Recovery is one of the most underrated aspects of health and fitness. The average person places way too much emphasis on exercise/training and only marginally focuses on recovery. This is a mistake. The recovery process heals the body and enables you to continue to train into the future and prevent overtraining, which is a state in which the body can no longer effectively recover from activity.
Some people believe overtraining is a myth—they’re wrong. Science proved time and again that overtraining does exist. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) article “Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide,”
“Overreaching is considered an accumulation of training load that leads to performance decrements requiring days to weeks for recovery.14,30 Overreaching followed by appropriate rest can ultimately lead to performance increases.14,30 However, if overreaching is extreme and combined with an additional stressor, overtraining syndrome (OTS) may result.30 OTS may be caused by systemic inflammation and subsequent effects on the central nervous system, including depressed mood, central fatigue, and resultant neurohormonal changes”
Some people believe that a person cannot over train only under recover—this is wrong. While under recovery can and often will lead to overtraining, a person can only recover so much. By that, I mean a person can only eat so much, sleep so much, and take so many supplements before their body cannot take more. Everybody has a finite ability to recover from physical damage. As a person becomes more conditioned, this threshold increases. However, each person will always have a limit to how much damage their body can take and still recover, regardless of how much rest, food, and supplements he or she consumes.
There several reasons overtraining gets a bad rap, including:
People mistakenly think because they’re sore, they’re overtraining
People use the term to describe the effects of normal exercise, confusing pushing hard and getting sore for overtraining—they’re using the term with the wrong definition and these people are uneducated
People don’t want to train and want an excuse to take a break, so they say they’re over trained
Other possible reasons exist as well, but I just wanted to touch on a few. With the excuses and poor definitions put to the side, overtraining really does exist.
Finally, understand that overtraining is not something only athletes or hardcore exercisers experience. Every person has a threshold for how much he or she can exercise/train. When a person is new to the training process, this threshold is normally lower. As the individual conditions his or her body, the threshold increases. Every person, you included, needs to worry about overtraining. That said, you may never experience overtraining. Indeed, you hopefully never will.
Overtraining is the result of overworking the body. This means you need to push the body to or close to its limits, not recover properly, and continue to do so until overtraining occurs. This is something most people will not due, simply because they will never try to push themselves to their limits, nor should they in most instances.
However, you must still be mindful of overtraining as other scenarios can lead to it. For example, if you are in a depleted state due to losing weight, being sick, cumulative work-life stress or and/or another reason, it is easier to push your body to its limit in that moment in time, since your limits may be greatly reduced. So be mindful of this.
Now let’s briefly review the importance of nutrition to recovery (I’ll cover nutrition in detail later).
How the Body Works
The body uses macronutrients—the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats you consume—to run the processes in the body. Micronutrients—the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you consume—play roles as well. Everything the body does, from creating energy through the various energy processes to repairing tissues to formation of genetic material, requires the consumption of macros and micros.
Each of the macronutrients, as well as various micronutrients, are essential to recovery from tissue damage that occurs on any level. This includes damage from exercise.
The Importance of Protein
Protein plays multiple roles in the body. In relation to exercise recovery, protein provides the building blocks from which muscles will be repaired and/or will grow. To that end, consuming sufficient protein is critical to your recovery and your success.
If you are not recovering properly, if your muscles are not repaired properly, you will be subject to performance declines, have a higher chance of injury, and have slower progress in achieving your goals.
The amount of protein a person should consume varies based on the need of the individual. However, a good starting point is to consume 0.75 grams of protein for every pound of lean body mass. Lean body mass is your total weight minus your body fat weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and have a body fat percentage of 10 percent, your lean body mass would be 180 pounds. At one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, you would need to consume a minimum of 135 grams of protein daily, though this number could easily be more based on your individual need.
The take away? If you are not consuming at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight daily, you are affecting your recovery and your progress. You will not be as successful, and it will take longer to achieve your goals. You will be subject to performance declines and a higher chance of injury as well.
The Importance of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source of the body. The macronutrient is used in short term energy production during activity, regardless of activity type, and helps fuel various processes in the body, such as recovery. While protein is used to repair the tissue, the energy processes involved in this repair rely on carbohydrates.
