Dieting is, has been, and always will be a controversial topic.
You’ve got guys on both sides of the fence, guys on the fence, and guys in the middle trying to discover which side they should be on.
You’ve got the Paleo guys, the “If It Fits Your Macros” guys, you’ve got the Carb Backloading guys, you’ve got the strict old school calorie-counting bodybuilding guys.
You’ve even got Greg Plitt pushing a liquid diet (seriously, WTF).
The problem is: they all believe they’re right.
They think that the diet they’re “doing” and promoting is the best out there, and that everything else is wrong.
Because of this back and forth battle in the industry, people get so caught up in what diet they should be on for optimal fat loss or to gain huge amounts of muscle. Because of their own agendas, the people pushing these fad diets are confusing the very people that are their target audience.
The approach I typically take when it comes to dieting goes something like this; whenever someone asks me what diet they should go on, I usually say: it doesn’t really matter.
I mean, it matters in a sense that you find something that fits with your lifestyle and that you’re comfortable with, but too many people sweat the small details.
I know, because I’ve been that person. I’ve constantly worried about insulin spikes and meal timing and the exact weight and measurement of everything I put in my mouth. I worried that if I had some ice cream that it would completely tank my progress. And when I did eat ice cream, I would feel like shit and hate myself for the next few days.
I’m sure some of you have been through the same thing.
What I learned from that experience is that unless you’re an elite athlete or you’re trying to get down to bodybuilding competition body fat levels, you don’t have to sweat the minutia.
You must find the cornerstones of nutrition (i.e. what’s going to account for the majority of your results) and put all of your effort towards those big rocks.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the diet I’m currently on, why I’m on this diet, and how to apply some of my philosophy of nutrition towards helping you achieve your goals. Sound good?
Alright, let’s get to it.
My “Diet” and Why I Like Carb Backloading
This might cause some of you to stop reading, but please, hear me out.
It just so happens that I’m one of those guys that I mentioned in the introduction of this post. I’m what you could call a “Carb Backloading” guy.
I say this because I follow Carb Backloading (CBL) and I think that it’s a practical way for me to eat, and I enjoy eating this way. That’s it. To see my explanation of CBL and my results, check out this post.
I don’t go parading around saying that this is the best diet in the world and everyone should be on it. That’s not true.
I don’t go around saying that Keifer (the creator of CBL) is the smartest guy in the world and everyone should listen to him. That’s not true.
People might not like that I support Carb Backloading because there is so much controversy surrounding the diet, such as whether or not all of the research is completely valid or whether or not you can get lean eating cartons of ice cream.
The truth is, I don’t care what other people think. The problem with nutrition is that it’s so difficult to get definitive answers, and when we do get answers, it often leaves us more confused than we started (if you want to get research broken down for you by one of the most influential and intelligent people in the nutrition industry, I recommend you check out Alan Aragon’s research review, it’s an outstanding resource).
I don’t follow Carb Backloading because it’s the most scientifically valid way to eat and there’s no better way, I follow it because I enjoy it. I enjoy eating light throughout the day and looking forward to a huge, carb-filled meal after busting my ass in the gym.
I also enjoy eating junk, such as ice cream and cookies, so that’s another plus for me.
I choose to follow Carb Backloading because it makes my eating schedule simple and stress-free, and I’ve gotten great results.
The moral of this section was to show that you don’t have to follow that over-hyped diet that everyone is talking about, just find something that works for you and makes eating easy and enjoyable.
As long as you’re focusing on the big rocks, good things will happen.
The Big Rocks of Dieting
As I’ve alluded to several times in this post (and in my post titled Applying the 80/20 Rule to Fitness), it’s important to focus on the aspects of dieting that are accounting for the majority of your results, or the big rocks.
These are the bare essentials of any good diet, and they don’t change all too much even when your goals are adjusted (muscle gain, fat loss, etc.).
If your main focus is on meaningless minutia, such as when exactly you should eat after you wake up or the whether the post-workout anabolic window is 20 minutes or 30 minutes, you’re missing the big picture.
In reality, these things will make very little difference in your overall success, so it’s not worth stressing about them.
Here are the big rocks of dieting.
Let’s start with caloric intake, as it’s the main aspect of your diet that you want to manipulate in order to achieve the results that correspond with your goals.
First, you need to calculate your maintenance calories (the amount of calories you need to maintain your current body composition).
This post on the WannaBeBig.com forums has proven to be extremely helpful.
Once you calculate your maintenance calories, you then have to fit your caloric intake with your goal.
So, if your goal is to lose fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit (eating less than your maintenance). If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you must be in a caloric surplus (eating more than your maintenance).
For those trying to lose fat, my recommendation is usually to drop about 200-300 calories below maintenance at first, and then decrease slowly when fat loss begins to stall. Realistically, you should be losing about a pound per week.
The problem most people have is that they reduce their caloric intake drastically in the beginning, and this causes your metabolism to slowly down regulate and your fat loss stalls very quickly.
Take it slow, especially if you’re trying to maintain muscle mass.
For those trying to gain muscle, you should be in a surplus of around 300 calories, give or take. Some recommend more than 300, but in my opinion, eating well over your maintenance will lead to unnecessary fat gain and more work on the back end (when you need to lose the fat later).
