Programming & Nutrition Hacks

I absolutely cannot stress enough the importance of a well-written program and nutrition strategy for achieving ANY goal – whether it’s for fat loss, mass gain or performance based outcomes – a program is integral for your ability to achieve your goal more effectively.

Everyone who has an investment in an outcome needs a plan to follow which gets them from A to B.
After all,
How else would you know what is working and what is not?
How else do you learn what approach is more suited to you?

Why would you do something but not track or measure how effective it was?

Both programming and nutrition can be periodised, meaning that the volume, frequency and intensity can be manipulated in order for you to fulfill a specific goal in a specific time-frame.

This involves making the approach specific to the outcome you want, following it consistently, and then adjusting it if necessary to make sure that the desired outcome is actually happening.

Failing to plan, failing to track and failing to follow a program is the most common issue which most people have. Some of us feel that we won’t be as “excited” by a program, or by doing the same training each week.

I think this is bullshit.

What’s more exciting?

Doing some woo-woo half assed, ineffective stuff that “entertains” you?

Or doing something that gets you results?

I don’t know about you, but I find that getting stronger, more effective, improving my mastery of skills and my ability to rise to a challenge far more exciting than “mixing it up” every day.

I find being able to look back on my strength, muscle development and technique a few months or years ago and look how much it’s improved exciting.
I find seeing results for my efforts REALLY fucking exciting. I find being able to manipulate my food intake and then track the changes that occur really intriguing.
If you want entertainment from your diet and workouts because you’ll only train or eat when you are enthusiastic about what you’re doing, that’s fine.
But don’t complain if you don’t get a bunch of results from it. I get really excited by the idea of eating cheesecake, but I don’t do it because it’s not going to help me bench heavier.
Separate entertainment from results if you want results.

And eventually, you’ll get entertained by seeing results.

PROGRAMS NEED TO FULFILL SPECIFIC CRITERIA

A good program takes into account;

 

Progressive Overload;

How are you going to increase the intensity of your training so that you can continue to become stronger, leaner, fitter etc over time?
You should not be lifting the same weights or doing the same level of exertion at week 1 as you are at week 10. Understandably, you would expect that as you get more advanced and begin to lift more volume, your body will adapt to be able to lift that volume. But in order for this to happen, for us to get faster, build more power or endurance, we need….

 

Recovery;

Progressive overload can only continue when you are well recovered. Any reduction in strength and in energy levels should be prevented as much as possible, and set times should be given where you de-load, rest and recuperate. For fat loss, you absolutely cannot go balls out with your training every day while also eating insufficient calories and expect to get the best out of your body. For mass gain, you need to be eating enough not only to add additional lean body mass, but you need to be eating enough to recover from the energy you expended in order to gain that mass in the first place.

 

Specifity;

If your goal is to increase your bench 1RM, why would you go for runs or train for the Spartan race? There is a training effect known as “chronic interference” wherein muscle cannot optimally adapt to BOTH cardiovascular and and strength or hypertrophy based training. If you have to do cardio for your goals, it must be specific to those goals and you really have to ask yourself a number of questions when designing your programming.

If you’re training in a way that you need to maximise both muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance – should your cardio be kept separate, or should it be part of a hybrid approach?
If you’re training for pure strength and hypertrophy – is cardio necessary?
If it is, how much?
Will it interfere with your strength adaptations if you have cardio within the same session?
How much cardio can you include, to what intensity, in what frequency, and in which style – to capitalise upon the outcome you want?
Does your cardio need to be periodised the same as your strength training?
How does your cardio frequency, style and intensity affect your nutrition approach?

Sadly, these questions are not asked frequently enough!
Most people falsely assume that more (of everything) is better.

More cardio, more volume, more frequency, larger calorie deficits, more protein etc.

