4 Alternative New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again! 

I’ve actually found that most people I talk to these days have given up on the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions, opting to make fun of those who do, by making fun of the #NewYearNewMe phenomenon, which is probably fair, since you are (hopefully) constantly becoming a new version of yourself, with every new lesson you learn, and every improvement you make, so it is not something relegated to a single day of the year. 

However, I feel that sometimes we need milestones to make us sit down and take stock. These can come in the form of a birthday, the birth of a baby, a funeral or indeed the beginning of a new calendar year.

Personally, I think the most common reason people don’t make new year’s resolutions is something to do with the fact that we know we need a clear, defined goal or rule, and we don’t want to take the time to sit down and go through the process of self-assessment, brainstorming, goal-setting, planning and summarising this all into a clearly defined rule or set of rules that we resolve to stick to for an entire year. In short: We are too lazy.

I also find that people are sick of hearing about the same clichés, which, although valuable, aren’t very actionable, and the fact that they’ve been repeated so many times means that when we read them, we tend to skip over them and not give them much thought.

So, with that said, the aim of this post is to supply some clearly defined resolutions, that are different enough to hopefully make people think, and that just about anyone can stick to and reap the benefits.

1. Tidy Your Room

The discovery of Professor Jordan Peterson (a Canadian professor of psychology and clinical psychologist) and his youtube lectures are something that I can definitely say has changed my life over this past year. 

One of his core messages is “tidy our room”, which not only contains the literal message of making your immediate surrounding better and tidier, but also the metaphorical meaning of focussing on fixing yourself before trying to change the world.

In the literal sense, Peterson talks about how the process of tidying your room can have huge psychological benefits. He says that the stuff that we own is a symbol of what we think is important in the world, and that as we begin to sort through our stuff, we encounter things that we need to deal with in our life, and thus begins the process of “sorting ourselves out”. Amongst our ‘stuff’ might be unpaid bills (that we should pay), clothes that no longer fit us (maybe we’re holding onto them because there’s always a possibility of us getting fat again), half-read books (because we didn’t have the staying power to see it through), socks with holes in them (You deserve better!) and many other things that we need to deal with. We might also find our gym shoes (reminding us we should go to the gym more), pictures of people we should probably reach out to more often, a musical instrument we used to love playing (but don’t make time for any more). The tidying, or sorting out, of our immediate surroundings will bring up a vast array of things we should deal with and improve our life if we do so.

Damn, I wish I listened to my own advice sometimes…

From a metaphorical point of view, we can also take this to mean, “tidy your room” before trying to change the world. We often think things outside of our control are to blame: other people’s attitudes, beliefs and actions, the government, the rich people, sugar companies, sexism, racism, our parents. What if we asked ourselves, “Have I sorted myself out and made myself as good as I can? Have I done everything that I can do to make this problem better?” I would argue that before we’ve at least tried to do this, we shouldn’t spend time trying to change those things that are further outside of our control.

2. Make a Not-To-Do List

I’m not sure where I heard this first, but I think it was probably mentioned on a Tim Ferriss Podcast at some stage, although not specifically in relation to New Year’s resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions are usually consisting of a list of things that you are going to do, and that’s all well and good. But what if we also made a short list of the things we aren’t going to do? Some may say this creates a negative association with our goals, which is fair enough, but I feel that nowadays, we are afraid to look at what we’re going to have to give up or miss out on in order to fulfil our goals.

We might make a goal of “getting into shape” or better yet, “losing 5kg of fat”, so we decide that in order to do that, we need to start going to the gym and eating better, for example. But if we don’t address the fact that we might have to give up part of our social life, or cut out some of the foods we love, it goes unaddressed and we are left to make the decision in the moment, when you have to decide between a night out on the booze, versus a night in the gym and a salad afterwards. If, when setting our goals, we decide from the start that we’re willing to do this, the decision is already made. However, if we’re allowing ourselves to decide in the moment, then who knows what we’ll decide? 

This isn’t to say we can’t have a few beers and still improve body composition, but rather that we will have to make some sacrifices, and defining those sacrifices from the start can help assess if our goal is realistic from the start. 

3. Say “…Just Like Me”, After Criticising Someone.

I downloaded an audiobook last year for £1.99 as part of a promotion Audible was running. I hadn’t heard of it before, but the blurb sounded quite cool and I thought if I only got one thing from it, it would be worth the £1.99. 

