Big Rocks in Training, Nutrition, and Weight Loss

I recently reflected on some major lessons in health and fitness. These are big rocks in training, nutrition, and weight loss that I have written about in my Science Project series books. These principles have been reaffirmed by current research as well as my experience in working with clients. I talked about these items in this week’s podcast if you’d like a deeper dive but I wanted to offer a few of these pearls of wellness and peak performance wisdom right here.

Training for absolute strength, speed, or power is entirely necessary in the achievement of one’s potential in most sports. Even if you consider yourself an endurance athlete, periodically developing and maintaining maximum output capacity is beneficial. But there are a few considerations which must be observed with limit-pushing training:

  • In order to get a proper stimulus for performance improvement, you need to be at 95-98% of maximum effort. I generally advise against a true 100% effort in training as this can result in straining, increase injury risk, and should probably be saved for competition only.
  • Maximum intensity training should only be incorporated when the athlete (you) are truly conditioned to the point that it is appropriate. To get all the benefits and avoid the breakdown risks, you have to train until you’ve earned the right to go hard.
  • A progressive warmup is critical with any heavy lift, HIIT, or sprint effort. Activating, potentiating, and readying the body to produce excellence is an art form.
  • Intra-workout rest periods need to be ample — and often increasing in duration in the presence of multiple reps or sets — in order to produce true highest-quality output.
  • Inter-workout recovery should be as long as it takes to be fresh and ready to hit it hard again. If it takes you several days of easy activity and supportive measures to recover from a session…so be it. Avoid stacking maximal workouts too close together in your training program. This generally leads to diminishing returns, burnout, or injury.

When addressing body composition, or attempting to lose body fat and gain or maintain muscle mass, there are several points to keep in mind:

  • The concept of metabolic multitasking, in which you ask your body to do several things at once, may indeed be a compromise. While it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, the body — just like the mind at work — actually prefers to focus on one thing at a time. Trying to burn off blubber and simultaneously build bulk (or sculpt, shape, tone, and hone if you prefer) will typically yield lesser results in both categories as opposed to focusing on one goal at a time. Weight loss is primarily catabolic in nature and lean body mass gain (muscle, bone, organ, etc.) is anabolic. These are opposing metabolic states and while our bodies do balance them every day, I always see the best results when a person emphasizes only one condition. 
  • Accept the fact that if you are trying to cut weight, you can lose mostly fat (and water depending on your diet) but will have to work hard to maintain your lean body mass and not lose a little muscle in the process.
  • And recognize that when the body is building tissue and making gains, it will generally store a bit of extra water and fat in the process. Not always…but almost.
  • Protein has been proven to be critical in the muscle and longevity game. Consuming not just adequate, but optimal amounts of high-quality (primarily animal-based) protein provides the necessary building blocks for tissue repair, maintenance and synthesis. This is not just muscle, but hair, skin, bones, connective tissues, nails, and other key parts of the human beast.
  • We need relatively small but consistent amounts of that heavy, hard training (always in a safe and controlled manner) to provide the stimulus for muscle protein synthesis, and we then need to match those demands with protein consumption. Training hard and fasting are incompatible and can lead to wasting, or cachexic, states. 
  • Protein intake is valuable for growing bodies and hard-training athletes, but it is also essential for any owner of a body who wants to make it last a lifetime. Age-related sarcopenia, or muscle loss with advancing chronology, is rampant in our society and a major factor in termination of ass-kicking in life. Slowing this rate of decline is essential for maintaining function, mobility, and reducing fall risk.

Weight loss, of which we want to be mostly adipose tissue (body fat), has consistently been proven by research (and many of my clients), to be most impacted by several key factors:

  • Carbohydrate reduction/restriction in the diet is powerful in weight loss. This is especially true concerning the elimination of processed, refined carbs like those found in junk food. Minimizing carbs lowers insulin levels and helps to regulate hormonal balance and metabolism to burn, and not store, body fat.
  • Regarding movement, getting higher amounts of general daily activity is more valuable than a dedicated workout when weight loss is the goal. Frequent activity keeps the metabolism idling and not stalling. While it is true that you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can walk a lot and make your good diet more effective for weight loss purposes.
  • Caloric restriction still needs to be considered. The hormonal signaling, or endocrine-based effects of eating the right foods is important, but if you eat 3 times more food than you need, even if it is healthy, your body will probably store fat. The key with caloric restriction is to make it mild and cyclic. Slight reductions for several days, in the metabolically fat-adapted individual in particular, will aggressively reduce fat stores in most cases. Then, periodic re-feeds or slight “reverse dieting” will prevent metabolic stress and slowdown. It’s an artful dance but it works extremely well.

Health is the thing we all need and what we should all be going after. Doesn’t matter what your bodycomp is or how your performance is going if you are not healthy. Your life will suck and you will die sooner…no need to sugar coat that message:

  • Sleep is king. It regulates, or really optimizes, everything. When sleep is optimal, you absorb more from your workouts, recover faster, idealize body composition, and look/feel great. When it’s not, everything gets crappy…fast. Whatever it takes, use the sleep hygiene tips that we are always emphasizing to get the most out of your time between the sheets.
  • Experiment with the role of plant matter in your diet. We’ve always been taught that you just can’t eat too many fruits and veggies, that they should be the cornerstone of our diets, and that they are the secret to health, performance, and longevity. They are shown to be full, in most cases of various antioxidants, flavinoids, polyphenols, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and earthly goodness. But most plants also contain protective anti-nutrient compounds such as lectins, phytates, and oxalates. The nutrients they contain also tend to be less bioavailable, or extractable by humans, in many instances. And some come with a fairly substantial carb bolus. This is an area of great controversy, debate, and research currently (the amount of plant matter that may be ideal in the human diet). Genetics is a big driver here. I’ve seen folks who were healthier and higher performing on high-plant diets. I’ve seen just as many, including myself, who actually did better (with objective measures in bloodwork and work capacity), with less plants in the diet. Experiment for yourself…but keep an open mind…and be objective.

That feels like enough for today. There are many more big rocks in wellness and performance. Let’s keep discovering, supporting each other, and striving for all things good. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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