The key to success when implementing any new program, whether it is nutrition, fitness, or health related is to consistently follow the guidelines for at least six weeks to three months to ensure you give enough time for things to work. No matter how well designed a program is, whether created by a health expert or seen on TV, it won’t be effective without time. Our society has come to expect short-term, immediate fixes to all of our problems. This is a matter of false conditioning, not something that actually works. It probably took a fair amount of time to get to your current state, and it will take a little time to achieve your ideal self. The better, and more thought out, the program, the quicker you will achieve the results you desire.
Guideline #1: Eat every 2 to 3 hours
The biggest and most effective change you can make to your current nutrition regimen is to eat every 2-3 hours. Eating frequently stimulates your metabolism, stabilizes your blood sugar, and provides a more consistent flow of nutrients, all of which contribute to your health and performance goals regardless of what they may be.
The process needs to start within 30 minutes of waking up. That means you must eat breakfast every single morning. Regardless of how hungry you are or the fact that you may never have eaten breakfast before, it is time to start. From breakfast on, you need to have some form of a meal, whether a smaller snack or a normal size meal, every 2-3 hours. That continues until the time you go to bed, with your last meal being consumed 3 hours before bed time, no matter how late that may be.
Every time you eat, you must structure your meals to follow the guidelines listed below. Your level of hunger will determine the quantity that you eat. If you are unaccustomed to eating breakfast start small until your appetite and metabolism increase. The same applies with the other meals throughout the day that you may not be accustomed to eating. As long as you eat something and it follows the guidelines your body will begin to adapt, and before you know it you will be hungry every 2-3 hours.
Guideline #2: Eat a source of protein with every meal
Every single time you eat, whether a meal or a “snack”, you must have a source of protein. Protein provides the building blocks for muscles, which will aid in repairing your muscles after all of your fitness training. Along with protein being responsible for repairing your muscles, protein is the primary stress fighting nutrient.
Protein is made up of smaller components, called amino acids. One role of amino acids is the formation of your DNA, or the genetic code that makes you you. There are 26 amino acids which your body uses in many different ways to fight stress. Some amino acids are used to repair the brain from the damage of stress. Others are used to repair your heart. Each part of the body requires different amino acids in different quantities to help repair itself and maintain ideal function.
Since the primary objective of weight loss should be getting healthy, then the primary objective of nutrition needs to be providing the nutrients necessary to overcome stress. The more stress you are under, the more nutrients you need to consume. Amino acids play an extremely important role with stress management, so the more stress, the more protein you need to consume.
Protein is also the hardest macronutrient for your body to digest, causing the largest impact on your metabolism.
Ideally every meal should contain a “complete” source of protein. A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids required to maximize their utilization. Basically, you should eat a source of meat with ever meal. If you are a vegetarian or aren’t up to eating a source of meat with every meal you can combine legumes with seeds or nuts, thus creating a complete protein source. Another option, which we will evaluate later, is the use of targeted supplementation to fill in nutritional gaps and ease the burden of following an ideal nutrition program.
Guideline #3: Eat vegetables and/ or fruit at every meal
The low-carb fad has completely distorted the perception of well-balanced nutrition. In an attempt to lose weight quickly people have completely eliminated almost all forms of carbohydrates, including fruits and vegetables. This approach isn’t sustainable and is counterproductive.
Vegetables should be the staple carbohydrate choice for every meal. Vegetables provide more micronutrients and phytochemicals than fruit. Therefore, if you have a choice, choose a vegetable over a fruit. Go one step better and try to eat a leafy green vegetable at every meal. Next time you are at a restaurant and you have a choice of sides, opt for the side salad over the cup of fruit or potato option. We’ll address the salad dressing shortly.
Another concept to address when discussing nutrition and optimizing health is the idea of your body’s pH. Try to remember back to chemistry class when you discussed acids and bases (alkaline). If you recall a pH of 7 is considered neutral and the bodies pH should fall within the 7’s (i.e. 7.4). Anything above 7 is alkaline while below is acidic. Without turning this into a chemistry book, just realize that if you had a choice, being slightly alkaline is better than being acidic. When the body’s pH is slightly alkaline, versus acidic, your body is better able to perform the reactions of growth and repair, anabolism. When acidic, your body is more prone to breaking tissue down to balance, or buffer, less than ideal internal processes.
