Good Nutrition: Beyond the Numbers, PART 2
Again, food is MORE THAN FUEL
As discussed in part one, looking at food as only fuel has its limitations- it is a recovery tool, a key component to health, a signal for your body to adapt, and much more. A good nutrition plan isn’t just about controlling energy balance, or about getting enough of any one vitamin, mineral or macronutrient- it’s about all of it. A truly considered nutrition plan should cover the following:
- Controls energy balance to meet our goals
- Has adequate protein and essential fats as a baseline
- Have a wide variety of nutrient dense foods included
- Focuses on micronutrients and “good foods” as much as calories
- Has consideration for hormone response to foods and health
- Focuses on the process of good nutrition, and makes changes based on outcome not assumptions
If we begin to look at good nutrition through this approach, we can look forward to optimum performance, better overall health, good body composition, less regular illness and injury, and more. If you missed part 1, you can find that via the link below:Read part 1 now!
Common Issues and Solutions
Lack of understanding of portion sizes
As mentioned in the previous post, tracking can have a huge benefit when it comes to understanding calorie density and macronutrient levels of foods. Providing we have a basic appreciation of the essential aspects of good micronutrition, then getting portion sizes right is key.
However, with the lack of accuracy through tracking, is it even worth it?? YES! Understanding and monitoring food is an essential factor in body composition. As coaches, WE need an appreciation of numbers. As clients/ athletes, YOU need an understanding of food. Success long term is based on reacting to what you’re currently doing, refining it, and fitting it to meet goals. It’s not just based on numbers, it’s based on responding to results.
Generally, meal plans don’t educate the client, hence the short-term success and long term difficulty maintaining it. And although tracking has its benefits, its potentially a little too much for everyday life. Luckily, there are other options to help you to monitor your nutrition, and have success by keeping nutrition simple. One commonly used method is hand sized portions. We can cover a lot of the pre-requisites for good nutrition by using this (eg good nutrient dense foods, adequate protein, etc).
Here’s how it works:
For protein rich foods (chicken, ham, turkey, etc), your palm determines protein portions (20-30g protein).
For veggies, your closed fist determines portion sizes (calories/ macros here are usually lower and less important as these foods contain much more than “just numbers”).
Your carb portions (potato, pasta, rice, etc) is a cupped handful (20-30g carbs).
For fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, etc) its about the size of your thumb (10-12g fats).
Using this, we can build a stable, nutrient dense and easy to implement meal plan that doesn’t take too much weighing and number crunching! An example of a way to use this system as a starting point is given below. Providing the client is active, and eating four meals a day, the following starting point may be appropriate.
- 2 palms of protein dense foods
- 2 fists of veggies
- 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods
- 2 thumbs of fats
- 1-1.5 palms of protein dense foods
- 1-2 fists of veggies
- 1 cupped handful of carb dense foods
- 1 thumb of fat dense foods
Using this starting point, we can see outcomes and adapt- want to add muscle and maintaining weight? Add 1 cupped handful of carbs to each meal to gain weight. See what happens and review. For weight loss but maintaining muscle, take away 0.5 to 1 cupped handful of carbs, or 1 thumb of fat from a few meals.
Although this strategy may be too basic for those at a high level, it’s a much better way to start than a simple “eat less” or “eat more” approach. Other similar systems exist, but making nutrition easy is a key component to making it sustainable and successful. For those thinking this is too basic, this approach has been used successfully by some of the worlds most advanced nutrition coaching companies such as precision nutrition (Josh is a registered coach with this company).
We know that for many people, this can be an issue during periods of high stress and high workload. If you feel this is sabotaging your results, there are some simple steps to take that may help. We know that it’s easy to rush to a take-out meal or bad food choices during periods of high stress/ high workload, but controlling this can have a huge impact upon results. A good method of dealing with this is to have some “go to” easy meals always prepped an accessible to always have a “better option” than stopping for junk food. Here, getting these go to meals can ensure you keep high quality of nutrition and appropriate energy and macronutrient balance.
Excessive alcohol consumption
Avoiding alcohol completely is not necessarily required for good health. Moderate alcohol consumption occasionally can be completely healthy, and has benefits both socially and potentially physiologically. However, if looking for optimum health, excessive alcohol consumption can become an issue. For optimum body composition, very occasional moderate drinking is the best you can hope for, and avoiding alcohol entirely may be necessary.
From a very simple perspective (and certainly not a thorough review of the effects of alcohol on performance and/ or health), we can just look at a very simple reason why this has a negative effect on body composition… calories. When we look to diet, we want nutrient dense foods, and calorie reduction. Generally, alcohol is the opposite, its calorie dense and nutrient low. In addition, the small calorie deficit we aim for to retain muscle mass and reduce bodyfat is often eradicated easily when alcohol features in the diet. For example, a 300 calorie deficit per day Monday to Friday is completely lost with a bottle of wine and subsequent take out at a weekend. This leads to zero progress, or worse. Even if we do use “calories” for alcohol, this leads to either low glycogen stores (from replacing carbs), reduced essential fats intake or low protein levels. What about a bigger deficit during the week? Again, this leads to poor recovery from training, and a higher risk of loss of lean mass, even more so when coupled with poor nutrition on higher calorie days. Something has to give, so when training for optimum performance or body composition, alcohol consumption should be infrequent and moderate.
Poor cooking skills and an over reliance on supplements
Another key factor to consider is that unless you have good basic cooking skills, you’re going to struggle to eat healthy. Knowing how to safely prepare foods (and make them enjoyable!) is key to good sustainable nutrition, so invest a little in yourself and try to learn to prepare basic meals. On the same note, an over reliance on supplements isn’t ideal- although they may help you to hit one aspect of nutrition (numbers!.. apparently), they often lack the nutrients found in good whole food alternatives. They’re not bad to have, they can be very useful, but they can’t replace food long term. As a UKAD anti-doping advisor, I feel I should mention here that athletes should also be aware of the risks of using supplements, and should refer to the UKAD website for details (or the 100% me app can be a great tool!
A practical, sustainable approach to a successful diet
Good nutrition is about energy balance, and much, much more. Good nutrition should be something we can live with long term (although strict periods will be necessary, depending on goals). It really is about balance, and should include not only correct numbers to suit your goals, but good quality, nutrient dense foods. It should also come with an understanding of food preparation and nutrient density- knowing the basics of what foods are made up of can go a long way to supporting the right choices long term. But if weighing and measuring isn’t for you, other approaches can work, providing we cover the MUST DO’s of dieting (eg high protein, resistance training, low alcohol intake, good micronutrient intake and a calorie deficit).
Hopefully, this article (both parts) has helped your understanding of nutrition, and can help you to make more informed choices in the future. However, if you still feel like you could use some help, we offer nutrition coaching as one of our many services at FX Fitness Experience Personal Training and Performance Centre, so just get in touch for more details.Contact Josh today!
Josh Kennedy, MSc, ASCC, Pn1