If you’ve tried to gain or lose weight, chances are, you’ve overcomplicated your diet.
It is okay, though, you’re not alone.
With the amount of noise out there, it’s easy to be left lost and confused when it comes to nutrition. There’s paleo, keto, vegan, low carb, no carb, high carb, “if it fits your macros”, vegetarian, and so much more. What do you listen to you? What do you ignore? What works best?
Before I dive into the most simple piece of nutrition advice you will ever receive, let’s discuss where people go wrong first.
- They hop on the fad bandwagon.
Any time a new diet comes out, people hop on board. Remember when keto became a thing? Yeah. Everyone became keto and believed it was the panacea to muscle building and fat loss.
While there’s stellar research backing the keto diet, not everyone is meant for it. Put simply, not everyone will be able to sustain fat loss and muscle building for the long-term. Just because your neighbor did so doesn’t mean eating eggs, cheese, and bacon topped with butter 24/7 will work for you too. A question to ask yourself: “can I sustain this lifestyle?”
This reminds me of a time when I met a man at a pool bar and he exclaimed to the crowd he was keto. Of course, I asked how that was going for him and he said, “well, okay. I’ve gained some fat back and need to get back on track.”
For someone who was so proud to broadcast his diet to the crowd, it seemed he was getting it wrong, especially when it came to nailing down consistency.
Even if there is extensive research behind a diet, it will not work unless someone is executing correctly and consistently. Alas, more on this later.
- They adopt an all-or-nothing approach.
Nowadays, it seems people are married to one way. You are either labeled as “keto” or “intermittent faster” or “vegan” or “paleo.”
Staying glued to one diet for a lifetime is a recipe for disaster because it fails to take into consideration people’s changing bodies and training schedules.
Perhaps one day, your body craves healthy fats.
Perhaps one day, your body yearns for carbs.
Perhaps one day, your body needs a slice of pizza.
Are you sure you want to utilize one approach? Are you sure you want to deprive yourself and put your willpower at risk for serious rebounds?
Especially if you are someone who oscillates between low and high intensity training days, your nutrition may call for tweaks as you go.
- They don’t choose a diet they love.
This is the number one thing people screw up: they don’t love what they eat.
And it scares me.
I don’t know about you, but eating stale almonds, egg whites, and asparagus doesn’t sound enthralling.
Why can’t people opt for foods that are both nutritious and enjoyable?
Yes, they exist.
Now that I got the problems with nutrition out of the way, what is one piece of simple, actionable advice you can take? Here you go:
Choose foods that breathe life into you.
It’s that simple.
Now, let me ask you something: what foods DO breathe life into you?
More often than not, you will list a plethora of nutritionally dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and proteins.
Opting for foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals not only enhances your training, it also uplifts your mental energy as you go through your work day.
I mean come on: ever eat a burger and fries during your lunch break and went back to the office feeling bogged down?
On the flip side, when you ate a bowl of vegetables with a satiating piece of chicken or steak, you probably felt like you could take over the world.
So this bears repeating: choose foods that breathe life into you.
Taking the conversation back to the ways people mess up nutrition, let’s discuss some other actionable solutions.
- You don’t need to hop on the bandwagon.
If you’re torn between paleo, keto, vegan, and all the fluff, I got news for you: you don’t need to pick one diet. Who said you had to anyways?
Instead, you can choose a combination of diets and see what is the most sustainable.
As an example, if you enjoy meat, then eat meat. If you want to try a vegan restaurant, then try a vegan restaurant.
If you deadlifted 2x your bodyweight one day and exerted a ton of energy, then eat carbs and protein to refuel.
If you played a full basketball game, then eat twice as many carbs to replenish lost glycogen.
If you went for a walk to recover the other day, then back off on the carbs and enjoy healthy fats like a “keto” would.
If you went to a wedding, then enjoy some cake.
Limiting yourself with nutrition never ends well, especially when you stay married to one way. Pick a combination of diets that are the most sustainable as well as ones that breathe life into you.
I’d be remiss not to mention, sometimes, you don’t need to label your nutrition. It is totally okay if you are a paleo who dabbles in keto, or who also tries vegan. The world won’t end if you opt to be a mix of everything.
- You don’t need to be all-or-nothing.
Expounding further, nutrition should not be an all-or-nothing approach.
As mentioned above, there will be times when your body will tell you to hop between diets.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to go all-in when it comes to clean eating. Most people pride themselves in eating clean for two weeks straight, and then they go back to their old ways.
