Last week I wrote about the first two pillars of my current strength training program. If you read it, you may have come away thinking ‘it can’t be that simple’. Well, truly it is. Following the protocol for strength training and cardio given in the last article will take you some of the way towards your fitness and strength goal.
The third pillar, however, is the real stumbling block. Diet or nutrition is the single most important factor in achieving your strength or fitness goals. In percentage terms I believe that what you do in the gym or on the road accounts for about 30% of your progress. Diet accounts for most of the rest, although sleep is a key factor also and I will discuss this in another article.
Why is what you put into your body so much more important than what you do with it? Simply put, your muscles will not grow and adapt if they cannot access the fuel necessary to achieve this. Your body requires adequate amounts of good quality proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water – all in the right balance – to achieve optimal performance. The mistake many people make is in doing the hard work in the gym and neglecting the key ingredient of proper nutrition. For many, there seems to be a crazy reasoning process happening. It goes something like ‘I worked so hard today in the gym, I think I deserve to treat myself with that large slice of cake. After all, my body needs the calories!’ Now, I definitely support having the occasional treat, with the emphasis on occasional. After all, fill your body with junk and that’s how it will look and feel. Fill it with quality food and you’ll achieve the lean, mean body shape you are after.
So, how does this work for me? Firstly, I don’t get into counting calories or weighing my food. Life is just too short! I do the basics. I never, ever skip breakfast. It sets me up for the day ahead and prevents me gorging on junk food later in the day. I normally eat a salad, soup or wrap for my lunch. If I’m busy in the evening, I’ll eat a big meal in the afternoon – usually fish, beef, lamb or chicken with plenty of veg and some carbohydrate. I’ll eat light in the evening time usually as I find eating after 7pm causes sleep disturbance. During the day I snack on nuts, dates and mixed fruit which I keep with me in the car. My vice is coffee, and I’m trying to limit that to 2 cups daily (not easy!).
There is a theory that when strength training, a more careful and accurate account of calories should be taken. I can’t argue with this, it makes good sense. However, I just don’t have the aptitude or inclination to do this. Instead, I try hard to listen to my body. I try to notice when I’m hungry or satiated. The mechanism of feeling hungry or full is a built in gauge to help us eat more or less.
For strength training, I will always eat some protein within 45 minutes of a hard workout as this is an optimal time for muscle resynthesis. If I am unhappy with my gains, or lethargic in training, I will adjust my food intake accordingly and have developed a greater appreciation of what works best for me. I carry an aluminium water bottle with me everywhere and drink from it regularly.
My suggested meal options are listed below. There are far more options open to you of course. I generally stick with organic, unprocessed foods and avoid most things with a long list of ingredients.
Breakfast – Steak fried in coconut oil with green side salad, tomatoes and pesto / smoked salmon & eggs / oats with mixed nuts and seeds, berries, agave nectar, natural yogurt & cinnamon / grilled mackerel or sardines on gluten-free bread.
Lunch – Large salad with greens, avocado, olives, tomato, peppers, mushrooms, goats cheese (with or without chicken breast) / wrap filled with chicken and mixed veg / soup with gluten-free bread
Dinner – Fresh fish or Beef (casserole/minced/steak) or chicken (curry/gougons) with roast potato and plenty of veg.
Snacks – nuts (Brazils, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds); dates, bananas, raisins.
Drinks – water, coffee (1-2 daily) or tea; herbal teas (green, lemon & ginger, camomile).