But particularly when it comes to training, more is NOT better because “more” is often just junk volume that detracts from the specifity of the program, and detracts from the intended adaptation response. More tends to be more things done with no specifity in mind, because of psychological dependency upon exercise and an inability to rest due to body image issues, or from boredom with the same training style, or the idea that you need to “confuse” your muscles.

General Adapation Syndrome is a three-stage processes wherein a stressor (exercise) is applied to your body in order to gain a specific adaptation.

A specific adaptation for strength is putting more weight on the bar and aiming to improve the intensity, or % of your 1RM.
A specific adaptation for endurance is increasing the distance or duration of your sessions to improve VO2 max, oxygen uptake, mitochondrial density and efficiency.
If the stressor is not specific, the adaptation is not specific either! You also do not gain enough experience, mastery, volume or time to adapt in any meaningful way.
Mixing up your exercises, mixing up your styles of training and doing a bit of everything, or going into the gym with no idea of what you’re about to do doesn’t work as a strategy on any level.

I get asked to go to yoga classes a lot more than I care to admit. As a novice powerlifter – why the hell would I say yes? Getting a bendy spine is not a good idea for someone looking to squat maximal weight with maximal tension and maximal stability. A yoga class is not only not specific to my goal, but is actually counter-productive to it. Think about how relevant what you are doing is for your goals, and think about the duration, volume and frequency that might work best for you.

All of the extra bullshit you slap on top of the minimal effective dose is already an unnecessary waste of your time, let alone extra bullshit that has nothing to do with your goals.

Just because you “can” do more, doesn’t mean you should.

Volume;

There is no use spending 2 hours in the gym doing thirty or forty sets for each training session if all you need, and all you can recover from, is half that. Consider doing the LEAST amount of training possible for your goals and if your goal is to drop bodyfat, in the vast majority of cases it’s far easier to use your DIET to achieve your calorie deficit. One of the biggest issues I see with trainees desperate for fast fat loss is combining very low calories with a very high duration and frequency of training. The adaptation to dieting is to reduce mass, the adaptation to increased volume in resistance training is to gain mass and the adaptation to cardio is to reduce mass. If you throw all three of these things at your body in ever increasing doses at the same time, you simply increase the stress under which your body is expected to perform. It is no wonder that individuals who are over-working, over-stressing and under-resting their bodies are going to get sub-par results. Sometimes less is more!

 

One way to overcome conflicting stressors is to go through periods of eating more / exercising more and then eating less / exercising less. This can come in very handy for those of us who have periods of higher work commitments and less availability to get to the gym. And it makes perfect sense!

 

ALTERNATING PHASES FOR BETTER RESULTS

 

Eat more / Train more;


Eating more / training more means that you have the capacity to provide enough nutrients and nitrogen to your body to facilitate adaptations for muscle growth. If you train with a higher volume and a higher frequency you also get the benefits of increased insulin sensitivity, and can boost your carbohydrate metabolism to leverage the effects which greater glucose ingestion have on GLUT4, leptin, thryoid and glycogen storage. High volume phases coupled with high calorie intake can have great performance benefits and you can easily manipulate your diet to still be supportive of fat loss in this phase. A moderate calorie deficit of 20% coupled with high training volume still provides enough overall energy for recovery, but the small deficit allows for a change in body composition without compromising lean mass.

Of all of the ways to achieve fat loss, this is by far and away my favorite approach – particularly for those doing sports or activities wherein they need to maintain their strength and stamina, but have weight class considerations or need to hit a specific bodyfat percentage in order to perform at their sport optimally.

For the “average” person though, sometimes this doesn’t work – as your training load, volume and intensity needs to be quite high. If your technical capabilities aren’t yet well developed with heavy lifts, higher intensities and volume can lend itself to overwhelm and injury.

We also need to consider that beginner trainees need far less total volume in order to see mass and strength gains. In this case, I would start with a 20-25% deficit created through diet, and then look to slowly decrease from there for a period of 6-12 weeks before returning to a higher calorie intake. (Thus starting with an eat less / train more approach to get initial fat loss happening, but only following it for a limited amount of time; stress, lifestyle and biofeedback depending.)