It went on to become my favourite audiobook I’ve listened to, and I feel like I’ve gotten something new out of it every time I’ve listened to it (probably on my 6th listen now). It’s called “Insanely Gifted” by Jamie Catto (who interestingly was also a founding member of the band ‘Faithless’!)

One thing I did get out of it, which really hit me, was the idea that what we don’t like about others, is usually a reflection of ourselves.

For example, something that really triggers me is when people complain about stuff. To me, when I hear someone complaining, I just think they’re ungrateful, whiney and short-sighted. But what if I add “Just like me” to the end of that list? Could it possibly be that I, too, possess the capacity to be exactly those things that I most dislike, at times? Of course the answer is yes. 

So with all the information, am I best to get annoyed, or try to change the other person? Or am I better using this as an indication that I need to work on something within myself? Well, someone else’s mindset isn’t really in our control, whereas at least we have some control over our own.

Again, I wish I remembered to do this all the time. 

4. Don’t Tell Anyone About Your Goals

When we’re embarking on a journey towards a new goal, it can be very tempting to tell everyone who’ll listen. It’s the equivalent of writing “big things coming!” on Instagram, or even posting a picture of your first time back at the gym. 

It can feel nice to hear people re-assure you with a, “Good on you! Can’t wait to see what you do!”, or give you a like on the gram, and therefore we receive a certain amount of gratification from it. 

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with gratification. In fact, it’s a method of working out how we should be and how we should interact with others. For example, you do something nice, someone says, “thank you”, you get a feeling of gratification, so you know this is a good thing to do, and you’ll probably do it again. 

However, for this reason, it is important that we are careful about what we are getting gratification for. Do we want to be getting gratification for telling people that we have made a plan and are going to go after a goal? Or would it be better to delay the gratification, and receive it a couple of months down the line, when a friend compliments you on all the weight you’ve lost? Or better yet, perhaps the gratification comes from yourself, when you’re looking in the mirror, and see a flat stomach for the first time in years, and think about all the hard work you’ve put in to get there, and smile.

If we receive gratification for “starting”, or in this case, for telling people about our goals, that doesn’t create any incentive to keep going, but if we receive gratification a while down the line, from others or ourselves, when we’ve actually done something to make progress, then this can reinforce the positive habits we’ve created and can really help in sticking to our goals.

Conor

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Meal Plans: The Good, the Bad, and the "Same Plan for Everyone"

What Are Meal Plans?

Meal plans are essentially a weekly or daily plan of what foods, and in what quantities, someone is to consume, usually in order to elicit a body composition change, or improve sporting performance.

 
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Who Can Make Them?

Contrary to what some coaches might think, it is not within the scope of practice of anyone who isn’t a Registered Dietician to prescribe a diet plan. 

However, as a nutritionist, it is within the scope of practice to advise on methods of hitting a recommended intake of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, for example, and providing an example meal plan may be an appropriate method of doing so. It is not, however, legal for them to simply provide a diet plan and tell someone to follow it blindly.

You can see that the lines are blurry and we often see nutritionists, coaches and personal trainers taking advantage of these blurry lines. 

Just yesterday, I saw a nutrition plan that had been handed out to bootcamp participants. The meal plan itself was disputable. The 6 small meals recommended, were coupled with with 4 protein shakes per day without any statement made towards why this might be required. That, along with the 8 other supplements they recommended for the participants daily, led me to conclude that they were getting commission of the supplement company they kept referring to.

However, what struck me more was the fact that everyone got the same document, which only contained one example meal plan, and therefore everyone who was doing the bootcamp got the same meal plan. This meant that a 100kg man was recommended to eat the same as a 60kg woman. The same diet that might put the 60kg female in a nice 500 kcal deficit could put the 100kg male in a 2000 kcal deficit. Yes, both would lose weight, but I would suggest that someone eating in a 2000 kcal deficit shouldn’t be part-taking in a high-intensity bootcamp. Not only is it unnecessary, but it’s potentially dangerous.

Anyway, the point is that whilst meal plans can be useful, they should only ever be prescribed by a dietician. Anyone else who provides a meal plan is obliged to make it suggestive rather than prescriptive, with evidence-based advice around why they suggest this might be a good choice for the client.

How are they made?

In the best case scenario they would be made by creating an estimate of someones nutritional requirements in terms of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients based on a detailed questionnaire, finding an eating schedule that works for the individual, and working with the client to create an example daily plan of how they would go about achieving this intake. This would be followed up by educating the client on why this would be a good option, and how to adjust it in various situations that may come up.

