I have been helping clients with their training and nutrition for almost two years now, and there are some common nutritional mistakes I see over and over again. As you guys are always asking me for more nutrition-related posts, I thought I would talk about some of the changes you can make to your diet to improve both your performance and physique.
- Using the D word: When I talk about “diet”, I mean what you put in your mouth on a daily basis (minds out of the gutter, people!) and not the latest cayenne pepper and lemon juice crash diet. I think one of the most important things you can do is stop thinking of any nutritional changes as a new diet. The second you start thinking about your new “diet” beginning on Monday, you will binge-eat all weekend in anticipation, and hate every second of the plan. Focus on what you can eat, instead of what you can’t. You don’t want to cut entire food groups out of your diet for no good reason. Any nutritional changes you make should be sustainable and for the long-term. I am quite flexible when I design nutritional plans and often allow ‘treats’ such as wine, chocolate and even ice cream as I feel restricting these types of foods only makes them more attractive. Obviously if you want to see results, you will have to make some changes to your current lifestyle – but it doesn’t have to mean living on chicken and broccoli for the rest of your life.
- Not eating enough calories: I have talked about this many times, but don’t be afraid to eat. If you are looking to maintain your weight, women should eat around 2000-2500 and men around 3000-3500 calories per day as a minimum. To lose weight, you only need to reduce this figure by 500 calories. To gain weight, you can increase this by 500-1000+ depending on how quickly you want to gain. If you are training hard and fuelling your body properly, you would be surprised at how your body can adapt and become a calorie-burning machine!
- Eating too many carbs: A lot of people eat too many carbohydrates, particularly without accompanying it with protein. I will talk more about snacking below, but it is very common for people to have a meal purely made up of carbohydrates. Unless this is purposefully timed around or during workouts, it will spike your blood sugar and contribute to not only crashes in energy but also difficulties losing fat. It’s not uncommon for me to see someone eat 250g of carbs a day, but only 50g of protein, when the two should be more balanced.
- Not eating enough carbs: There are equally as many people who fall into this camp. As the popularity of weight lifting and bodybuilding has risen, so has protein intake. Most fitness-type people eat way too much protein, and excessive amounts just go straight through you. At one stage, I was eating 250g of protein a day, but now I’m lucky if I get 150g. Funnily enough, I have developed more muscle since I reduced my protein intake! Many people eat lean protein, vegetables and the occasional fat at every meal, but shy away from carbs. No one should be eating less than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day and, if you are training seriously, you need at least 200g. Even while following Paleo, I’m hitting at least 300g of carbs per day.
- Loading carbs the wrong way: Although many people are in fact eating the correct amount of carbohydrates and proteins, they are consuming the former at the wrong times. You should be having the bulk of your carbohydrates pre- and post-workout. If you are trying to lose fat, you can easily survive on having a little pre-workout and the rest post-workout only. Yet I can’t tell you how many times I see someone that trains in the morning have all their carbs in the evening, and vice versa. I understand that some people enjoy having carbs at certain times (I need carbs at dinner, but I could take them or leave them at all other times of day) but you need to be eating carbs post-workout. Without having carbs post-workout, your muscles remain in a depleted state and your body breaks down its own muscle mass to refuel.
- Snacking too much: Treat everything that goes in your mouth as a meal. We are all too conditioned into having three main meals with a couple of snacks in between. Most people’s idea of a snack is something like a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit or some crackers – none of which are balanced meals. You can either try the mini-meal approach, where you have 5-6 small meals per day (all containing protein, and about half with carbs and half with fats), or you can have 3 “regular”-sized meals per day. I have done both and I prefer the latter. I love eating bigger portions, not having to carry around tupperware with me and eating carbs at every meal. I now eat when I am hungry, rather than when the clock tells me to. Constantly snacking wreaks havoc on your blood sugar and also interferes with your true hunger signals.
- Inadequate vegetable intake: I wrote a post about vegetables and muscle growth/fat loss here. Many people are so focused on hitting their macronutrient targets that they forget about the importance of vegetables. My vegetable consumption throughout the day is pretty minimal, but I make sure I load up at night.
- Bingeing: If you are bingeing, it is almost always your body’s way of telling you that you are not eating enough calories. Often, it results from a lack of complex carbohydrates. Many people do not eat any carbohydrates during the day except fruit, and then find themselves bingeing on simple carbs in the evenings. Try eating some oatmeal or toast for breakfast and some rice or potato for lunch, and you would be surprised at how the urge to binge will disappear.
- Counting calories: This is controversial, but it ties into the point below. If you are spending every evening adding up your calories for the day, you are missing out on important parts of life. Things are much easier when you don’t have to worry about going over your macros or choosing the lower-calorie options on the menu. When you are starting out, there can be some benefit in counting calories and macronutrients so you have an idea of whether or not you are eating enough, but over time I like to think that everyone could eat intuitively without obsessively counting macros.
- Stressing about food too much: I used to think about my diet and my physique on a daily basis, and yet I never really saw the results I wanted. It wasn’t until I started eating for performance and completely forgot about the physical side that my physique started to change in the way I had hoped it would. When you stop stressing about food and talking negatively to your body, it responds well. Imagine that!
Have you ever done any of these things? Do you have anything to add?