2 weeks ago, I brought up a handful of ideas based on why you might might be screwing up your diet and training combination. Today we’re going to cover exactly why you’re messing up, and how to fix it.
1. Nutritional Tracking, and Accountability
As I mentioned, most people mess this up because they
- get too lax with their tracking
- try to rely on ‘eyeballing’ their intake
- saying ‘to hell with it’ and sabotaging themselves
And by doing any of the above, you’ll likely not make the progress you want.
Scratch that. I know you won’t make the progress you want.
Tracking your intake is just as important as nailing your training sessions with intensity and consistency. Why?
- recovery and nutrient insurance
- it ensures you have the data to make sound, logical changes when necessary
When you track your intake accurately, and properly, you ensure you get enough of the right nutrients. Time and time again, many of my potential clients and readers complain of their inability to hit their protein targets.
This is understandable, and there are ways to make this happen.
For example, if I have a female needing 120g protein daily, that would mean with three meals, she needs 40g per meal. If you’re not used to eating this much protein, then it could very well seem a daunting task.
The first, most sensible option is to aim for 3 protein-heavy meals with 40g of protein each meal. But what happens if you aren’t much of a breakfast eater, or prefer light lunches before your training?
This means you’ll have to eat more protein than 40g at one or more meals, and again, it can seem improbable.
An alternative is to make use of a quality protein powder, or to have 1-2 high protein snacks throughout the day. Cottage cheese, greek yogurt, a protein powder to put in a fruit smoothie are all great options.
And this doesn’t just apply to protein.
Want to know how much protein to consume? How much protein do I need will set you straight.
If you’ve had an aversion to carbohydrates, or have done any low-carb dieting in the past, you might be used to making low-carb food choices. So it would make sense that you’d gravitate toward certain foods over others.
This is problematic, especially if you’re on a plan that requires more than a handful of carbohydrates per day because without tracking, you’re highly likely to miss your mark.
Don’t ‘Listen To Your Body’
There’s a lot of talk about listening to your body. And while this sentiment is all nice and happy, and albeit, a bit hippie-sounding, it’s pretty bad advice for most people.
Most of the time, we’re not actually listening to our bodies… we’re being influenced by a myriad of external sources which can mess with our appetites. And this oftentimes seems like we’re listening, but it’s not as people would have you believe.
We’re listening, alright, but it’s not to our stomachs, or to the biological process of the body reaching for an energy source, prompting you to ingest some sugar. Hardly.
Don’t believe me? Walk through a bakery, any time of the day, and tell me you don’t get a craving for some buttery pastry the size of your head. Chances are, if you enjoy carbs and fat, you’ll get a craving — even if you’ve already eaten, and felt a sense of fullness.
Being hungry can oftentimes be a product of your environment, and what that environment does to your senses. Want to lose your appetite? Walk through a back alley of NYC the night before the trash truck comes. It will be an assault to your senses.
Now, not all the hunger pangs you feel are from external stimuli. Some of them are due to you actually being hungry, and needing the food. Just don’t go on believing every little sense of hunger you experience, and then satisfy, is you being in tune and listening to your body.
If you were to listen to your body as a means of controlling your intake for aesthetic purposes, chances are you’d never hit your physique goals. Why? We are incredibly bad at making food judgments.
Humans are generally bad at estimating caloric intake. We also succumb to the loss of willpower in certain situations, so it’s easy to give in and have that extra cookie, or 3 when you’re with friends who are all partaking.
Thusly, having an outside, objective viewpoint (a coach, trainer, or even just being accoutnable to proper tracking) can be a great asset to staying on track, instead of relying on hunger.
Here’s Why Tracking Nutrition With Precision Matters
Plain and simple: you cannot manage what is not accurately measured. If you track for a few weeks, and think “I got this,” you’re in for a rude awakening when you look back over 12 weeks of your fat loss diet, and have made zero progress.
Then you’ll know where you went wrong as you hurl the complaint of “I did everything right, and it just didn’t work for me!” We want someone to blame… but the person responsible is often the one we see in the mirror.
Keeping track of your intake also keeps you accountable to what you’re actually eating. This is really important if you have a hard time eating a specific amount of macronutrients. For instance… the protein thing I mentioned above.
Another idea is ensuring you’re getting enough fat and carbohydrates to fuel recovery, or when you’re wanting to lose fat, not too much as to put you over your daily maintenance requirement.
