Dave Hargreaves Personal Training

IIFYM, Flexible Dieting & Personal Training at Doherty's Gym, Brunswick

Dave Hargreaves Personal Training

IIFYM, Flexible Dieting & Personal Training at Doherty's Gym, Brunswick

Should you take nutrition advice from a body builder?

For the sake of hopefully avoiding controversy, I’m going to begin with the conclusion. As with many questions, the actual answer is “maybe, it depends”. People tend to prefer black & white, yes & no, good or bad, blanket statement type answers… *shrug* sorrynotsorry if you’re disappointed.

The quality of advice should really be assessed on the basis of the quality of the advice, rather than the description of the person it comes from. Any specific individual trainer, bodybuilder, nutritionist, dietitian, or other person may give good advice or bad advice. We may observe that generally speaking, one profession is more or less likely to give solid, factual, reasonable and helpful advice than another… regardless, advice is good or bad based on how solid, factual, reasonable and helpful it is, not based on who it comes from.

Diplomatic enough for you? Everyone still happy so far? No one’s feelings hurt? Good. Let’s continue.

Now then. Let’s agree that it makes sense to assume we’re talking about people with a weight loss &/or fat loss goal. Who knows more about how to maintain lean mass and shed fat than a bodybuilder? Few if any.

Or so it would seem. Someone may have done a body building contest and achieved a lean condition under the instruction of their coach. Does that necessarily mean they understand how to assess another person’s requirements, understand their circumstances and coach them to a satisfactory outcome? Hardly. This is unfortunately a common, and problematic phenomenon especially related to instagrammers who get lean for a show or a photo shoot, and then start charging for “clean eating” meal plans and so forth. I would avoid anything of the sort like the plague.

So, let’s consider that particular variation of the question resolved. Should you follow dietary advice from a person on the sole basis that they’ve competed in a bodybuilding show, or are otherwise in impressive & athletic shape? Absolutely not.

What about bodybuilding coaches though? As with anything, it’s a mixed bag but I personally know a few who I’m confident are knowledgeable, competent, and usually have a few tricks up their sleeve that are more than merely starving and burning calories.

With that said, I’ll start my list of red flags with the following:

Do they understand that there’s a difference between “contest prep” and appropriate, sustainable eating habits & advice suitable for fat loss and more athletic condition in a normal person?

What might be necessary for and reasonably expected of people in the final stages of contest prep bares little resemblance to what’s reasonable or helpful advice for the rest of us who are looking for sustainable results towards a more athletic condition while actually enjoying the rest of our lives as well. If your coach doesn’t understand this, you’re in for a bad time.

Are they on the gear?

A lot of the times people will present their own physique or that of their clients as evidence to support their views on nutrition and the superiority of their understanding of science. That’s fair enough, but if they’re using steroids then all bets are off. I’d argue that differences in results between enhanced athletes are far more likely to be down to differences in dosage or choice of drugs than due to which carbs they feel are “clean” enough to eat. And if they’re on gear and talking about “discipline” and how people should want to do it the hard way rather than “cheating” with enjoyable foods on an IIFYM style approach, they can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom Line On Nutritional Advice

I’d ignore any advice from anyone that comes with the suggestion that adrenal fatigue or leaky gut are a concern you should have in mind with your dietary choices. I’d ignore any advice of the “calories aren’t equal” or “carbs are not equal” variety as well. Advice of the “this is what I did and it worked for me” nature is next to useless, and for advice of the “this is what everyone should be doing, even though it’s not actually working for me” variety it almost goes without saying.

Hmm what are some other red flags? “Sugar is addictive”, “fruit has too much sugar”, “artificial sweeteners will make you fat”, and any reference to Gary Taubes, Sarah Wilson, David Gillespie, or the various gluten fear mongers.

The best advice is based on the understanding that people have varying requirements, and unique circumstances, tastes, and idiosyncrasies which will determine what is reasonable to expect them to adhere to. Being expected to have the “willpower” or “discipline” to adhere to something that does not suit the individual is entirely unreasonable, and advice that fails to take this into account is inherently poor.

The approach and the selection of foods that best empowers and facilitates consistent adherence in meeting but not exceeding an appropriate provision of total energy from a suitable ratio of macronutrients is always what is best. Whatever approach that may be for each individual.

