We all know the importance of diet when it comes to gaining muscle and strength or losing fat. But if you are used to eating the typical persons diet of sugar filled possessed crap it can be difficult to change to eat in a way that supports your lifting goals. This is where I feel many beginners slip up and fail to achieve much of anything because they do not have their diet homed in.
There are many problems beginners face in this area. Some simply pay no attention to their diet what so ever continuing with their takeaways and coke diet. Others eat what they think is a healthy diet consisting of cereal bars, musali, pasta and prune juice. There are those who hear they must go on a massive bulk to make gains because Ripptoe or whoever said so. They follow a see food diet eating anything and everything and washing it down with a gallon of milk a day. And of course there are those few who find there way into a GNC and think they must take every supplement that is sent there way by the salesman. It's a shame they don't seem to eat any actual real food though.
First of all let's clear something up. If you are a beginner you probably don't need to worry about bulking or cutting. You just need to make better food choices. Beginners have the unique ability to gain muscle and strength while losing fat. This should be exactly what you are aiming to do. No one got into lifting weights because they wanted to be fatter and look worse. The problem with going on an all out bulk fest is that it often leads to making you fat and keeping you that way. How many guys do you see in the gym who never look any different. They may well have been training for years but never sort their diet out. They may have some mass but are always carrying that extra layer of fat. You need to learn the habits of proper eating and dieting first before you bulk.
There needs to be a gradual process of changing your diet overtime much the same way you progress in lifting weights by adding small increments week in week out to add up to big weights. You don't go from a beer and crisps diet to a bodybuilders pre contest diet of 6 portions of plain chicken breast and broccoli a day otherwise you'll find you won't be following it for very long. so lets go through some basic nutrient information and some steps to get your diet moving in the right direction.
1. Eat more fruit and vegetables. This is pretty simple add more of these to your diet doesn't matter which ones for now just add them in. Fruit with breakfast, some salad and fruit with lunch, some cooked veg for dinner or something along those lines. The government says 5 a day so get at least that if not more. Make sure there is some veg and not just fruit and try to mix it up a bit. Fresh or frozen are best, it doesn't have to be organic and don't bother with dried fruit or fruit juices as they are just concentrated sugar.
2. Eat 3-4 solid meals a day. Many people lack a proper eating pattern, skipping breakfast, rushing lunch from a fast food place when they can and going nuts at night on ice cream and chocolate. Aim to have 3 or 4 proper meals a day at around the same time each day. Try to have breakfast otherwise you will get hungry later in the day and the urge to binge on crap is greatly increased. Yes i've heard of intermittent fasting but you need to focus of building good food habits before you worry about the finer details of meal frequency. Try to eat a satisfying lunch and dinner. Make the meals largish so you are not hungry soon after and end up snacking on things in between.
3. Eat more protein. Protein is used to build muscle. It also fills you up more than any other food source and requires more energy to digest helping you to avoid gaining fat. Go for meat, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, eggs, and fish are good best sources. Aim to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for myself at 180lbs I get 180g of protein a day. Most meat and fish has around 25g of protein per 100g and one egg has around 7g. I found that when i achieved this number my diet was generally pretty good. Since this is likely a lot more protein than you are used to eating you find that you diet improves greatly because there just isn't space for junk food because you are so full from all the protein you are getting. And since you are eating large amounts of meat, fish and eggs I've found my veg intake also increased because these foods naturally complement each other.
4. Switch to diet soft drinks. Cut out all drinks which contain calories as most are sugar filled which is a recipe for fat gain. This means all full sugar fizzy drinks, all fruit juices even smoothies. Just because it comes from fruit its still packed with sugar. You can still have tea and coffee but don't put sugar in them and don/t have all the frothy crappachino stuff. Drink water or sugar free drinks. Getting people to just drink water is pretty much impossible so stick with sugar free drinks as a replacement for now. I know they have artificial sweeteners but they aren't the end of the world and won't effect fat gain. The best ones to go for are flavoured waters. These tend to have less sweeteners than the big name diet drinks and tend not to have aspartame in which is the sweeter which causes the most health concerns.
5. Change your grains to wholegrain. There may be some despite about this but paleo probably isn't the best way to go for a beginner. It would be hard to stick to and a low carb diet is not a good idea when you've suddenly decided to take up an intense physical pursuit. Switch out white bread for brown, white pasta for brown.you can keep to white rice though.
6. Get some good fats. Not all fat is bad. And eating fat doesn't necessarily make you fat. You will get some from the protein sources. Nuts, olive oil, oily fish are your best bet.
7. Don't worry about low carb or low fat just eat decent healthy meals. When it comes to breakfast cut out sugary cereals. Your best bet is something you cook like meat and eggs with wholegrain toast or porridge perhaps with some fruit in it for flavour. For lunch maybe wholegrain sandwiches with turkey, tuna or peanut butter with some fruit after or maybe a chicken salad with a generous amount of meat and drizzled in olive oil. For dinner have a cooked meal of meat or fish with veg and some good carbs like potatoes or rice.
8. Cut out the junk. The worst offender for fatness is sugar so eliminate anything with sugar in your diet, soft drinks, fruit juice, sweets, chocolate, cakes, yogurts you get the idea. Don't eat fast food there are no healthy options no matter how much the company tries to convince you. Cut out heavily processed foods like baked goods sausage rolls, pizza, chips, crisps, cheese stuff like that. Also try to avoid foods which are disguised as healthy, cereal bars, fruit juice, dried fruit, smoothies, yogurts, breakfast cereals virtually anything labelled low fat and anything with a TV advert. No one ever advertises a bag of porridge oats, and no athlete was ever sponsored by steak and broccoli.
