If everything we know about fitness and nutrition today was wrong, how would you eat and train?

Woman in her 30s comes in to my center and wants to change body composition and get fit.  The fitness of her 20s is harder to maintain and she wants to get on back on track.  She exercises a lot, but does not seem to be making any changes.  She hears that we are good at coaching clients for change.   The first thing she tells me is she want to get toned.   She is open minded about resistance training for women until we get to the evaluation.  I am evaluating her pulling movement capability so start with a light dumbbell row of 15 pounds.  She rips off 15 reps with no problem.   I am trying to establish a baseline of strength and so based on how light the 15lb dumbbell was I bump her to 20.  She immediately says “that is way too heavy”!  Now I just watched her easily move the 15 pounder with great form and no distress.   So she can easily lift a much greater amount of weight.  However in her mind she still believes that by lifting heavy she will get bigger.  She wants to be “toned”.  Toned is muscle!  You want to get stronger if you want to get toned.  However, she is still wedded to an old ideal of women and weights and that if she just lifts lights and eats zero fat, and less than 1200 calories a day she will get skinny.  She will fight me tooth and nail to stay true to this old belief.  So like a parent trying to get their kids to eat their veggies I will cleverly figure out how to get her to come around.   

Old myths die hard. 

The exciting thing about strength and conditioning, weight loss, medicine etc. is that it is constantly changing.  It is a never ending multidimensional jigsaw puzzle that changes shape over time.  Probably half of what we believe today will be outdated or wrong 5-10 years from now.  This issue of relevancy also means that much of what we believed 10 years ago is open for review today or may be wrong.

Too much of what is done with clients in training today is often times based on myth and rumor.  If you were in medical school 20 years ago, much of what you were taught has been modified or completely changed.  The analysis of cholesterol is a great example. They continue to figure out better ways to understand how your body produces plaque in your arteries and doctors have modified or completely changed what they believe is good cholesterol today.   Studies in weight loss and obesity have changed dramatically as well over the last 10 years.

So how do you manage your health and fitness and training knowing that what you are doing today may be wrong tomorrow?  You must find a coach who is constantly questioning the efficacy of training protocols and find someone who is willing to ask why, and if changes should be considered.

As a Strength Coach I am regularly reviewing research and then try to bridge the gap between science and application.  Sometimes the science may point one direction and the application is just too difficult to make it usable.    I am also regularly playing Dr. Frankenstein and spending a ton of my own training time thinking about and experimenting on my own body to see ways to better apply science that comes to my attention.  I also take my experience with one athlete and carry that knowledge into the future to broaden my understanding of future athletes and clients.  I am constantly trying to broaden my database of training knowledge.   I do this to better understand how to marriage the science with the practical application.  In addition to the practicality of new research, one must also consider the risk reward of trying to apply new research that may be impactful.  The risk of time spent, potential injury, cost of implementation, and return on the exercise all need to be weighed and considered.

The other way to deal with this constant change is to never stray too far away from the fundamentals of exercise science that have passed the test of time.  Multi Joint exercises that are functional in nature will always be the foundation of good training.  Squats, dead-lifts, Olympic lifts where appropriate, power movements, and a good understanding of the energy systems most important to your particular sport will be part of this foundation.  How you incorporate these exercises will change but the fundamentals are always there as touchstones to reference. We all have two arms and two legs and move in different planes of motion.  Volume and intensity and our understanding of how to gain greater gains faster will continue to evolve.  The role of aerobic fitness in non-cyclic sports is evolving. Resistance training for the aerobic athlete has also changed considerably.  

One thing that will not change is that we walk upright ergo hip extension is a major part of all human movement.  Most sport is based on this basic human movement so these multi joint hip exercises will always be part of any great training.

This type of training has passed the test of time.  Many people stray from these fundamentals because something comes along that they think makes them look innovative.  Trends in fitness need to be analyzed and evaluated not just copied. Ask why and then understand if a change to something new should be adopted.  On the other side of the coin traditions in training can be restrictive and have to be regularly analyzed and improved. 

Our eating is even more difficult to understand.  Low carb, high carb, high protein, vegan, vegetarian and every other diet that comes to our attention makes the choices difficult.  This discussion is almost worse than politics today.  People are so wedded to one belief or another that discussion can often times become heated.

I try to advise people that the no label diet seems to make the most sense.  Of course you can focus in on recovery and pre workout meals to move your training along faster.  However, if the foundation of your eating is that you try to eat real food that has no label you are 95% of the way to a very healthy diet.  I have my clients keep a food journal for a month to 6 weeks at minimum so they can better understand energy levels and the impact of food on performance.  Most coaches keep close track of training benchmarks, why would you not do the same with what you eat.   In addition, for many sports and weight loss, this food journal is extremely important as we all have different reactions to food and how we metabolize what we eat.  Food can be a stress just like exercise.  Our bodies adapt to this stress.  So you need to pay attention!

Plenty of color with veggies, organic meats and fish, fruits in moderation or seasonally. Stay away from the processed sugars and flours.  These processed foods can add to the inflammation in your body.  This is the opposite of what you want after exercise.   This no label eating typically results in a much lower amount of refined carbohydrates in your diet.  Eat healthy natural fats and stay away from the Trans -fats.  All that is fried and brown is not to be eaten if possible.  However, you want to make eating sustainable.  A few French fries are not the end of the world.  Just do not make these choices the majority of your calories. 

The lesson here is to open your mind to any intellectual possibility. This open mindedness is even more important with something as dynamic as the human body and exercise science.  Start with the fundamentals and then customize the training based on your individual response and relevant science.  However do not lose sight of the fundamentals. These will always serve you well.

When you are finally ready to start training, give us a call. 

Truth in Fitness!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS