I remember the first time I had to confront the fact that, despite all of my best efforts, I was actually getting older. It was a few years after college and a few friends of mine wanted to get a pick-up basketball game together. I’d played in high school (just ask Coach Derek Stanley about the time I dunked on him back then) and I’d played all throughout college, either in pick-up games or in intramurals, but I hadn’t played much basketball at all in the last three years or so. But to me, that didn’t really matter. I was a personal trainer working 8+ hours a day and I worked out almost every day. I was in shape and figured that playing some basketball for the first time in a while wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Until it was.
The games themselves went fine. I even remember being impressed with how well I was getting around the court. There were a few moments where I remember thinking to myself “I guess this whole working out thing pays off.”
But it wasn’t the game itself that was the big deal. It wasn’t the game that reminded me that I was actually getting a little bit older. It was the next day.
That next day I experienced pain and soreness the likes of which I’d never even known were possible. Being sore from playing in football games didn’t come close. Being sore from doing dumb things like 20+ rep deadlift challenges? Not even in the same ballpark.
My knees felt like they were full of gravel and my ankles felt like they were made of glass. I couldn’t walk up or down stairs without feeling like my calves were going to seize up into one gigantic knot. Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time reflecting on an uncomfortable realization that this innocent little pick-up basketball game had brought about: we all get older.
In that process of getting older, we tend to find some incredible things. We find the wisdom that only years of mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and making more mistakes can bring. We find patience. We find understanding. But in getting older we also tend to find a convenient excuse for quite a few things: our age.
There is almost nowhere this is truer than when it comes to talking about weight loss. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with clients, family members, friends, or the old guy at the gym that refuses to put his towel on while we’re talking. When it comes to age and weight loss, after a certain point, it’s awfully hard to separate the two. To most of us, they become intimately linked in a very specific way: the older we get, the harder it is to lose weight.
But is that actually true? Does age really make a massive difference when it comes to weight loss? Well, it might be. But it’s definitely not true for all the reasons you think it is.
Let’s start with the basics: most people, when talking about age making weight loss a near impossibility, talk about it from the standpoint that our metabolism slows down so much as we age that, at a certain point, it’s virtually impossible. Your metabolism becomes so slow that in order to lose weight you’d need to eat nothing but a handful of spinach and some low-fat cottage cheese every day just to get the scale moving down.
Like most things in life, it’s nowhere near that simple.
We’ve talked at length about metabolisms and whether or not slow metabolisms are a thing before, and for anyone interested in learning more about the nuances of human metabolism, this is helpful reading. Especially when it comes to age. Because our metabolic rate does decrease with age, but not nearly to the degree that most of us imagine.
Starting at around 20 years old, basal metabolic rate tends to decline by about 1-2% per decade. Meaning that someone whose basal metabolic rate is 2,000 calories at 20 years old will now burn around 1,960-1,980 calories per day at 30 years old.
Hardly a major drop, right?
That rate of decline continues until about age 40 in men and age 50 in women. At that point, the decline tends to accelerate, but even because it accelerates doesn’t mean that it’s accelerating to the point where we now have to starve ourselves in order to lose weight. Nor does it mean that the decline is inherently bad.
See, the slowing of human metabolism as we age is a totally normal and acceptable thing. At a certain point, you’re no longer walking around with a “growing” body, you’re walking around with an “aging” body. Human bodies are smart and incredibly adaptive. As that change happens, metabolic rate naturally declines. But it’s still the job of your body to maintain vital functions like keeping you alive, make sure you’ve got the energy to go about your day, and especially ensure that you’ve got the energy to exercise. Those are all requirements of the metabolism, and your body is well aware that it doesn’t want to slow that metabolism down too much, or else all of those things start to be impacted.
However, just because there’s a decline taking place doesn’t mean that decline is so meaningful that it’s now solely responsible for our inability to lose weight. In reality, when we’re talking about age, metabolism, and its impact on weight loss, age and metabolism become convenient boogeymen that keep us from having to face a slightly more uncomfortable truth:
Weight loss gets harder with age thanks to a number of factors.
