Prioritizing. It’s something we do every day in order to define what is important. So why isn’t it implemented more within the fitness realm of our lives as well?
Too often, we find that we are looking for an immediate answer rather than trusting in the process. Many of us loathe the constant over-thinking we’re guilty of in our daily lives, yet many of us decide we need to over-complicate something that is rather simple (but demanding). Supplements are often marketed as the unequivocal solution to all of your fitness woes and, although they can serve as a crucial tool in facilitating fitness success, they should be put on the back-burner in favor of the major aspects of nutrition that should take precedence over them.
Calories in, calories out. That’s it, it can be that simple. Now, as we go further, we’ll see that there is more to be done in order to provide optimal performance, but this is a good starting point at the most basic level. Everyone will have their own caloric maintenance level (essentially, the amount of calories you need to stay in equilibrium). This can be loosely determined by online calculators that will take a variety of factors into account, including aspects such as height, weight, activity level, etc.
Experiment with fluctuating calories for different goals
Of course, everyone’s body is different so it may take some further playing around to pinpoint that number, but experimenting with calorie fluctuations can begin once it is found. Gradually increasing your caloric intake by 100 calories for muscle mass (or decreasing it by 100 calories for fat loss) can serve as a nice, safe value to go by so your body doesn’t suffer from drastic changes in diet. Furthermore, give that adjustment a few days (or even a week) to take effect and then make further adjustments accordingly.
Buy a food scale
Unless you have a great eye for estimating portions, you would be surprised at what constitutes as a serving size for certain foods. In many instances, misjudged food intake can serve as the main culprit in not seeing desired results. Yes, counting calories is tedious, but somebody needs to assume the role of your body’s accountant. If attaining fitness goals means enough to you, then being very particular about nutrition shouldn’t require a second thought.
Adjust your macronutrient intake
Now it’s time to examine the make-up of the calories you’ve deemed necessary to hit your goals. The next step is to take a look at the macronutrients you’re taking in, that is: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Always keep in mind that one gram of either protein or carbohydrates is 4 calories and one gram of fat is 9 calories. You’ll see this calculation in a lot of macronutrient “splits” where fat intake is significantly lower than the other two. The desired macronutrient split is largely based on the end goal. Splits such as 40-40-20 (40% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 20% fat) and 50-30-20 (50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fat) are commonly used.
Intake of the other two macronutrients are largely based on your end goal, but it is important to keep in mind that if your goal is to lose fat, the solution is NOT to go cold turkey on either of them. Fats, although calorie dense, can provide your body with a lot of vitamins and nutrients for organs, hair, and skin among other things. Carbohydrates will serve as your main source of energy and any severe depletion will likely significantly affect your performance and overall function throughout the day. Both of these macronutrients can be decreased, but not astronomically or suddenly.
Think about sugar
Sugar has been an incredibly controversial subject in the fitness world and nutrition topics in general – it has been a partial victim in the modern day epidemic of demonizing of certain foods as the solution to all problems. That is not to say that you should ruthlessly ingest sugar as your main source of carbohydrates; however, there is no reason to completely phase out micronutrient-rich foods like fruit because they contain sugar.
Don’t supplement your sugary foods with products that are sugar-free as the long-term effects of taking in sugar alcohol (something your body won’t break down so well) is a far bigger issue than sugar intake.
Fiber for a fitness lifestyle
Dietary fiber is another source of carbohydrates that is often over-looked when it comes to tracking nutrition. It isn’t the glamorous part of the fitness lifestyle by any means, but quite simply, if your body isn’t digesting these foods properly, you’ll likely feel lethargic for a good portion of the day and your performance will suffer. What good is being dedicated to fitness if you still feel like crap all day? If this is the case, fiber might be something to play around with. Some recommendations peg daily fiber intake anywhere from 10-15 grams per 1000 calories. This provides a good starting point, although it may need to be adjusted based on the body’s metabolism. Vegetables, fruits, oats and pasta among others all provide fiber-dense options to implement in a well-rounded daily diet.
Fruit and vegetables
Speaking of fruit and vegetables, don’t forget about your micronutrients either. 2-3 servings of each per day would do the body good as they provide you with essential vitamins and minerals that aren’t going to satisfy your immediate desires of making rapid progress; however, they are going to do wonders for your overall well-being and health, especially in the long run. Yes, eating virtually nothing will get you slimmer, and yes, eating not-so-calorie-dense foods like fruits and veggies aren’t going to facilitate rapid muscle gains, but unless you want to routinely feel terrible and/or fall off a cliff aesthetically by your mid-30s, you’ll trust me on this one. Your middle-aged self will thank you.
So where does supplementation fit in all of this? The true purpose of supplementation is to fill the gaps. Are you trying to hit a threshold of 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight and struggling to get there on chicken, ground beef, and eggs? Then a protein powder might serve as a great option in assisting you to meet that goal. Are you struggling to hit the proper amount of fruits and vegetables? Then a multi-vitamin may help you out as well.
At its core, these are the true purposes of what supplementation can serve as. So, the next time you decide to drop a hefty portion of your week’s income on “can’t miss” supplements, make sure you’ve optimized your nutrition first.