(Part 1: Setting a Physique Building Goal Nutritionally)
Ever think to yourself “I know nutrition is important to reach my fitness goals but I just don’t know exactly where to start?” I know I sure did when I first began my journey into fitness. There is a vast amount of information out there about nutrition today including so many conflicting approaches and diets broken down in scientific terms. That’s why I am taking this time to write a series of inclusive articles explaining the basics to cut through the fog.
In this first article you can expect to learn the basics about how to set a short-term goal that makes the most sense nutritionally for your body and ultimate long-term physique goal. I want to start by saying I know it can be difficult to pick a specific goal. I, too, have fallen victim in the past to swaying back and fourth between wanting to get leaner (when I feel soft), and wanting to build more muscle (when I begin dieting and see some of my muscle start to fade away). What I have learned is that this swaying back and fourth week-to-week between goals gets you no benefits. In the long term it only serves to make you gain fat, lose muscle, and become less healthy. If that is your goal have at it, but if you are like me and want sustained results follow this little bit of advice. Pick one goal and stick to it until you achieve it fully.
Your goal should of course be set based on what you personally want, but your current habits and metabolism also need to be taken into consideration. For example if someone is currently maintaining their weight eating 800 calories and doing an hour of cardio per day, they would not want to decide to lose fat at this time (yes, this scenario is possible, and I have had many people come to me for help in this state). I will dive deeper into that topic in future articles but for now just know that if this scenario sounds like you, focus on gaining muscle and slowly rebuilding your metabolism through hard training and slowly increasing your calorie intake while slowly dropping your steady state cardio. For more information on understanding and fixing a damaged metabolism, watch this video by one of my favorite nutritional scientists, Dr. Layne Norton:
Other than if one has a damaged metabolism, when is a good time to focus on lean muscle gain and/or building up your metabolism with increased calories? If you have any interest in getting very lean, then building the metabolism needs attention any time you are not focusing on losing body fat as a primary goal. Think of it like this: your metabolism is much like a fire. If you constantly stoke it with more and more fuel over a period of time it will burn hotter and hotter and the fire (one’s metabolism) will grow large (like a person who has been eating large meals frequently for a long time). The fire (one’s metabolism), has the ability to burn up lots of fuel (food and or body fat) very quickly and effectively at this time. In contrast, if one were to stop feeding the fire (one’s metabolism), it will burn weaker and slower until eventually it will go out completely. At this time it has no ability to burn fuel (food or body fat) at all (like a person who has been dieting for a long time on minimal calories). This is why it is important to slowly increase calories to stay in a slight surplus over periods of time between leaning-out phases. Failing to do this will result in trouble staying lean and eventually getting lean at all will become near impossible.
Ok so when is it an appropriate time to focus on fat loss as a primary goal? The answer to this question is simple. As we already know from above, leaning out requires lowering carbs and overall calories so that one burns more calories in a day then they consume. If one is consuming at least a decently high enough amount of calories and has been taking care of their metabolism, they should be able to enter a leaning out phase any time he or she chooses. The only time one would not want to focus on losing body fat (even if that is their goal) is if they have not been taking care of their metabolism and are maintaining their weight on low calories already. In this state one will find fat loss very difficult if not impossible (remember the fire comparison).
What I want everyone to take away from this article is that choosing a goal intelligently based on his or her current nutritional habits should always be the first step in starting a new program. It’s a little bit deeper than just deciding what you want right now. A basic understanding of how the metabolism works is essential in one’s long term success in maintaining a lean physique. Attention needs to be paid to both the leaning out phases as well as the metabolism/muscle building up phases to ensure long term success. We only get one body, so be sure to take care of it by always choosing the best long-term path to get to your goal. Avoid the pitfall of choosing the instant gratification approach of “I want it now, even if I pay for it later”. Follow these tips, and I promise you will have much more success with building your dream physique. Be sure to stay tuned on my blog for my next article of how to design the ultimate muscle gaining/metabolism building diet.