Whoever you go to for nutritional advice had best understand this, and ideally have both knowledge and experience in successfully coaching others to draw upon when issuing that advice.

What denotes a High Level Of Activity?

2017-02-22 13.51.52I think it is important to discuss and consider the concept of level of activity being different to merely the amount of activity someone engages in.

In assessing level of activity, I suggest you must consider all of the following:

  • Amount of time spent active.
  • Frequency and consistency of attendance and participation in training.
  • Quality and efficacy of training strategy.
  • Intensity of effort.
  • Proficiency and prowess at training.
  • Activity levels outside of training.

It stands to reason that a more active person has a higher energy intake requirement than a less active person. A more advanced athlete will have a higher energy intake requirement than a beginner. An athlete who turns up to training regularly and puts in her best effort will have a greater energy requirement than one who turns up less often and drags her feet a little, lacking in enthusiasm.

Activity levels outside of training should be considered as well. It is possible to still have a high level of activity despite working a desk job or being otherwise less active outside of training. Moving around a lot throughout the day will contribute to a higher energy requirement than being inactive, and strenuous activity at a physically demanding job will increase them further still.

A higher level of activity should produce better results in terms of a more lean and athletic physical condition, provided energy requirements are being met. Best results will come when meeting a higher requirement, rather than being further into deficit of it.

It should be noted that while an increase in level of activity should be conducive to improved results, this does not necessarily mean more time spent at exercise or adding extra sessions. First ensure that your training strategy is effective and productive.

It is important to consider quality of activity as important, as well as amount. A high amount of low quality activity will not be conducive to best results, and adding more of the same will not improve the situation, especially if level of energy intake is not appropriate.

Why you failed to see results on your last IIFYM plan.

Even though I have some new followers I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone knows what “IIFYM” means, feel free to ask if you require clarification.

If you’ve done some form of an IIFYM approach in the past and found you couldn’t stick to it or it didn’t work, I’m going to explain why. First though let’s draw some distinctions, as there might be more than one possible situation.

  • Scenario (A): Had an IIFYM plan but was complacent about actually working to it, it was more like a vague idea of what I thought I *should* be doing.
  • Scenario (B): Had an IIFYM plan but really ate by intuition / appetite / randomly and logged at the end of the day hoping to be on target.
  • Scenario (C): Had an IIFYM plan, diligently attempted to work to it with strict adherence, but it was too hard and I kept giving in to hunger and over eating.
  • Scenario (D): Actually stuck to it, distracted myself from the hunger, only eat clean foods… still didn’t achieve a damn thing in terms of improved results.

There aint (but then again there kind of is) a “one shot” answer that covers all people, all circumstances and scenarios.

Now, Scenario A barely requires explanation. You have to actually DO the thing in order to make it work.

Scenario B… much as per A. Humans are notoriously unreliable at accurately recalling their meals, snacks, portion sizes, and so on. Particularly if you’re prone to grazing rather than scheduled meals and snacks, and PARTICULARLY if you have some guilt/shame type associations with eating. In any case when logging meals retrospectively, you’re subconsciously very likely to fudge the numbers a little to match your targets. So on paper (or more correctly “in the app”) you appear to be bang on target but this may be far from an accurate record & recollection of what is actually happening.

Scenario C & D: your plan was shit.
The plan you have been given, likely paid some chump a few bucks for, it was shit. It was not based on a reasonable or accurate estimation of your energy requirements.

Or to be more fair… it is likely that your plan did not anticipate and account for changes in your energy requirements. This is a disagreement I continue to have with other trainers, coaches & random people who think they understand IIFYM and Sports Nutrition. The commonly held belief is that a client’s energy intake will need to decrease as they see progress in fat loss, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Real quick before we continue and as per the infographic above, lets define “level of activity” as follows:

Not merely the amount of time spent active, but the quality of the activity in terms of a more effective training strategy, intensity of effort, and your prowess at training as well.

Now… on this page you can safely assume that I’m talking about fueling requirements for people who are training with a productive strategy. It is a different matter if we’re talking about merely “being active”. For an inactive person who decides to “get active” by taking a one hour walk to the park and back every evening… that’s a great idea, but an excessive energy intake via inappropriate dietary habits will mitigate the potential benefits. In an active person participating regularly in productive & strategic training, with improving physical prowess and increasing intensity… insufficient energy intake will mitigate the potential benefits and the potential for facilitating those improvements in performance.