At worst, they can be a version of a diet that a trainer found “worked” for them, which they then presume will work for everyone, so they prescribe it without any education process or evidence-based information around how the plan has been set up.

 
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Pros and Cons of Meal Plans

In spite of my previous ranting, I’m not completely against the idea of a meal plan, if it is utilised in the right way, and I have done so with a few of my clients. (I’m not a dietician, by the way, so this would never be done in a prescriptive way, but would always include an educational element, where the meal plan was an example of one way of doing things.)

So with that said, I will go into some pros and cons.

Pros

1. They’re easy to understand.

One of the biggest advantages of meal plans is that they’re easily understood. We all know that nutrition can be a complicated topic. Education can take a good amount of time, especially for beginners, whereas a simple plan of what to eat and when is much more simple, regardless of experience level. 

2. They usually work, if followed.

If the meal plan has been constructed properly, and the client follows it, they will likely see the results they’re chasing. 

Even a poorly constructed meal plan can lead to results. The only requirement is that it is better than what someone is currently doing. So, if someone currently has a terrible diet, and are given a slightly better meal plan, even if it isn’t great, the fact that they have a clear plan, which is slightly better than there current one, and they follow it, can lead to improvements in body composition.

It is also worth noting that meal plans are usually given in conjunction with a new exercise plan, and so, the exercise plan may be enough to produce results, regardless of the meal plan quality.

3. They can produce immediate progress.

Another advantage is that meal plans can be implemented immediately, whereas a more habit-based approach, which may be better for long-term adherence, is implemented over the course of weeks and months.

The advantage here is that the client can begin to see a good deal of progress straight away, perhaps in the first few weeks of implementing it, which is motivating, and can lead to better adherence.

It also gives the person some immediate steps towards improvement. If we have an hour to work with someone, it is really up for debate whether that time is best spent educating them around something like muscle protein synthesis or carbohydrate metabolism, or whether it is better to show them how to eat on a day-to-day basis. Again, this will be based on the individual and how much they value progress in the short term vs. the long-term.

Cons

1. They usually don’t involve an education element.

As I’ve spoken about throughout this article, the biggest element that is often missing with meal plans is education. 

If there is no education process, the potential is there for the client to create false mental models of why they are getting results, which can be detrimental in the long-term.

For example, as someone creating the meal plan, we know (or should know) that if the client wants to lose weight, the meal plan should be constructed with the aim to create a caloric deficit. If the client is not made aware of this, they may presume that the reason they are losing weight is due to the time of day they are eating, or the amount of meals they are eating, or the types of food. If we don’t provide this education, the client can take those made-up rules into their future nutritional protocols and perhaps without the fundamentals in place, could feel as if they’re are doing everything right, but still not seeing any results.

2. They can be unnecessarily restrictive/inflexible.

Another problem with meal plans is that they can be specific to the point of being restrictive and inflexible. If someone thinks that they are restricted to eat a certain choice of foods at certain times, what happens when they miss a meal or don’t have the food that is prescribed? One thing that can happen is that they believe they have now failed for the day or week, are “off-the wagon” and will therefore wait until tomorrow or the next week to start again, whilst in the mean time eating as they please (and feeling guilty about it) and potentially moving backwards in terms of progress.

The sceptical part of me thinks that sometimes coaches will make these diets so difficult to follow, simply so that if the person doesn’t see results, it will be easy to conclude that it was because they didn’t follow the diet plan to a tee.

3. They are often not individualised.

A big problem with meal plans is that they often aren’t individualised. Usually this is down to laziness of or lack of education on the coaches part.

Let’s say there’s a coach who believes that there are certain foods that are ‘fat-burning’ in nature, and that eating 7 times per day will lead to more fat loss. Well if that was the case, then the same eating plan would work for everyone!

However, this is not the case, but instead each individual needs to eat the amount of food that is in accordance with their energy expenditure, and other individual factors, which is different for each individual.

 
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Who Should Use Them?

Beginners

As mentioned before one of the scenarios where a meal plan could be implemented would be with a complete beginner. This will be useful in giving the person an idea of what an appropriate day of eating would look like, which is often very useful, since it allows the client to see how any information being given to them can be applied in a real-world context. It will also potentially lead to immediate progress, providing the motivation to continue. 

As I mentioned throughout the article, there would need to be an element of education as to why this would be an appropriate way of hitting their recommended intake, and therefore give reasons as to why they’re making progress.

