What does healthy eating mean?
It depends first of all on your goals. In my experience training clients and meeting people, there are usually four kinds of goals:
1. The person is overweight to where it’s affecting their health, and they need to lose body weight
2. The person has a higher than normal percentage of body fat and they need to lose fat and gain muscle
3. The person is lean, has a good amount of muscle due to training for a longer period of time and wants to continue to see results without being too strict
4. The person has some lean muscle but has trouble keeping weight on and wants to add a few pounds
Recently, due to the fact that our clients are freakin’ awesome, I have had the #3 conversation with a lot of people. Besides that, #2 is the most popular with a few people in the #1 and #4 categories.
If you look at these four scenarios you can pretty much assume these people are not all eating the same way.
There will be frameworks in place that transcend all four areas but you can pretty much assume that eating for these four goals will be a bit different.
The major frameworks for a healthy and simple nutrition plan (assuming the person has no medical issues or food allergies) would go something like this:
This is a general picture of a person who trains hard, wants to lose some body fat and increase or maintain lean muscle.
This is pretty simple to teach and honestly, these are simple concepts to follow. Let’s go back to that #3 category though.
I’m going to use a few of my training clients as examples. Client A is a female in her mid-30’s. She came to us at 28% body fat and around 170 pounds. After 9 months she’s rocking a lean 153 pounds at 18.5% body fat. This is 47 pounds of body fat down to 27 pounds of body fat. Pretty awesome for someone who was already active.
Another client, a female in her late 20’s started with us in October at 141 pounds. She was 19.8% body fat which is about 27 pounds of body fat. She’s now at 141 with 12.4% body fat (16 pounds of body fat). The side point I want to make here is that the scale weight did not change but she dropped 11 pounds of body fat. Here’s how that’s possible.
I’ve had this conversation many times with these two individuals, along with several other clients who are in the same position. Hell, I’m in that position myself.
How do you eat for results when you already have results?
Do you nitpick at yourself and say “I want to lose more in my stomach or more in my legs?”
I think that’s what a lot of people do, especially women. Is that healthy? Hell no.
If you’re already in this position where you have lost body fat, gained a decent amount of muscle, you feel good, your workouts are strong and you are happy with yourself, it’s time to continue to focus on the lifestyle.
Did you go through all of this hard work just to get to the desired body fat percentage and then think it would magically stay like that forever? Or that you could continue to lose more even though your current levels are healthy and you feel good? Nope.
The answer to how you continue this journey is not a simple one. You have to figure out what YOU want. To give you an example using my own situation, last year at this time my body fat percentage was 17% and I was feeling my leanest.
I was pretty strict with my nutrition and I could notice my strength was not improving. My workouts were okay but not great. I didn’t feel energized in general and I was just not where I wanted to be.
After a few months of experimenting with some different training styles just to give my body a break, I started to dial in my strength. That became my focus. In 6 months I have not measured or tested my body fat, I simply want to go based on the mirror, my clothes and my strength levels.
Those are results enough for me right now. That may not work for you. I’ve been training for years and I know my body, so I can tell when the strength is really dialed in and I’m there now.
What am I doing for nutrition?
I’m not really focused on calories because I’m not in the restricted mindset. I’m not trying to “lose” anything. I want to create a better lifestyle and it’s working. I feel energized during my training sessions. I train 5 days a week and that’s better for me. I used to do 6 and I never recovered.
My nutrition is pretty simple now. I’ve found something that works for me. People ask me all the time if I do Paleo or Intermittent Fasting. Do I eat breakfast? Do I have a post workout shake?
I do it all. My nutrition is very basic and very much a fluid cycle based on what works for my day. I’m pretty basic so I actually don’t mind eating similar things every day. Some people may need more “flare” in their diet and if so, that’s cool.
On most days that I train, it’s around 8 or 9am. I train in a fasted state and then I have a shake around 10 or maybe 11 or 12. It depends on the day. It’s not set in stone and so far I haven’t died if I didn’t get my post workout shake in exactly 30 minutes after I finish training.
I don’t usually eat lunch because I’m too lazy, so I’ll snack on some nuts, beef jerky or I’ll blend up one of my favorite shakes.
Then I’ll have another snack during the afternoon. Or maybe I won’t. Sometimes my shakes fill me up and if I’m at the gym in the evening, I don’t get hungry because I’m running around.
Sometimes my dinner is at 6pm if I’m home. Sometimes it’s at 9pm after my evening sessions at the gym. I know Oprah said don’t eat after 7pm. So far I haven’t woken up mysteriously carrying around 5 extra pounds of fat because I ate at 9pm.
If I eat at 9pm I just eat a little later the next morning.
I know this cycle won’t work for a lot of people. It didn’t work for me for a long time either because I was trying to be too rigid. I lost a lot of body fat and then when I got all focused on it, I got kinda stressed. You know what messes with fat loss? Stress and hormones.
Once I chilled out, focused on my strength and performance and just ate 3-4 times a day when I was hungry, it felt so much better.
If I go out to dinner or have a glass of wine with friends, that’s okay because guess what, I was healthy the other 85% of the week AND I didn’t stress about it.
If you are in that #3 category, I highly suggest that you start focusing on performance and eating for lifestyle and not for that last pound of body fat. I’m not saying it’s not important, but when does it end?
The whole reason you got into training and healthy eating was to have a lifestyle, not to obsess about every single pinch of the calipers.
If you are just starting out or still have more body fat to lose, I’ll be writing more articles touching on those topics in the future but as I mentioned, it’s all about sticking to the plan I listed in the beginning of this article. Once you start to really reach those results, then you become more flexible and develop your own “rules.”
Be sure to leave a comment below if you have developed some better guidelines for yourself and have gotten away from the rigid “diet planning.”