The real boogyman here isn’t just age and it’s not a metabolism that grinds to a halt. The real boogeyman is unhealthy lifestyle habits that become ingrained as we get older, declining physical activity, and decreasing levels of muscle mass.
Muscle is a metabolically active tissue that not only helps you stay strong, but it also burns more calories at rest than the same amount of fat tissue would. As we age, our muscle mass levels start to naturally decline. It’s hard to get an accurate idea of how much muscle mass the average person loses each year, but the most figures tend to show that inactive individuals tend to lose about 3-5% of their muscle mass with each passing decade after 30.
Declining rates of muscle mass are going to lead to us burning fewer calories on a daily basis, which is another way of saying our metabolism adapts and downregulates, or slows down a little bit. But even then, declining rates of muscle mass aren’t the only culprit here. As we get older our physical activity levels decrease. Which ultimately means that we’re burning fewer calories every day just moving our body.
We firmly believe that exercise and activity shouldn’t be used as major weight loss aids, and we’re not going to say that you can fight back against age by constantly moving and never stopping like some proverbial hamster wheel. But we do know that all the non-intentional activity on a daily basis, or NEAT (or non-exercise activity thermogenesis), makes up anywhere from 15-30% our daily energy expenditure.
All of this leads to one of the more unsettling math equations I’ve ever done, which is saying a lot because I was terrible at math in school.
Declining muscle mass + naturally declining metabolic rate + declining levels of physical activity = weight gain and more difficult weight loss.
Even then, even with that very uncool math equation, that doesn’t touch on the most important point of all: the longer we act a certain way the harder it is to change the way we act.
For the vast majority of us, the reason that we struggle to lose weight or make a meaningful lifestyle change has nothing directly to do with our declining metabolism or muscle mass. It has everything to do with the fact that we’re fighting against the inertia of the previous years.
If you’re someone that, from 22-45, liked to go out every single weekend, get 5 hours of sleep each night, eat mostly fast food, and neglect physical activity then changing those behaviors isn’t an easy task. There are decades of momentum that you’ve got to try and work against. The person you were for all of those years got you to where you’re at, for all the good and the bad.
For all of us, changing who we are is one of the most fundamentally difficult things we can attempt. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be an entire self-help industry built on finding ways to help people hack change. This becomes more true with each trip around the sun we take. We get stuck more and more in our old habits. We keep doing the same things over and over again. We might think about the change we want to make, but we also think about the effort that’s required and we weigh that effort against our current dissatisfaction with where we’re at. And, ultimately, until our dissatisfaction outweighs the effort we think we’ll need to make, change just doesn’t make sense.
So how can we fight back against age and make weight loss possible?
It’s probably safe to say that we’ve been hunting for the key to immortality since people first started to realize that our time on this Earth was limited. Ponce De Leon and his Fountain of Youth is just one of the thousands of examples of people trying to find ways to turn back the clock. Unfortunately, I’m not here to tell you that I’ve found the Fountain of Youth, and if I had, you better believe that secret is staying with me. But I am here to tell you a few ways that we can slow the clock down, at least when it comes to how aging impacts our ability to lose weight.
1. Eat a high protein diet.
Remember us talking about the importance of muscle mass earlier? Protein not only helps support vital functions, immunity, etc. but it also helps us stay young by helping build and retain muscle mass. Eating an adequate amount of protein is one of the easiest ways to help keep your metabolism humming along by keeping muscle mass intact. You don’t need to overdo it though, as more protein, past a certain point, isn’t going to make a big difference. Shoot for anywhere from .7g – 1g of your body weight.
