As you can imagine, being a fitness coach, I field a lot of questions about fitness from friends; Sometimes family, though not so much these days.
I am convinced some of them believe I’ve grown to lead some whacky alternative lifestyle, called ‘staying fit.’ As best I can anyway…
Recently, I had a painfully long conversation about “fasted cardio,” how many calories extra muscle burns and just before that water-fasting. I kid you not, these are the conversations I have all day every day…
If you really want to see me go on a rant, ask me ‘what’s the best X…’
For the record, I’m pretty neutral on everything. There are few things that are absolutely stupid. If it works for you, it works for you, I’m not here to tell you that you don’t know what’s best for you.
I’m going to repeat that: The best human diet is the one that works for you.
However, I have noticed over those many conversations that a lot of people get really really focused on the minutiae. This is a big thing holding a lot of people back from seeing the results they want.
Thus, I’ve decided it was time to lay some stuff down on this fluff and talk focus, not what you should be doing, but literally the one thing you need to do.
Ignore Minor Details
When I sat down to write this, I was reminded of a great quote from power-lifting guru, Dave Tate:
People have a tendency to major in the minor.
Meaning, people have a tendency to focus so much on the minor details of fitness and health that they neglect the more important things that produce the majority of results.
A rundown of the great examples I’ve heard over the years:
1) Should I be eating X item (usually white potatoes, rice, wheat, carrots, other root vegetables, nuts, types of fat, various types of fruit, etc…) if I really want to lose weight?
Best Answer: Does it matter?
If you still get 30-40% of your calories each day from white bread, muffins, bagels, chocolate, french fries, greasy burgers from fast food joints, processed cereals, microwave dinners, or other processed foods?
Is eating a root vegetable really the problem?
You gotta go after the low-hanging fruit! Literally!!!!
Do you really think that eating fruit is the root of the problem? The reason you’re not at 5% body fat? Doubtful…
And I’d know, I’ve read thousands of food logs over the years.
If you answered yes to that question; Then ask the question again like this, “am I 100% sure that eating fruit is the reason I look and feel this way?”
Most of the time the second answer is always a no.
Learn to focus on what’s important, fruit and root vegetable consumption may be an issue for an elite bodybuilder who is looking to go from 4.5% body fat to 4.3% body fat, but for 98% of the population, eating fruit is hardly the big problem.
Neither is gluten intake, eating beans/legumes, grains or potatoes. These are little things that might help you build a little momentum but they aren’t the real reason you’re not a swimsuit model yet.
Instead, worry about the overall quality or wholeness of your food; Eat more protein; Eat more vegetables; Eat some starchy carbs (more if you’re more active, less if you’re not that active); Eat some fat and track your progress. Adjust as progress dictates.
If you’re not doing most of those things, I’m not sure one specific food is going to make a HUGE difference.
2) I heard that you lose more weight doing cardio on an empty stomach, in the morning before breakfast? Should I be doing that?
Best Answer: Do you exercise regularly?
If not, then why are you concerned about something that will make a tiny percent difference on fat loss at best or at worst simply make you feel like crap while you train; If you haven’t exercised consistently at all over the last month?
Honestly, you just need to get started.
Want something that will have a bigger impact on weight loss?
Try to make your training just a little bit harder, or perhaps longer, at a time that agrees with your body the most. Add a little load. Do more reps. Get outside your comfort zone.
Add a few lbs to your lifts, sprint a little bit faster each time you run, do a few more reps and challenge yourself to make small improvements every time you go to the gym.
I can say that generally speaking 3-4 hours after waking up (i.e. getting out of bed) is optimal for the nervous system and spinal fluid, which is probably more important than the 2% extra caloric burn you’ll get using “fasted cardio.”
The fasting approach, again is something traditionally used in bodybuilding to get the lowest possible percentage of body fat and not something 98% of the population should be worried about just yet.
At best it’s a highly specialized approach for highly specialized requirements.
If you need some help, check out the 2×2 training framework.
3) What about the fat burning zone, can you tell me about that?
Best Answer: See above. NO!!!
The fat burning zone is based in science but has little true application practically.
It’s based off something called the Respiratory Quotient (RQ), a unit-less measure we use for calculating metabolism from oxygen and carbon dioxide consumption.
Basically, anything at a 0.7, fat is the predominant fuel, 0.85 is a mix of fat and carbohydrates and anything at or above 1.0 is predominantly carbohydrates (sugar/glucose as the fuel).
Though these numbers may vary, that 0.7 is the ‘fat-burning zone,’ and truthfully it’s different for everybody depending on training experience, so simply through the act of training you can change the zone, creating the need for regular RQ testing — a procedure often fairly inaccessible to most people.
The other problem is that the total caloric expenditure at this level is very low, so yes you are burning more fat as fuel, but you are burning maybe a tenth of the total calories as you would be at a higher level of intensity.
Making the science ineffective from a practical standpoint. Doing something still trumps not doing the fat burning zone workout you were hoping to do.
4) What kinds of things do I need to be doing to get my bench/squat/deadlift/clean up?
