If you are trying to achieve a specific physical result, nutritional compliance (i.e. following your nutrition plan correctly at least 90 per cent of the time) is the most important factor you should pay attention to. As I’ve stated many times, the majority of your physical results will come from your diet first, followed by weight training, and then cardio as the (often unnecessary) icing on the cake.
Given that this is the case, it is often beneficial to have a nutritional plan in place which is either self-constructed or designed by a professional. While I believe that most people should eat as intuitively as possible, it can be helpful to follow nutritional plans for short-term periods when you have a specific goal in mind.
If one of my clients is having difficulty achieving their physical objectives, the first question I ask is whether they are following their plan exactly as written. Most of my clients enjoy exercising and have no problems making it to the gym for their designated workouts, but being nutritionally compliant is always slightly more challenging.
Even those who think they are following their plan correctly, may not be. While I don’t recommend that everyone should measure and weigh out every meal for the rest of their lives, it is certainly helpful when you initially start following a plan. An estimated portion of food is very different to reality. In this case, I usually recommend that clients weigh all their food for a week or two to ensure they consume the proper portion sizes.
All nutritional plans from good coaches are tailored towards you specifically. If you do not follow your plan exactly, it is near impossible for trainers to know what is or is not working. Even the slightest fluctuation outside of your designated macros can present problems.
I recently experienced an epiphany of sorts with one of my clients. We had been working together for close to a year and, while she had seen increased muscle definition and a small amount of fat loss, it wasn’t as much as she had hoped. We tried changing her workouts, dropping her calories before increasing them again, cycling her carbs, and even trying different types of foods. We were both stumped as to why things weren’t working, as she had no hormonal issues or history of metabolic damage. She then started weighing her foods properly – something I assumed she’d been doing all along! – and saw the results she wanted within just six weeks. The plan was there but the execution was not. She has gone back to eye-balling her food, while being able to maintain and improve her progress with a better understanding of correct portion sizes.
Include the extras
If your portion sizes are correct, the next question to ask yourself is how many times per week you are falling off-track. Depending on your program, you are likely to be allotted one or two off-plan meals (i.e. cheat meals) per week. These meals will not derail your progress, provided you are not heffing down 10,000 calories at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
What instead is often the problem is all the added “bonuses” that add up. Let’s consider some things which most people don’t think twice about doing such as adding creamer to your coffee, dolloping tomato sauce on your eggs, tasting a cake sample from your local coffee shop, drinking an extra glass of wine, or nibbling your children’s or partner’s leftovers. These innocent extras can easily add up to an extra few hundred calories per day. I have no problem with people including foods like this in their diet, but the problem is whether they are being accounted for. Calories still count if they come off another person’s plate!
If you are a small female in a calorie deficit and only allocated 1500 calories per day, for example, those extra calories can add up extremely quickly and make a huge difference to your progress – or lack thereof. The lower your caloric requirement, the stricter you must stick to your macros.
The final question I ask people is whether they are eating all of their meals. Many people make the mistake in thinking that they are only failing to follow their plan when they eat something extra – whether that be a bigger portion, a pizza or a milkshake – while failing to recognise the detrimental impact of skipping a meal on their plan. In this case, I ask people to create a meal plan for an entire week, and tick off every meal after consuming it. As we know, consuming too few calories can stall fat loss just as much as consuming too many.
When you only follow your plan 50 per cent of the time, you can only expect 50 per cent of the results. Only if someone has all of the above elements under control will I make changes to their program. Don’t be too quick to want a drastic change when the answer could be right in front of you!
Have you ever followed a nutrition plan before? Did you struggle sticking to the recommended meals?