When you don’t track accurately, that carefully measured tablespoon of peanut butter quickly becomes a heaping spoonful (equivalent of almost 2 tablespoons), and you quickly aren’t in a calorie deficit anymore.
As a result, if you track accurately, and over 3-4 weeks, there’s no drop in scale weight, no visual changes, no measurement changes, all with less than 5% total for error, then you make the changes that make sense.
But if you don’t track accurately, get frustrated after a month of no progress, and then make the emotional decision to go on a fad diet, you’re in for a big disappointment the yo-yo dieting will always bring.
2. Program Changes, Intensity Issues, and No Progress
The same applies here. A program serves a purpose, and that’s to keep you honest, and on track with your training.
Most folks who aren’t following a decent program won’t make much, if any progress. I know of a few guys who can walk into the gym, no training log in hand, train adequately and make stellar progress.
But chances are, if you’re that type of person, you have no interest in internet blogs, or fitness books. Why? Because you don’t need to look for an answer to a problem you don’t have.
Now keep in mind, these people are probably (I’m guessing here) less than 1% of the total training population (which isn’t even that large to begin with).
So if you’re not in the 1%, listen up.
Programs serve a purpose, and for many, it’s merely that of keeping you on track and putting in the work. I always stand by the maxim of a mediocre program followed routinely will always beat out the world’s best program followed occasionally.
Why? because action, consistency, and effort is always worth more than wishful thinking, and excessive planning.
One of my first coaches always said “consistent action will always overcome a lack of talent.”
Just like nutrition needs to be carefully tracked, and managed, so does your training. Can’t commit to that 6-day training program with a monstrous refeed on Sunday?
Fine, give me 4 days, push it very hard, and don’t miss a day. If you do, try to make it up. It’s that important.
With regards to intensity… following a program with guidelines and constraints will keep you from both ends of the no-progress spectrum.
The first end is the place where people don’t put in enough work. They try to do the absolute bare minimum, without breaking a sweat. These people don’t deserve results. No real work is being done.
Slight Caveat: I am all for training smarter, even if it means you have to make the most of your time (ie: if you only 3 days per week.. so be it) but doing very low volume/intensity a few times per week and achieving stellar results just isn’t going to be a reality for most.
The other end of the spectrum is the person who feels a need to absolutely trash their body with lots of intensity, volume, and very little rest. No sane program will ever prescribe you train until you drop, but certain individuals tend to think this is okay.
In sum, a program keeps you on point.
3. Get To Bed On Time, and Make It Sacred
I will keep this one short. Sleep, and rest is very important. If you neglect it, you will suffer the consequences.
Here are 3 important aspects of your sleep habit, that need to be in check:
- Sleep hygiene (your habits and routine)
- Sleep debt
Sleep Hygiene is simple: the better you get at creating, and sticking to a solid sleep habit, the better off you’ll be.
When understanding your sleep hygiene, you must get the following correct:
- circadian rhythms
- elimination of blue light as night falls
- a proper sleep space (room temperature, no lights, comfortable bedding)
- consistent sleep and wake times
I’d never thought much about sleep until I left college for my second time, and found myself in a whacky sleep schedule of going to bed at midnight, and waking, without alarm at 5 a.m. on the dot.
And then it all caught up to me when I began staying out later than normal. All of the sudden, waking at 5 a.m. was impossible. I was constantly sleeping past 8 a.m. and was groggier than I’d ever been in my life.
It was like a low-grade hangover multiple times per week.
So I then began to think about my sleep routine, and it was awful.
I’ve written about circadian rhythms, and eliminating blue light a good bit. This article (section labeled Circadian Rhythm, In Brief) details why you should rise and fall with the sun, and why you should avoid blue light (tablets, phones, laptops, etc).
Your sleep space should be free of clutter, and distractions. You shouldn’t do any work, or anything of the likes in your bed. It should be for sleeping, and various nocturnal mating games only.
Most people like a cool temperature (65-70 degrees Farenheit) when sleeping, so find what you like and try to keep that consistent.
Lastly, you should pick a reasonable time to go to bed, and to wake. Yes, it might mean you’re missing out on late nights at the club, but it’s like mama said, “nothing good happens past midnight.”
