There’s no doubt you work hard.
You love training and are dedicated, day in and day out, whatever your daily program entails.
You put the work in.
However…for every hour or two or three that you spend in the gym, there are 21-23 hours left in the day.
How are you spending them?
After all, what you do outside the gym impacts your results and performance just as much, if not arguably more, than the work you do in the gym.
Think: Your sleep and recovery habits. Your stress levels. And, the thing you consume at least 3-6 times per day: Your food.
Not to beat a dead horse. You know nutrition is vital to your health and your workouts. You’ve heard that statistic: “80% of your results is attributed to your nutrition.”
But what exactly does that really mean?
Eating consistently? Eating a gram of protein per pound of body weight for muscle gains? Cutting out carbs? Eating carbs post-workout?
There’s a lot of information out there.
That being said, here are 10 Ways Your Diet Can Crush You (as well as your goals and performance in the gym) if you are not on top of your nutrition game.
Getting too caught up in what others say you should do (rather than listening to your body).
Intuitiveness. What is it? Ask most adults, and they are stumped. In short, it means: “Listening to your gut.” What is your body asking for? What does your body need? What works best for you? It’s easy to get caught up in all the ‘should dos’ and ‘must dos’, according to the influx of information you’ve heard and read about in articles, online buzz-feeds or been told by coaches all your life—many of which are even conflicting. For instance: “Consume a post-workout shake within 30-minutes of your workout”… “Don’t drink protein powder at all—it’s processed and full of additives.” Or, “White rice is a good fast acting carb to have”… “Don’t eat grains at all.” In all honesty, every BODY is different. And while some of the ‘bigger’ guidelines for nutrition are agreeable across the board (i.e. eat protein, fats, veggies and lots of water; chew your food well; opt for homecooked as much as possible), the ‘littler things’ are not an exact science, since no two snowflakes (or humans) are alike. Learn to listen to your body. Experiment with various schools of thought around your nutrition. Some great resources for pointing you into a more individualized approach with your nutrition include: The Metabolic Typing Diet, The Paleo Athlete: A Beginner’s Guide to Real Food for Performance, and Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight—all great resources for educating yourself around your own nutrition.
In today’s nutritional ‘wisdom’, low-carb and ketogenic diets are hot…sometimes so much so that this comes to the detriment of many athletic endeavors. I see this especially amongst women—women wanting to ‘be good’, or lose body fat, or ‘eat the perfect diet’ almost find a sense of personal achievement in their ability to stave off carbs. While this is more of a generalization, if you are training with athletic endeavors or fitness pursuits in mind, carbs are not the ‘devil.’ Depending on your goals, on both training days and non-training days alike, carbs (i.e. starchier carbs, like sweet potatoes, squashes, root vegetables, and even properly prepared—soaked—steel cut rolled oats, some rice or quinoa can find a place into your diet). Moderate amounts of carbohydrates play a great role in muscle development, energy boosting and restoration. I am not talking about carbo-loading here either (the concept that you need to stock up on a carb fest before a big workout or pre-load your body with carbs). Rather, through taking an individualized approach (as mentioned above) to your carb intake, you will find that carbs can enhance your performance in the gym if anything. For some, with early morning workouts, this may mean consuming a sweet potato at night with their dinner (to promote glycogen storage in the muscles for the next day). Others find, in the post workout meal, some carbohydrates with protein help them feel more recovered. Unfortunately (and fortunately) there is no ‘black and white’ to this, so it really is trying multiple ‘ways’ to sneak some carbs into your training. Timing and percentages of carbs for your body to thrive and train will be different from the next person.