At the same time, your muscles are fueled by carbohydrates via glycogen stores in the body. During exercise, these glycogen stores can become depleted. Even if they are not depleted, the stores are reduced. As a result, it is important to refuel between sessions of activity, such as workouts, to aid in recovery and to recharge the muscles to perform the next time you engage in activity.
The number of carbs a person needs to consume varies based on the physical demands of the individual and must be assessed on a case-to-case basis. That said, a good starting point will be to consume twice as many carbs as you do protein. For the mentioned 200-pound person, this equals 270 carbs.
The Importance of Fats
Fats, though demonized in certain circles, play essential roles in the body. Perhaps the most widely known role is that of insulator. Fat is used as an insulator on a cellular level and on a broader visible scale, as seen when fat forms on the exterior of the body, such as around the midsection.
Regarding recovery, healthy fats can fight inflammation in the body (though unhealthy fats can cause it). As a result, healthy fats can aid in recovery. Some research also suggests other ways that fat may aid in the recovery process, such as the healing of wounds, but additional research is needed.
Fat serves a number of other purposes in the body as well, but that is beyond the scope of what I am covering here.
The amount of fat a person needs to consume varies based on the physical demands of the individual and must be assessed on a case-to-case basis. That said, a good starting point will be to consume half as many grams of fat as you do protein. Again, referencing the 200-pound person example, the amount of fat this person should consume would be about 70 grams, though this could be more or less.
The Role of Micronutrients
To be honest, at this point you do not need to worry about micronutrients specifically. If you eat a diverse diet comprised of healthy food items, you should be able to consume all of the micronutrients you need, barring the presence of a specific condition, such as digestive problems.
However, do understand that various micronutrients, such as vitamin e, c, and zinc, play roles in the recovery process, aiding the body and immune system in healing the body from all types of damage, including damage from exercise.
The take away? Eat a diverse food set that comes from healthy choices to maximize your recovery, performance, and results.
Mobility Work and Recovery
Mobility work, such as stretching and the moving of joints through range of motion, as well as therapeutic methods like foam rolling, massage, and the use of heat or cold, aid recovery, is important to the recovery process.
Keeping tissues of the body mobile helps prevent injury and allows blood to flow through the tissues easier, thereby improving recovery through the improved delivery of nutrients to muscles and the improved removal of wastes. A tissue that is mobile is less likely to strain or tear under load. A tissue with improved blood flow should heal quicker. A tissue with improved blood flow should perform better.
The take away: work on mobility to improve performance, aid recovery, and to prevent injury.
Let me leave you with additional reference material related directly to mobility. You can find detailed information about full-body mobility in this extensive write-up from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Remember, mobility is important to your general health as well as your performance in any physical activity, no matter how small.
The Aspects of Recovery
The final thing I want you to take away is everything you do between exercise sessions or other activity plays a role in your recovery. Your rest, eating habits, water consumption, mobility work, other activity, as well as everything else you do play a role in how well you recover. If you are not optimizing your recovery you will not be as successful, and it will take longer to achieve your goals. You will be subject to performance declines and a higher chance of injury, as well.
The importance of rest days
Rest days are days during which you do not engage in training of any kind. Rest days help with intensity management and fatigue management, by eliminating physical stress for a specific time. These moments of reduced stress allow the body to recover and give your mind a break.
Some people do not take rest days and advocate the “no days off” philosophy. On the surface, there is no problem with this approach. The caveat is, if no rest days occur, then days of reduced intensity must occur. A person cannot expect to “go hard” seven days a week, year-round and not experience issues related to this, such as excess fatigue, injury, and poor progress (or even regression).
Our programs include rest days. Even so, you might choose to run or engage in some other style of training during your off days. If you do, be sure you have days of reduced effort. One of the keys to long-term success in running or any style of training as well as lifelong health is taking care of the body. Make sure you take care of your body.
The importance of sleep
Sleep goes together with rest and overall recovery. The body enters a low-energy state when at rest or sleep and can better recover from physiological stress. In the absence of adequate sleep, the processes of the body become disrupted. This disruption can affect mood, hormonal balance, weight, performance, and other physical processes or characteristics, such as mental acuity.