Both people in the above examples should practice appropriate eating habits relative to their energy & nutritional requirements, but in each example the focus is slightly different. “Not excessive” vs “not inadequate”.

More often than not, what active people on an IIFYM, or other calorie limited plan, but also while “eating clean” are actually doing is to restrict to an inadequate & insufficient level of energy provision… often due to failing to anticipate an increase in fueling requirement as the quality and level of activity increases and to maintain an increase in lean body mass.

Here’s the danger though, even when heavily restricting energy intake via reducing calorie limits or limiting food choices… when we do not see continuing results in terms of fat loss, we are inclined to, encouraged to, and in some cases instructed to assume that the only explanation must be “still not burning more than you’re consuming” and that the solution is to reduce calorie intake even further. This is likely to have disastrous consequences.

In our earlier examples… the person merely “being more active” with a one hour walk around the park will have a certain fueling requirement or limit which probably won’t change very much. A person participating in more productive training or more intense activity will have a higher fueling requirement. A person progressing from a beginner level of productive training to an intermediate level will have a higher requirement still and can expect pleasing results in terms of body composition and condition provided those requirements are met consistently.

Note also that this increase in fueling requirement may or may not be reflected in the “calories burned” records on your activity tracking devices.

For these reasons, if you start out as a beginner on a level of fueling suitable to a beginner, but you train diligently following your program… after a period of let’s say 12 – 16 weeks you’re likely to find that either (a) progress stalls, (b) you’re extra hungry and unable to continue to adhere to your fueling plan, or (c) both.

Unfortunately most so-called “IIFYM” style coaches will believe that a stall in progress requires a further cut in calorific intake due to now being at a lower body weight. This is incorrect. The client (aka you) will not be able to adhere to the level of energy restriction, and in the unlikely event that they can force themselves to do so, it will only be conducive to a regression of physical condition.

Even at a lower bodyweight, even when continuing fat loss is a required outcome, increases in lean mass and improved prowess and consistency at training will necessitate a higher level of fueling.

A competent coach must anticipate this and have a strategy in mind to keep up with these demands to facilitate on going results.

Most however do not.

Setting The Theme For 2017

Lawd in heaven am I ever overdue for a blog post here. In my defense I do post at least a couple of blog worthy facebook status every day though. I haven’t been slacking.

Let’s kick off the New Year the right way though, and set the scene with a theme for 2017, as follows!

No Excuses:

I hate these jerk offs on social media that post those “what’s your excuse?” bodyshaming type memes. That’s not what I’m getting at here. People don’t need an excuse to not do something that’s not something they want to do, and not something they’re all that interested in. You follow?

But I’m talking to people who ARE interested in pursuing their goals through fitness. To those people… be looking for ways to make it happen, not reasons why you can’t. Don’t cheat yourself like that.

So it means you’ll have to get up early to train? So be it.
So it means you have to train in the evening after work and there’ll be days when you’re tired and tempted to just zonk out in front of the tv instead? Go fucken train.

But you don’t like the right foods? That’s not a thing. Do some form of IIFYM.
Too busy to eat regular meals and snacks? Bullshit. Schedule your meals and have a plan based on choices you like, to meet your requirements. As a living organism you need to eat, and you inevitably WILL eat… so do it with a plan to meet your requirements and facilitate health, happiness and results. Any variation on “but I can’t” is bullshit.

Some of us will find this more challenging than others… but try your best. Even a small improvement is worth making, and the situation is never hopeless unless you refuse to try.

No Apologies:

You need to eat and you’re passionate about training.
Lock training into your schedule. Plan and eat stuff that you like.
Anyone has a problem with it? thinks they get to have an opinion on it? wants to distract, derail, or discourage you from doing what YOU want and what is in YOUR best interests? They can go fuck themselves. They can zip it.


Not just “action” but RIGHT ACTION.
Strategic action. Productive training and fueling for results rather than restrictive eating and destructive fatigue chasing “calorie burning” approaches. Train with an enjoyable and strategic approach that is conducive to your goals, whatever they are.

And Excellence:

We’re here to have a good life and be a version of ourselves that we’re proud of. Not thinking “I wish I could, if only… & if not for all these reasons”. Find a way. Find all the ways. It doesn’t have to and probably never will be perfect but do what you can, as well as you can, as often as you can, and be proud of yourself.