Experienced people

For someone who has gotten themselves to a high level of nutritional knowledge, built up good eating habits, and has perhaps even been tracking their specific macronutrient intake for a prolonged period of time, it may be useful to create a meal plan for themselves, in order to free up some of the mind-space of having to track everyday. 

People who have been tracking their macronutrient intake for a long time often become disillusioned with it, and feel it unnecessary, since they seem to be eating roughly the same things each day anyway. Yet, they don’t want to stop, due to the fear that they’ll lose the ability to hit their required intake. However, if they were to create a meal plan for themselves, that they knew would get them to their required intake each day, this would be a good way of easing their mind.

Since they’ve already built up a good set of habits and knowledge, they would be well equipped to adjust their meal plan, as and when it was necessary to do so.

Conclusion

For coaches, the conclusion is to be careful with your scope of practice, recognising what you are and aren’t allowed to do and say. I would also advise educating yourself on the topic of nutrition, so that they advice you are giving out is in-line with the current evidence.

And to people who are taking advice from coaches, I would recommend that you are careful who you take advice from. If you find out that someone is giving out the same meal plan to everyone, with a lack of education around it, you should probably disregard the information. Also, if they can’t tell you why they are advising a certain method, this should ring alarm bells.

And finally, I would recommend that you educate yourself on the fundamentals of nutrition: Energy balance, macronutrients and micronutrition. If you know the fundamental principles, it is much easier to identify the B.S. (Bad Science).

Conor

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Macros: To Track or Not to Track?

So let’s strip it back to the basics.

We eat food.

That food provides energy.

The energy in food is measured in calories (kcal)

Those calories come from 3 main sources: Protein (which has 4 kcal per gram), Fat (which has 9 kcal per gram) and Carbohydrate (which has 4 kcal per gram).

Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates are the three main macronutrients. Alcohol is a fourth macronutrient, but is usually left out for nutrition content like this for simplification. Alcohol contains 7 kcal/g.

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What do the Macronutrients Do?

Each macronutrient has various functions in the body. For a start, they all can be used as energy sources in the body, but the amount of each used will depend on various factors, including activity type and duration, and general nutritional intake. However, the energy is mainly provided by carbohydrates and fats, rather than protein.

Protein, or rather the amino acids that protein is made up of, is used in the synthesis (a.k.a. building) of muscle and other tissues in the body. This is of particular importance to athletes because exercise is generally a catabolic activity, meaning it breaks down muscle and other tissues. Therefore, in order to gain, or even just maintain, muscle mass, as well as to recover properly for subsequent sessions, it is important to consume enough protein.

Fat is a crucial part of any nutritional plan, and completely removing fat from the diet would lead to many negative health consequences. Fat is used in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. It is also involved in the regulation of hormones and cell health.

Carbohydrate is the main fuel source in high-intensity activity. This is obviously important to athletes who are involved in a lot of high-intensity training and competition. Carbohydrates are also important because most fruit and vegetables contain carbohydrates. For these reasons, it is not advisable for athletes to follow a low-carbohydrate diet.

Why is it Important to Hit the Right Amounts?

Again, back to the basics. In order to lose weight one must be in a caloric deficit, meaning they are eating fewer calories than they are expending. In order to gain weight, one must be eating in a caloric surplus, meaning they are eating more calories than they are expending.

Since the macronutrients make up the caloric intake of our diet, by altering the macronutrients we eat, we are altering our caloric intake. That is simply to say that e.g. if we reduce our carbohydrate intake and don’t change our intake of the other macronutrients, our overall caloric intake has been reduced. (Note: This is a common reason that people see weight-loss results on a low-carb or low-fat diets. Jumping to the conclusion that carbs make you fat, or fat makes you fat, is due to a failure to recognise that the overall calories were the main factor at play.)

Furthermore, hitting the correct amount of each macronutrient within our caloric recommendation will likely lead to improvements in body composition, recovery and performance.

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How Much of Each Should Be Consumed?

To read my full article on how to calculate your own recommended macronutrient breakdown, go to this link [LINK]

The optimal range for protein intake for athletes is about 1.7–2.2 g/kg B.W. (grams per kilogram of bodyweight).

With fat, we have to at least meet the minimum requirements in order to maintain health, and allow for a sufficiently enjoyable diet. Usually, this means a range of about 20–30% of the diet being made up of dietary fat.