In short, sleep is an essential part of the training process. Too many people think the training process only consists of what happens during training sessions, but this is not the truth. The training process includes every aspect of your life. Make sure all things are addressed and balanced.
Nutrition plays a vital role in health, fitness, and performance on both a physical and mental level. I will not bore you with excessive text on energy pathways, metabolic issues, cellular importance of amino acids, and the hormonal functions affected by poor macronutrient balancing. However, I will outline key concepts that need addressed when approaching nutrition.
Nutrition is the cumulative elements that a person ingests daily, including food, water, supplements, and any other consumable. Poor nutrition is the result when someone ingests low quality foods and other unhealthy substances on a regular basis. Proper nutrition requires a person to balance the bad with the good to achieve a body that is healthy without completely sacrificing fatty foods or that alcoholic drink on the weekend. To be fit, one does not have to live by the idea that all “bad things” must be omitted from the diet. If a person chooses to do so and can deal with it comfortably, then this form of abstinence may be ideal for him or her. However, most people desire to have at least some of the bad things in their diet at some time, and that is where the need for balance comes in.
Balance in a nutritional strategy simply means eating nutritious foods most of the time but leaving room at select periods for consuming sweets, a fat burger, or other “bad things” like alcohol. To be clear, drinking alcohol or eating out will not keep you from reaching success. These things likely will hinder forward progress to some degree, but when balanced with proper nutrition most of the time, the negative effects will be minimal.
For example, let us say on Friday night you go the bar and have a few drinks. Once you get home, you have a few more. Overall, you drink the equivalent of a 12-pack, either though beers, shots, or mixed drinks. Given that this is the only night you do so, you can still have forward progress. I have seen people be successful in this manner.
Now let us say that you wake up Saturday, have a healthy breakfast but decide to go out for lunch for a fat burger and French fries. If you again balance it out with a healthier meal later in the evening and even the next morning at breakfast, you should be fine. Once Monday rolls around, get back to your normal nutritional plan. In this manner, you can consume the “bad things” yet still have the success you desire.
There are exceptions to everything. The balanced idea applies to people who do not have extreme goals or extenuating circumstances. For example, an athlete preparing for competition may need to abstain almost entirely from the “bad things” leading up to said competition. A morbidly obese person may need to do so as well until he or she gets the weight down. In addition, the level at which a person can “cheat” with the “bad things” will vary. A 260-pound linebacker who consumes 5000 calories daily to keep his weight up can get away with a larger portion of calories from lower quality foods than the 190-pound quarterback. The same is true for a 260-pound linebacker versus a 260-pound bodybuilder. That is where the specific needs of the person come into play.
Specific Needs Are Key
Understand that specific needs refer to the different nutritional elements that each person needs for his or her body to meet the given physical demands of daily life. A sprinter such as Usain Bolt generally needs different nutrition than a baseball player such as Derek Jeter or a basketball player such as Lebron James. The differences do not stop there either, as the bodybuilder will need different nutrition than the powerlifter and so on.
Some people may believe that these nutritional differences only apply to hardcore exercisers or competitive athletes. This is simply not true. Imagine a male and female sign up for personal training. Both have the same goals: build muscle and lose fat. The male weighs 175 pounds while the female weighs 125. Do you think she will eat as much as he will? Do you think he will gain quality muscle if eats the same as her? The answer is no in both cases. Each person needs different calorie, macronutrient, and micronutrient levels to be successful.
The areas of nutritional concern can be broken down into three basic categories: calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Understanding what each category is and why it is important will be key to your success.
Calories are the daily amount of energy that a person needs to stay alive or achieve a certain goal, such as weight maintenance, gain, or loss. While you will focus primarily on the level of macronutrients you consume, you will need to understand the direct correlation of calories per gram of macronutrients, since total caloric intake is important.
Macronutrients refer to elements that the body needs daily to stay alive and function properly. The body needs this category of nutrients in large amounts, with large a relative term based on the need of the individual. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are the macronutrients. A person cannot function properly over time without these elements. Each will be broken down in detail further along.
Micronutrients are elements a body needs to consume on a daily or regular basis to perform certain processes in the body or to maintain bodily tissues and systems. The elements include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. This is a wide category, with the need for some elements disputed, either in terms of overall usefulness, or the amounts needed of specific elements.
