Start with Why. Identifying your purpose in training will help dictate the approach you take to your nutrition. We do not believe in a one size fits all prescription for nutrition, because everyone’s needs are different. Considerations for nutrition may include goals, lifestyle, finances, and time. That being said, there are certain principles which apply nutrition and some concepts which we believe benefit anyone trying to improve.
At the core of any good approach to nutrition is a focus on eating quality food, in appropriate quantities. If you have never really focused on your nutrition before, or are unsure what to eat, or how much, or when, this is a good place to start. We have taken this prescription from Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" (as outlined in his 2009 book of the same title). We like his rules as guidelines, as they are applicable to almost everyone, and they provide simple and logical structure that focuses on what is good in terms of big picture health, rather than getting caught up in the minutia of restrictive diets or nutrition debates. To make this as simple as possible, our starting point for nutrition is:
+ Eat real food
“Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” -Greg Glassman in What is Fitness?
Real food has been alive. It either grew in the ground, fell off a tree, or had eyes. Real food has an expiry date. If it has been through a refining process, has a label, or have ingredients in it, it is not real food.
+ Not too much
Eat 3-5 meals per day made up of mostly plants, a palm sized portion of protein, and some fat (a thumb size of oil or nuts). The number of meals you eat will depend on our size and activity level. For most people, if you are following rule #1 (Eat Real Food), and eat until satiation, you will automatically fall into eating an appropriate amount.
The amount of food you eat should support performance and not body fat. If you think you may not be eating enough, pay attention to are your energy levels throughout the day, and how quickly you recover from being sore after a workout. If you are often tired, sore, or grumpy, that may be a sign you are not eating enough, or that your diet is deficient in some area.
+ Mostly Plants
Every meal should be made up of mostly vegetables. Vegetables have a high micronutrient density and are the foundation of any healthy diet. Eating real food does not just mean the absence or restriction of processed food, but the active consumption of the foods that provide your body with the nutrition it needs to function and recover. A plant-based diet will provide you the best "bang for your buck," nutritionally-speaking. Do not be picky with your vegetables, choose a variety of types and colours.
There are three factors that are within our control when it comes to nutrition: quality, quantity, and timing. These are the areas we can tinker with depending on what goals or lifestyle you want your diet to support.
"Eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants" is a good place to start, as it focuses on eating micro-nutrient rich foods (quality), and enough to support performance but not body fat (quantity) . However, you can go further into adapting your nutrition in terms of quality, quantity, and timing. This may involve hitting specific macronutrient quantities everyday, scheduling your nutrition around training times, and/or completely restricting certain foods. All prescriptions should be directly based on your goals. Individual foods and different diets are neither inherently "good" nor "bad," "clean" nor "dirty," or even "healthy" nor "unhealthy." There is context to everything. A good diet or approach to nutrition is one that is appropriate for you.
If you are looking to make a change in your diet, it is important to determine two things:
1. Your goal. Identify your goal and the reason behind that goal. For example:
I would like to lose body fat in order to improve my general health.
I would like to have my diet support my training for competition.
2. Your lifestyle. What type of lifestyle you would like to have or are willing to have in order to achieve that goal? Some questions to ask yourself if you are unsure about this may include:
Do I have any allergies or foods I cannot eat?
Do I need to cook for other people (family, etc.)?
Do I need to eat on a specific budget?
Is it important for me to eat socially (e.g. I like to cook and eat meals with my friends/housemates)?
Is it important to me to be trying new foods? Do I want my food to always taste/look good?
It is important for these two areas to match. If your goal is to have your diet support elite athletic performance, but you would still like to get a couple of beers with co-workers on the weekends, you will run into problems. Some goals require a certain level of discipline. If you want to have a bodybuilder's physique, or want train for the CrossFit games, you will need to be very precise with quality, quantity, and timing. If you just want a general healthy lifestyle, it is okay to have more flexibility with your diet.
Whether you want to make major or minor changes with your nutrition, we believe the best approach is gradual change in order to promote sustainable habits. Even if you feel like you are starting from "scratch" (you eat at inconsistent times, rarely eat vegetables or cook for yourself, never drink water, etc.), it is best to pick one small thing to start with, and then build on your success in that area. For example, you could make sure to eat 3 meals everyday, eat a serving of green vegetables every day, drink at least a litre of water every day. What is most important here is that in the beginning you track your results, and stay accountable to that small goal.
Just like with training, we want to provide you with the best information and tools that we have available regarding nutrition. On our resource page we have recipes, educative articles, and other tips and tricks you can use, for many wide-ranging goals. At the end of the day, your nutrition is something that largely takes place outside of the gym, and is an area of your development for which you need to take responsibility.