When you’re in a small surplus, you can slowly gain muscle mass while minimizing the amount of body fat you put on, thus decreasing the amount you will have to lose later.
So, that’s the gist of caloric intake. Now we can move on to the macronutrients.
Protein, fat, carbohydrates.
These are the big boys, and they should be the focus of your dieting plan.
There is a ton of argument about whether or not getting the macronutrients from “clean” sources makes any difference. That argument is beyond the scope of this post, but if you want to read more about the idea of “clean eating” and why it’s a flawed concept, check out a post that JC Deen wrote on the topic.
Back to the macronutrients…
Ensuring that you get adequate amounts of protein for muscle building or muscle maintenance, depending on your goal, is very important. I typically recommend somewhere around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
So, if you weigh 175 pounds, you want to shoot for 175 grams of protein. Don’t stress too much about hitting the exact number, just be close. Inadequate protein intake can definitely hinder your progress.
Protein from sources like meat, eggs, diary, whey protein, etc. are all great choices.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are an extremely controversial macronutrient, and it seems that they are the only one that gets manipulated from diet to diet. You have the extremely low carb (or ketogenic) diet advocates, then you have the old school bodybuilding diet of high carb, low fat diets.
Some say carbs make you fat, some say that loads of carbs are essential for progress.
My recommendation for carb intake is typically a bit broad. Because I follow Carb Backloading, all of my carb intake comes from my post-workout and pre-bed meals.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t the holy grail of dieting, but it fits with my schedule and I like eating this way.
I usually just say to eat enough carbs to fuel your training. If you’re extremely active in general and you lift weights on the side, you’re going to need a good amount of carbs to ensure that your glycogen stores remain stocked and prepared for the day.
On the other hand, if you are fairly sedentary besides lifting weights a few times per week, you don’t have to go crazy with the carb intake.
The bottom line is to eat enough to fuel your training. If you feel that you are sluggish in the gym and can’t figure out why, up the carb intake and see what happens.
If you feel bloated all the time from the copious amounts of oats and potatoes you’re eating, cut back a bit.
It’s very individual, you just have to experiment and find what works best for you.
I think people have become a bit too anal about fat intake, especially since the government has essentially recommended an extremely low fat diet with their new dietary recommendations.
This is completely asinine. Fat, yes even saturated fat, is essential for your health. Proper hormone function, strong cell membranes, joint health, proper brain function, all rely on adequate amounts of dietary fat.
Yes, it’s called fat, but it doesn’t magically make you fat. That’s an important distinction to make.
Fat contains the most energy per gram (9 calories per gram of fat) so it gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of putting calories to use.
Also, a diet with moderate amounts of fat will keep you satisfied throughout the day, rather than having to eat 8 meals per day to feel satiated.
Fats like coconut oil, avocadoes, grass-fed butter, olive oil, nut and seed butters are all great for your health and performance, and they should all be a part of your diet.
Again, I’m not going to give you a specific number to go by, just play with it. If you feel hungry all the time, up the fat intake and see what happens. Experiment, experiment, experiment.
Flexibility and Adherence
Aside from caloric intake and the macronutrients, flexibility and adherence are the most important qualities of your diet.
The pretty good diet that you stick to is better than the perfect diet that you quit.
I never understood why people think dieting is so complex and difficult. Not to brag, but I eat what I like to eat.
If I want ice cream, I eat ice cream. If I want cake, I eat cake (yesterday was my birthday, and you best believe I ate a good amount of cake).
It pains me to see people eliminate foods from their diet that they really enjoy eating. Now, if you have a health issue such as a gluten allergy or you’re lactose intolerant, that’s a different story.
But, if you’re just cutting out foods that you like because some guru said that you have to in order to see results, you’re taking the wrong approach. Your diet, and fitness in general, should be enjoyable and it should complement your life in a positive way.
Dieting should be flexible and sustainable.
For example, I see some positives with the Paleo approach because of the health benefits that so many people see from it, but the Paleo guys get extremely dogmatic at times.
Eliminating treats and simple sugars and alcohol (and other things you enjoy) from your diet makes you miserable and dieting becomes a negative experience.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating stuffing your face whenever the opportunity presents itself, but it’s okay to enjoy yourself on a daily basis, as long as you can fit it into your calorie and macronutrient requirements.
If you’re pounding ice cream and going way over your calorie requirements, of course you’re going to gain fat. But, if you can find a way to fit it in, go for it.
I eat ice cream every night when I’m trying to put on weight as well as when I’m dropping fat.
The bottom line is to keep your approach flexible and don’t sacrifice to the point that you’re completely miserable. Enjoy your diet and have some fun.
Finding the Approach for You
If you take one valuable piece of information from this post I hope it’s this: find the diet that works for you and that you enjoy.
You enjoy the Paleo diet? Awesome, keep at it. You like the old school high carb, low fat diet and it’s working for you? Great!
Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be doing something differently if it’s working for you and you’re enjoying yourself. Experiment, find a flexible approach that you legitimately enjoy, and stick to it.
Stop stressing the minutia, start having fun getting in great shape.
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Have a great memorial day weekend, and keep working hard.