As odd as it may seem, there tends to be widespread misunderstanding of water and its importance to overall health, fitness, and athletic performance. Water is an essential element, as important to your success as macronutrients. Water aids in digestion, internal and external cooling, energy production, cellular hydration, blood formation, healing, removal of wastes from the body, and other bodily processes. Without water the body will die. Without sufficient water, various processes will not function as well, leading to poor physical performance, poor mental performance, and poor performance of internal bodily functions.
The exact need for water varies on a person-to-person basis and is largely determined by the activity level of that person. Size, physical ailments, medication use, supplement use, and other factors can directly affect the level of water needed by a person as well. For example, a person with more muscle mass needs more water to properly hydrate those muscles and restore glycogen. Supplement companies advise a person to increase water intake while using certain fat burners or other supplements to help the products work. Some blood pressure medications cause the body to expel or use more water, requiring users to consume more water while taking the given medication.
Over the years, the general rule of thumb has been to drink 64 ounces of water daily. While this might be sufficient for some people, for others it may not. I generally recommend the average client to listen to thirst and adjust from there. Ideally, spread most of this water across the day. Consume a higher than normal amount before, during, and after the workout.
Do understand that all fluids count toward this total, including other drinks (except alcohol) and the fluid in foods. However, whenever possible, consume as much of your fluids as possible through water.
It is now time to get into it. I will break down the details of nutritional planning as simply as merited, but with technical aspects to make sure you get the numbers as close to ideal as possible.
You need calories to get through the day, as mentioned previously. There are many ways to assess this need. The following equation is a simplified approach that I find to be effective and falls into +/- 10 percent of other methods, though generally the gap is smaller. Either way, it provides a simple and effective way to assess a starting point.
Bodyweight in pounds multiplied by 10: BW x 10 = caloric need
This gives you an estimate of the base calories your body needs if you were to do nothing all day long. Let us again use the 175-pound male and 125-pound female referenced earlier.
Male 175 x 10 = 1750
Female: 125 x 10 = 1250
The male has an estimated base need of 1750 calories per day while the female has an estimated base need of 1250 calories per day. Remember that this is the need each person would have if they were to do nothing all day except sit on the couch and watch television or otherwise be awake but sedentary. All day long, even when not in motion, the body has ongoing processes from digestion to respiration, which require energy that comes from calories.
A person with more muscle requires more energy. A 175-pound obese person carries more fat than a 175-pound muscular person, meaning the muscular person should need more energy. For that reason, estimated caloric need adjusts according to your body fat percentage. The following table applies to you whether you are male or female.
Body fat Percentage Multiplier
14 percent or less 1.0
15 to 30 percent 0.9
31 percent or more 0.8
I will use the male and female again.
Male at 20 percent body fat: 1750 x 0.9 = 1575
Female at 32 percent body fat: 1250 x 0.8 = 1000
On top of base need, you will need energy to get through your day of activities. These activities help determine a second adjustment to daily calories. When I have clients face-to-face, I make a list of their activities and estimated expenditure, creating additional need from that list. The process for you will be slightly different, but in the same vein. You will use a modifier to adjust your need.
Activity Level: Office worker, light physical labor, similar type of jobs or inactive lifestyles, Active stay-at-home mom
Activity Level: Moderate manual labor, office worker with daily hour-long low difficulty workouts, office worker engaged in 30-minute moderate or high- difficulty workouts, similar types of jobs or moderately active lifestyles
Activity Level: Heavy manual labor, moderate manual labor with hour-long moderate- difficulty daily workouts, office worker with intense 1 -2-hour workouts, similar active lifestyles
Activity Level: Heavy manual labor with moderate to intense hour-long workouts daily, moderate physical labor with 1 – 2 hours of moderate to intense workouts daily, office worker with intense workouts 2-3 hours daily, similar active lifestyles
I will use the male and female again.
Male with a 1.5 modifier: 1575 x 1.5 = 2363
Female with a 1.75 modifier: 1000 x 1.75 = 1750
Keep in mind that these are rough numbers. Further adjustments are likely on a case-to-case basis. For instance, the male and female in these examples have high body fat. It may be advisable for them to lose body fat first, in which case certain macronutrients would be reduced to reduce overall daily calories and promote fat loss. However, if they follow the caloric numbers and the rest of the programing, they will likely lose fat while getting fit.