Best Answer – Bench/Squat/Deadlift/Clean!
Most people need technique improvements, not other exercises to beef up their major lifts. That’s not to say that once you get to a certain level, that assistance exercises aren’t incredibly useful. They can be, but most gains at first are achieved through practice.
There is that word again. You need more application, less information.
You need to get some time under the bar, spend time perfecting your technique.
You need a good coach or mentor to give you feedback on how to get better.
You should also consider balance in these lifts, if your deadlift is 275 lbs, the chances of you cleaning more than that is slim-to-none.
Conversely if you can bench more than you squat, you may want to rethink your training program, unless power-lifting is your sport of choice.
You’re also far more likely to miss lifts based on mental performance than you are on a lack of strength in a particular accessory exercise.
*Furthermore, you can’t simply be told what to do to improve these lifts without a physical assessment of some kind. The best program under these circumstances, is one geared to you and your needs.
No assistance exercise will improve a big lift, without also regularly practicing the big lift!!!
5) What kind of stuff can I do in the gym to get faster/stronger/more explosive on the field?
Best Answer – Jump, sprint, change direction and again work on technique.
Yes upgrading your strength to a certain extent will improve performance but only if you’ve got a technical performance worth improving.
This is the the athlete that spends all of their extra time in the gym (often doing too much) rather than on their sport.
The gym serves to complement the field, not a replacement for it. Seems odd for a strength and conditioning coach to say such things right? It’s true!
You don’t become a better athlete by spending more time in the gym, you do it by improving your weaknesses and for some athletes that just happens to be where the gym comes in.
Again it’s about a balance of power; You should take time off from your sport; As you should take time off from the gym but all the stuff you learn or do in the gym needs to apply to the field and the only way to do that is for you to practice on the field.
The gym and technical practice need to coexist but technical practice needs priority.
6) I heard I’m supposed to eat Y before a workout and Z after a workout?
Best Answer – See question #1.
When you’ve got a foundational approach to nutrition down, then we’ll worry about the specifics of pre or post-workout nutrition.
Yes EAA’s or a shake can be beneficial, but if you’ve gone this long without them, do we really need to worry about them just yet?
Focus on the big buckets, that collect the most water.
Until performance at the gym becomes the real goal and until you’ve got a foundation of eating lean protein, healthy fats, lots of veggies, and carbs relative to exercise, about 80% of the time, I just don’t see the need to worry much about pre or post-workout nutrition.
We’ll get there…
7) What’s the best kind of exercise can I do to work my YY dorsi muscle?
Best Answer – Train everything not just one part of your body.
Your body didn’t sit down and conspire against you to put troublesome fat deposits on areas you just happened to notice.
It’s also not going to pull fat away from an area just because you work on it for a thousand reps this week.
For the time being (until science progresses perhaps), you cannot spot reduce anything, so train your entire body, not ‘body parts.’
In other words, train movements not muscles.
I’m not saying ignore muscles altogether, sometimes you want to maximize function of one piece of the movement puzzle so as to enhance your movement ability.
Sometimes you want a certain part of your body to look a little bit better (my chest and lateral shoulders tend to lag), that’s cool, but you don’t just train that bodypart. You add an exercise or two to draw attention there.
Bodybuilders worry about body parts because each body part has to look a certain way for competition, if you’re not an elite bodybuilder, you may want to stop training like one.
That being said, compound movements are by far the most effective for the overwhelming majority of the population. You need to be doing them, or the assistance work doesn’t work all that well.
Compound movements are large complex movement that utilize a large percentage of muscle mass, so if you want to beef up your biceps, try a chin-up instead of arm-curls to start. Add some arm curls when you feel like progress has slowed.
8) I heard ABC supplement(s) work really well for this or that?
Best Answer – Supplements are just that, a supplement to your diet, not a replacement.
They are not called replacements, for a reason. Focus on getting your diet right for you 80% of the time, then we’ll talk about supplements. I’m not saying we can’t do things concurrently, or that a certain supplement might not be a benefit to you but the differences they make tend to be minor.
Depending on what it is…
At that point there are a few things you could take to enhance performance that are research supported but they are a lot more boring than most people think.
Creatine, Fish Oil, Greens Supplements, Multi-Vitamins, Vitamin D, Protein Powders, maybe MCT’s and EAA’s are about it for most and even then, only if you really wanted to. Can you get these things in your diet already? Sure, though sometimes it’s hard.
A good balanced diet should provide most of what you need already. You use supplements for insurance or to fill in the gaps.
It may be a good idea to get a blood test at some point to see if you are low in any particular hormones, minerals or other nutrients.
Often doctors will recommend this based on symptoms, but sometimes people can be asymptomatic.
Ask your doctor about all that though, in some cases — if for instance you’re anemic, you’ll want to take a quality iron supplement — they may highly recommend you take something you are deficient in, I suggest you follow their advice.
Maybe there are a few things you can take in the meantime while we get your diet sorted, but that’s doesn’t mean they work if you don’t take them.