This happens a lot with the juice cleanse crowd, or the low carb crowd. So many people opt for one quick fix, gimmick, or one insanely complicated diet after another. Initially, these bode well, until people are too deprived to function and the all-or-nothing approach fails them.
They want pizza.
They want tacos.
They want a box of Oreos.
Rightfully so, as deprivation isn’t sustainable.
While this might not be as glamorous, how about picking an approach that is a nice balance of foods you enjoy and foods that get you physical results? Sure, this is not as marketable, but it will help you achieve sustainable results, and will help you establish a healthy lifestyle that lasts.
To that end, nutrition is about honing a balance between foods that breathe life into you and breathe intensity into your training regimen.
Here’s a sample template for you that demonstrates a nice blend of enjoyment and health:
Breakfast: 3 scrambled eggs with hot sauce and mild salsa, 1 avocado, 2 slices of toast with almond butter and cinnamon
Lunch: Turkey sandwich with spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard with 2 fistfuls of sweet potatoes on the side
Dinner: 2 fistfuls of ground beef with a side of asparagus, 1-2 fistfuls of white potatoes
And somewhere in between these meals, give yourself some wiggle room to eat a “cheat” you enjoy and cannot live without (I like Quest Cookie Doug Bars).
But for some, this could be French fries. For others, this could be Snickers bars. Try eating this “cheat” every day to avoid a detrimental splurge on the weekend.
- You can adopt a diet you absolutely love.
Speaking of foods that are healthy and that you enjoy, they exist.
Like I said earlier, there are foods out there that are both nutritious and enjoyable. Right off the bat, here’s a list for you:
Brown RiceWhite Rice
To make these even more enjoyable, you can get creative with your toppings to add an extra kick to your meals:
And these are just glossing over the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making your foods taste better and less bland.
What’s so awesome about these toppings is not only do they add flavor, they add nutritious value as well. Cinnamon, for example, is amazing for boosting metabolism, regulating blood sugar, and improving inflammation. Turmeric is great for increasing anti-oxidant capacity, delaying aging, and improving mood.
However, if you enjoy veggies and meats as they are, then great. As long as you enjoy your approach, then you will be consistent for the long haul.
Before I close this piece, some more simple gems to take away on nutrition:
- Eat foods that improve your training.
Don’t show up to training unprepared. This means your nutrition must be dialed in so you elicit the best training effect possible. Mental energy plays a critical role in how you execute performance in the gym.
Ask yourself what foods make you the most mentally sharp, elated, and confident, and go for those.
Your body will thank you after a gym session.
- Eat foods that satisfy you.
Any diet you adopt must be satisfying. Does it fill you up? Or does it leave you craving something toxic?
A rule of thumb for ensuring you are satisfied is to load up on vegetables first. Before you eat your main course, can you eat a veggie or two that you enjoy? Since veggies are dense with energy, vitamins, minerals, and water, you will fill up quicker than you think.
If you prefer an alternative to veggies, fill up on the protein portion first. Instead of grabbing the bread at the center of the table that is low in nutritious value and density, eat the meat first.
There’s nothing less sustainable than a diet that isn’t satisfying, so load up on the veggies and protein first.
- Enjoy the process.
This much I know: nutrition is a process. It’s a process of listening to your body, and tweaking as you go. You may not get it right some days, and other days, you will fall off and eat some cookies and pizza. However, there’s comfort in knowing one day, two days, even one week, will not hinder your results.
The best thing you can do is pivot and get back on track with the foods that breathe life into you. Always come back to those and remind yourself of why you are eating what you are eating: to be able to train with passion and intensity and joy.
There’s nothing worse than beating yourself up for eating sludge. It’s better to take action and fuel your body in a way that works for you.
The overarching theme here, however, is enjoying your diet. That is the one that you will stick with for the long haul. At the same time, it should be a diet that is of service to your training, so keep this in mind.
Even if your work-outs are dialed in, you will not optimize your results unless your nutrition is dialed in as well.
Nutrition for fat loss and muscle building takes work, yes, but it does not need to be complex. Yes, enjoy what you eat, but make sure your physical training enjoys it as well. Fuel your body with life and your results will be nothing short of amazing.
Tremblay, A., & Bellisle, F. (2015). Nutrients, satiety, and control of energy intake. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 40(10).