‘Hindsight is a beautiful thing.’
That’s what they say right?
In my early days as a trainer and trainee I bought into every fad, rumour, myth and fallacy going around, believing that eating ‘clean’ and having a meal every 3 hours to ‘stoke the metabolic fire’ was the only way you could possibly hope to get lean, and if you weren’t doing daily fasted cardio then all of that clean eating would simply go to waste.
If only I could know back when I started out, what I know now.
I would have saved myself a lot of time, energy and effort.
Scrap that – SO much time, energy and effort.
And frustration. The biggest part of it. The most painfully sobering feelings of:
‘Why isn’t this working?’ and ‘Is this the right thing to do?’
But on the other hand, by making these mistakes, it means that I can now spot others making them, and help them avoid falling for the same ridiculous things I did.
So here goes. These are the things I wish I knew when I first started. With any luck, they will help you skip the frustration I mentioned earlier. The idea is to not only to help you make better gains from the outset, but also understand why it might be best not to do something, avoid a certain approach to dieting or training or choose a particular way of doing things over another.
In an industry seemingly fuelled by myth, hearsay and copious amounts of misinformation, this is the blog series to help people stop believing the hype and nonsense. To understand how to implement what actually works, and ultimately, reach their goals faster without having to sacrifice the rest of their life to get there.
1. Calories are King
I had always known about calories, and even had an idea of what they did, but I didn’t know just how important they were.
In fact, I had a fairly negative association with the word ‘calorie’ considering the importance brands such as Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine seemed to place on them. I’m sure we all know somebody who is a meticulous calorie counter too – and more often than not, that sort of thing tends to come off as somewhat obsessive.
How wrong I was.
It pains me to admit, but I genuinely believed that the calories from some foods were magical (chicken breast, sweet potato and egg whites for instance – essentially the foods most would widely consider to be ‘clean’) while the calories from sugar, white carbs and trans fats and foods such as: burgers, ice-cream, and pop tarts, were destined to make you fat.
Instead of cutting my calories when I wanted to lose fat, I just ate what I thought was ‘cleaner’, or I cut out whole food groups, like fruits, grains or even carbs as a whole. The more restrictive my diet, the more I felt like I was moving in the right direction as far as fat loss was concerned.
The thing is, in order to lose fat, we need to ensure we are burning more calories than we’re consuming. We need to force our body to look for that missing fuel elsewhere – and have it turn to body fat for that fuel.
Now, whilst removing entire food groups such as sugars, white carbs, fruits, grains & eating only a handful of foods consequently put me into a calorie deficit (whereby I would be burning more calories than I was consuming), it didn’t allow me any flexibility, freedom, fun or (and most importantly) the ability to eliminate the guesswork should I reach another plateau in the future.
It took a lot of convincing for me to start realising just how much calories matter. It was months before everything finally clicked. So, if you are at that stage now, here’s what you need to know:
You can only lose fat when you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie deficit.
You can only gain weight when you’re consuming more calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie surplus.
Other things DO matter as far as body composition is concerned, but if you aren’t eating an adequate amount of calories given your goals and activity levels, they’re entirely irrelevant.
So with that in mind, you can also deduce:
If your goal is to lose weight and you are struggling to do so, then you’re eating too many calories or you aren’t exercising enough to be in a calorie deficit.
If your goal is to gain weight and you’re struggling to do so, then you’re simply not eating enough calories or burning too many of them to be in a calorie surplus.
"You can only lose fat when you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie deficit." Nick Cheadle
This is quite literally the piece of information from which your entire approach will revolve around, which means if you don’t figure this part out before moving on, just about anything else you do will be in vain.
If you aren’t quite sure how many calories you should be eating to build muscle, burn fat/ get leaner or to simply maintain your weight, you can download a free chapter of my eBook THE IIFYM BIBLE, which will take you through exactly how to calculate how many calories you need to be eating during the day.
You can download it HERE for free.
1. There are No Good and Bad Foods
The above segues nicely into my second mistake.
As I alluded to, I was a big believer that certain foods were good, while others were bad – but that’s what most people think, right?
I was of the belief that some foods had ‘magical properties’ and actually enhanced fat burning. You can’t blame me – every pro-bodybuilder and fitness magazine alike seems to promote the fact that you’re an apparent failure if you can stick to a list of unprocessed foods that’s about 7 items long and you might be thinking the same thing now too. You can probably guess the foods I’m talking about - they were the typical bodybuilding staples such as chicken breast, brown rice, oatmeal, vegetables, protein shakes and so on. Again – these are predominantly the foods that most people would consider to be ‘clean’.
