It is no wonder that people get confused when they try to learn about eating right. There is so much information out there, and much of it contradicts each other. It seems like everywhere we turn there is a new “best diet.” There’s the Zone diet, low carb, no carb, high carb, carb cycling, high protein, high fat, and whatever else. Some people say you must eat every 2 hours while others are now advocating eating as little as once a day. So what should we take from this? When I read about different nutritional ideas, I try to keep an open mind, but the main thing I take from it is that there is no one “best” way to eat. I have people have success with all sorts of different diets, regardless of their goals. So where does this leave us?
My philosophy is that the best diet is one that you will be able to follow CONSISTENTLY. While many people get bogged down in the minutia of specific diets, the real key is consistently eating good foods (we all know what these are on some level). From there, it depends on your goals. If you’re looking to lose fat, you must be a in caloric deficit, and if you are looking to gain weight you must be in a caloric surplus. Simple. With that said, this does not give people much direction, so following a nutrition template can be helpful.
I am going to show you the template I have used for the past 3 years. I have used it to both gain weight and lose weight. The template stays the same regardless; the only thing that changes are portions sizes and food choices. Originally my goal was to gain weight. I have never been willing to let my bodyfat rise though, so I took my time and gained the weight slowly. Is this the fastest way to gain weight? Absolutely not, but I was not looking to get fat so it was worth it to me to go slower. Using the ideas below I took my weight from 154 lbs to 183 lbs. I know this does not seem big to most people, but I did not like it, so I lost about 10 lbs. I have hovered around 175 lbs for about 18 months and I am happy here. In most cases, I think you should always be striving to improve yourself, but diet is an exception. Once you reach a weight and leanness you are comfortable with and it works for your lifestyle, there is no need to make further changes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A lot of people spend way too much time thinking and worrying about food. A diet should not be time consuming. I would rather find something that works and then use my energy for living life. Unfortunately, nutrition is extremely important, so we can’t ignore it. For weight loss, weight gain, health, and performance, diet is going to have a much greater impact on our results than any form of exercise we do. For that reason, we have to take it seriously. I do not personally enjoy reading about nutritional practices or thinking about those things, but I take my health and my performance seriously so it is a necessary evil.
Here is a picture I took today.
My nutritional template is based on several guidelines.
1) Eat protein with every meal. This is the biggest thing in my opinion. This is especially important for people trying to lose weight. It seems counter-intuitive to increase protein to lose weight, but protein will help to conserve muscle when you are in a caloric deficit. You don’t want to be one of those people that focuses on weight loss only to realize you dieted all your muscle away and just look skinny. Not cool. Every single meal I have will include some sort of protein: meat, eggs, egg whites, cottage cheese, or protein powder.
2) Separate carbs and fats. This means that in general, I try eat carbs in some meals and fats in others. This means that some meals will be protein/carb and some will be protein/fat. You won’t be able to separate them entirely, because many fat sources like nuts also contain carbs and many carb sources contain small amounts of fat. This is fine. I just try to avoid combining them as much as possible. One exception here is vegetables. I consider these “free” foods and try to include them as much as possible. I do not consider these carb foods and include them in protein/fat meals.
Examples of protein/carb meals might be: Turkey sandwiches and fruit, Chicken and pasta, Cottage cheese and fruit, Oatmeal and protein powder, Omelet with veggies and toast.
Examples of protein/fat meals might be: Meat and almonds, Chicken with almond butter, Salmon and veggies sauteed in olive oil.
This might seem complicated to some, but once you try it I think you will find it to be very easy to implement. It makes it very easy to eat out as well, which can be a problem with many diets. Want a protein/carb meal? You can go to Subway and get a sandwich, just don’t smother it mayo (a little is fine, remember, we aren’t trying to be anal here). You can go to any breakfast place and get an omelet and toast. Out for dinner? Chicken and pasta is great. Looking for a protein/fat meal? Think low carb and you should be good. I like steak and veggies or salmon and veggies and things like that. Just about any place in the world has low carb options. The actual food choices are malleable based on your preferences, but you get the idea. I have read stuff about the science about not combining fats and carbs, but really, I like it because it is a simple way to limit the amount of calories you consume each meal.
3) Limit the carbs at night. Typically, my last two meals of the day are protein/fat. I actually think the easiest way to drop fat is just to cut carbs at night. The one caveat here would be if you workout at night. It is important to eat carbs after your workout regardless of what time of day it is. So this means that generally I eat protein/carb meals earlier in the day for my first 3-5 meals and do protein/fat after that.
That’s basically it. I want to stress, however, that these are just guidelines. I choose this way of doing things because it works into the daily life well (remember, it must be easy to follow), it helps me stay at a weight and leanness I am comfortable with, and it lets me eat the foods I like. I would not do well with a diet that limits the sorts of foods you can eat, whether it be carbs, fats, sugar, etc. I eat treats quite often, but when I do, I don’t go crazy. For example, a protein/carb meal will often be some form of protein with sorbet, frozen yogurt, or ice cream. I do not worry about the GI of carbs or things like that. Is it ideal? Probably not, but again, like I said, you have to be able to live with it. Likewise, if I am out and need or want something that combines fats and carbs, I eat it. If you stick to healthy sensible eating for the most part, you will be fine. Life is too short to worry about things too much. I make sure to never let myself get too hungry, and always include foods I enjoy. If you feel deprived, you won’t stick to it. I promise you that. If my way of doing things does not sound like it would work for you, then pick something else. Maybe low carbs would work, or the Zone approach. I am just saying I do things and giving you an option you may not have thought of before. I hope that helps.