Another ‘powerful weapon’ that far too many athletes neglect out of ‘conventional wisdom’ that fats impede with your performance and results. Quite the contrary, fats are energy powerhouses (more so even then carbohydrates) and when consumed appropriately, can serve as energy sources for your more intense sessions. Old school literature has advised us not to consume, in particular, around workouts—stating fat slows us down, or impedes with digestion in the post-workout meal. However, as of late, with more experimentation and enhanced knowledge, some fat can actually find its place in your pre- or post-workout meal or snack . In fact, a little bit of protein and/or fat can go a long way in sustaining your workout efforts (particularly pre-workout), as your body is able to convert proteins and fats into glucose (energy, most commonly associated with carbohydrates) through a process called gluconeogenesis. The problem with relying solely on carbs to fuel your performance? Unfortunately most pre-workout shakes, bars, and drinks are non-effective sources of fuel (the carbohydrate powders, pre-workout powders, Gatorade, Cliff Bars, etc.). These pre-workout options are high glycemic in nature, loaded with simple carbs that initially give you a spike of energy, only to deplete it not long after consumption. Carb loading (as briefly mentioned above) prior to exercise will not only inhibit fat burning abilities (ability to ‘tap in’ to fat as fuel), but also set you up to ‘hit a wall’ in your long-term performance (the ‘bonk’). Instead, if you know you have a longer session coming up, try this nutbutter ball ‘treat’!
As for post-workout fuel, popular wisdom has told us to consume carbs and proteins in a 2:1 ratio post-workout. YES, carbs can be effective post workout, but this ratio is not necessarily rocket science, and some fat really won’t hurt you if you’re in recovery mode. According to one study on nutrient timing, for instance, the researcher found that in the endurance athletes he tested, that “High amounts of post-exercise fat (up to approximately 165g) do not reduce 24 hour glycogen synthesis. Therefore, concluding, that even for the ‘every day folks’ (those who do not train the same muscles to glycogen depletion, or even near depletion more than once a day) shouldn’t be concerned with a normal fat intake, even in the post-workout period.” Feel guilt free to cook those veggies in coconut oil, or make a post-workout shake with a little bit of raw almond butter or coconut milk-base if so inclined. On this point, one last note: Not everyone needs nutrient timing. If you are training for life or health, in particular, the more you can focus on just eating real, whole foods—around workouts included—the better and healthier you will feel. Instead of getting caught up in the ‘perfect’ pre- and post-workout nutrition, the majority of us Average Joes can do just fine with balanced meals throughout the day—carbs, fats and proteins included.
Low water intake.
Protein shakes, coffee, tea, energy drinks do NOT count as your water consumption per day. You need at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water everyday for baseline function. And, with exercise factored in there, at least an additional 16-20 ounces for every pound ‘lost’ during a workout. You don’t necessarily have to weigh yourself either—just make sure you up it on workout days. Not drinking enough fluids alone is enough to ‘crush’ you. In addition, do not wait until you are thirsty to start drinking water (thirst is a progressed indicator meaning that you are starting to dehydrate).
Overtraining & Undereating (Loss of Appetite).
As mentioned above, you train hard…but at what cost? If you are a competitor, especially (or just like to train like one), chances are you get more than your fair share of work in the gym. Even if you don’t compete, but have goals or extra momentum for taking your fitness to the next level, the ‘more is better’ philosophy can easily seep into your ‘norm’ if you let it (training is fun!). Coupled with overtraining, and overreaching, are multiple side effects. One of the primary ones being: Loss of appetite. This happens primarily due to a rise in cortisol levels in your body (stress hormones), and in flight or fight survival mode, your body is less concerned about tasting, digesting and assimilating nutrition (which occurs in a parasympathetic state), and more concerned and being on the alert for whatever next challenge, training session or demand it may have to face. While your body needs the energy…your hunger signals are blunted, and you easily fall into a nutritional-training black hole—training harder, not fueling up appropriately, and coincidentally chasing your own tail in the gym.
Overdoing the protein.
How much protein do you need to train? 1 gram/per pound of bodyweight? 1.5 grams/per pound? Even 2? Protein is the key to muscle gain right? Sort of. Yes, protein is the building block for life and muscle building, but the ‘push’ for protein, protein, protein has gotten a bit out of hand to the point that…you may not be digesting all that protein. Overconsumption of protein can set you up for GI distress that ultimately impedes your digestion, appetite and assimilation of nutrients to fuel your performance if you are getting too much. Ever had multiple protein shakes in a day, only to be in the bathroom multiple times that day (basically excreting all that ‘protein’ you just consumed)? Or over-stuffed on eggs, chicken breasts and beef or turkey burger patties, only to feel like you have a rock sitting in your stomach? Protein requires more time and energy to break down, and this, coupled with the fact that many people are hypochloridric (low stomach acid) can make protein intake incredibly taxing on your system. Yes, eat protein with your meals and snacks, but ‘more’ is not necessarily better. Aim for 1-2 palm sizes at most meals (men-2 palms, most women-1 – 1.5 palms) and approximately 2-3 ounces if you choose protein for snacks (about 7 grams of protein per ounce, so 14-21 grams of protein).