I need to stop neglecting this blog and update it more often.

It is after all my official business site. I’m a lot more active on my facebook page and I’m trying to do a bit more on instagram too.

Speaking of instagram, here’s about where I’m at and what I’m up to right now with my own training and fueling goals.

A photo posted by DaveHPT (@fitnessanarchist) on


A fresh batch of my world famous, high fibre, high protein, choc & coconut cupmuffins.

Astute followers may recall I saw my best results pushing 3200 cals per day last year and actually dropped approx 2kg in the process of pushing that maximum usable level of intake.

This year so far i’ve been a lot less consistent, more erratic and sub optimal in my levels of fueling. Although I’m V happy with my gains in the shoulders, arms, chest & lower body (in that order)… I’m a bit fatter around the waist atm and I intend to address that over the spring.

This stuff will mess with your head as the natural instinct or impulse is to cut calories… But what I know I actually need to do is get back UP towards that consistent optimal 3200 plus or minus whatever my saturday night pizza brings me to.

From there I’ll be well positioned to cut to a strategic level of deficit in the summer for my leanest condition up hopefully 3 or 4kg from the start of the year.


A photo posted by DaveHPT (@fitnessanarchist) on

Good news, bad news… whatever.

2016-04-25 13.48.08Most of what I post on here is actually good news even though “some people” will get their nose put out of joint by it. Other stuff is more like “real talk; whether we like it or whether we don’t like it, this is how it is so you might as well just face up to it”.

The good news? Starve and burn approaches don’t work.
Yeah I’m saying that’s actually good news. You can starve and burn some weight off, but it’ll only take you so far before starving harder and burning hotter won’t take you a step further and lawd will that weight ever come back and then some when you quit.

But I’m saying that’s good news. It’s good news because those approaches suck balls in hell anyway and now more than ever there’s no reason to subject yourself to that sort of deprivation and punishment KNOWING that it won’t pay off in the long term anyway.

That’s good news and you should be celebrating.

I talk about this enough so real quick: be suitably active and eat enough but not too much. Simple. Lots of people have lost weight and kept it off that way. I’m a trainer though so let’s talk PRODUCTIVE TRAINING with some strenuous activity to make this process more efficient and arrive at what we’ll describe as an ATHLETIC CONDITION instead.

To do that you need to be fueled and what that does NOT mean is going hungry, swearing off all the foods you like and forcing yourself to eat according to someone else’s bizarro ideas about blocks of butter being a healthy snack and fruit not so much… or whatever else. You don’t actually need to go low carb, low carb high fat, keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, 5:2… any of that.

The GOOD news is that on the nutrition side you can do it YOUR way, with YOUR choices of foods, YOUR preferred meal schedule, all put together as best suits YOU in meeting YOUR energy and macronutrient requirements. Ideally also with lots of fruit and veg.IMG_20160429_214343

All good news so far.

Now the other stuff.

Everything I just said is true and so long as you keep doing it, you’ll make progress towards a more athletic physical condition. At certain points your fueling requirements change and you need to revise your targets. Generally your requirements increase but you should be working to periods pushing towards your maximum level of usable energy, and then periods that are at a strategic deficit to that maximal amount but are still adequate to facilitate performance at training and maintain lean mass.


This stuff only works so long as you actually keep doing it. Choice of words here is important because while we could choose different phrases that mean more or less the same thing, the choice of wording reflects our attitude and our feelings towards the statement we’re making.

So I could talk about “consistent adherence”, but that sounds a bit like I expect perfection and that any deviation from the plan would mean failure. When you take out all of the lies and the bullshit and the cults and the marketing, there’s not really that much to it other than “effective training and appropriate fueling”, but we need to see this as an ongoing process that we keep working on, and as habits that we keep practicing.

I’ve said a few times that even when you are on the right track, seeing results and feeling good about yourself, the easiest thing in the world is gravitate back towards old habits, behaviours and ideas. Long term success doesn’t require obsessive, precise attention to your diet, and if anything the ultimate goal should be for eating to be as intuitive as possible. However, these are things that take practice, and we need to keep practicing structured and appropriate eating habits, rather than random and erratic ones.

We need to practice consciously rejecting fad diets and other “lose weight quick” schemes and scam products, and we need to treat any intrusive thoughts about skipping meals as exactly what they are.

