There’s going to be a few generalizations in this article. We know that not everybody is not the same, but we have seen some patterns that are more common than not.
Some athletes, especially newer ones, come in not following any specific plans around their food intake. They might not have any healthy eating habits, and little to no experience counting macros, following meal schedules, focusing on food types, etc., but with good intentions, and excitement, they might jump into following a highly prescriptive plan when they previously weren’t used to having any guidelines around their food intake or any intentional eating habits.
Sometimes this turns out great. Other times, because of the level of prescription and restriction…not so much.
If you make too much change, too soon, you shift a large amount of brainpower and focus on food and everything needed to prep that food – which can be overwhelming when life is still happening.
Because there hasn’t been enough time to build skills to handle everything that life throws, perceived failure happens. When that perceived failure happens, a lot of people believe that to mean they are failures in healthy eating when it wasn’t actually them failing, but the level of plan that failed them and the lack of coping skills when perceived failure occurs. If they had worked on the skill aspects first, they would be better able see their “failures” as events, or blips on the radar, that happened due to lack in specific skills, then grow by learning how to react and shift focus to actions that guide goals.
Even if they are deemed successful, this doesn’t usually last long – again, because life happens and the appropriate skills aren’t developed yet. This usually results in backsliding to old habits, weight regain, and likely lowered confidence of abilities in sticking to a plan.
The problem is that hardly anyone see’s this as a problem or even a potential problem, even though the cycle of dieting continues to happen. It’s not expected to have those skills if you haven’t been taught or focused on them.
A coach would not expect anyone to perfectly complete a movement like the snatch, without first working on squats, mobility, etc building up to it.
In a similar way, jumping into macro manipulation (whether by nutrition periodization or by general macros) is a lot for most people just starting out.
Instead of jumping straight into a higher-level plan, get the following down 99% of the time.
1. Don’t count anything. You need to use your energy elsewhere.
Adding the counting part isn’t necessary when you’re starting out, and honestly for most people even with experience, it’s not even necessary. When we dive in too deep, too soon, it’s so much easier to “fall off the wagon” and go back to old eating habits that don’t serve. We only have so much energy and we need it to funnel to the right place that will keep us on the path to our goals. Bonus points if you take the Intuitive Eating recommendation of eating without distraction and at a table!
2. Make sure most meals include:
- A lean source of protein (chicken, turkey, pork, beef, game, eggs)
- A source of healthy fats (avocado, olive, olive oil, nuts, seeds, ghee, grassfed butter, nut butters, some coconut)
- A healthy sources of carbs (fruits, starches like oats, rice, sweet and regular potatoes, quinoa, etc.)
- Some non-starchy veggies (broccoli, salad greens, green beans, asparagus, etc).
When we use our energy to make sure our meals include the above, we automatically promote more filling and satisfying meals that make it that much easier to limit foods that don’t make us feel and perform well.
3. Focus on “most of the time”. Don’t waste a minute thinking you will have a perfect week, month, etc. Focus on the consistency of “most of the time” rather that the perfection of “all of the time”.
If you just focus on making yours meals fit the above guidelines, there’s much less of a chance to overeat and should feel full and satisfied until the next meal.
Don’t try to rush to this point. Make sure you get the above down before moving forward. As you focus energy on the above, you are building skills.
It’s helpful to have coaching to make sure you’re building the right skills and the right ones in order in a way that stack on one another.
Once you can get the above down, most of the time, for several weeks (months would be better) and you feel confident and want to level up your nutrition from there, it can be helpful to use simple portion control by using your hand as measurement. Having a coach will help to determine exactly what you should aim for, but generally, most meals for women should be around 1 cupped handful of a carb-dense source, 1 palm protein, 1-2 thumbs fat, and 1-2 handfuls of veggies. Most meals for men should be around 2-cupped handfuls of a carb-dense source, 2 palms protein, 2 thumbs fat, and 2 handfuls of veggies. You can adjust portions from there based on energy, fullness, satiety, hunger, activity levels, and more.
I promise you, if you care about the long term, getting the above down is so important before adjusting macros for performance, like with nutrition periodization. We cannot stress enough to make those changes that might seem “too simple” in the beginning instead of overhauling your nutrition and making all the changes at once. Your brain and body will thank you.
The truth is, if you get the above nutrition completely down and build the skills that come with doing the above consistently, you might not even need to manage your nutrition at a higher-level plan (like periodization) down the line or you could follow a nutrition periodized plan so much easier. The key is knowing what skills are needed and how to implement them, which is why we offer 1:1 nutrition coaching in 1 and 3 month plans. Yes, you can learn through trial and error, but we get you there faster and with less pain with a clear direction and practices to build necessary skills.