Carbohydrates will then make up the rest of the calories in the diet. It is important to remember that when optimal performance is required, it is crucial that the intake of carbohydrates is sufficiently high. This may mean that you have to lower fat or protein intake slightly, in order to allow more carbohydrate intake. Otherwise, you may have to increase your overall caloric intake to allow for more carbohydrates, which may lead to a slight gain in bodyfat, but may be deemed worth it, for the performance benefit. It should also be noted that increasing the overall caloric intake may not lead to this expected gain in bodyfat, due to the fact that some people can end up compensating for the increase by moving more, and therefore expending more calories, balancing out the energy equation by default.

How Does One Track Macronutrient Intake?

The easiest way to track is by using a food tracking app, such as the MyFitnessPal app. This app allows you to search for foods within their food database, and add them to your daily diary within the app. This will give you a running total of your intake of calories for the day, along with the macronutrient breakdown. Doing this consistently allows you to adjust your intake to meet your requirements.

Advantages of tracking

1. Precision

If you really want to make sure you are hitting your targets, there really is no more accurate, practical way than tracking every piece of food you eat. Yes, you may be able to get pretty close using a number of tactics that I will get into in the next podcast episode (which will be on alternatives to tracking), but there will be some margin of error in each of these alternatives.

2. Flexibility of food choices

Another advantage of tracking is that it gets away from the usual idea of having a few specific foods to stick to. For example, Let’s say you really want a mars bar. Usually, you may think you couldn’t have that and still make optimal progress. However, if you’ve been tracking your total intake for the day, you’ll be able to see that maybe you can fit the mars bar in, if you simply reduced specific macronutrient intake somewhere else during the day.

3. Teaching correct amounts

Another advantage to tracking is that after a while of doing it, you are eventually able to make very accurate estimates of the calorie and macronutrient intake of foods, without the need for inputting each individual item into MyFitnessPal. This is advantageous because it means you can eventually meet close to your required intake, without the need to track.

4. Game-ification

The tracking process almost turns nutrition into a game, where you can see if you’ve hit your targets each day, and if someone finds this motivating, then it is worthwhile.

Disadvantages of tracking

1. Time

It takes time to not only learn how to use the app, or whatever other tracking process you use, but also takes time throughout the day to actually go through the tracking process. For most of us, who are already busy with work, training, family life and social life, any perceived time cost is something that can be deemed a negative.

2. It doesn’t account for micronutrients or timing of food.

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When we focus on the total intake of macronutrients only, whilst we are probably covering off most of our nutritional requirements, there is always the potential to forget about the quality of our food. It is important to remember that without getting enough vitamins and minerals in our diet, we put ourselves at risk of developing deficiencies, which can lead to any number of health issues.

Also, by only focussing on total intake for the day, we may miss out on optimising the timing of food. This is especially important when performance is a goal. For example, we may want to place more of our daily carbohydrate amount around the workout period. If we only focus on tracking our daily carb intake, this timing isn’t taken into account. Then again, in order to create this timing protocol, a element of tracking will be required in order to do it correctly.

3. It can become obsessive

In tracking your food by the numbers, there is always a risk that we can get too caught up in hitting the exact numbers every day. However, there really is no need to be getting wound up about hitting the numbers perfectly. In fact, the reality is the all the numbers you have been tracking already have some errors. This could be a rounding error by the food company, a measuring error by you, or even an error in the food database. With this in mind, being a few grams of carbs over your recommended is no big deal, since you actually may have eaten 10 or 15 grams either side of what the app is telling you, due to the aforementioned errors.

So, Do You Need to Track Your Macros?

Well I guess the main things we need to consider when answering this question is what level of nutritional knowledge the individual already has, and also what their goals are.

Firstly, I feel that before someone begins to track their food intake by the numbers, there are a few things that should already be in place. For example, are they eating a diet containing mostly whole foods? Are they able to cook 3–5 good meals from scratch? Do they have a basic knowledge of the macronutrients and their use in the body? Do they have a regular eating schedule? Unless the answer is “yes” to those questions, it’s probably not a good idea to get someone to strictly track their intake of macronutrients daily.

The second aspect is the extent of the individual’s goals. Usually, the more goals the person has, the more accurate they need to be. For example, if they simply want to lose weight, then they may simply need to develop a few key habits that will allow them to eat fewer calories and be more active. However, if they want to lose weight, and maintain muscle, and maintain their sport performance, then that will require more accuracy, and tracking may be the only way of providing that accuracy.

So, technically, the answer to the question “Do you need to track your macros?” is “No.” However, in certain circumstances, where the person has already developed good nutritional habits and knowledge, and has goals that require accuracy, then tracking would be a productive option.

Conor

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