When you see your favourite fitness model, bodybuilder, celebrity, or cover model looking their best, the first thing that comes to mind is; how did they do it?
We are constantly flooded with new and unique diets and training ideas. Paleo, 5:2, intermittent fasting, Isagenix, Crossfit, IIFYM, Insanity Workout, and blood type diets, just to name a few. But how do you know what would be best for you? They all work to some degree, but understanding the fundamentals of a sound diet & training plan is key. Below I am going to outline some key factors that will assist you in establishing a diet and training plan designed for short & long term success.
Nutrition can be a very complex and opinionated topic, which is why I like to rely on scientific and evidence based information. The key factors of a sound diet start with knowing and understanding your total calorie intake. This is the amount of calories you are eating each day. Knowing how many calories you typically consume and being consistent with that intake on a daily basis will better assist you in working out if your food intake is making you heavier or lighter, in terms of total body weight. Essentially, if you are gaining weight progressively you are in a calorie surplus; meaning you are eating enough to store additional energy. If you are losing weight progressively you are in a calorie deficit; meaning you are relying on your current stored energy to survive. In short, when gaining weight you are in a calorie surplus. When losing weight you are in a calorie deficit. Building muscle almost always requires a calorie surplus for extended periods, ideally at a level that stores minimal unused energy (body fat).
It is important to know this so you can adjust your intake to suit your goals. If a diet does not outline the total calorie intake you should be asking questions, or at least try to work out the total calorie intake yourself.
An acceptable calorie intake would be one that has you dropping or gaining body weight at a rate of 0.5-1% per week. Dropping weight faster could result in loss of muscle and strength. Gaining weight faster could result in increased unwanted body fat.
The next key factor of a sound diet is the macronutrient breakdown. This is the breakdown of total calories into protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The protein content of a diet should be based on your lean body mass (LBM). This should ideally be between 2-3 grams per KG of LBM. The fat content of a sound diet should sit around 20-30% of total calories, or 1-1.25 grams per KG of LBM. The carbohydrate content of a sound diet should be the remaining calories. Based on activity levels or the physical demand of your lifestyle; you may prefer a higher carbohydrate intake which means fat intake will be at the lower end of the percentage range.
Utilising a diet that is sufficient in protein will ensure the maintenance or an increase in LBM. Sufficient dietary fat will help with optimal hormonal balance, nutrient transport, and provide essential fatty acids. Sufficient carbohydrate will provide energy and endurance.
The last key factor of a sound diet is food source flexibility. Having the ability to eat various and non-consecutive food sources each day will provide a wide range of vitamins & minerals, a range of dietary fat types, amino acid profiles, and fibre. Not to mention that foods will not become boring and sticking to the diet will become more enjoyable. It would be wise to have 1-2 pieces of fruit and 2-3 serves of vegetables per day in the diet to assist in the goal of micronutrient consumption for general health.
Training is slightly less complex. Consider this; essentially, the goal of weight training is to improve muscular and connective tissue strength. The goal of cardiovascular training is to increase heart rate and respiration, aiding in improved function of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
The benefits of cardiovascular training are actually also provided by weight training and so of course; weight training should be the predominant type of training in your routine (who doesn’t want to be stronger?).
Therefore the first key factor of a sound training plan is that it is weight training based with variations in reps, sets, and load; based on individual goals. In addition to increased strength gains, weight training will improve bone density and structural strength, improve posture, lower blood pressure, and release endorphins.
The second key factor is periodisation. A weight training program should be structured in a way that cycles through progressively heavier and lighter loads over a 4-12 week program. One example is a step-progressive periodisation model, which will see week 1-3 of a training program progressively increase in volume via additional load or sets/reps each week, with week 4 being significantly lower in volume to allow for recovery. The next 4 week cycle (or training block) will see week 1-3 at a progressively greater volume than the previous training block. This will allow for greater progress over an extended period with less plateaus or injuries.
The third key factor of a sound training plan is an effective reps & sets structure based on your goals. In short, a 1-6 rep range will focus on maximal strength, speed, and power. 6-8 reps are more about functional hypertrophy. This means an increase in general physical performance. 8-12 reps are more about structural hypertrophy. This means more of an emphasis on muscular size. 12+ reps will focus on endurance and the ability to perform resistance based actives for longer.
Utilising all of these rep ranges effectively (at the right time) within a periodised model will result in improved strength, power, speed, endurance, and of course size.
The last key factor of a sound training plan is adequate frequency in terms of training a muscle or group. Studies show that a trained muscle will recover within 24-48 hours. If you are planning to train in multiple rep ranges over a few days, 24 hours will be sufficient (e.g. 1-3 rep range today, 6-8 rep range tomorrow). Because the body is adaptive, if you were to increase your training frequency you may experience increased pain for the first 1-2 weeks. However once you have adapted to an increased frequency you will experience greater gains and less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Ideally, a muscle should be trained twice per week, with up to three times per week for beginners, on non-consecutive days. If you are training a muscle once per week, it is essentially resting for longer than necessary. In my opinion that is just a wasted opportunity to build more muscle and improve performance sooner.
So there you have it, some key factors for setting up a diet & training plan for long term success. Consider these factors when you hear about the latest diet or training program in magazines, on TV, or at your gym. Furthermore make them the backbone of your next plan and reap the benefits!