In general, meat, all animal products, dairy, and seeds (including grains) are acidic. Vegetables and fruit are alkaline. Think of all of the acidic foods you eat on a daily basis, avoiding the confusion of acidic fruits, which are still alkaline. It is all too common for people to have an acidic pH, which means your body isn’t functioning optimally, or you aren’t healthy.
The simple solution is to eat more vegetables. Every meal should have 2-3 servings of vegetables, and fruit when desired. 2-3 servings are roughly 1-1½ cups. This should be every 2-3 hours with your meals, which adds up to approximately 10-18 servings of vegetables and fruits a day, depending on how many hours you are awake. All of these fruits and vegetables give you lots of micronutrients and antioxidants that your body can use to stay healthy and perform to its full potential.
Guideline #4: Grains should be avoided 99% of the time
One thing that low-carb diets got right was the avoidance of grains and other processed carbohydrates. Rarely is there a place for grains and other processed carbohydrates in someone’s nutritional regimen. Grains have a more dramatic impact on your insulin and blood sugar levels, which are counterproductive for almost every single health and performance goal. Not only that, but the majority of Caucasians have some sort of intolerance to grains, whether just insulin resistance at some level or an digestive intolerance to compounds in the grains, like gluten in the case of Celiac disease.
We’ll take a more in-depth look at carbohydrates and their role in the body a little later.
Your health and physique will improve dramatically when you eliminate grains and processed carbohydrates from your diet. It is understandable that you will occasionally find yourself in a situation where some form of grain-based food is your only option. In times like that don’t get too worked up, enjoy the meal, but get right back on track afterward.
That is only if you do not have an actual intolerance to grains like Celiac disease. If you do suffer from an actual intolerance, you must avoid the offending foods 100% of the time, indefinitely, or you will risk suffering mild to severe health complications. Don’t let temptation and lack of will power cause serious health problems in the near or long-term future.
When I say 99% of the time that means out of the approximate 35 meals a week you will be eating you can have a grain based food once every two weeks. This strict approach to grains will make a tremendous impact and should be followed closely.
Guideline #5: Eat healthy fats daily
If low-carb diets were the fad of the late 90’s, low-fat was the diet fad of the late 80’s and early 90’s. This again has led to misinformation regarding the use of fats in a nutrition plan. There are too many different kinds of fat to make a generic statements to avoid fat. Certain fats are essential for the proper functioning of your body.
The only kind of fat to avoid all the time is trans fat. There is nothing good about trans fat and it is one of the contributors to all of the health problems our society is suffering from. To avoid trans fat eliminate all deep fried foods from your diet. Also read food labels and avoid anything with the words “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” on the labels. Don’t rely on the trans fat amount listed to indicate the presence of it, as companies can get around that quite easily.
Beyond trans fat, there are three different kinds of fat, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Each has an important role in your diet and each should be consumed on a daily basis. My recommendation is to eat foods as you normally would without being overly concerned about adding or eliminating fat from your diet. Eating a well-balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods should result in a balanced intake of fat.
There may be instances where a more detailed approach to fat consumption is necessary but that is beyond the scope of these guidelines.
In some instances, like the case of fish oil, it is well worth the effort to supplement on a daily basis. The health benefits, as result of the physiological role of omega-3’s, are innumerable. We will discuss fish oil in greater detail in the supplement section.
Guideline #6: Don’t drink calories
One of the easiest and least expected ways to slow or prevent improvements in your health and performance is to drink calories. The only liquid that your body needs to function is water. Beyond that, human preference for taste takes over.
Consuming a liquid is much easier than eating solid food. For that reason it is a lot easier to drink hundreds of calories without realizing it, while eating hundreds of calories is a little harder. By avoiding drinking calories, that doesn’t give you the approval to drink diet products or drinks that claim zero calories. These non-calorie drinks are full of chemicals that wreak havoc on your body.
The only drink you are able to consume is water, black coffee, or tea, preferably green tea.
Guideline #7: Don’t add calorie dense condiments
Similar to the guideline above, don’t add calorie dense condiments. The use of a condiment can turn a healthy, beneficial meal into one that is harmful and counterproductive.
Herbs and spices are the best condiments to use. Besides having lots of varied flavor they also provide secondary health benefits. For thousands of years herbs and spices were Mother Nature’s medicine. Start perfecting the application of certain herbs and spices to your meal to enhance the flavor while maintaining and even improving the health content.