Strategy, Structure and Inevitable Success.

2016-03-25 12.36.19Real talk though you lot.
I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how crucial a STRATEGY is, and that’s legit. I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how beneficial it is to have STRUCTURED habits, particularly eating habits to ensure that you meet your fueling requirements across the course of the day. That is legit.

Big or small, just about anything you want to achieve in life is going to be a hell of a lot easier with a strategy, and with a structured approach. Those words are practically synonyms in this context.

A strategy! Not just random actions. A strategy and a structured approach rather than an erratic and inconsistent one. Just saying “well here’s what I’m trying to achieve, and here’s what I hope is going to happen… so like… uhh… some things, I guess?” isn’t really a very good bet. It’s pretty much what most people are doing though, isn’t it?

You need a strategy. What’s even more important though is to have an attitude that has you looking for ways to MAKE THINGS WORK rather than reasons why you’re screwed and might as well quit before you even get started. Right? Am I making sense? Of course I am.

Let’s recap though:

  1. You need to be looking for ways to make things work.
  2. You need… actually scratch number 2.
    “a way to make things work” is what a strategy is anyway.

OK, now PAY ATTENTION HERE because I’m about to hit you with your free strategy and all you gotta do is DO IT, right? Just do this stuff I’m about to tell you, exactly the way that I tell you to do it. That’ll work. Right?

NO. Well… yes, but not in the way you might be expecting.

Here’s why “just tell me what to do and what to eat” doesn’t work.

Imagine that I tell you “eat a small meal every 2 hours” or some such nonsense. However, you can’t do that because you have a job where you actually have to do work and can’t just vanish whenever you feel like it to warm something up and cram it into your face… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “these foods, not those foods” but you hate all the stuff I’m trying to force you to eat… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “fasted training at 5am before breakfast” but you work nights and can’t get up at that time or maybe you are just not a morning person. Morning person? Hell I’m barely a person at all that early in the morning. So anyway, that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Here’s what I’m driving at.

People out there… people who are a little lacking in imagination or empathy are always going to be like “why can’t you just do this? why can’t you just do that?”… and a lot of the time they’re a little judgmental and a little dismissive about it, as well. Well, this may be a revelation for them, but it’s a lot like Blaze Bayley said; “they don’t understand my life, or yours”.

When people start giving you generic sort of advice similar to the examples I gave above, really what they’re doing is suggesting options. They may actually be suggesting non-options, depending on your circumstances… but either way… these are suggestions of options that you might consider as a part of a strategy. However, they’re not “the one and only” much less “the morally superior” way to get it done, the way people tend to infer when they start helpfully letting you know all the things you should be doing.

Let’s wind this up. It’s not about doing what someone else did, or someone else hasn’t actually done but figures you ought to be doing. It’s about you, not them. It’s about your unique personal circumstances, and about taking you from where you’re at now to somewhere closer to where you’d like to end up.

Sounds horribly complicated right? Well fortunately, it really isn’t at all.

One: Start with what you can do.

Look at this as a balance between what you could potentially do, and what you’re actually prepared to do. Again, something inconvenient that you can only force yourself to stick to for a couple days until it just gets annoying is no use to you.

Here’s an example, very simply.
“Well… I could have three meals, six hours apart and a snack half way in between. Breakfast as soon as i get up before work, lunch at noon, and dinner after training in the evening.”

That’s something you could do. Maybe you’re someone who hates eating breakfast as soon as you get up though, and you’d rather train first thing in the morning. That’s fine too. Set the structure that best suits you though, and don’t be in the habit of putting off eating until you’re famished.

Two: Schedule it around what you have to do.

Obviously, right? No point scheduling things when you can’t actually take a break from work or some other time you’re unlikely to actually be able to do it. Take advantage of the most suitable opportunities, like someone who is looking for a way to be successful would do.

Three: Including what you’re likely to do whether you make it part of the plan or not.

Be honest with yourself. If you know you’re going to end up having those two chocolate biscuits at supper time with your cup of tea no matter what, don’t kid yourself. That’s the next thing you work into your strategy.

According to conventional wisdom, this is the stuff you’re supposed to be cutting out. The stuff you’re not supposed to want. The stuff you’re supposed to see as a problem that you need to overcome. Why though? Something is a problem if you make it a problem. We’re here as people who are looking to make things work, not looking for problems to get tripped up on.