I even got to the point where I believed that you absolutely had to eat things like white fish and asparagus when losing fat. Don’t even talk to me about carbs at night – that was pure suicide.
On the flipside, I was convinced that junk foods would instantly lead to fat gain, and even a small sliver of cheesecake, a handful of fries or a sandwich could wreck a whole day (if not a whole week) of progress.
I avoided these foods like the plague, and if I did have them, it would often mean the rest of the day was a write-off as I’d struggle to control any urges from there, so great was the taste sensation and excitement of eating something that didn’t taste like cardboard as well as the mind-games I would play on myself for succumbing to such an act.
It was enough to make me feel as if I’d failed and completely ruined my diet and the past few weeks of effort.
In reality, I hadn’t (though there is more on cheat meals a little later), but given my approach at the time, it was difficult to think anything else.
It wasn’t until I did a lot more research that I found out that there’s really no such things as good food and bad foods.
Are there good and bad diets?
Sure. But this is still a pretty subjective topic.
A diet that has you eating far too many or far too few calories, and satisfies the majority of your energy requirement with junk food and little protein/ fruits/ vegetables is probably not the best diet. In fact, I’d say that if anything is a bad diet, that is.
But individual foods can really only be classed as nutrient-dense or nutrient-deficient and judged within the context of a diet in its entirety.
Nutrient-dense items are those that are typically pretty filling for the amount of calories they contain, and provide you with some goodness, either in the way of vitamins and minerals, protein, starchy carbs, essential fats and so on. Generally speaking, these are the foods that would be considered bodybuilding staples, or the ones you’d find in the fresh fruit and vegetable aisle, along with your lean cuts of meats.
Nutrient-void foods are often much higher in calories and not very filling, and don’t have many benefits in terms of health, satiety or otherwise, such as burgers, biscuits, chips, chocolate, lollies etc – pretty much the foods everybody loves and craves when they follow a typical ‘diet’.
That doesn’t mean you can’t eat them though. All it means is that they likely need to be included in smaller amounts. Remember – calories are the most important thing when it comes to manipulating your weight, so if you’re going to eat these sorts of foods, it’s important to do so in a manner that isn’t going to influence that calorie equation in a negative fashion. More on this shortly.
You’ve probably heard of the 80:20 principle - 80% of your diet should be nutrient-dense, healthy and, dare I say it - ‘clean’ - while 20% can be a little more ‘junky’ and provided you’re hitting your calorie intake, you’ll be just fine.
It’s cool if you want to abide by those sorts of recommendations, but this is a super generalised way of thinking. Please don’t bust out the calculator and figure out exactly how many calories you can dedicate to junk food. Aim to eat with your health in mind whilst consuming a good chunk of fruits and veggies every day and so long as you’re meeting your daily energy/ macronutrient requirements in a manner you enjoy, you’ll struggle to go wrong.
By classing foods as good and bad, you’re more than likely setting yourself up for a pretty average relationship with food, as well as making your diet way tougher than it needs to be. You don’t earn brownie points or lose fat faster by filling your daily energy/ macronutrient requirements with only foods you perceive to be ‘clean’, nor do you lose fat faster or build muscle more quickly by making things harder than they need to be.
Avoiding the foods you love is a sure-fire way to drive you to want to eat all of them. By allocating some of your daily calories to foods that make you happy, you’re doing yourself the best possible favour you ever could in making your diet more sustainable. Like I said above, dieting is pretty tough, there’s no need to make it more difficult than it needs to be.
Once you understand calories and how your diet as a whole is much more important than the individual foods you eat, your diet and consequently your life will become inherently easier. You’ll be able to eat at restaurants, go out with friends, partake in family dinners and even drink alcohol without feeling as if you’re ruining your progress or having to feel guilty about what you’re consuming.
You need to eat a certain amount of calories/ protein/ fats/ carbs every day – it isn’t going to kill you to get some of those from foods or drinks or both that you really love including in your diet.
• Why Cheat Meals can Make You Fat
• Why Supplements Won’t Make You Jacked
• Why Being Lean ALL THE TIME Might Not Be The Best Thing to Strive For
That’s it for part 1. Next week, we’ll take down the topics above on the way to getting through the biggest lessons I’ve learnt over time when it comes to getting leaner & building muscle.
Hit me up on my SnapChat channel- if you have any questions about Part 1 of the blog series, to grab daily workouts, get more help with your nutrition & score some wicked Gymshark Giveaways.
My best stuff also goes up on Instagram too.
See you next week guys!