This guideline furthers the idea of avoiding processed food. What is mayonnaise made from? Eggs and oil. Now go look at the label in your fridge. There’s probably more than two ingredients on the label. The same can be said for almost every other condiment.
Until you learn to differentiate what makes a healthy barbecue sauce versus a chemical ridden mess, err on the side of caution, and health, and avoid condiments. Hopefully with a little effort you will learn to make your own condiments.
Guideline #8: Eat whole, unprocessed foods 90% of the time
The easiest way to ensure that you are consuming healthy foods is to avoid eating any processed food. (Notice a trend?) Virtually anything that comes in a package of any kind should be avoided. You are much better off eating various forms of meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruit.
As you become more educated and discerning you may be able to find certain packaged foods that are healthy to eat. However, this is the exception and isn’t necessary to eat healthy and enjoyable foods. Again, if in doubt, avoid it.
The processing of any food affects the nutritional composition to some effect. You can take a healthy food source and through a little processing eliminate the majority of the beneficial compounds in the food.
Another simpler, but potentially more overwhelming, concept is to avoid foods that come in a package, or have a scannable barcode.
Guideline #9: Always plan ahead
Healthy eating takes consistent effort. It is extremely hard to live a life of pure convenience while attempting to improve your health or your physical appearance. It is important to always think ahead about what you will have access to. The ideal scenario would involve planning all of your meals at least one and up to seven days ahead of time and prepare them in advance if necessary. This will allow you to stay one step ahead of unforeseen circumstances that may limit your ability to eat optimally.
Beyond preparing all of your meals ahead of time there are various degrees of preparedness that you can implement to improve the consistency and quality of your nutrition. You can simply plan your meals for the following day, taking into account all meals and snacks. You can pre-portion all of the foods for the upcoming day, but avoid cooking them, or you may decide to prepare them ahead of time.
As long as you are making some effort to plan ahead it will allow you to maintain consistency and adherence to your nutritional guidelines, especially when unforeseen challenges arise.
Guideline #10: Eat a variety of food
After getting in the habit of preparing certain foods some people avoid eating other foods for sake of convenience and routine. This can be very detrimental to your health. Limiting your food consumption to a select number of foods will restrict the variety of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. Beyond that, the overly consistent consumption of certain foods can lead to an intolerance to that food.
By simply making an effort to eat a variety of food throughout the day and the week you will be providing your body with all of the nutrients it needs. Choose fruits and vegetables of varying colors and integrate the different colors in each meal. Also, vary your protein sources between beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, or anything else that you prefer.
If you like the concept of consistency for improved implementation and adherence you can still eat a variety of food. Replace burger with any other preferred form of meat.
Monday: Beef burgers and steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Turkey burgers and spinach
Wednesday: Bison burgers and steamed cauliflower
Thursday: Crab cakes and steamed carrots
Friday: Salmon burger and mustard greens
Guideline #11: Must maintain a minimum of 90% compliance to the guidelines
The last step to developing a quality nutritional regimen is to quantify an adherence level. Following the guidelines above 100% of the time will help create dramatic results. Maintaining a 25% adherence will cause you to struggle to attain the desired outcome.
The majority of people fail to attain their ideal physique because at some point they lose interest and their compliance slowly declines. By establishing a 90% compliance rate you have something to strive for every week. Anything below 90% will start to reduce the quality of results that you achieve.
To determine what constitutes 90% calculate the number of meals you eat in a week. Most people will be around 35 meals (7 days x 5 meals). This means that out of 35 meals no more than three meals can be outside of the guidelines. A missed meal would also count against the three meals. The one caveat to that 90% rule is that if you have a less than ideal meal don’t justify the ability to splurge and make up for it later. This is another pitfall that catches people. Eat as you normally would and if one or two things fall outside the guidelines, oh well. Just don’t let it happen more than three times in a week.
Another factor that should be calculated into the 90% is the adherence to your workout. A missed workout can have just as much of an impact on your results as a mediocre meal. That means that you should add the number of exercise sessions in a week to the number of meals, usually 5. This brings the total to 40, which still leaves you with four “cheating” opportunities within one week. At first this may seem daunting but overtime you will find yourself having weeks of near 100% compliance.