The fact of the matter is that no diet in itself possesses any form of advantage over another provided a basic set of fundamental rules are followed consistently. Whether it's keto, paleo, vegan, zone, Subway, intermittent fasting, carb cycling, full on cereal and whey IIFYM or even (God forbid) some sort of Herbalife 30 day challenge any sort of progress (or lack thereof) is entirely due to you meeting (or not meeting) the above criteria, not the innate magic of whatever fad diet is being rammed down your throat by the next big fitness superstar. No Terry Crews, fasting is not f*cking anabolic.
Why a pyramid format you may ask? Well two reasons really. It reminds us of the FDA's farcical attempt at putting together a set of eating recommendations - " The Food Pyramid" that hilariously recommended 8-12 portions of carbohydrates daily for a predominantly sedentary population, ultimately leading to the obesity epidemic threatening the majority of the western world and proving for the final time that medical doctors have absolutely no business giving people nutritional advice.
The second reason is more serious and must be substantiated eloquently in order to avoid outrage from the broscience community: not everything in that pyramid is of equal importance. Now that may seem a pretty standard point to us enlightened few but for the majority of both the local and international fitness community it seems that this notion is almost blasphemous. Why you ask? I'm going to guess supplement sales. It's a hell of a lot easier to market something as a "must have supplement for weight loss" than it is to market something as a "helpful weight loss aid provided caloric intake is below maintenance" and thus here we sit, with a bunch of meathead coaches putting together intricate intra and post workout nutritional plans to optimise the anabolic response in and around training - without knowing their client's overall caloric intake let alone their macronutrient breakdown. Bullshit baffles brains - get the simple stuff right first. Here's how:
1. Energy balance
Your body can be in one of three states as far as energy balance goes: hypocaloric/deficit (consuming less calories than you use), hypercaloric/surplus (consuming more calories than you use) and isocaloric/maintenance (calories in = calories out). If you're hypocaloric you will lose weight, if you are hypercaloric you will gain weight and if you eat a maintenance your weight will remain the same. This is the single most important factor in any diet and is simply not up for debate in terms of it's importance for any fitness goal. Use an online basal metabolic rate calculator, use the multipliers to factor in exercise to get your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and then eat in a deficit if you wish to lose weight/drop bodyfat and eat in a surplus if you want to gain weight/add muscle mass. If somebody tells you otherwise they are lying. Period.
These terms refers to the "big" nutrients - nutrients that are required by our bodies in large quantities for repair and for fuel. These are namely protein, carbohydrates and fat (with fibre getting an honorable mention). They contribute 4, 4 and 9 calories per gram respectively to your daily caloric intake but their effect on overall body composition goes slightly deeper than that:
- TEF (thermogenic effect of food)
This refers to the amount of energy required by the human body to process and utilise a specific macronutrient. Protein is by far the most energy intensive followed by fat and carbohydrate (in that order). Although small, this is one of the factors that ultimately contributes towards the macronutrient header's position on the pyramid.
- Protein intake
Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to body composition (I challenge anyone to present me with one piece of peer reviewed scientific literature that proves any one diet is better than another when overall calories and protein intake are equated) as it is the primary source of the amino acids necessary for muscle growth and repair. Protein effects the fat loss process directly by supporting recovery from training, optimising the hormonal environment and having the highest TEF. It effects the fat loss process indirectly by preserving metabolically active muscle tissue. Make sure you're getting at least 1g per 1lb of bodyweight (kg multiplied by 2.2)
- The carb vs fat debate
Science hasn't had much conclusive to say about this topic as of yet so I'm going to leave this at the following: make sure your protein requirements are met and then decide yourself on (or work with a coach) on how to "spend" the remainder of your calories - if you like high fat, then eat high fat. If you like higher carbs then eat higher carbs. The results will be almost, if not exactly the same (I am speaking exclusively in terms of fat loss here, the performance debate between carbs vs fat as a fuel source is beyond the scope of this article).
Micronutrients refer to the nutrients that your body requires in smaller amounts. Namely vitamins and minerals that are used in your body's daily processes. They are next on the pyramid as nothing functions optimally when the client is in a state of micronutrient deficiency. The majority of people eating a relatively healthy diet our probably hitting all their micronutrient needs (provided they have no underlying healthy conditions) on a daily basis so this need not be a particular area of concern. Ensure you eat a wide variety of foods (bro diets fail miserably at this funnily enough with a monotanous "clean eating" approach often doing more harm than good in this regard) and ensure that 80% of your daily calories come from unprocessed food sources.
4. Nutrient timing
This is the single most overrated aspect of a successful meal plan. However it seems to get the most focus from bro coaches and their ethically questionable supplement partners as it enables them to peddle their magic post workout tablets and the coinciding bullshit eating regimes.
Sure, your ability to secret insulin is slightly heightened around a period of stressful training and eating around 60% of your daily carbohydrate intake split between pre and post training is something I absolutely recommend but please remember the following when somebody tries to over exaggerate the importance of nutrient timing.
- Short term fluctuations in hormones have no impact on body composition whatsoever (intermittent fasting raising GH people)
- Protein synthesis post workout is at around 90% of it's potential maximum when a 30g protein sample (3-5g leucine) is ingested. This rises to 100% of the maximum when combined with a relatively small dose of carbohydrates (I seem to remember roughly 30g for a 100kg individual). Those ridiculously high carb post workout shakes are not necessary to maximise protein synthesis.
- Immediate glycogen replenishment is only beneficial for athletes doing multiple sessions daily. Slamming 100g of dextrose post workout is completely unnecessary - consume food, not sugar and spend those calories elsewhere.
- Overall calories still matter more. Your training session isn't a waste if you miss the "anabolic window".
It's in the name - SUPPLEMENT. Supplements should supplement your existing diet by filling in any of the gaps that you cannot fill with whole food. Are they helpful? Absolutely. Are they necessary? Absolutely not. One must reconsider if they themselves or their coach have more money going towards supplements than food each month.
I'd recommend SSN IsoPro/100% Whey , creatine monohydrate, fish oil and their multivitamin as a basic "stack" as this does provide the trainee with some useful additions that he/she may not be getting in their diet.
- IsoPro/100% Whey: to help meet daily protein requirements.
- Creatine monohydrate: nobody is eating enough red meat to get an equivalent creatine dose. Safe and proven effective.
- Fish oil: rarely do people eat enough fatty fish to benefit from the numerous health and anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil.
- Multivitamin: an insurance policy to ensure micronutrient/ mineral intake is at an optimum. Please note here you do not get extra points for going over your required intake - once your needs are met that's it.
Also a big shout out to SSN for being secure enough in the quality of their products to allow their ambassadors to admit that supplements are not the be all and end all of successful eating plan.
I hope this article served as a wake up call to those of you who were sweating the small stuff instead of prioritising your efforts and putting more effort into the things that are actually responsible for your progress. Start basic, work your way up.
Next time we will be going over the "behaviour and lifestyle" title at the bottom of the pyramid as that is a topic in itself.