How To Take Your Nutrition To The Next Level for Better Health and Results In The Gym - Part 1
Nutrition can be a complicated and loaded topic, with many viewpoints and evidence for what appears to be completely opposing strategies. It can leave us with the feeling of being lost or overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of information and choices available. So how do we approach our nutrition in a practical, effective and actionable way that will actually work in the real world?
In this series of articles I will outline the approach that I take with my own nutrition and with the people I work with in order to navigate through information overload and confusion towards implementing change that is effective and that lasts. While ultimately there isn’t a ”one-size-fits-all” perfect plan that fits absolutely everyone, there are some guiding principles and tools that can be helpful when deciding upon the best practices and changes that you want to make for your nutrition.
Part 1 - Asking good questions, paying attention to the answers and laying the foundation of good nutrition.
Good nutrition begins with clear goals and understanding what is important for you in order to navigate the noise of information overload.
Armed with clear goals in the three goal areas of good nutrition (body composition, health and performance) you can play the Why Game to uncover the link between your current goals and your deeper motivations, values and identity. This self-knowledge will help you remain clear, consistent and committed to the process of nutritional change.
Using the “How to fix a broken diet” infographic as a guide, familiarize yourself with the common areas everyone struggles with regarding their nutrition and begin developing the foundation for your nutrition i.e.
a) Identify and remove nutritional deficiencies
b) Adjust food amount and type and
c) Fine tune.
Remember you are the expert of yourself, you spend 24/7 with your body and experiences, therefore have the final say.
When it comes to our nutrition, just like any other area of our lives, the most important place to start with is getting clear exactly what is we want or need. While this may seem like stating the obvious, I find the most difficulty I, or my clients, have with nutrition is when we are not clear with our goals and the values or priorities behind those goals.
With that in mind, here are some practical steps to go through to get around this problem:
1. What you want to achieve
Usually, when we aim to improve our nutrition, we do so in order to change or achieve something related to one of three areas
a) body composition i.e. lose body fat, increase muscle or a combination of both
b) Improve health and wellness e.g. increase energy, reduce risk of or address an existing illness and reduce stress
c) improve performance e.g. run faster, longer or recover more quickly.
Step one, therefore, is to get really clear about what it is exactly you would like to achieve in very concrete terms and, if we have more than one goal, prioritise in what order of importance your goals are to you
There are no right or wrong answers here; the only mistake I see at this stage is that of
a) not being specific enough and
b) not prioritizing what is the order of importance.
For example, writing: “I would like to have more energy” lacks the details that will allow you to take action and then know if the actions you take are working or when you have achieved the result you are after.
Taking the same example; here is how it could be more precise and prioritised: “I would like to have more energy that I can experience by:
a) waking up feeling refreshed in the morning and not needing to hit the snooze button and
b) by being able to work through the afternoon after midday without having the overwhelming feeling of needing to doze off to sleep.
Furthermore, I will have the energy so that when I get home after work, I will be both able and look forward to playing with my kids for the time before dinner that I have with them alone. This is my number one goal right now. I would also like to reduce my body fat by 3-5kg by summer and improve my fitness by being able to swim 1km at the pool non-stop (in that order).
2. The "Why Game"
The next step is to take the goals you wrote down in step one and play the Why Game.
If you can remember the time when you were a kid, when you drove your parents crazy by asking “why” to absolutely everything….then you know the rules of the Why Game.
A quick summary of how it works:
Take the goals you wrote down in step one and ask “why” you want those things or “why” those things are important to you at least three to five times. With each answer you give yourself, ask again why until you feel you have reached the fundamental reasons. “But why should I do this silly Why Game?” I hear you ask. Great question, see you are already playing the game.