Four: Take all that and shape it into something that will get the job done.

You’ve set the structure and the schedule to be the best fit of what you’re able to do, around the other things you have to do, and incorporating some things you were probably going to do anyway, but we’re seeing them as a part of the strategy that will be more conducive to good adherence, rather than making a problem of them unnecessarily.

Now we need to look at the specifics. We have a target range for an appropriate total energy intake that we need to work to, we need to meet an adequate amount of protein, our minimum recommended 2 pieces of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, and I recommend 30 grams of nuts as well assuming you like nuts. Choose the foods you enjoy the most, in amounts to meet those requirements, at the times of the day that best suit your schedule.

That’s what flexible dieting is. It’s quite a simple concept, and there’s no good reason why it should be done any other way. Why would there be? To prove something to other people who want to see you doing it the hard way and not getting anywhere? Fuck those people if they’re not happy to see you happier and making progress towards your goals.

Your coach only THINKS he (or she) is doing IIFYM.

Some fruit I ate earlier. I'm having a pizza next. It's Flexible Dieting.

Some fruit I ate earlier. I’m having a pizza next. It’s Flexible Dieting.

Well, maybe not your coach. Hopefully your coach is great. Maybe I’m your coach or someone I’m friends with is.

There are a few good ones out there, but for the most part I see a lot of people appointing themselves coaches and entirely butchering the concept of IIFYM.

The difference between how I do things with my Flexible Fueling strategy vs how most people seem to do things with what they think is an “If It Fits Your Macros” strategy is as follows:

Most people are calculating a DEFICIT and working to that, while I am interested in calculating a target for best performance and condition.

Decidedly average selfie I took at training today.

Decidedly average selfie I took at training today.

When people are focused on calculating a deficit, the question is “a deficit from what?” and also for that matter “a deficit of how much?”.

Often it’s a deficit from “however much you’re currently getting, on average”. So, you track your intake for a few days, work out how many calories it is, average it out… there’s your “maintenance”. Subtract some amount (it might be 500 cals for example) and there’s your new target to be in deficit.


If you’re not working to any targets to begin with, your current intake is just some random amount. Subtracting an arbitrary number from this random amount and assuming the result will in some way resemble an appropriate (forget “optimal”) target for performance, recovery and adaptation to training is … :\ … I was going to say “overly optimistic” but it is actually just flat out illogical.

That’s not IIFYM, it is just calorie counting and calorie restriction based on the conditioned assumption that you’re eating too much to begin with and the entirely illogical premise that you can best build a lean, strong and healthy body by depriving it of the energy and resources that it requires. It’s still just an attempt to starve weight off although people feel like they’re being more scientific because they’ve done some poorly applied mathematics first.

The thing with calorie counting and restriction is that… like we discussed in my popular rant on facebook yesterday, you’re just training your body to run on less fuel and still somehow get through training and get through your day. Regardless though, if it is not restricting to a dangerous level you may still see results BUT the reality is that most people (myself included) don’t really have it in them to dial in strict adherence indefinitely. At best people will be motivated to dial it in hard and tight for a few a months… individual mileage will vary but let’s say 12 weeks is a reasonable amount of time before someone will either start to become a little complacent even if they’ve had good results or say “this is bullshit and I quit” if they have not had good results.

Now this won’t be half as bad as compared to someone who has done some of the more common very low calories + restricted food choices “clean eating” type nonsense but STILL… if you’ve trained your body to get by on an inadequate level of fueling, when you get complacent and drift back towards less structured eating habits it’s likely to be a greater energy intake than you’re used to getting, and I don’t have to tell you what happens to that energy that you’ve trained your body not to require.

Rather than that, consider this.

Twelve weeks building up towards higher, optimal, maximum usable energy and macronutrient targets to facilitate best performance at training, best recovery from training, and promotion of lean mass at the expense of fat stores as an adaptation to training.

Now, for the people who want to clutch at straws and try to pull me up on semantics; YES, obviously “the most you can put to use” is less than an amount at which you would not draw on fat stores due to energy intake being beyond your requirements. So indeed we are still “in deficit” but there is very real difference in the results of calculating our energy and macro targets intelligently with a focus on “how much we can put to good use for best results” vs “how far into deficit”.