In lieu of the sleep and wake times, you should understand sleep debt is very real, and you must pay it back, regardless of how you try to cheat the system. And just look at what some University of Chicago researchers found regarding sleep debt:
In a landmark study of human sleep deprivation, University of Chicago researchers followed a group of student volunteers who slept only four hours nightly for six consecutive days. The volunteers developed higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and they produced only half the usual number of antibodies to a flu vaccine. The sleep-deprived students also showed signs of insulin resistance — a condition that is the precursor of type 2 diabetes and metabolic slowdown. All the changes were reversed when the students made up the hours of sleep they had lost. The Chicago research helps to explain why chronic sleep debt raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.- source
This explains the just-been-hit-by-a-truck feeling I used to get at the end of a week with very little sleep. And it would always take me the next week of sleeping regularly just to get back to feeling normal again.
Here’s another article that’s easy to read, about sleep.
Discipline, You Need It. Sticking To It Works.
Ahhh, the D-word. Discipline is something very foreign to many people, and it’s not completely their fault. With what I mentioned in the previous piece, you probably know that instant gratification can rob you of the fulfillment that comes from high personal achievement.
It’s like when you should be studying for that test coming up, which could mean an A or a D, which could then determine you passing the class, which could also mean you graduating, and going onto get your graduate degree in [insert something super awesome here] at [insert your most esteemed university here]…
It’s easy to put off the studying and procrastinate by jumping onto Facebook and getting the instantaneous rush of dopamine from posting a status and seeing all the ‘likes’ but repeat this behavior over and over again, and it just leaves you frustrated.
It’s the same with your diet and training. If you consistently seek to feel good in the short-term, you’ll never experience the benefits of delayed gratification.
An example is someone who refuses to track their intake because it’s just not fun or those who refuse to stick to a regimented training plan because it gets boring for lack of variety.
Discipline is forgoing the feel-good moments right now to experience something much greater in the long run.
It’s the process of being lax with your diet, and having some so-called fun with your training, but never reaching the goals you set for yourself. We’ve all been there, and we’re fooling NO ONE but ourselves.
I previously mentioned that we need 3 things, ideally, to be good at having discipline.
Remember my article/talk about motivation? It doesn’t last, at all. It’s fleeting, and always changing depending on your mood, energy levels, time constraints, etc.
You don’t need motivation, what you need is a routine. You need to do something daily, to make it a habit. This is why a routine can be so crucial to you actually sticking to something or not.
A routine can be very simple, and it should be to work well. If you want to train 4 times per week, make sure you fit it into your schedule, make plans, and stick with it.
Plan to train right after breakfast, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for an hour? Good – make sure you never miss a day. Commit it to your routine (make the habit).
On the days you don’t train, do something in place to keep that time sacred (if it makes sense). Yoga, walking, meditation, anything that challenges your body or mind are good ideas here.
In order to make your routine work, you need structure. We are called creatures of habit for a reason. Humans do best when we have plans, and objectives, and things to keep us focused on the task. Without structure to your day, you’ll often succumb to a bunch of dilly-dallying that leads to feeling bad about yourself by the time you hit the sack.
When you operate with structure, you can easily manage your day, and get way more done, than leaving everything to chance. This can also fall under the entire ‘planning’ umbrella. If you have good routines, you’ll likely have decent structure to your day.
Probably the most important aspect to making all this work, and tying all parts of discipline together is creating constraints for yourself.
I explain to my group and personal coaching clients that constraints are what make you flourish. Both diet and training protocols are a form of constraint.
For training, you’re following a program, which in turn suggests you do a certain number of sets and reps with a certain load. No more, no less. It’s controlled, and calculated.
As for diet, there are times to be strict (and yes, sometimes restrictive), and times to relax, and rest (by purposefully overeating, and resting). When you follow a particular set of macros for fat loss, or muscle gain, you’re succumbing to dietary constraints.
And this, my friend, is a good thing. We make the most progress under constraints.
Another one that comes to mind is committing and sticking to rest/sleep times. Build your life around making great sleep a priority, and you’ll do very well over all.
How To Get The D
I could go on forever and ever about how to build discipline, but since we’re talking about 3 things pertaining to fitness goals, we’ll tackle those.
Getting Your Nutrition In Order
If you’ve gotten off track and aren’t tracking anymore, or just aren’t being consistent, here’s what you need to do.
Go back to establishing your baseline. Whatever you were aiming to eat before (regardless of fat loss, or muscle gain goals), shoot for those numbers. Take it one day at a time, and be as diligent as possible.
Make it routine by preparing your meals ahead of time, if it makes sense. Make it easy to track using whatever method you wish (phone/tablet app, pen and paper, spreadsheets, etc).