The reason to play the Why Game is to dig into the real underlying reasons you would like to achieve what you have set for yourself. “But why?”. Because linking your goals to the underlying values and priorities that make up who you fundamentally are as a person will allow you to commit more deeply to the process of change. “And why should that matter?”. Because, aside from not being 100% clear about what it is we want with our nutrition, the next biggest challenge I see when it comes to our approach to nutrition is having goals that are not connected to either who we are fundamentally or who we would like to be. We then find ourselves at odds with our actions. If, for example, you have a fundamental value of family or friendship, and you try to implement a nutrition strategy that requires you to spend more time preparing food and less time with family or friends, you may find it difficult to stick with it. On the other hand, by recognizing your value for friends and family, you might adjust the nutritional strategy to include family or friends in the process e.g. involving your kids in the food preparation. It is of course still possible to get results and make change if you skip this step, but more often than not those changes or results are short-lasting or in the long-term don’t actually make you feel good. We also played a little bit of the Why Game in working through the concept, that hopefully illustrates its usefulness and power.
3. Time to get practical
Whew, so you have gone through arguably the most important two steps of taking your nutrition to the next level.
So now what? Now it is time to get practical and address the foundational areas of our nutrition. Before we worry specifically about the goals we have so painstakingly worked through in the first steps (we will get there), we can start with an overview of the bigger picture of the main areas that are most often a struggle before taking a looking closer to the specifics.
No matter how experienced we are or how much knowledge we have, returning to the absolute basics and then checking that we are being ruthlessly consistent with a few of those will get us well on the path to achieving the goals we have set out for ourselves, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like we are yet following any “hacks” or “special tactics". In the guide “How To Fix A Broken Diet”*, you will see the three steps of:
a) Identify and remove nutritional deficiencies
b) Adjust food amount and type and
c) Fine tune.
There is a lot to mentally “digest” in the infographic as it covers many foundational aspects of nutrition both directly and indirectly. In part 2 of this series, we will go through each of the three steps more deeply as well as the idea of how practical change is actually made once you have identified what it is that you want and need to do i.e. by practicing habits, skills and observing the outcomes as related to your goals.
For now, take time to look through the infographic and, if you have already done step one and two, begin thinking about which of those areas you would start with.
To close out part one of this article series, the most important thing to remember, when it comes to nutrition is that you are the expert about you! That is, you are the one who spends 24/7 within the house that is your body, and your experience is the most important factor in deciding if a particular strategy is working for you or not. Taking this responsibility for yourself, starting with going through a more thorough process of identifying what it is you want to achieve and why, puts you in charge of the process as well as helps you quickly eliminate the ”noise” of information, media or that well-meaning friend or colleague who has the ”perfect” diet or other strategy that they swear will work magic for you. As I opened in this series, nutrition can be a particularly complicated and overwhelming topic. However, if you take away nothing else but the point of recognising your autonomy over your experience and what is right for you, you will notice an immediate change in how you approach your nutrition and the effect external influences have on you.
A practical example:
One day the news reports that a low carb diet is the best way to lose weight; then immediately the next day in the same news channel the benefits of getting enough healthy grains in your diet is reported. Then the day after your work colleague tells you how great they feel on the Keto diet. All of this, while interesting (and not necessarily wrong), doesn’t change or sway your patient, long-term and values-based focus. You know that after experimenting and noticing how you feel and look, having a morning porridge with fruit, yogurt and nuts is perfect for you. You also notice if you eat rice and bread more frequently and not timed around workouts, that you tend to start gaining body fat and feeling sluggish in the afternoon. You also noticed that when you experimented with very low carbohydrate Keto diet style eating that you felt terrible, so this isn’t something for you.
It is still important to have an open mind, pay attention to things around you that are important to you with your nutrition, but ultimately your experience and the results that you have measured in a way that makes sense to you, is the only thing that matters for results that last.
In part 2 of this series we will dig more deeply into the topic of fixing a broken diet and how to implement nutritional change with habit and skill practices, including some examples related to the common goals that we have.
* Note: How To Fix A Broken Diet is used under license from Precision Nutrition Inc. and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or otherwise used or reused in any way without the express written permission of the owner. Copyright © 2019 Precision Nutrition Inc.