For the past two weeks I’ve gone into the details of beginner level nutrition and exercise, with the premise that the two should be treated as mutually exclusive. Health is improved (or derailed) in the kitchen - the things you put in your body; Fitness is improved in the gym - the things you push your body to accomplish. Today I plan to expand on both of those ideas a little bit further.
Let’s start with nutrition. If you recall, my Nutrition for Beginners post described how I keep my meals simple and effective. I make sure all of my meals contain a protein source and lots of vegetables, I try to limit my meals to 3 ingredients and one pan to keep cleanup to a minimum, and I have a solid rotation of meals to choose from so I don’t get bored. That is the basic structure of my system. From there, you can dial it up a notch by tracking the quantity of food you are eating.
This process of tracking your food is commonly referred to as Calorie Counting or Macro Tracking, although these two are not the only options. There are plenty of other successful tracking systems such as the Weight Watcher’s “Points” system. With that being said, macro tracking is probably the most effective because it is the most detailed and precise. When you use any type of quantity tracking system, the most important thing to remember is that the point of measuring your intake is to create a baseline of data to which you can make adjustments to in the future.
For example, if I track all of my intake and notice I consistently eat 3,000 calories per day, I can now use that information as I analyze my weight changes to see if there are any trends. If I have been slowly gaining weight, then we know that 3,000 calories is probably slightly higher than I need, and I can figure out how to cut down to 2,750 calories. We can use the same tactic if we are trying to add weight by adding calories in. Another useful reason to track your intake is to see if you have any outlier days - days that are so far out of the normal that they are making a huge impact overall. An example of this scenario would be if typically you are consistent at about 2,500 calories, but then you notice on Wednesdays you jump up to 3,000. You can analyze your food log on Wednesdays to see what the reason is. Maybe you realize that every Wednesday is donut day at the office, which is costing you an extra 500 calories each Wednesday, which in turn increases your entire weekly average. A similar scenario occurs when you allow yourself to “cheat” on the weekends. You could do great Monday through Friday, but then significantly increase your weekly average intake by doubling your daily average on Saturday and Sunday.
When it comes to tracking, there are definitely pros and cons. The pros are that, as I pointed out before, you have very concrete data that you can use to make better decisions. If you are an athlete, you can even pinpoint down the exact grams of Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat you eat each day so as to optimize your intake to help achieve your goals in as short amount of time as possible. The downside, however, is that it requires extreme discipline. The act of measuring quantities and then inputting them into your tracker requires time, and you have to do it multiple times per day. So you need to determine if your goal is one that requires this level of dedication. If your goal is just to be healthy, it may not require this level of attention.
Now, I do believe that EVERYONE should, at least for a little while, measure and track their food for learning purposes. It can be very eye opening once you learn what real serving sizes are, especially for grains and starches. You might learn that you have been eating twice the normal serving size, or you might learn that you are barely eating anything at all. So the learning aspect behind tracking is extremely valuable in itself, but I do not believe that tracking is something you need to do for the long term, unless you enjoy it. If you do decide to give tracking a try, I would highly recommend reviewing your food logs with a registered Dietitian or a highly reputable nutritionist just to make sure there aren’t any red flags - if your nutrition is too extreme, either too much or too little, you can be susceptible to big issues like hormone imbalances.
If you have any questions about calorie counting or macro tracking, especially if it's for you and how to get started, feel free to send us a message. I’d love to go over it with you. If not, we are going to pivot back to exercise for a bit.
In my Exercise for Beginners post last week, I listed the hierarchy of training capabilities that I go through whenever I am creating a training program for someone. Today I want to focus on giving actionable tips on how you can figure out where you belong on that hierarchy and then how you can advance from one stage to the next. With that, we need to start by figuring out where exactly your current physical state is.
This has two components. Part one is your exercise history - have you been doing anything recently? Or are you starting from scratch? Part two is actually looking at your movement. The history from part one gives me an idea of what you should be capable of, what your body has experienced, and a starting point. But obviously our bodies are complicated. We need to actually see your movement to see if there are any limitations, red flags, or imbalances. This part is pretty tough to do on your own, especially if you are inexperienced. I would recommend seeing a professional even if it is only for a Functional Movement Screen, before getting started on your own. This will give you some insight into any limitations or issues to be cognizant about.
After you figure out your starting point, you need to figure out where you want to go - what are your goals? What’s your objective? Because the path you take could look very different depending on what you want to do. Do you want to get super strong? Do you want to complete an Ironman? Do you just want to be healthy enough to run around with your kids or grandkids? Understanding the endpoint is extremely important.
Once you have a starting point and an endpoint, you can then do the research for whatever the next logical step is. For example, if you want to be able to squat heavy, but you can’t currently do a deep air squat, you need to figure out what stretches and exercises you can do to improve your range of motion in the squat. The same is true if you are looking to increase your cardiovascular endurance - you can find workouts that are designed to improve your endurance. If you want to improve any sports specific skills like jumping, throwing, lunging, ect, you can look up workouts to train each of those specific skills. Unfortunately I can’t give you specifics because every person is going to have a different body and every person is going to have different goals. The key is to figure out what is best for you and the specific scenario that you are in. And it typically requires a lot of research to do it on your own.
Now, this is one of the main reasons I’m such a fan of CrossFit. There is always a coach there to help you understand what the next logical progression is for you, and the coach will know if you are going too far or pushing the limits too much. Coach understands your goals and how to cater the program to whatever you need at that specific moment in time. It saves you a lot of time researching, and it saves you a lot of trial and error time. Eventually, after years of training, researching and learning, you will get to the point where you know your body inside and out and you’ll know how to craft your own program to achieve your specific goals. But until that time, you really should make sure you have guidance from someone who knows what they are doing.
If you need help crafting your own path, or understanding either where you are or where you want to go, please reach out. We love helping people starting their journey for the first time, and we love watching as you move through your journey!