What you do in the gym is, of course, essential to your progress. If you don’t train hard and right, your body is inclined to remain unchanged. But, even if you are smashing it in the gym, poor nutrition could still be holding you back.
Exercise, whether it’s cardio or strength training, takes a lot out of your body and the repair and recovery processes are dependent on proper nutrition. In the same way that you can’t build a house without building materials, your body can’t recover from exercise without the right nutrients.
If you are training hard but still aren’t seeing the progress you want, dollars to donuts it’s your diet that’s holding you back.
Here are SIX of the most commonly committed nutrition sins.
1. YOU AREN’T EATING ENOUGH
Exercise and recovery require energy, and we get energy from the food we eat. Too little energy means there are not enough resources to go around. Training will lack intensity, you won’t be able to work out as long as you might otherwise want to, and you’ll have nothing left over for recovery. It is therefore critical that you eat enough food.
How much depends on your goals, your current weight, how hard, long, and often you train, and even your gender and age. But, even considering all those factors, there is no need to starve yourself.
If you suspect you are undereating, gradually increase your food intake, by around 200-300 calories per day, until you start to see the progress you want.
2. YOUR EATING PLAN CONTAINS TOO MANY CHEAT MEALS
Many eating plans include strategic cheat meals. These meals help restock lost glycogen and provide something of a reward after days or weeks of clean eating. However, over-zealous cheating can soon derail your diet and lead to fat gain.
Cheat meals have to be earned; if you haven’t stuck to your diet, you don’t deserve a cheat meal. Also, the further you are from your goals, the fewer cheat meals you should have. If you are very overweight and desperate to lose fat, once every ten days to two weeks is more than enough. However, if you are within a couple of kilos of your target weight, you might cheat twice a week.
If your cheat meals always seem to turn into weekend-long binges, you do not have the self-control to use this dietary strategy correctly, and you should give up on the idea of cheating altogether.
3. TOO MANY SUPPLEMENTS, NOT ENOUGH REAL FOOD
No matter what your training goal might be, your eating plan should be made up of real, natural foods. Natural foods are loaded with critical nutrients and are exactly what your body needs. Lean meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats – these foods should be your dietary cornerstones. However, some people are too reliant on supplements and don’t eat enough real food.
The right supplements are necessary – they can definitely help – but they should be supplemental to and NOT a replacement for good, healthy food. Even the best supplements cannot make up for an otherwise unhealthy diet.
Use supplements to plug any nutritional gaps in your eating plan, but do your best to make sure there are a few holes as possible in the first place by eating a diet made up of natural, healthy foods. A protein shake chaser after a pizza does not make a balanced meal!
4. YOU DON’T PREPARE AND COOK YOUR OWN MEALS
The only effective way to ensure your diet is 100% compliant with your training is to prepare and make your own meals as often as possible. If you don’t make your own food, you are putting your progress in the hands of whoever does.
Takeouts, pre-prepared meals, restaurant meals, processed food – these are all examples of foods that are more likely to hinder your progress than help it.
Preparing and cooking your own food is time-consuming, but it’s time well spent. By making your own meals, you can take complete control of your food intake and, in return, your workouts will produce better results.
5. YOU’RE CONSUMING TOO MUCH ALCOHOL
The occasional alcoholic drink will not hamper your progress, but if you drink every day or binge drink weekly, you could be harming not only your progress but your health too.
Alcohol not only contains an abundance of calories, but it also needs to be processed first, so any food calories consumed around the same time as alcohol are much more likely to end up being converted to fat. Excess alcohol can also lower anabolic hormone levels and otherwise inhibit recovery after exercise.
A drink or two a couple of times a week is nothing to worry about but, if you simply can’t unwind without a bottle of wine per night, you might want to re-evaluate your lifestyle choices.
6. YOU AREN’T EATING ENOUGH PROTEIN
Carbohydrates and fats are very abundant nutrients that most people have no problem getting their hands on. Almost all processed foods contain carbs and fats, and they are also readily available in healthier forms.
Protein, in contrast, it often harder to obtain unless you build your meals and snacks around things like meat, fish, eggs, legumes, or dairy.
Exercise is catabolic which means it breaks your muscles down. Your body uses protein to repair this damage. People who work out require around 1.5 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and if you are training or dieting extra hard, you might need as much as 2.5 or even 3.0 grams per kilo.
Too little protein will impair muscle growth and recovery so, for best training results, make sure you are consuming adequate protein. For some, that will mean using a protein supplement such as OxyWhey or IsoPept Zero lean protein.
Going to the gym and training hard requires commitment, perseverance, and determination. It seems a shame to undo much of this effort by committing any of these nutritional sins. Make sure your diet is aligned with your training, and you’ll soon start to see the results you deserve.