When we start thinking about our health and start looking at ways to improve our condition, inevitably, we come across the incredibly divisive topic of nutrition.
It seems that just about every other day, a new article or study is published, touting this or that diet plan. Of course, each new diet conflicts with the last, yet each one is considered THE answer to every health issue under the sun.
And everyone is so passionate about how their answer is so much better than everyone else’s.
Sometimes its a matter of selling their books and diet plans, but often it really is a sincere feeling that they do have the solution to everybody’s problems. Perhaps they solved their own health issues by following the plan, or lost weight when no other approach worked for them. I could certainly see how that would make them want to shout from the rooftops about it.
There are plenty of those success stories from just about every diet plan out there, and many of them are quite impressive.
So what should you believe?
Disclaimer to Avoid a Dietary Holy War
Before I go any further, I should be honest with you about something: This post does not contain the optimal, most effective diet known to man.
And that’s on purpose.
At GMB we don’t believe in a universally optimal approach to anything, and nutrition is no exception.
Nutrition is a complicated subject, and we don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. We’ve just spent a lot of time studying and testing various nutritional approaches on our clients and ourselves, and we’ve discovered patterns.
Those patterns are the basis for our recommendations.
The recommendations below might not suit your preferences. That’s OK. What works for you might not work for everybody else.
You’re welcome to be vegan, paleo, breatharian, or whatever else floats your boat. We’re not going to recommend those things, because we don’t feel they are the best way to eat for most of the people we work with.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at what does tend to work as a generally balanced diet for most people.
You’ll see that we won’t be talking about specific techniques for fat loss or muscle building in this article. Right now we are more concerned about the basics for a healthy and sustainable nutrition plan.
If body composition changes are a primary goal, we recommend seeking out good people to help you plan and structure your diet for that goal. For a good source of information on that, see our interview with Nate Miyaki.
The Foods (Pretty Much) Everyone Should Eat
Nutrition is an incredibly individual thing. You need to pay attention to what your body is telling you, and, seriously, don’t eat something if it makes you feel worse.
There’s a lot of talk now about gluten sensitivities, the horrors of fructose and how no human should consume cow’s milk. And I’m not even exaggerating, some people really do feel this way.
Again it may be from personal experience, and I certainly can’t argue against that. If you’ve found yourself having consistent problems from consuming this, that, or the other, then it would seem that food is off-limits to you. Maybe not for me, but it’s giving you a bad time and that’s your truth.
With that said, there are certain things everyone needs to eat, no matter who you are.
First off, most of your calories should come from meat and vegetables.*
These contain more nutrients than other foods—yes, even more than that “apple a day” your mom always nagged you about.
*Fruit is OK, but has more sugar and fewer nutrients than most vegetables.
Here’s a breakdown of the foods you should be eating daily:
Veggies come in all shapes, sizes and colors for a reason. Eat them all, and don’t discriminate.
While it can be important how you eat your vegetables (some are more nutritious in their raw state; some grilled; some baked), it’s much more important that you eat them. Period.
Experiment with different ways to get those veggies in, and do what you like with them. If you find that soaking every vegetable in butter sauce makes you happiest, then do that. Just get as many into your diet as possible.
Focus less on calories, and more on nutrients. Plant foods are packed with nutrients, so work on increasing your vegetable intake.
One word of warning: With increased vegetable intake, comes increased amounts of fiber, which is good! But if you aren’t used to it, it can cause some digestive distress while you adapt to it. So work on a gradual increase based on how your guts react.
Most people need to eat meat. Some people disagree, and a small percentage of those people manage to remain strong and healthy for many years.
But most people thrive on meat.
How much and how often is a much more personal thing. Do you feel better when you have just one serving of meat every day? Then do that. Do you feel better when you have meat at every meal? Go crazy.
Figure out what works best for you and do it.
- Meats that are closest to their natural states are best. Chicken breast beats McChicken sandwiches.
- Fish is meat. Eat it.
One big diet myth out there is that fat makes you fat.
The grossly oversimplified reality is, there are good fats and bad fats. Eat plenty of the good ones. Stay away from the bad ones, like trans fats (beware of food labels that list “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredients list).
Healthy fats are essential for balanced nutrition.
- When cooking with fats and oils, try to keep the temperature closer to medium than high.
- Try to get your fats from a variety of sources too. Animal fats, vegetable fats (avocados are great), and seed or nut oils are all fine. Find different ways to get various fats into your diet and enjoy them.
Pizza, Beer & Ice Cream
No, we are not recommending that you eat these daily, unless your idea of getting “in shape” means making your belly rounder. But, in addition to eating a balanced diet of proteins, fats, and vegetables, you should also eat some not-so-good stuff sometimes as well.
But that’s crazy talk!
We don’t think so.
We were all raised on the not-so-good stuff, and our bodies are wired via longstanding habit to enjoy the feelings we have when we eat things like ice cream and pizza (or whatever). There’s also something to be said for not eating so “clean” that you body overreacts with the slightest deviation from your strict diet. How can that be considered healthy?
Life should be enjoyed, so eat what you love sometimes, even if it’s not so good for you. Just be careful–sometimes does not mean often. Once or twice a week is fine.
Get Your Drink On
Water should be your main source of hydration.
Personally, I drink very little water. But I get plenty of hydration from my daily coffee and all the veggies I eat.
And drinking water is especially important if you choose to restrict your calories or do a bit of fasting. We tend to forget that a lot of our fluid intake comes from our food. Decrease that amount and you automatically decrease the amount of water you’re getting.
