Most people remember the moment when they caught the "bug" and got involved in weightlifting (and hopefully nutrition). I can remember that moment perfectly clear in my mind. It was the evening before I was to have reconstructive knee surgery. I was at the supermarket and I saw a copy of Muscle & Fitness magazine.
I had never read a muscle magazine (or even flipped through one, for that matter), but I wanted to get into weightlifting and since I was going to be laid up for a while I figured I would have a lot of time to read up on the subject.
Unfortunately, I spent several years weeding through garbage information from magazines and "experts" at my local gym. Fortunately, I was able to get through the misinformation and have success in my physique development - but it took too long.
I don't want you to have to go through the same misinformation-laden right of passage like myself, and many people before me, so I've laid out in this article some key nutritional mistakes that myself and many beginners have made and how to avoid them.
This might take you by surprise, but counting calories too early in your fitness journey can lead to frustration and failure. When starting out, it is important to watch what you are eating, but not about how much you are eating.
If a typical day for you, nutritionally, is skipping breakfast, having pizza and chicken wings at lunch, pasta for dinner, and chips and other salty snacks throughout the day , counting calories is the least of your worries. It is important to see the big picture before you focus on the small details.
Initially, your nutritional goals should include:
- Eating 5-6 times a day
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Drinking more water and cutting out calorie-containing beverages (beer, soda, etc.)
- Focusing on consuming lean proteins
- Limiting your sugars and processed foods
Focus on consistently living by these 5 rules for a couple weeks. Once you have mastered them, then move on to more "advanced" nutritional strategies such as counting calories and manipulating macronutrient ratios.
Dr. John Berardi defines nutritional consistency or compliance as 90%. If you can't eat "clean" 90% of the time, then you will continue to have great struggles in your physique development.
This mistake is made by almost everyone trying to lose weight or bulk up at least once in their life. There is no such thing as "the" diet (a diet that is guaranteed to work so well that within 10-12 weeks you will be ready for the cover of a national magazine). Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.
I think the reason people get so confused is because it seems that every week there is a new diet that is advertised as the greatest diet ever. I've worked with numerous people that come to me looking for the answer. They've failed at being successful with countless diet plans and think I will be the difference.
With many of these people, it is not the meal plan or diet that is the problem. The problem is adherence, consistency, and diligence. People can spend so much time jumping between different eating strategies that they never stick with one long enough to see it work.
The core of most popular diets are very similar (the exceptions are wacky diets like the Warrior Diet). What is this core? It is very close to the five guidelines that I've listed above in "Mistake 1" - more fruits & vegetables, increased feeding frequency, consuming lean proteins, etc.
The key is to commit yourself to success. It may take you 20 weeks instead of 12 to lose all the body fat you want. It may take you a whole year to pack on the 25 lbs of muscle that you've been dying to have. The key is to stop searching for the magic diet and to commit yourself to a plan (tweaking it when necessary) until you reach your goals.
"I just don't have the time to think about what to eat." If only I had a dollar for every time I heard that sentence from someone. When you hear someone say this, what they're really saying is "I didn't have a good plan in place." Starting anything new for the first time, especially a new nutritional plan, can be very frustrating and time-consuming.
This is especially a problem as your week goes on. Imagine this scenario: You're running late for a lunch meeting at work. You've been so busy all day that you haven't been able to decide what you are going to eat for lunch or where you can find "healthy" food near your office.
This is causing you extra stress because you really want to stick with your new nutritional plan. But in the end you don't have the time and you end up getting a coffee and a corn muffin from the coffee shop in your lobby. This stresses you out even more because now you've gone off your nutritional plan and it is only the 3rd day.
The person in this scenario ends up being the person that says "I just don't have the time to think about what to eat" or "I don't have time to eat healthy." But this whole problem could be avoided with proper planning.
In order to have a fool-proof nutritional plan you need to create a meal plan at the beginning of the week and you need to prepare as many meals in advance as possible.
Creating a meal plan takes the guess work out and "thinking about what to eat" away from the stresses of weekday life. Sit down on Sunday afternoon and write down every meal and snack that you are going to have until next Sunday. From here you can make your weekly grocery list and go shopping.
When you get home, head to the kitchen and prepare as many meals and snacks in advance as possible. If you are going to have steel-cut oats 3 mornings that week, then it's a good idea to cook the oats in advance since it takes about 30 minutes to cook them.
If for lunch on Tuesday and Thursday you are going to have spinach salads with chicken, then it is a good idea to precut the vegetables that are going to be in your salad and roast a couple chicken breasts. Then on Tuesday and Thursday morning you can throw all your ingredients together and head out the door.
Developing consistency with a new nutritional plan requires focus and dedication. When you add in all the events and stresses of daily life, your nutritional plan can get lost in the shuffle. That is why creating a fool-proof plan that is mapped out in advance is key your success.
You will find that by learning from the mistakes of others and not committing these three cardinal mistakes that have plagued beginners, your progress will be accelerated by months to years. The faster you accept and apply the ideas that I have outlined in this article, the faster you will reach your physique, health, and/or strength goals!