Then create some structure around the above routine. Shooting for 3 meals per day? Good – stick to that. 4 meals and 1 snack? Great, but make the time for them in your calendar, and stick with it.
One thing I like to do is have the same breakfast, lunch, and post-workout meal so my tracking is virtually the same all day everyday. And then for dinner, I’ll have 1 of 2-3 different choices to keep it interesting.
This allows me to not think about my intake as much, and also to get a variety of nutrients by making different dinner choices. It also allows me to enjoy a dinner out here and there if I so choose.
And finally, create the constraints. If you have lower calorie days planned into your intake, it might be a good choice to remove ‘trigger’ foods if you have a history of losing control and binging.
Or it might be wise to cut off drinking during the week, and enjoy a few cocktails over the weekend when you plan to have more food.
it doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure you’ve created some boundaries for yourself.
Training To Win
If your training is suffering from a lack of intensity, or even a lack of consistency, this one’s easy to nip in the bud.
Firstly, pick a program you can stick to in terms of frequency. Then make it part of your daily and weekly routine. A mediocre program you can do 3 days per week consistently is going to get you far better results than the 6 day routine you can only manage to do every once in a while.
Make sure that you plan accordingly and structure the training and off days so it fits into your weekly routine. Set your training times, and keep them sacred. Find the time that works best for you, and not what is deemed ideal (but impractical).
Lots of people will say you shouldn’t train in the morning for [whatever pompous reasoning here] but the truth of the matter is while it may/may not be the most optimal, if it’s the only time you got, you have to work with the hand you’re dealt.
Treat the routine with some respect, and allow the constraints built within the program to provide you the results and valuable feedback you need to make future assessments.
Nothing frustrates me more than to hear of one of my trainees adding sets and reps, or even adding full training days to a program I suggested specifically for their needs and lifestyle. There’s a limit for a reason. More volume, while can be totally amazing, is not always the answer, especially if you have no idea what makes sense for you.
Don’t fall prey to the co-worker or keyboard cowboy on Reddit telling you how you should train if they know nothing about you and/or you’re already getting expert advice, or following a pre-written program like LGN365, or elsewhere.
Give Me Sleep, Or Give Me Death
This one’s simple. Commit your sleep times to habit through a good routine. Then create structure in your schedule that allows for the routine to solidify.
And then, make sure you impose some constraints to make it all work together. Some ideas are turning off the computer 2 hours before bed, and not staring into your phone as you get into bed (I struggle here sometimes).
Or making sure you actually stick to that routine you’ve created. Make it easy on yourself. Promised yourself to get in 30 minutes of reading before bedtime? Place your current book by the nightstand, and in plain sight so you don’t forget.
One more thing. Okay, maybe two.
You might benefit from cutting down somewhat, and getting very clear about your focus. 2 things directly come to mind when I think about discipline, and goals, in general.
- Stick to only a handful of changes, no more than that.
- Make small promises to yourself.
Making changes is hard. I won’t sugarcoat it, but you must know this: sticking to it works, and it works very well.
Check out that link that link above to see what I mean. If you can craft the discipline necessary, you can do whatever you want to. And building an amazing physique, sadly, isn’t going to happen in 8 short weeks like many might want you to believe.
It will take months, and years. It will take discipline, and you might receive some resistance, both internally and externally.
But you know what? It’s freakin’ worth it.
Small Promises Work
I wrote a piece all about how to gain weight, with some simple ideas for those who need them. I got an email from an internet friend who’d begun putting the recommendations in place because he was having a hard time getting all his food in for the day.
He wrote the following:
By the way, I stopped being lazy and finally just calculated my macros based on your previous article (how to gain weight). I was undereating by approx 1200 calories a day. My solution was to eat 1500 calories for breakfast so I don’t have to think about it the rest of the day. So far, so good.
We chatted a bit more about how he was going about it, what foods he was eating, etc. Then I mentioned something very simply, and what he wrote was brilliant.
I said “It all comes to committing this stuff to habit, huh?”
Most of the time when we have an area of life that isn’t working for us, we make promises and don’t keep them. Or we have so little integrity we are afraid to make any promises at all. So making and keeping tiny promises and then gradually making and keeping bigger ones is the way out. Saying “I will eat 1500 calories for breakfast and see what happens” is an experiment, and also a promise. Only if I do it consistently can I actually test out whether it works or not. And so far, it’s working pretty well.
So keep the small promises to yourself, and work that discipline muscle.