carbs, especially in the post-workout period. Carbs are an essential fuel and part of the muscle building process, and I certainly don’t advocate a low-carb diet. That said, overeating carbs, especially simpler, processed carbs, is problematic, particularly in terms of regulating insulin sensitivity. One strategy is to cycle your carbs and calories. In essence, this means eating most of your carbs on the days you train, and limiting carb intake on non-training days. If you do have carbs on a rest-day, limit them to just one meal.
- Don’t fear fruit. Yes, it’s a carb, and yes, it’s form of sugar. But it’s also fruit! I am not saying you can eat a bushel of apples every day, but one or two pieces of fruit is never going to be a problem; at least I have never found it to be so. Berries are never off limits, representing some of the lowest sugar and nutritious of the fruits.
- Stay healthy. Injuries will hinder your progress faster than any deviation from your eating or training plan. Stay healthy at all costs and avoid ANYTHING that hurts or causes pain. NEVER do an exercise or program that you think you *should* do; only ever do what your body *can* do. There are no right or wrongs, only what’s right FOR YOU.
Be prepared to ignore everything I just wrote and find what works for YOU. This one’s important, and something I still slip up on myself. No one can tell you what will work for you, they can just give advice on what has worked for them and others. And while the reality is that much of it can and will work for you, you must take responsibility for your own progress and learn through experimentation what works.