There’s an old adage that says you are what you eat, and in spite of the great many diet fads that come along each year, this simple advice has largely withstood the test of time. Of course, you are free to interpret this simple statement however you like, but for me it boils down to this: all things being equal, your quality of dietary health is largely the sum of what you let pass your lips.
Increasingly of late, I’ve discovered the same is true in other areas of our lives too, such as the friends we surround ourselves with or the people from whom we are taking our advice.
It IS who you know
Jason Ferruggia summed this up nicely in one of his emails this weekend:
“To improve your fitness, your business, your skill set, and your happiness you need to develop great relationships with the right people.”
One of the biggest contributors to my own progress in health and fitness this year has been down to doing exactly this; surrounding yourself with the very best advice on the topics that are most important to you. For me, that meant two things; revamping my social media, and reading the writings and reaching out to the best of the best in the fitness industry.
I even went one step further by signing up to an on-line coaching community created by Adam Bornstein, and have since moved on to one-on-one coaching with him to continue my growth and development.
All of these amazing people I have surrounded myself with share a common mission: to help as many people as possible reach their health, fitness and nutrition goals.
Without doubt, Adam is a true visionary, Smitty is a motivational monster and Jay gives it to you straight.
Every day, I am learning from one or more of these individuals, or someone in their personal network. It’s like being on a protein drip where you are constantly growing from the influx of nutrients, something I know Adam would have very much appreciated recently!
This is how change happens
This weekend, I’ve been helping a friend with their diet, nutrition and training program. They’ve been training hard for a year a more, and despite good nutrition, plenty of food and regular visits to the gym, gains have all but stopped. As I worked through some QA and started setting out the body of my advice, I was struck by just how much I have changed in the last year.
Sure, I understand more about the nutritional science than I ever have before, and I’ve never really struggled to pull together a decent, functional program. Yet, my philosophy has changed completely.
My thinking is now rooted in fundamentals like good health, sustainability, perspective and balance. I see past the “noise” that I would otherwise have distracted me, instead identifying the areas in which real and meaningful changes could be made.
To give you some sense of what I mean, here’s the meat of the broad advice I was giving my friend this weekend. In the interests of privacy, any personal details and specifics of the individual’s diet, macros and current program have been removed.
Perspective, big picture
You have made AWESOME progress. You’ve really put on some size over the last year. I can see it plain as day, it’s probably just a little lost on you right now.
Gaining appreciable size is HARD. If it were easy, we’d all be walking around with 30-40lbs of extra muscle. I know I would 🙂
Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It may take years to achieve all of your goals. And just as you reach them, you’ll have already set new goals, possibly leaving you disappointed with progress. Be patient, my friend. You are young. If you just keep at it, by the time you are in your mid twenties, you’ll likely be huge, cut and in the top 1% of physiques for people your age.
Life is to be lived and enjoyed. Training needs to be part of life, not the point of life. We need to focus on making sure that any choices we make in the gym and in the kitchen are sustainable and enjoyable — nothing else really matters.
Wind back a year or so and I am not sure statements like these would have been at the heart of my message. I would have instead immediately focused-in on the program, hunting for some magical, missing element that needed to be added, tweaks to set or rep patterns, or complex dietary changes…
All in all, everything you wrote-up looks “good” to me. Of course, that doesn’t mean “optimal”, or “perfect”, but there’s certainly nothing horribly wrong either. As with all things, our progress ebbs and flows, and at various points in our journey, some of the seemingly smaller details can make quite a big difference. All that said, there is no magic answer here; As mentioned in the last email, I suspect we’ll need to try a few things over many weeks; patience and managing expectations will be key.
Also, I want you to have the benefit of advice I am now only just getting. Advice that I think is important and would have been valuable to me in my twenties, versus my forties. In no particular order…
- Diet, nutrition and exercise, no matter what our goals, needs to be PART of life, not the POINT of life.
- The priority for any of our choices, be that in the gym or in the kitchen, needs to be sustainability; choices that can easily be worked into our lifestyle for the long-term.
- Take it from me, as a goal driven person, I’ve constantly put happiness the other side of one goal or another, and without fail, when you get to that goal, you just create another one, pushing happiness further and further out. Life is a journey, not a destination; you need to focus on enjoying the process, living in the moment, and stop putting happiness behind your goals.