You require a certain amount of energy just to be alive, to run your organs and regenerate skin cells and all manner of functions you’re not even really aware that you’re doing. Then you require a certain amount to get through your day able to tolerate… I mean, to interact with others and perform your job at work or at study. We burn a certain amount at training although the real value of training is not the energy that we expend but in how we adapt, and we require a certain amount further to all these other requirements to facilitate this recovery and adaptation to training.

Being at a strategic deficit can be advantageous as we will tap further into fat stores to make up for the shortfall in energy provision vs energy requirements. However, being too far into deficit simply means not providing the necessary resources to do all of those good things we talked about in the paragraph above, and running yourself into the ground while actually hampering fat loss at the expense of lean mass. The opposite of what you are actually trying to achieve.

So let’s wind this up.

Let’s say similarly to what we discussed earlier, 12 weeks of building up towards optimal, maximum useable, sports nutrition targets for best performance, recovery and adaptation to training. During that 12 weeks the challenge will be in eating enough to meet your requirements even when you’re not feeling hungry. Beyond that 12 weeks, depending on the individual you might find some people decide “this is bloody great and I can keep this up as long as feel like it and keep driving towards better and better performance and results”, which is great.

Other people are likely to think “that was great but I think I have a pretty good handle on this now and can just make good choices to eat when I’m hungry, confident that I’ll be getting it close enough most of the time” aka “intuitive eating” and that is also great.

My observation of that latter option is that intuitive eating after a period of working towards maximal targets will come in at a slight deficit due to no longer doing the “eat even if you’re not hungry” part. What happens when we’re at a slight, strategic deficit? As discussed a couple of paragraphs earlier, we tap even further into fat stores to make up the balance.

New Year Goal Setting: Think “trajectory”, not specific numbers.

This is a little thing I’ve been working on.

Trajectory ChartIt’s not so much a “real graph” in that it’s not based on real data, so much as it is an illustration of a logical point. Now… for people about to come into the New Year with a resolution of achieving some sort of a goal via training and dieting over the course of the year… here’s something to think about.

The key word here is TRAJECTORY.

First up though let’s talk goals. Your goal is multifaceted as follows:

  • Weight: It’s not helpful or healthy to be too concerned with a very specific weight on the scales, but perhaps falling somewhere closer to / within a suitable athletic weight range is a part of it.
  • Body Fat %: For most people it is not necessary nor helpful to be too concerned with a very specific body fat % reading, however we’re likely to want to see an increase in lean mass as we adapt to training, aka body composition or as I like to refer to it “body condition”.
  • Performance: On an individual level depending on how competitive your nature is, you may have a specific performance / ability goal, or it may be enough just to see progress and improvements, and in simple terms be able to “do more” whether that is to run a greater distance, lift a bigger weight, or whatever.
  • Body Satisfaction: This is super important. We want to feel good about ourselves, how we’re performing and the changes in condition that we see as a result. What I always feel is the ultimate success is when a client has already gone beyond what they had previously thought was the limit of their potential, and knows exactly what they would need to do to go even further, but thinks something like “who gives a shit though, what I’ve already done is awesome enough and now i just want to enjoy training and fueling and feel good about myself instead of thinking ‘it’s still not enough it’ll never be enough’” you know what I mean?
  • Enjoyment: Training and eating is supposed to be enjoyable, right? Never lose sight of that.

So those are some/all of the things we might be interested in achieving via training in the New Year. Fast forward to this time next year, and we want to be looking back and saying “well, that was a successful year of training” where we made performance gains, improvements in condition, enjoyed ourselves and felt good about ourselves too.

For that to occur, what would need to happen between now and then?
It is easy to get sucked in to the idea that it would mean never missing a training session under any circumstances, strict dieting day in, day out, hitting our macro and energy targets consistently with the best choices of healthy foods.

Well… that all sounds great but in reality, it’s just not humanly possible. If you were really to chart a successful person’s attendance at training, adherence to the nutrition plan, motivation and enthusiasm levels and so on… in reality it might look more like the yellow line in my illustration… and in fact even this is probably overly optimistic. Some periods you do a little better, some periods you go off the boil a little, once in a while life’s not perfect and your ability to attend training suffers… but over all you do enough to keep you on that trajectory towards improved condition & all of those other goals.