2. Exercise regularly.
Directly related to retaining muscle mass: exercise regularly. Resistance training is going to be the gold standard here, as that tends to influence building and retaining muscle mass over most other forms of exercise. But at the same time, if resistance training is something you hate, don’t skip exercise altogether. Instead, find something that you love and stick with that consistently. Whether it’s dancing, biking, hiking, swimming, Pilates, or any other form of dedicated physical activity. The perfect exercise regimen is the one you can stick to.
3. Move your body throughout the day.
As we get older we move less. That’s a fact of life. It’s also a fact of life that we can try to combat by being intentional about moving our bodies more regularly, which is not only good for us from a musculoskeletal perspective but is also good for us from a metabolic health perspective. Doing things like going on dedicated walks, playing with the kids and grandkids (within reason), making an effort to pick up the house, or any other thing you can do in a given day that involves moving your body is going to be a good choice here. Cue Newton: An object in motion stays in motion.
There you have it, folks. That’s your three-step process to finding your very own Fountain of Youth, at least when it comes to losing weight. It might not be the one that Ponce De Leon was hunting back in the 1500s, and I regret to inform you that it’s not the secret to immortality, nor will it keep your knees from hurting if you decide to go play basketball for the first time in three years. Instead, it’s a recipe that will make weight loss, should you decide to try for that, easier. It’s a recipe that will undoubtedly help you maintain your weight loss as the years go on. But most importantly, it’s a recipe that will help each and every single one of us thrive so that we can live our lives in the happiest and healthiest way possible.
A big part of my day is telling people older than me, people who have lost all hope, how to lose the weight they thought they were stuck with.
I’m sure many of them think of me as a young know-it-all trying to prove them wrong and for the most part, they’re right. I absolutely love showing the older members amongst us (whatever older means for you!) that weight loss is possible but I also enjoy explaining why they got to the point of having to lose it in the first place.
One of the most difficult hurdles, when working with anyone older than yourself, is the inherent fact that there is an aspect of them that you simply cannot relate to. Although I’m seeing more grey hairs in my beard than I’d like, that doesn’t exactly help me understand what it’s like to be in my 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. I’ll be honest, being older is—for so many reasons—different than being younger.
Throw in the fact that so many of us are told it’s game over the minute we have one too many candles on our birthday cake…and you can understand why so many think their weight loss pursuits are a lost cause. Articles, friends, and even doctors say “it’s your age, sorry”.
But here’s the truth:
While those differences, at their core, are entirely valid—when it comes to weight loss, but they’re more along the line of “speed bumps” rather than absolute dead stops. Aging can cause weight gain, but it’s not a case of “game over” so much as it is you playing the same game on a higher difficulty level. But, to play that game well on a higher difficulty, you have to understand what’s working against you.
So, feeling like your age has your weight loss dead in its tracks?
Well, you might be right.
Here’s how we can fix that.
Our favorite reason, right?
In the fitness industry, barely a day goes by without hearing something to the tune of, “My metabolism isn’t like it used to be. Ever since I hit enter random age I just can’t lose the weight.”
In terms of the metabolism slowing down, here’s the (unfortunate) truth: it’s slight and it’s indirect and changes in weight gain due to metabolism changes alone are pretty insignificant.
There is one very real exception to this rule: Post-menopause. (Sorry, ladies. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that’s a very real challenge). During post-menopause, you will experience a downtick in basal metabolism and total calories burned (especially at rest). But the total amount actually might be less than you expect—ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred fewer than you had years prior.
As you can see, it’s not a lot but can add up over time. Especially with research showing that a significant cause of today’s obesity epidemic may boil down to us eating a mere 218 calories more than we did just a few short decades ago. That’s a few bites of your favorite dish, a spoon or two of oil, or a glass of wine.
All in all, our metabolic rate does slow. It’s usually far less than you think, but it is something you can offset by staying aware of your total food intake and adjusting accordingly.
As we age one of the first things to take a major hit (and sometimes fall apart entirely) is whether or not we train, and how consistent in which we do it. Now, this isn’t always the case. At Stronger U many of our higher performing clients have actually found a way to train more than ever as they’ve gotten older (if that’s you, skip this section and go do pushups or something). But if you’re seeing a decline in training, please stick with me here.
Some of the reasons training intensity can slow is due to previous injuries (or fear of injury), limited abilities, and the sacrifice of training frequency due to a busy life.
What does this mean in a nutshell? Well, it means fewer calories burned.
Generally speaking the decline in workouts per week and reduced intensity may not seem to be all that much but again, a few hundred calories burned may be lost here. In the past, you may have run every day but now you run every few days. In the past, you may have pushed hard in a weight training session but now you’re taking it easy to prevent an injury.
Starting to see a trend here? Little by little it adds up.
3. Non-Exercise Activity
Let’s talk a bit about NEAT for a second.
NEAT is a fancy acronym for what us fitness nerds call “Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis” or NEAT for short.
Typically, NEAT lowers as we age. We’re just moving less. And when we do move, we tend to do so with less pep than we used to. And it makes a lot of sense. Between office work, aches and pains, overall fatigue, you can see why we just aren’t getting up and down like we used to. Couple that with things like kids, functions, and our favorite TV series that keep us “busy” and suddenly the time we have to move becomes less and less and the years come and go.
We no longer have the drive to move around like we did when we were younger. We settle on terrible TV shows when the remote is across the room, we walk around with nearly dead phones because our charger was too far away, and we spend more time trying to find a close parking spot than it would have to just park and take a short walk. All these reductions in movement add up, in a bad way. Imagine walking all day as a young student to now becoming an employee in an office.
This is something that will be different person to person, but it’s not uncommon for the 50-year-old you to be burning hundreds of calories fewer than 20-year-old you.
That adds up and it adds up fast.
Some of these aren’t things you can fix entirely, and that’s okay. Instead, follow this simple rule: the more you move…the better.
4. You’re set in your ways
As we age our “reps” increase. We’ve spent more time building habits and becoming who we are. We know what we like and what we want to spend our time doing and it typically doesn’t include eating less and moving more.
When you need to change something that’s never been an issue it can be difficult. And that’s something I want to be really clear about; because I’m no different. I know what I like and I know where I want to spend my time too. Add 20 more years to that and there’s no doubt I’m going to be pretty cranky when some jerk tells me that parts of my life need to change if I want to get in shape or stay in shape.
You might already be dealing with some of these thoughts on your SU journey. And that’s normal. But what does all that mean?
It means it’s really easy to pack on weight now vs when you were young. It means you might need to change the way you eat, how much you move, and who you are. And it means that, if this diet thing is something you want to try, if it’s something you want to succeed with, then it might mean changing a few aspects of yourself…no matter how cranky that may leave you.
Some of us are going through life with the habits we’ve had since we were young and could essentially “eat anything we wanted and not gain weight”, but times are changing.
And that isn’t bad news.
Because a “changed” you might just end up being a Stronger U.
Even if that’s an older you.
As coaches, we spend a lot of our time each week assessing our clients’ progress towards their goals and determining the next steps on their journey. To start a client off on the best track we use evidence-based guidelines to set starting macros which are the absolute best guesstimate for that person. I know. Best guesstimate, really?
This is for good reason though. People are not calculations and there are a lot of individual differences in how each person’s body responds to these numbers.
Therefore an important part of our job is reviewing all of the information and feedback our clients give us to make sure the macronutrient (macro) goals we give are leading our clients to continued success. There are no evidence-based guidelines to rely on for adjusting macros but instead, we use a combination of our nutrition knowledge, coaching skills, and previous experiences to make sure we are doing what is right for each of you.
One thing that we ALWAYS keep in mind is that there is no single one best diet out there. ALL diets CAN work IF it’s a diet that a client will adhere to AND is set up in a way that will move them towards their goals. Notice everything that has to go right there? These are truly the two most important variables in your success.
