12 years, 3 degrees, and a very, very windy road ago I began my own health and fitness journey. During the first several years of my journey had some bumps in the road, several detours, and was objectively a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Over the last 12 or so years I have learned a lot along the way and have some lessons I want to impart on you as you begin your fitness journey in 2017.
- Understand that it is a journey
One of the biggest mistakes I see people newly into their fitness journey make is that they try to learn and do everything right off the bat. I have been an “expert” in the field for over a decade and I am still learning. The entire journey is just that, a journey.
Instead of trying to learn and do everything right off the bat start with simple steps and learn along the way. Think about your fitness journey like your career. Day 1 of your new job you don’t know everything, you aren’t the expert, and you aren’t expected to be. You are just expected to work hard, learn along the way, and make progress as expected. Treat your fitness journey the exact same way.
This is a life-long journey. Not a 90 day get fit and quit program. This is your life, it is going to be a journey.
- Start with personal change
Macros, training plans, supplements aren’t the most important things to start with during your journey. The single most important thing is changing who you are. The very first question you need to ask before you begin this journey of becoming a different person should be, “why do I want to take this journey”?
If you don’t figure out why you are embarking on this journey, no diet or training plan is going to make you successful. You will always find excuses, take shortcuts, or the easy way out. I can guarantee you that the journey is going to have some hard times, that is just the way it is. Without having a personal change behind you, the physical change will be fleeting.
- Focus on Calories
In an age where hot diet schemes reign supreme we often fail to focus on the fundamentals and get bogged down in the minutiae.
Without a doubt the single biggest thing to focus on is caloric intake. The difference in weight loss or change in body composition by varying proteins, carbs and fat by 10% up or down from some arbitrary number is almost non-existent when you step back and look at calorie balance. The very first thing you should do is find your “maintenance” level of calorie intake. Essentially, this is where you are eating and burning the exact same amount of calories over a 2-3 week window.
Now there isn’t really a huge need to worry a lot about estimating the caloric expenditure, you can easily guess and check this by tracking food and bodyweight.
Once you establish this caloric intake level, adjusting it for weight loss, recomposition, or weight gain becomes a much, much easier task.
Don’t spend your first 6 months trying to figure out the perfect macronutrient ratio, spend that time figuring out your calorie intake instead.
- Exercise for Physique, Diet for Weight
One message about exercise I can impart on you is that you really should use exercise to change your physique, not the number on the scale.
In the grand scheme of things, the calories you burn during exercise are almost trivial when compared to other things. For example, exercise probably only accounts for 10-15% of your total calorie expenditure during the day and that can easily be offset by one slice of pizza. The diet piece is what really drives the changes in weight.
This doesn’t mean exercise isn’t critical to your transformation, it is essential. There is nothing you can do that is more effective to change your physique than exercising (other than plastic surgery).
Train to improve your physique. Dial in your nutrition to lose scale weight.
- Don’t make it too complicated
If you notice, none of the 4 points above are highly technical. 90% of your results are going to come from non-technical, basic information. Let me outline the basic key nutritional things to consider as you put together your plan :
1) Dial in your calories. Spend 3-4 weeks finding your calorie sweet spot.
2) Focus on your protein. Get between 0.6-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
3) Consume enough fat to support your body’s functions and keep your satiated. This number varies drastically from person to person but usually 20-35% of calories is a good working window.
4) Round off the rest of the calories from carbohydrates.
5) Make the bulk of your food from “whole foods”. This increases your likelihood of hitting your calorie and macro goals. Additionally, making whole foods the bulk of your choices will help you cover your micro nutrition needs.
The theme is quite clear – Focus on the important things, forget the details for now!