The internet is saturated with nutrition advice. Admittedly, I add to the plethora of blogs and other articles on there. I hope that my work cuts through the noise, and gets you the truth amidst what can be called a lot of bulls#$@.
I wanted to use this opportunity to be crystal clear and cut through a lot of the jargon and noise and get you a list of things that you need to be successful. You will notice that this article isn’t full of references or sciency sounding terms; that is because most of the things that lead to results don’t require a lot of really advanced sciency stuff.
1. Personal Change
Most people assume successful nutrition coaches are successful because they are the smartest nutrition people on the planet. The truth is that the most successful coaches know how to work with people and get people to adopt change. Before you make a single change to numbers on a spreadsheet, or meal prep, or do any of those buzzword things, you have to change what is going on between the ears. The first conversation you should have with yourself, your client, your friend, or whoever is embarking on a journey to change their nutrition better be, “why”. The second conversation ought to be, “how can we get you there”. I will be 100% real with all of you. I have set probably 2-3,000 nutrition plans in the last two years and the single most important thing that dictates their success is the personal change.
Now I know I am going to hear some blowback about how “. . .but, getting started and just doing stuff will change you”. . . yeah, thats true, some minor action might take place at the beginning. You might get your clients or yourself to be on plan for 2 weeks, but then life happens, the plan breaks down, and they are lost forever. As someone who works with people I could care less about 2 week results or 90 day results* Here is the real truth, nothing real or sustainable happens until that mental shift takes place.
I am coming hot out of the gate. Anyone who says calories don’t matter and the body doesn’t obey the first law of thermodynamics lives in a different universe.
Here is a brief synopsis of my take on the whole CICO issue broken down as simply as possible.
Calories are the input and the output of the system, and the difference in the input and the output is equal to the change in the mass of the system. Regardless of what your “pet theory” is about the main driver of fat storage or obesity, you can’t escape this fact. The CICO absolutely holds true; regardless of what corner of the universe you live in**. It is impossible for more energy to go out of a system than goes in and have the mass of the system increase in weight.
To truly apply this to human physiology we need add a few coupleonto this piece.
1) The body is a dynamic entity that adapts differential to signals. This dictates how and where the change in the mass of the system occurs.
We have covered this in previous articles (see our previous post) but briefly, specific stimuli signal your muscle tissue to grow (i.e. testosterone and resistance training) while others signal your fat tissue to grow (i.e. lack of leptin and sedentary behavior).
2) Myriad pieces dictate both the energy out part of the equation and how and where the energy is stored.
Depending on the current state of the system certain pieces can have small or large influences on how the “energy out” piece is influenced or how and where energy is stored. For example, the hormone leptin is a primary regulator of body fatness. In “normal” people leptin signaling is fairly robust and small changes in leptin signaling occur quite frequently to regulate mass. In those people it would be fair to draw the conclusion that leptin plays a vital role in fat storage homeostasis but in relationship to NEAT, BMR, Exercise, Thyroid hormone and other key pieces of the equation leptin plays a relatively small percentage of their “equation” and we would not focus much on their blood levels of leptin, but the other tuneable knobs that make a drastic different. Conversely, leptin signaling plays a substantially more important role in fat mass regulation in someone with primary leptin deficiency from a genetic defect. People often conflate these two scenarios and claim, “See, calories don’t matter it is the hormones that make the big difference”. . . This is a red herring as this individual just has a larger leptin “knob” and when tuned correctly their metabolism reverts to a more normal status and their appetite regulation returns. Calorie balance is restored.
This concept clearly needs more fleshing out through thought experiments and data and will be the topic of our next big “manifesto” in a guest piece co-authored with our good friend Danny Lennon from Sigma nutrition. Let this whet your appetite for now and the following figure be me crude attempt to clarify.
If you want results that last you have to be consistent. You can’t “change” who you are and hit a macro or calorie plan for a week then go off it for a week and expect any long term or lasting results. You have to put in the work for extended periods of time for you to get results.
Whenever I think of consistency I think of something I heard from Bryan Krahn once, “If you see someone who is in really good shape the question you should ask is, ‘how long have you been at it’, not, ‘what is your diet or training plan’.
There is no magical, universal ratio of macronutrients that you need to adhere to. Now that doesn’t mean “macro” don’t matter. Macros do matter. But you have to understand context and you have to match your diet to your goals.
We know that higher protein intakes are much better for maximizing muscle hypertrophy than lower intakes. We know that elite level marathon runners need higher carbohydrate intakes (relatively speaking) and lower protein intakes to maximize their capacity.
The goal with macronutrients is to find the best ratio that promotes satiety, fuels training and adaptation, and promotes a healthy relationship with food. This looks entirely different for each individual.
*Don’t read this as, “he doesn’t care about short term results”. I actually push super hard the first few weeks on my clients because results increase buy in. And to quote my good friend Dr. Haselhuhn, “competence breeds confidence”.
** There are some fairly coherent theories that suggest the law of physics may not be the same in the furthest corners of the universe but no empirical data exists to support the theory.
*** The featured image of ice cream is on purpose because ice cream is the greatest thing invented by man.