 

If you are interested in trying an eat more / train more approach, I’d suggest considering first your training age and how much volume you can handle. For most intermediates, 100 sets per week will be sufficient for creating an anabolic (or at least, anti-catabolic) stimulus, but advanced trainees would need more. How you split your programming will depend upon your specific lifestyle, however I would suggest training each muscle group at least 2 times for a total of 20 sets across your training week.
 

Eat less / Train less;

 

Eating less / training less means less overall volume but enough volume to maintain muscle tissue. Because you are training less frequently, you do not need as much overall calories and the diet can then be used as a way to manipulate bodyfat levels without incurring large amounts of stress or adaptive response. In this particular case, frequency at the gym can be reduced to say 3x per week instead of 4 and above, and you can aim to use the extra time for stress management and calming activities such as increasing the time spent walking, sleeping and recovering.

Carbohydrate needs shall be lower in this phase so therefore you can switch to more of a fat adapted state. I prefer this mode for people who are particularly stressed or have difficulty with insulin sensitivity, and will usually prescribe training sessions of 2-3x per week with resistance in a way in which glucose is used as fuel, such as an 8-15 rep range with full body workouts. The other days of the week you can skip the gym but get in at least 7,500 steps daily and keep your energy intake to around 24 calories per kg of bodyweight. This phase is also very good for people who have been bulking or aiming to gain mass for a long period of time, and need to reduce calories periodically because constantly stimulating insulin has resulted in blunted muscle gains.

 

Going between these two modes of training and eating can be very very beneficial for switching to a glucose and then a fat based source of energy. Thereby you increase your metabolic flexibility, reduce cortisol and improve your insulin sensitivity whilst still maintaining lean tissue and seeing benefits to your body composition.

 

How long you spend in this phase will depend upon your bodyfat levels and goals, but at least 4 weeks would be enough for some considerable fat loss and metabolic adaptations for lowered carbohydrates to occur.

 

On a health note, I really like this approach for those with impaired cardiovascular function and also for glucose intolerance. Metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, PCOS, high blood pressure etc will all benefit from a reduction in cortisol and inflammation. Cardio is encouraged here to improve metabolic function but should not be too intense.

 

This phase is also highly regarded as a starting point for those looking to get stronger! Reduced volume but with higher rep ranges and a slightly reduced carbohydrate intake will improve mitochondrial density, fat burning capacity and recovery. Cardiovascular fitness will come in very, very handy for your coming strength and hypertrophy phases as if you are very fit, you can complete more total work, and a higher volume but with a better capacity for recovery. You can also improve nutrient partitioning in advance of increasing your daily carbohydrate ingestion.

 

Stress Management;


Whether you are eating more and training more or eating less and training less, stress management is imperative. Physiological stressors (such as exercise, lack of sleep and insufficient calories) and emotional stressors (anxiety, overwhelm and lifestyle factors) have NO difference upon the HPA axis. The HPA axis is a set of feedback loops between the pituitary, adrenal glands and the hypothalamus, which amongst other things, regulate your response to stress, modulate your digestive system and also release cortisol and other hormones which help to regulate your sleep and anabolic/catabolic states.
Overwhelm of ANY kind, whether by exercise or emotional stress, can shift our capacity to recover and alter metabolic processes and these processes are further impacted by a calorie deficit.
Consider the PURPOSE of your training and the EFFECT which it will have upon your body. Doing all the cardio, all the weights, all the classes and all the low carb dieting you can at the same time is not the way to go.

I can help you create the optimal training and nutrition strategy which will take all of these things into account, allowing you to reach your goals while mitigating adverse effects and potentially, gtting MORE from doing LESS.

By using a complimentary nutrition approach and periodising your training, you’ll get a better result while having more energy, more focus and less injuries, stresses and conflicting impacts upon your training and recovery.

Contact me at elissa@directionalstrength.com for details.

 

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