Let us take a second look at the process and examples for this section.
Male: 175 x 10 = 1750
Female: 125 x 10 = 1250
Male at 20 percent body fat: 1750 x 0.9 = 1575
Female at 32 percent body fat; 1250 x 0.8 = 1000
Male with a 1.5 modifier: 1575 x 1.5 = 2363
Female with a 1.75 modifier: 1000 x 1.75 = 1750
These numbers provide an idea of the daily calories these persons need. Follow the same process and you will have an estimate of how many daily calories you need. Before you do so, asses how many calories you currently consume daily. The best way to do this is to track your calories for 3 to 14 days. During this time, you should keep your eating normal and track honestly. Fudging the numbers so you feel better is counter-productive. Once you have the numbers, compare them to your estimated need as determined by the above process.
If you are over or under on calories once you compare the numbers, you need to get to the right number. However, you do not just want to jump in. For instance, if the male in the above example currently eats 2000 calories per day, he wants to increase his calories. If the female eats 2500 calories per day, she needs to reduce her calories. However, he will not just jump up 363 calories nor will she just drop 750 calories.
I would have the male increase his calories 100 calories per day per week until he reaches the necessary level. For example:
Starting point: 2000
Week 1: 2100
Week 2: 2200
Week 3: 2300
Week 4: 2363
By the fourth week, the male has achieved the necessary caloric range. By doing so over the course of 4 weeks, the trainee was able to acclimate his body to the new food intake, work additional food into his meals, and add additional eating times, if needed. Now you might ask, “If the male needs to lose weight, why is he increasing calories?” Let me offer an example as an answer.
A former client of ours named Kevin came to us at 160 pounds and 26 percent body fat with some workout experience behind him. His caloric need was around 2200 calories, but he consumed an average of 1400 calories daily, while some days were as low as 900, with macronutrient levels imbalanced. There are a few possible reasons for this, such as his body was in starvation mode. That said, ideas such as starvation mode are widely disputed, and I had no way to measure metrics that would tell me if he was in such as state. My assumption, instead, was that he was not properly nourishing his body to create a state in which his body was primed to burn fat and gain muscle.
I followed an approach like that I suggest for the male example above. Over the course of 6 months, Kevin added 10 pounds to his frame, while dropping 10 percent body fat. He also felt better mentally and physically, seeing an improvement in mood while also seeing gains in overall fitness, denoted by strength increases, the muscle increase, greater cardiovascular endurance, and greater muscle endurance. Keep in mind that I also adjusted his workouts and macronutrients levels, so his body felt the “need” for more muscle and less fat, while the nutrients fueled performance and muscle growth.
Kevin’s situation, as well as that of our hypothetical male client, is not common—it is unique. Most persons do not need to take this approach, but it is something to consider. Most people who struggle with weight loss are overeating (even if they don’t think so), have not balanced their macros for optimal body composition, and, in some cases, need to improve their training plan.
The female in this example has a large excess of calories. She is reducing calories, so certain concerns are present, such as the possibility of weakness, moodiness, and sleeplessness because of calorie reduction. For this reason, she would start by reducing the calories per day, per week, by 100, but would move to reducing by 50 per day, per week, if adverse effects presented. For example:
Week 1: reduce by 100
Week 2: reduce by 100
Week 3: reduce by 100
Week 4: reduce by 100 (adverse effects noted)
Week 5 – 11: reduce by 50 each week (adjust if needed)
Ideally, this would begin addressing the fat loss concerns for the female. She should drop fat while improving fitness levels with this caloric approach combined with the macronutrient recommendations and the programming recommendations that follow.
Determine your caloric need by following the above equations. Use the examples to help you if needed.