Over-Supplementing (with the wrong supplements) or not supplementing at all.
Supplements can do one of three things: Help you, not help you, or hurt you. Far too often in the training world, we take anything and everything under the sun because we are told it will enhance our performance, or…we take nothing at all (convinced we get everything we need from our food alone). Supplements are meant to be the bridges between what we can eat in a day—and the lack of nutrients we may be missing in our foods (since we can only eat so much in a day). Unfortunately, the labels on many produces can be highly deceiving, and the nutrient ‘bang’ from that $12.99 Omega-3 fish oil on the shelf of your chain grocery store, for instance, can be completely different from the quality of that high-grade cod liver oil, sold in your local health foods store. In other words: You most often get what you pay for (not always the case but often). In addition, since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, or really any ‘oversight’ at all, the dosage or claims on a label may not be 100% accurate, as this one ‘study bust’ found earlier this year. Even with things like your protein powders, you honestly never know what is in that whey protein, and not all whey proteins are created equal. As an educated consumer you need to recognize the differences and be able to discern quality whey from cheap, ineffective powders. Most whey proteins are processed from ultrapasteurized milk and many are exposed to acid processing. Heat and acid damages the protein and makes it insoluble in water (poorly shaken up in your protein shaker, and poorly digested). Manufacturers ‘take care of this’ by adding chemical flavors and detergents to reconcile the flavor and solubility. They add genetically modified soy lecithin, along with chemical surfactants, which are used in soap, such as polysorbate 80, propylene glycol,, ethoxylated mono-diglycerides and maltodextrin, caseinates, and hydrolyzed proteins (which are really MSG). Additionally, they also use artificial sweeteners (aspartame or sucralose). The overheated whey protein is then a non-beneficial form of whey that should be avoided because it contains putrid proteins that are damaging to your health. The bottom line? Do your research and know what you are getting—both supplement-wise and with your protein powders. On the protein powder front, look for organic-grassfed, unpasteurized, cold processed, and water soluble proteins that are highly-digestible.
If you want to experience success in the gym, you need fuel. This is probably the MOST common lifestyle factor we at OPEX have to address with our clients. Everything you do with your body requires energy; from pulling a heavy snatch, to taking a nap afterwards, even the process of eating and metabolizing your food depends upon energy availability and it all adds up to influence your total daily energy expenditure (i.e. how much you have to ‘give’ in the gym). Chances are, if you train with intensity and purpose, but have never been coached up around your nutrition and diet, you are not eating enough.
Trying to do exactly what the other guy or girl does.
Rich Froning coined the classic post-workout meal of chocolate milk and peanut butter. Jason Khalipa can get away with pizza. Scott Panchik keeps it clean the majority of the time with a Paleolithic approach. Camille gets clean meals delivered to her every day—sticking to what it is she is served. Another girl eats very little carbs and her body looks amazing. And, yet, from another source, you heard that ice-cream is the secret to unleashing your inner athlete in the gym. This goes back to point number one, one more time…Every body is different. Therefore what works for one person will not necessarily work for you—or be the ‘gospel’ for you. Get to know YOUR body.
Not caring at all.
This is perhaps the worst of them all. Sure the superhumans of the world openly talk about consuming sweets, treats and otherwise ‘junk food’—and rightly so, can ‘get away with it’ if they are training for hours on end. For the vast majority though (i.e. not the top 1% of the population), what goes in (to your mouth) has a direct impact and influence on your performance and health. Aim to keep it clean folks—clean eating promotes optimal digestion, health and balance for training (and feeling) your best. Protein, healthy fats, veggies, plenty of water, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. You’ve got it.
The main thing: Get to know your body.