Trying to optimize your diet to improve health, burn fat and add muscle can be an extremely complex process. However saying that, if you want to simply make a big improvement on your current diet it can be fairly easy. Remember, there’s a big difference between optimising it because you are a pro bodybuilder or elite athlete compared to a fitness enthusiast who just wants to improve their physique by losing some fat and adding some muscle / toning up.
Please note, these recommendations are just general points and, while they will benefit most beginners or intermediate trainers, they will not match a tailor made program.
That being said, below are 10 simple tips that will make a massive difference if you aren’t currently following an in-depth nutrition plan.
Reduce energy dense, processed foods:
If you follow a typical diet then step one is to reduce (not eliminate) intake of “bad/processed foods”, foods such as refined bread, cake, biscuits, chocolate, crisps, pizza, takeaways etc. These foods are not going to be complimenting you goals, health or physique. Reducing these so they only make up a small portion of your diet will immediately make a large difference.
Eat your protein:
The next key point is basing every meal around a large, high quality protein source. By high quality we mean a food that has a high level of EAA, particularly Leucine. Basically, you need to focus on eating meats, fish, eggs or using a protein-based supplement (if vegan / vegetarian) at most meals. If you’re trying to optimise muscle growth I would suggest supplementing meals not containing a high quality protein source with around 3g of Leucine. To give you a rough idea of how much, you would want to hit around 30-45g of protein per meal. This would be a large piece of meat / fish, 4 eggs or 1 and a half scoop of protein powder. If you count macros then a good number is around 2g per kg of bodyweight, this will easily fulfill MOST people’s protein needs.
Focus on whole, single ingredient foods:
Eat plenty of single ingredient foods – this means fresh food that would have been accessible several decades ago. While I’m not necessarily advocating pure paleo or “clean eating” it’s a simple strategy that can improve the nutrient intake of your diet. For example, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, potatoes, rice etc.
Eat as frequently as you like. It’s a common myth that eating 5-6 a day is best, science doesn’t really prove this. Ultimately eat as frequently as suits you as an individual. If you like 5-6 smaller meals per day that is fine, if you like 3 larger meals then that is also fine. All we would say is to maximize protein synthesis and muscle growth you should include a high quality protein source and space them out somewhat evenly, e.g. for pure mass gains eating all 3 meals within 4 hours and then not eating again for 20 hours is probably not optimal.
Following the point above, science gives us conflicting evidence when it comes to breakfast. Some people can’t function without it, whereas some force-feed it down them because it’s apparently “magical”. Like our recommendation above, if you like breakfast, eat breakfast. If you don’t like breakfast or struggle with it logistically, e.g. your rushing around or up early for work / gym etc., then skip it. Just make sure you eat within a few hours of wakening if you want to gain mass / add muscle. If you do eat breakfast, like we have said, base it around plenty of protein as you’ve probably been fasted for 8-12 hours already. Some people recommend zero carb at breakfast, whereas some say eat carbs. Give both a try, if you feel great on a high fat / low carb breakfast then great, if not then try higher carbs with less fat.
Do not go overboard, you can’t “out-supplement” a poor diet, always ensure your diet is in check. That being said, there are several supplements that have a ton of research backing their benefits. If you can afford them, we recommend a Whey protein powder (it’s pretty cheap), a high quality multivitamin (not one from the local grocery store), 3-5g of high quality omega 3 fish oil, 5g creatine, Vitamin D and possibly zinc, magnesium and pre/probiotics if you really want to go all out. If you are buying supplements, feel free to ask us or ask another knowledgeable coach, as most off the shelf versions are a waste of money.
Tailor your Carbs:
If you are overweight and inactive then you may benefit by going lower carb for several weeks. Either way, first establish how well you handle your carbs and then establish the need for carbs (based on factors such as BF %, body type, training volume / frequency etc. Either way, one common and fairly good strategy is to eating a majority of carbs around the workout. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them at other times in the day, it just means if you are going lower carb, the carbs you do eat may be best around a workout.
Pay attention to them but do not become obsessed over them. A healthy and well balanced diet goes well beyond counting calories; however if you are trying to gain/lose weight, then you need to ensure calories are either above or below maintenance level. When you start the diet this can often be achieved by just eating “healthier”, paying attention to portion size and removing “bad” foods. However becoming more aware of the calories and macros (carb, protein, fat) that the main foods contain is a great idea, allowing you to make more informed dietary choices. This may sound time-consuming; however it is likely you consume the same 15 – 20 foods on a regular basis, so familiarize yourself with what these contain. As common sense may suggest, it’s also important to be sensible with energy / calorie manipulation. If dieting, I wouldn’t suggest halving your energy / calorie intake from day one, if trying to gain mass, I wouldn’t suggest adding 2000 calories on day one. Make smaller incremental changes of around 300-600 calories and adjust in-line with training and as you start to plateau.
If you’ve had your head in a nutritional cloud for some time then you may not aware that certain fats are extremely beneficial and a low fat diet may not be the only or best dieting strategy. Healthy fats such as coconut, meat, fish, butter, nuts, egg yolk, avocado, olive oil should all be consumed within moderation on a daily basis. When dieting and following a mixed macronutrient (carb, pro & fat) plan you may want to pay attention to the amount, e.g. do not eat 200g of nuts per day and 5 avocados; however on a similar note, ensure you do not go for low fat foods that contain a large amount of added sugar. If you decide to go on a lower carb diet then fats must replace them as they become the new primary energy source (such as in a keto diet). If this is the case you must ensure you eat adequate amounts to avoid being very low calorie. Either way, eating oily fish, meats such as steak, eggs and cooking with coconut oil etc. will help you reach your “healthy fat” goal for the day.
Be consistent & enjoy it!
Bring it all together into a sustainable dieting plan. If you can’t see yourself eating this way in 1 year then your diet is probably set up incorrectly. You must create a sustainable method that you enjoy. Spend some time creating new meals or recipes you enjoy, purchase a variety of health foods and ultimately experiment. There are tons of healthy recipes out there, including many healthy versions of our favourite “bad” foods such as cakes, waffles, bread, pizzas etc. Visit our instagram page for a range of recipes and inspiration!
For more information or help feel free to email us. If you feel you need more support or a tailor made program take a look at the packages we have to offer.