Now that you have the caloric range, you need to understand how to break those calories down into the proper macronutrients. Let us start with an explanation of each macronutrient: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. Each is comprised of amino acids, which are broken down in the body to perform various functions, including the formation of muscle, repair of muscle, maintenance of muscle, maintenance and repair of other tissues in the body, DNA formation, and hormonal processes, to name a few. Adequate consumption of protein daily allows these processes to function as normal, leading to a fit and healthy body. Inadequate consumption of protein leads to tissue breakdown and problems with the various processes reliant on protein.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the body. They replenish glycogen stores in the muscle, which fuel muscles during workouts. Protein and fat can be broken down for energy, but the process is not as efficient as carbohydrates used for muscle. Carbohydrates feed the brain as well, as glycogen is the brain’s preferred food source. Without carbohydrates, mental function can be impaired. Carbohydrates fuel not only muscle performance and brain function, but other bodily processes as well, including organ function and cellular repair. Without carbohydrates, a person runs the risk of adverse effects, most notably poor mental and physical performance, moodiness, and hormonal imbalances.
Fats act as an insulator in the body. They insulate not only the organs but cells as well. When a person puts on extra fat, the fat insulates the exterior of the body, under the skin. Fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. The body uses fat to help fight inflammation and in certain hormonal processes. The absence of fat in the diet will result in adverse effects to certain bodily processes such as hormone production, cell stability, and organ protection.
Macronutrient ratios refer to the specific percentages of calories that will come from each macronutrient, resulting in many calories that come from each macro as well as a gram value for each macro. To keep things simple, I comprised a layout of specific percentages for the basic goal of being strong and building/maintain muscle:
Proteins: 30 percent of total calories
Carbohydrates: 40 percent of total calories
Fats: 30 percent of total calories
It is simple to employ and universal for anyone following this program. This is not for everyone who is not following this program. For example, this may not be the ideal ratios for a bodybuilder. However, for the purposes of staying fit and healthy with the ability to perform in and out of workouts, this ratio set will serve you well. This sticks with the commonly accepted idea that active people require upwards of 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, that sufficient carbs are needed to fuel the body, and that moderate amounts of fat are ideal for health and performance. Keep in mind that you must follow the other aspects of the program as well, including the calorie estimation, workout plan, and overall advice. I will revisit the male and female example:
Breakdown of macros for the male:
Macronutrient Percent of calories Calories Grams of Macro
|Macronutrient||Percent of calories||Calories||Grams of Macro|
Breakdown of macros for the female:
|Macronutrient||Percent of calories||Calories||Grams of Macro|
These percentages allow promote ideal body composition and performance, leading to a fit and healthy body. That said, you can adjust these macros to some degree, but I would recommend the smallest possible change at any one time, equal to five percent or less difference from those listed above.
Do note that these recommendations are for person who do not have medical conditions, including but not limited to insulin resistance problems such as diabetes.
Meal timing is essential. Throughout the day, you want to feed your body, giving it the fuel it needs to function both physically and mentally, while enabling the normal body processes to occur. Let us again look at the male:
Breakdown of macros for the male:
|Macronutrient||Percent of calories||Calories||Grams of Macro|
Imagine the male wakes at 4:30 am, must be to work by 6:00 am, has a break at 9:00 am, lunch at 12:00 pm, and leaves work at 3:00 pm. He plans to workout with at 6:00 pm then head home and have dinner at around 8:30 pm before calling it a night a 10:00 pm. The male has 2363 calories to spread over the day. He needs breakfast, a snack for break, lunch, an afternoon snack, a pre-workout snack, a post-workout snack, and dinner. His timing might look like this:
|Afternoon Snack: 3:30pm||15||20||10|
|Pre-workout snack: 5:30pm||25||35||5|
This approach does not work for all people and is not meant to be a catchall. Instead, it is just an example. Persons engaged in intermittent fasting protocols such as 16/8 will have a much smaller window in which to eat. The goal of this brief section on timing is to get you thinking about spreading your food through your day in a manner that promotes your physical success.
Food selection is somewhat outside of the scope of what I can offer in this writing. Due to allergies, moral preferences, religious reasons, food likes/dislikes, and more, I cannot provide a single universal set of foods for everyone who will read this. That said, I can offer some ideas.
Foods should be as fresh and natural as reasonably possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables meet these criteria as do lean meats for non-vegetarians. When reasonably possible, avoid processed food items such as frozen dinners or similar items. Flash frozen vegetables or similar items are okay, if additional ingredients have not been added to them, such as preservatives.
Boxed or bagged food items such as pasta, rice, and bread are fine for individuals not following strategies such as Paleo. Beware of highly processed items, try to stick to 100% whole grain products when choosing bread or similar goods, and otherwise choose foods that are the closest to natural.
