Phil Graham is a highly-respected competitive bodybuilder, performance nutritionist, fitness expert and personal trainer. He is based in Northern Ireland.
When you want to start a new diet how do you know which one will work best for you? If you type ‘the best diet ‘ into a search engine you get over 300 million results, featuring all the popular ones you’ve heard of, and millions more you haven’t.
Having worked with thousands of clients over the years I’m very much aware of how these diets work. The all have overlapping features and are based around everything from the basics of calories, carbs, protein, fat and supplements, right up to the more complex, involving genetic and blood testing.
Yes, they are all capable of producing results in the short-term, but in many cases they are unsustainable and people fall off the bandwagon once they think they have made good initial progress and lost weight.
And that’s without people giving a second thought to how this ‘quick fix’ solution has affected their hormonal system, or whether the weight loss has come from fat, as they desire, or simply muscle or water loss.
Picking the right diet for you
The ‘best diet’ for you is one that is sustainable. Think of the right diet as one that becomes a long-term habit, not a short-term chore. Always remember that sustainability and adherence are much more important than anything else. So before you sit down and work out what diet to follow you need realise it must be one that is right for your goals and, crucially, one you can adhere to over the long term in order to provide the health, body composition and performance benefits you desire.
You must always begin a diet phase with an end-goal in mind. Are you looking to drop body fat for an upcoming holiday, photoshoot or competition? Or do you want to pack on quality mass to your under muscled body frame? Here’s a breakdown summary of some key factors I take into account when helping my clients focus on their long term dietary success.
Ensure the appropriate calorific intake
This is the major determinant of weight loss and muscle gain. Effective fat loss requires that you place yourself in a calorie deficit, burning of more energy than you take in. Energy expenditure in the form of exercise and food intake are two very important variables that need should be manipulated.
Muscle gain nutrition requires a calorie surplus, taking in more than you burn off. The additional energy is laid down as lean body mass provided there is an adequate training stimulus.
Whatever your goal, you need to ensure you also consume the essential nutrients that are crucial to success – those that can’t be produced within the body and must be obtained from the diet, and include the essential omega 3 fatty acids, essential amino acids, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Always be realistic
Your approach needs to be slow, diligent and tactical. Most people are incredibly impatient to get results quickly and consequently they build failure into their plans before they even begin by following extreme, harsh and unsustainable approaches. The pressure they pile on themselves to get instant results quickly leads to feelings of anxiety and frustration when things don’t go as well as you want.
Aggressively rapid fat loss involving extreme calorie deficits can result in a number of undesirable adaptations that make you more likely to fail. Performance suffers, mood is disrupted, immune function is compromised and hunger cravings dominate. When you finally crack you are likely to rebound, which often leads to a place where you are worse off than when you started, both a physiological and psychological standpoint.
Remember that fat loss becomes increasingly difficult the leaner you get, because your body becomes more efficient at storing energy instead of using it, which is why starting with a sustainable and flexible approach is always the best course of action.
Give yourself time
As a general rule of thumb fat loss should be between 0.25-1lb per week for most individuals. Heavier individuals can be slightly more aggressive with losses of up to 4lbs per week. It’s relatively normal to expect the greatest loss in the first few weeks of starting. For mass gain I would consider gains of around 1-2.5lb per month for the natural trainer acceptable.
It’s important you don’t over-rely on the scales as your sole indicator of fat loss. Correlate weight with skin fold measurements to ascertain the effectiveness of your approach, and analyse your appearance honestly to make sure your body composition is improving.
Play the mental game
The psychological aspect of getting in shape is often overlooked but is crucial in determining your overall success. Ask yourself one main question: how long can you stick to your current diet and training programme? Your level of motivation may not resemble that of a professional sports person who’s career and livelihood depends on how they look and perform.
They may have an all-out 100% lazer-focused approach, but it’s ok if you don’t. You will crack at times, but the key is not to beat yourself up or give yourself a hard time. Look at the triggers that made you fall off the wagon, address them, and try to minimise your exposure to these triggers so it doesn’t happen again. And one slip-up you can live with. Don’t use a mistake as an excuse to go totally off the rails and eat everything in the fridge in one go. Get back on track and focus on the end result you desire.
Always think ahead
You need to get into the habit of planning the week ahead and knowing what situations you will be in so you can ensure you can eat what and when you need. For example, if you know one day you can’t sit down to a solid meal learn to improvise with options such as a protein shake, with nuts and some fruit in order to get calories in.
Another key problem is running out of the foods you know you should be eating so having to improvise with sub-optimal alternatives, especially when hunger kicks in after a hard training session.
Organisation is essential to a successful diet, so do a big food shop once a week and batch-cook as many meals as possible to save money and time to give your body every chance of success.