You can’t outwork a bad diet

I’m sure most gym-goers can relate or understand this (or this is you): you see the same person in the gym day after day, month after month, and yet they still look the same (or maybe worse…). What’s the deal?  They’re burning calories, either by lifting weight or doing cardio, but no changes are happening. This is what frustrates people and drives them to quit – it makes total sense.  You feel like you’re doing the right things, and aren’t seeing any changes, it’s totally unrewarding.

My very first question when people ask me for help is, “What’s your diet like?” In an ideal world, when I start helping someone, they’re able to give me a snapshot of a typical meal plan from a variety of days – two weekdays and one weekend preferably. I want far more information about their eating habits than their activity levels. Why? Because nutrition is so critical to your results. People hate hearing this! broccoli-weight_300 Story time! In a previous relationship I fell into this category too – workout, eat junk, workout, eat junk. I was teaching a LOT of fitness classes and lifting minimal weights, and fuelling my body with crap. I was stressed and exhausted all the time because all of the adult responsibilities fell on me – household tasks and finances. If I relied on him to figure out a meal, it was always junk food rather than something healthy. I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t gain a lot of bad weight, but I also wasn’t looking or feeling any better for the hours I was spending at the gym (plus, I was doing 85% cardio work – see my cardio post from before for these issues – I didn’t know better!). Huge fail.

As soon as I started paying more attention to my nutrition (and got away from that relationship), things started to change for the better. I didn’t get really strict about it, I simply started keeping a food journal with rough quantities of foods (I didn’t weigh things), and I didn’t enter it in a tracking tool – I just started to get more accountable for what I was eating.  I started to date Kyle, and he had such a huge interest in health, training, nutrition, etc. that it rubbed off on me. Now, we’re constantly reading articles on nutrition and training – from macro quantities, to timing of food around workouts.  I’ve learned just how important nutrition is to performing, feeling, and looking your best.  End story.

I get it – nutrition is CONFUSING! There’s so much info out there and it all contradicts itself. One person says X, another says Y… so what do you do? Here are some things I’ve learned that can apply to everyone:

  1. Nutrition is individual. Your metabolism is different than mine, and different than your co-worker who eats fast food every day and stays thin. For this reason, your needs will be different, so you can’t follow their nutrition advice and expect to look the same. For example, Kyle tried a high fat meal plan at the start of this competition prep and in four weeks had to change it up because he wasn’t making positive progress. I tried the same idea and it worked just fine. So, just because Sally wolfs down whoppers and donuts but says that her secret is she doesn’t eat after 7pm doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.  Plus, she’s likely just skinny-fat, and you’re better than that!
  2. Food is not a reward. You went to the gym and had a great workout – awesome!  Your first, or fourth, thought should NOT be, “I totally earned a pizza”.  Think of it this way instead, you just did such a good thing for your body; reward it by giving it the proper nutrients it needs after the workout.
  3. Writing it down makes a huge difference. People always tell me “I eat pretty healthy / clean, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”. Likely, you’re disregarding the little things you’re eating here and there, which all add up throughout the day and over the week. I’m not saying you can’t snack, but by holding yourself accountable and writing it down, you’re far more likely to make truly healthy choices, and hesitate before having a handful of candy or a couple cookies.
  4. Examine your protein intake. We live in a carb-loaded society – it’s much easier to snack on high carb foods than anything else. Women are usually incredibly low in their protein intake, relying on cheese or legumes as a major source.  Sorry to break the bad news to you, but the protein content is so low in those, especially when you compare it to the fat or carb content. Making a point to include a good source of protein at each meal and snack will help you feel full and will go further in repairing your muscles from working out.
  5. Don’t eliminate carbs. Just don’t do it. Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel for energy, when you cut them out, or lower them excessively, you’ll feel drained and have a harder time being active. Choosing the right carbs and controlling the amount you eat is a far better strategy than eliminating them, and will make huge differences quickly. When you over-eat starchy carbs, you likely feel lethargic. When you eat controlled portions, you’ll feel more energetic and focused. *The necessary amount of carbs is different for everyone based on a variety of factors*
  6. Limit / cut the alcohol. I feel VERY “public health” saying this, but it’s totally true. Alcohol is just nutrient-void calories. Drinking in moderation is fine from a general health standpoint (if you want me to recite the low-risk drinking guidelines, I can), but if you’re trying to change your body in any way or training hard for an athletic performance, alcohol should be the last thing on your mind. The impact it has on your hormones is one thing, the fact that it’s full of sugar and generally causes people to eat more junk (wine and cheese anyone, or a McDonalds drive-thru after a night out?) is another reason to avoid it.

Those are some of my top nutrition tips / thoughts! There are so many more factors to consider with nutrition, but these six are a solid starting point for those trying to make healthier choices or changes. My interest in nutrition has definitely grown far larger than I ever thought it would have, and I love learning about it – especially as I’ve witnessed how large of an impact it has had on my own performance and body composition.

On that note – my prep update is a prime example. We made some dietary changes over the weekend (started on Sunday), and I’ve already seen my body change in some pretty big ways. Nothing else has changed, my training has stayed the exact same, so it’s clear the impact nutrition can have!

As usual, send me any comments or questions!  I hope this helps 🙂

About Ashleigh

I'm passionate about health and fitness. I work as a Health Promotion Specialist, a group fitness instructor, and also a coach for physique competitors / weight loss clients. I grew up as a competitive athlete, and have continued with this passion as a Women's Physique competitor. Research and writing is another interest of mine, which I use to share my knowledge with the general public.
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3 Responses to You can’t outwork a bad diet

  1. angela says:

    hi. I found this article very interesting. would u be able to give me an example of foods that should be consumed, keeping in mind I am very on the go…… and I do only cardio. walking, jogging, rollerblading. bbut can’t seem to lose weightn thanks anglea

  2. Pingback: Earning Your Food | Iron Forged Fitness

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