- Contrary to popular hysteria, you are probably not chronically dehydrated. But you still need water, so drink it.
- Coffee and tea – They’re good for you if you don’t get hooked on the caffeine.
Some people have caffeine sensitivities that can cause problems, so it’s a good idea to stop drinking coffee and tea for a couple of weeks from time to time. If you start drinking them again and notice changes in your mood or digestion, you should cut them out long-term.
Foods to Generally Avoid
I’m not a big fan of prohibition, but there are some things that really shouldn’t be consumed more than every once in a while.
If any of these foods falls under your list of “can’t live withouts” then go ahead and indulge from time to time. But make that indulgence as infrequent as possible.
Some of the foods you should generally avoid include:
Sugary (not-so-) Goodness
Candy. Cola. Doughnuts. Cake. Sugary cereals. Fast food. Anything with artificial sweeteners.
None of these are very good for you.
Sure, some people can get away with consuming them regularly, but staying healthy while eating a daily doughnut (or two) is an advanced move. You probably cannot pull it off without practicing the basics for a long time.
Be careful with sauces and condiments. They usually contain a lot of crap you don’t want inside you. Learn to use herbs and spices and buy higher quality ingredients with more flavor.
Libations in Excess
Okay, we told you it’s okay to have beer and ice cream (or whatever fits your fancy) from time to time. But, alcohol should be limited if you are in any way unsatisfied with your body composition.
OMG, Starchy Carbs!
Of all the nutritional disagreements that exist, none is as heated as the discussion about carbs. Is rice making you fat or is it an essential part of our diets? Maybe the answer doesn’t have to be so dogmatic.
Depending on your activity level, you may need to modulate your carb intake accordingly:
- If you are training hard and putting in more than an hour or two of exercise in your day, then having some rice and potatoes at dinner is not a bad idea.
- If, on the other hand, you barely got out of your office chair to go to the bathroom today, you should probably skip the baked potatoes at the Outback Steakhouse.
You don’t need to “commit” to one way or the other, and it really doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep a mental tally of how much activity you’ve gotten on a particular day, and shift your carb intake up or down to match your activity level.
Some Extra Nutritional Considerations
What I’ve described above are the very basics of a plan that will fit most people’s nutritional needs. If you just follow those, you’ll do just fine.
There are, however, some other things to consider.
Timing is Important
- If you are happy with your body composition, eat whenever you like, but try to keep to a fairly regular meal schedule. There’s no need to plan every meal to the minute, but the body does like consistency, so try to provide that for yourself.
- If you are dissatisfied with your body composition, you should “backload” your carbohydrates. You do that by eating primarily protein and fat during the first part of the day. Then have most of your carbohydrates later, after you’ve worked out. Training days should also be the days you have things like potatoes or pasta. Your body can make better use of those foods when recovering from training than it can on rest days.
- Avoid snacking. If you get hungry between meals (and you’re not purposefully fasting), it means that you did not eat enough in the previous meal. This is difficult for some people to grasp, but snacks do more harm than good for most people.
- When you eat a meal, eat the hell out of that meal. Eat until you are satisfied. Do not “leave room in the tank.” Don’t stuff yourself either, but do your best to give your body as much nutrient-rich fuel as you can.
- Try doing a short fast periodically. That can mean just skipping breakfast or lunch one or two days a week. Or it can mean not eating for an entire day once a week. The important thing when you fast is to act as if you didn’t fast. That means no gluttony before or after fasting. Learn to appreciate hunger, and then break your fast with something full of nutrition.
Fill in the Blanks – Supplements
Most people should supplement.
It’s nearly impossible to get enough nutrients from food, so you should take a quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement. You do get what you pay for with these, so try to find vitamins from whole food sources.
- You might try a greens supplement like Greens+ if that’s more appealing than taking pills.
- Most women should probably take iron. Most men should take zinc. Almost everyone can benefit from additional magnesium (best taken before bed).
- Unless you live in the tropics, you should take vitamin D.
- Unless you eat a lot of fish, you should take fish oil (focus on DHA content when choosing a fish oil supplement).
Remember, the best source of nutrients is quality food. If you get enough high quality protein and vegetables, these vitamins should be all you need to supplement with, unless you have a specific deficit.
Nutrition in the Simplest Terms
Nutrition doesn’t have to be so complicated. If you follow these tips, you’ll go a long way:
- Eat plenty of meat, vegetables, and fats.
- Loosen up your diet once or twice a week at most.
- Try a short fast periodically.
- Get to know your body’s signals, and stay away from harmful foods.
- Supplement as needed, but make quality food your primary source of nutrients.
Don’t forget that the eating plan you follow absolutely must be based on what works for you. The tips in this post are a great foundation for most people, but you should experiment and find the specifics that you need to follow.
You’ll notice that GMB doesn’t recommend other people’s products willy-nilly. When we do recommend other people’s products and services, it’s because we know and respect them, and have found their approach fits well with our knowledge and experience. And in the case of Nate Miyaki, we’ve actually been helped by him personally.
Nate’s newest program, Feast Your Fat Away, describes in detail what he does to help regular folks as well as pro bodybuilders get lean without wanting to kill themselves. It’s simply the sanest and most effective approach to body composition change we’ve ever seen, and we recommend it to our clients without reservation.
The basics of his program hew closely to what we’ve outlined above and he provides more detailed assistance based on an individual’s particular needs.