People have to be realistic and they have to be for real, too. Writing these posts there’s always a danger of people choosing to interpret it like “cool, I can just do a half arsed job, not show up very often, not hit intake targets, and I’ll still make good progress because this guy says it can work like that”. No. You have to come into something with the intention to do the best you can, as consistently as you can… but being a realist you also accept that perfection isn’t possible and perfectionism isn’t helpful. What’s important here is that when you do have a rough period, you don’t convince yourself that it’s the end of the story and that you’ve failed. So long as you are genuinely doing what you can, when you can, you should expect to move closer to your goals even if the process is gradual.

So that’s it in a nutshell really. The goal that we set is to be on that trajectory that keeps us moving closer to and beyond our goal condition as described above. To keep moving in the right direction, via establishing and practicing habits that are sensible, sustainable, healthy and conducive to improvements in performance, condition and mindset.

What you can also see on this chart in the red is my illustration of the trajectory we’re likely to follow via yo-yoing on and off crash diets. As you can see, over the long term we only move further and further away from all aspects of our goal condition. Many people reading this will know this all too well from personal experience already.

If you want to get off that yo-yo dieting cycle and into effective training, appropriate fueling and a sensible and sustainable approach that will keep moving in the right direction towards all of your condition goals, you can register for the next launch of my Online Flexible Fueling Program.

The Progress Hierarchy Pyramid

Here’s a little animation I made to illustrate the hierarchy of importance of different elements and how when they are all stacked up together they lead to success in your training related goals.

Especially online, most people just like to debate, argue and bicker. When talking about what people need to do if they want to get into shape, lose weight, be healthy, or whatever… people will latch on to some idea that they read about, some thing that they personal found helpful, and make it out to be an all important necessity that everyone else seems to be missing because they’re just not quite smart enough to get it.

In reality these points are fine tuning at best, possibly beneficial if you have all of the more important bases covered already, but for new people looking to get started with a fitness goal or a healthier life style they only serve to over complicate things and take people’s focus away from what’s really important.

What’s really important is just simply establishing the habits of turning up to the gym and putting in your best effort, regularly. People like to throw around words like discipline, commitment, will power and so on, but enthusiasm is really what it takes to get people into training regularly and consistently, and to work to the best of their ability while they’re in there.

What people seem to miss is that you can’t guilt, shame, pressure or coerce someone into feeling enthusiastic. Sure, a lot of people will begrudgingly show up once in a while because people are on their back, making them feel bad about the shape they’re in, telling them they are lazy or whatever else. Consistently though? Is that sort of negative motivation likely to get people showing up regularly and really getting stuck into training? Absolutely not. People need to be enthusiastic. They need to actually want to train, want to see results, and have a good reason to believe that they will be successful.

As we talked about recently on facebook, when you consistently turn up and train enthusiastically to the best of your ability, the sky is the limit. Providing of course that you are actually working to an effective training and fueling strategy. This is the missing piece of the puzzle for most people, and it is the crucial foundation that everything else depends upon.

Many people will get enthusiastic, show up and try their best… but that enthusiasm soon wanes if they do not see progress in terms of their performance or condition. It goes without saying that turning up and putting in the effort is crucial, but how are we applying that effort? With an effective training strategy that we can expect to produce results, or is it just effort for effort’s sake? “Burning calories” and so forth?

You require both an effective training strategy, and the appropriate fueling strategy in order to see the benefits of training. On the fueling side we are really just talking about getting enough, but not too much of everything that we require, including total energy aka calorie intake.

Being enthusiastic and actually turning up regularly to train with a good program, while appropriately fueled to perform, recover and adapt… you will see results. These results mean your performance improves, your condition improves, and you’re all the more inspired. Having so much momentum at this point, this is where fine tuning can come into things on an individual level, as you find what works best for you in terms of exercise selection, meal timing and frequency, choices of foods that make it easier to hit more precise macronutrient targets, and so on.

Again, these “fine tuning” items are really down to what makes it easiest and most enjoyable for each individual to stay enthusiastic and consistent. Too often people will take those personal, individual preferences and try to make them out as all anyone else needs to be focused on, when in actual fact they might be the least suitable, least convenient things for someone else that only makes them less enthusiastic and less consistent as they struggle to put it all together.

Bottom line: being enthusiastic about showing up regularly to train to the best of your ability with any decent training program and a suitable fueling strategy to meet your individual requirements will take you a hell of a long way.


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