- Train hard, but train smart. Smart means:
- Never train without a warm-up; ever.
- Never train through injury or pain; ever.
- Train appropriately for your level and stage of development.
- Always prioritize form and quality of movement over weight on the bar.
- Listen to your body, and act on what you hear.
There are clearly a million things we could try, and nearly all of them could work. My point here, is that I suspect progress for you will not likely be about specific exercises, in specific orders, nor some “magic” split. It comes down to doing something appropriate for your stage of development, that you enjoy, with good intensity over a sustained period of time. I want you to be open-minded.
The foundation of any mass or gaining program is built upon:
- Strength; getting stronger almost always leads to getting bigger.
- Compound movements; big movements moving lots of muscle, deep stimulation of the CNS
- [appropriate] Intensity; we need to train hard, but smart.
I don’t think you are at an advanced enough stage of development to be on any kind of single body-part split. We need to move more muscle, more often, and not worry about any “specialization” work. For example, a day entirely for arms, is just a waste… albeit fun 🙂
Eating, not sustenance
You are doing almost everything right here. You like, and are eating, all the right foods, which is often the hardest part for most people to do. Good range of healthy proteins, lots of complex, quality carbs, plenty of cruciferous vegetables.
Let’s cover the important bits:
- Eating should be fun and enjoyable, not just another part of working out.
- We want nearly all our nutritional goals met through real food, not supplements.
- Unless you are getting on-stage to compete, never worry about counting calories and balancing macros down to the gram. It’s not worth it.
- Don’t ever pass-up enjoying a meal with friends or letting yourself have foods you “want” to eat. Just balance less healthy choices with very healthy choices. Balance, in all things.
- Look at the big picture; one mistake or unhealthy choice does NOT undo your progress overnight. It takes many days, or even weeks of bad choices to unravel what is otherwise a healthy eating and exercise regimen.
- I don’t want you worrying about the 30-minute post workout nutrition window. It’s long been proven to be unimportant, and the window is much more like 2-6 hours. The amount of difference it makes to consume protein and carbs 30 mins after a workout is so negligible as to make it pointless at our level of development.
So no big changes here. Eat what you are eating, whenever you feel like eating it. Minimize carbs at breakfast. Lots of lean protein, healthy, complex carbs and vegetables.
Again, I don’t want you sweating pre/during/post workout nutrition like it will make a BIG difference; it won’t. I am not saying it makes NO difference, but the differences are so small that it’s probably not worth stressing about it for the returns you’ll see.
If you are eating lots of healthy food throughout the day, getting plenty of lean protein down, you don’t need to supplement much at all. Protein is about the only supplement you need, and you’ll only need that on days when access to lean protein via real food is lower, for whatever reason (busy, travel etc.)
Let’s save a little money on supplements, and switch a few-up:
- Drop the aminos
- Drop the Glycomaize
- Maybe add a digestive enzyme or pro-biotic
Point being, I don’t want you worrying about this. Come home from a late-night workout, and there’s only two things I want you to think (not worry) about:
- Getting to sleep. Sleep will do more for you than anything to help you grow.
- Having some pre-bedtime protein, and a little snack if you feel like it and want to eat it.
On the protein side, I do think it’s worth swapping out your whey for casein or a blend at night time. While protein is protein, and it’s all good for gains, the slow-digesting properties of casein do make a difference for the nighttime period:
“Casein, on the other hand, resulted in a prolonged increase in blood amino acids that resulted in a 34% reduction in protein breakdown. The net protein balance remained more positive after intake of casein protein over a 7-hour period. The superior long-lasting effect of casein was attributed to a delayed gastric emptying and slower absorption rate from the gastrointestinal tract to the blood.”
Plus, casein is just thicker, heavier and fills you up more before bed, helping you to sleep.
For a pre-bedtime snack, a small bowl of porridge, slice of toast and jam, half a peanut/almond butter and jam sandwich are all good choices. A much more pleasurable way to get a little fast-acting carbs in after your workout and before bed. And if you are not hungry, don’t worry about eating at all… the casein will fill you up.