For the best performance and maintenance of a lean physique, alcohol, sweets, fast food, and similar low-quality foods should be avoided. That said, I understand that you will consume these things at times. Be sure to do so in moderation. These “bad” things should not comprise most of your diet.
One cannot talk about exercise/training or nutrition without the topic of supplementation coming up. Let’s dive right in.
Supplementation Does Not Trump Proper Nutrition
One of the first subjects I want to tackle is supplementation does not make up for poor nutrition or training. There have been many occasions when a person I work with wants to immediately begin supplementation. Now, I do not mean your average multivitamin, but rather sports supplementation. Before I move on, it is important for you to understand the definition of what supplements are and the difference between nutritional supplements and sports supplements. Definitions vary widely from one school of thought to the next, so the definitions contained herein apply to the view point of us at Nathan DeMetz Personal Training. This point of view will mirror principles from some groups and overlap with ideas from other groups, while still differentiating from others.
Supplements are any products used to derive nutritional elements found in nature from sources other than food, non-prescription drugs that improve performance but are not intended to treat disease, and other legal substances that are performance enhancing.
Nutritional supplements are products that provide macronutrients, micronutrients, or phytonutrients outside of their natural form. This group includes greens powders, protein supplements such as protein powder or protein bars, and vitamin as well as mineral supplements, among others.
Sports supplements are elements consumed for enhancing performance. Pre-workout supplements, fat burners, and legal non-prescription natural or synthetic testosterone boosters, among other products, fall into this category.
Supplementation in itself is not bad. It is the overuse or abuse of supplements that can have adverse effects and ultimately sabotage a person’s forward progress. Let me explain. A person who has a poor nutritional strategy will not receive the ideal benefit from a fat burner if he or she does not clean up the nutritional strategy. A person who takes a testosterone booster with the purpose of increasing strength and muscle mass, but who also has a poor nutritional strategy or training plan, will not receive the best results.
When starting with any client, I recommend limited supplement use. Using a multivitamin or individual vitamin is often fine. A pre-workout supplement may be okay. The same with protein supplements. However, people taking hormonal products, stacking supplements, and going headfirst into sports supplementation early on is not recommended by us. A person who has been working out casually for under a year has not begun to reach his or her natural potential. Even a person exercising hard for a year has not. With exception in some cases, a person should train 1 to 3 years before beginning a serious supplement regimen. This allows the person to make natural gains and get used to a basic supplement approach, not to mention incorporate an effective plan for training and nutrition.
You, or others, may question this approach. Some high-end athletes and athletic companies, not to mentions certain trainer certifying bodies and fitness personalities, suggest heavy supplementation early on. However, if you are a newbie, or even if you have been training for a few years, you are not those athletes in question. Beyond that, he or she has different needs than you, in all likelihood. If that person eats 5,000 calories a day but you only need 3,000 to meet your goals, would you still eat 5,000? I would like to think you mentally said no to this. The same idea applies to supplementation. The approach should be individualized, and need must be assessed. Additionally, the body needs time to grow naturally or at least with minimal supplementation use first.
In that same line of thought, all supplement companies are trying to make a dollar and the fitness personalities, athletes, and celebrities endorsing these supplements are as well. While I know there are well-meaning companies and individuals out there, there are just as many or more that don’t care if you see progress or not, as long as you buy their products. Many may not even care if the product works, as long as it sells. This is why some companies sell products without science behind them—to make a dollar and/or play on the “next big thing” in supplementation.
For many people, supplementation, training, and nutrition are separate pieces of the same puzzle; however, they should not be. Supplementation in its intended form is a way to make up nutrition gaps in one’s diet, and training and nutrition should accompany each other. Due to excessive physical or mental stress, an inability to consume large enough quantities of a nutrient in food form, or an underlying issue that calls for supplementation are good reasons to use supplements. Using supplementation because you are too lazy to cook a proper meal or because you think you can cheat the hard work in the gym are not good reasons.
Keep this in mind—always question why you’re taking a supplement, be able to justify that reason, and be able to show that the supplement is helping. If you cannot do these things, then you should not take the supplement.
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science. Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.