Nutrition is a key component to getting the results that you desire to see. Whether your goal is to increase strength, improve body composition, or simply become a better athlete, nutrition needs to be something that you pay close attention to.
If you disciplined in regard to your training and never miss a workout, if you are not educating yourself on good nutrition and applying those principles with a good degree of consistency, you are missing out on a factor. It has been said that results are the product of 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. However, I like to think of putting 100% effort into both your nutrition and your training.
This doesn't mean that you need to have a perfect diet! (As an aside, a perfect diet means different things to different people. A "perfect" diet to one person may look like the worst diet ever to the next!) It is important to learn to incorporate and use foods that you enjoy, which are accessible to you, and part of your unique lifestyle and traditions. The best nutrition plan for you is not the latest thing you saw on social media or in a fitness magazine. The best nutrition plan for you is one that allows you to consistently stick with it, while providing for your specific nutrition needs. A successful nutrition program will take into account the following variables, listed in order of importance:
A successful nutrition program will take into account your fitness and body composition goals (lose fat, build muscle, body recomposition, or increase strength and conditioning) and adjust calories as appropriate. Eating at too large of a caloric surplus or deficit is not recommended. Here is a calculator that you might find helpful in estimating your energy needs.
A successful nutrition program will give you a framework for fueling your workouts with the right mix of carbohydrates, fats and protein to help you perform at your best. The macronutrient profile that works best for you will depend on your specific training and body composition goals. A good place to start is to try to consume approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, 0.5 lb fat per pound of body weight. The rest of the calories can be allocated to carbohydrates.
A successful nutrition program will take into account micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Even if you could meet your calorie and macronutrient goals eating a diet consisting purely of poptarts, ice cream and protein powder, it would not be recommended since you would be missing out on key micronutrients to help you look and feel your best.
A successful nutrition program will help you to time nutrients relative to your workouts in a way that helps you to maximize nutrition and help you perform at your best.
A successsful nutrition program will recognize that some supplements can be a helpful addition to a well-established exercise and nutrition plan. Supplements will not do the work for you, but they can be a helpful addition to enhance an already stellar plan.
A successful nutrition program will also take into account REAL LIFE. Birthday parties, barbecues, family dinners, restaurant meals, and celebrations are a part of our life and culture. Food is often an important part of these events. While food is most definitely fuel, there will be times that we eat for reasons other than pure hunger. Eating for enjoyment should be worked into the plan. Provided that most of your meals are sourced from real, unprocessed whole foods, there is plenty of room for eating for joy! Incorporating small indulgences is likely to help you stick with your plan with a greater degree of consistency than declaring certain foods "off limits".
Consistency does not necessarily mean perfection in regard to food choices, but rather staying the course and not having huge sways one way or the other. Inconsistency often leads to a constant feeling that you are "falling off the wagon", and a never-ending binge/restrict cycle. Consistency allows yourself to have grace, knowing that slip ups will happen but you simply pick up where you left off and keep going, always moving forward.
As a personal trainer and strength coach, I often meet with people who tell me that they had great success on a particular diet. They will proceed to tell me how, when they followed this diet, they felt great, had tons of energy, lost weight and looked great....but then they gained all the weight back and then some. Often they think that the secret to their success is going back to the very diet that failed them in the first place.
If you found temporary success on a particular diet, but have been unable to maintain that success over the long term, did the diet really "work?" Ultimately, you did not fail. The diet failed!!! In most cases, running to another diet is a short term quick fix solution to a long-term problem. The solution is not another diet, but rather an approach to lasting lifestyle change that is sustainable for YOU! This will look different for each individual. This can take some time and experimentation, but it is a great learning experience.