9. include cheat meals. This is where you eat whatever you want for a certain meal. I would not suggest doing this more than twice a week and once a week or every two if you are overweight. Always make it the last meal of the day if possible to remove the temptation of eating junk all through the day. This is a cheat meal not a cheat day. Eating junk all day can really mess up your progress when it comes to losing fat and building muscle. This is why it should be the last meal of the day. So you go to bed and start a fresh the next day. The first 2-3 meals should still be good and healthy before you have your cheat. If you keep your diet good for the rest of the time the 1-2 cheat meals a week will not affect your fat loss or muscle gain. You can achieve 100% of the progress with a 95% strict diet. But what about moderation? Surely I can eat whatever I want in moderation right? Wrong. How do you define moderation? A big Mac a day or once a month? You could eat a moderate amount of take away with a moderate amount of chocolate and drink a moderate amount of coke and still be consuming a hell of a lot of junk. Moderation tends to lead to binging. A moderate amount of something makes you crave more of something. Like I've written before who eats the suggested serving size of a tub of Ben and Jerry's? Its like 1/5 of a tub. You eat the whole damn tub. You are better off knowingly eating a tub of ice cream once a week than to try and eat a little bit a night which turns into a tub a night.
Here's an excerpt from The Peaceful Warrior a book I've mentioned before. This is when a wise man was asked about moderation
Moderation? It's mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It's the devil's dilemma. It's neither doing nor not doing. It's the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It's for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. Moderation...is lukewarm tea, the devil's own brew.”
― Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior
10. Supplements. These are really not important for a beginner and can lead someone down the wrong path very early on. First things first the vast majority of supplements have little noticeable benefit, have ridiculous unrealistic claims, aren't backed up by scientific research and are designed to just make you part with your hard earned cash. While not all supplements are bad you need to be very critical of anything you do take. As a beginner I would say avoid all supplements until you have good dietary habits in place first. Then start with the basics a protein powder, a multi vitamin, and fish oil. This covers protein intake and general health. There is nothing you can take that will turn you into a Hercules overnight. In fact if you don't want to take any supplements at all that is perfectly fine. I doubt it will effect you progress in a negative way if you eat very healthy but don't take supplements.
You need to make a gradual change with your diet and build good eating habits from the beginning. Give yourself one month to do this. Habits are not built overnight and initial motivation doesn't last forever. So over the course of this month you will go from your current modern diet to a simple healthy diet which will get you started on your way to building muscle and losing fat.
So the first week of the month you will pick 3 days in which you will follow a proper diet like I've outlined so far. You will start the day with either porridge and fruit for breakfast or meat and eggs. It doesn't matter for now which one. The only drinks you will consume on these days are diet or sugar free soft drinks, tea or coffee with no sugar or water. For lunch you will have either sandwiches with whole grain bread containing meat or fish or a salad with meat or fish. Make sure you have a liberal amount of meat. Add in a piece of fruit for afters and some nuts if you like. For dinner go for meat or fish with vegetables. Add some carbohydrate such as potatoes, rice or whole grain pasta. Again you can follow up with fruit for desert. Try not to snack in between these meals. This may mean that you have to increase the size of the meals so that you are satisfied after each meal. If this is not practical such as having a limited time to eat breakfast then just increase the size of the evening meal and resist the temptation to snack in between meals. Try to get as close as possible to the gram of protein per pound of bodyweight number without using supplements. Meat, fish and eggs are the way to go for this.
For the other four days of the week eat however you want. If you want to follow the diet plan for more than 3 days in the week then go ahead but you don't have to. In week 2 you will do the same except you will follow the diet plan for 4 days of week and eat however you wish for 3. The days can be in any combination they don't have to be consecutive. In week 3 you follow the diet for 5 days with 2 days of eating whatever. In week 4 you guessed it you follow the diet for 6 days with only 1 day being what would now be your cheat day. Make sure any junk food or drink is only eaten on this day. In week 5 you will change it from having a whole cheat day to just a cheat meal. The final meal of day 7 will be your cheat meal where you will eat whatever you want with the 2 previous meals still adhering to the diet plan.this will have taken you from a typical crappy diet to a healthy high protein one which will dramatically improve you progress in the gym and your body composition. Due to the gradual nature of the plan you have been weened off the bad stuff slowly with a once weekly outburst to keep you sane. This process make this plan much more sustainable in the long run that a complete and instant trasition to a strict healthy diet.
Don't worry you can still have your roast dinner
While this is the basic diet foundation there is room for further refinement in which I shall go into in later posts. For now stick with this plan and actually build some good habits with your nutrition.
But what about paleo, low carb, low fat, keto, 6 meals a day, intermittent fasting blah, blah, there is nothing wrong with any of these diet plans but for someone who is a complete beginner regarding diet and nutrition none of these are really sustainable. Most beginners who end up following one of these for a few days before crashing and binging out. Then they start a fresh with a new plan trying something else until they give in and fail at that. They have no consistency and therefore achieve no results. Stick to a plan and reap the rewards. No bulking, no cutting just eating for lifting.