When it comes to the weekly decision about your macros, we consider a large variety of factors including:
- Changes in weight
- Changes in waist circumference
- Adherence to the current macros
- The accuracy of the client’s tracking
- Activity levels
- Stage of the menstrual cycle
- Events, vacations, exceptional circumstances during the past week
- ALL of the other subjective information provided in the email and on the spreadsheet, like how the client is feeling, stress levels, non-scale victories, etc. We read and consider everything you send to us
With all of this information we have two options:
- Keep macros the same
- Make a change
Possible reasons why your macros stayed the same:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I actually love when I look at a client’s check-in and decide that there is no reason to make a change. Why do I like that? Typically it means that I have my client on a set of macros that has them making progress in the direction of their goals at an appropriate rate. What that specifically means is completely 100% individualized to each client. For some clients that are trying to lose weight, that might mean their average weight dropped 0.5 – 1% of their body weight that week or maybe average weight didn’t change much but they hit a new low body weight at some point that week or waist circumference decreased. All of these things are signs that the current plan is working and there is no reason to change.
Other reasons I may not change macros for a week might be if a client reports or if I suspect that there may be some issues with either the consistency of the client hitting their macros and/or the accuracy of their tracking. If a client isn’t hitting the numbers I gave them and I believe those numbers would probably be good if they actually hit them, I may not change them that week. Instead, I’ll focus on troubleshooting some ideas about what challenges they are having and help them develop ideas to overcome these barriers.
Additionally, if I’m quite sure that the macros I have them on should be producing results but they aren’t, I will dive deeper into the client’s tracking habits and ask some questions to assess if their tracking is accurate, are they logging all bites and tastes of food, is there maybe something off about the entries they are using in MFP? There are any numbers of small things that could be making a clients tracking inaccurate, some may underreported foods while others may be completely accidental tracking mistakes.
Finally, if the week was an off week whether it was a holiday, party or event that the client ended up going a bit overboard or for clients that see huge fluctuations in weight related to their menstrual cycle (the few days before or the first few days of their cycle is a common time for weight to be up a few pounds for many women), there may not be a reason to adjust macros on these weeks. The data from weight and waist circumference and even how the client is subjectively feeling may not be a true estimation of where the client’s truly at. I don’t want to make changes to progress based on data generated with these other factors present so it may not be appropriate to change macros during these “off” weeks.
Having been a client myself, I know that some of us feel a bit disappointed or even unhappy if there are a few weeks in a row when our coach doesn’t change our numbers. Especially before I really understood what this whole macro tracking thing was about, I didn’t understand how I would continue to make progress if everything just stayed the same.
But, as a coach, if a client is progressing in a way that is perfect for that client on a set of macro numbers, there is no reason to change those numbers. It isn’t that the coach is just being lazy and saying “Same Numbers” for no good reason. It takes just as much time and effort to review the client’s information and keep numbers the same as it does to adjust them. The ONLY reasons I ever keep a client’s numbers the same are for the very good reasons described above.
Possible reasons why your macros were changed:
There are many weeks when I do adjust my clients’ numbers and that can also be for a large variety of reasons. The primary reason would be if a client is hitting their numbers, accurately tracking and they are not progressing towards their goal (as assessed by all the data points available). Most of the time when I adjust a client’s macros, I do so by making small incremental changes, generally in carbohydrates and fat.
Why incremental? For most clients, it’s easier to make small changes to what they were doing so this allows for an easier transition and for my client’s trying to lose weight, I want to keep them at the highest amount of macros possible while still allowing them to lose weight. Who wouldn’t want to eat as much as they possibly can and still lose!? This helps with compliance and long-term success. However, there are circumstances where a client may benefit either physically or psychologically from a larger increase or decrease in macros and coaches will use their discretion and sometimes apply that technique.
Why adjust carbohydrates and fat and not protein?
Generally, when we set a protein goal for a client starting at week 1, we set it at a level that will support maintaining muscle mass while losing weight or assist with building muscle mass if that is the goal. So, we typically don’t move that numbers too much while working with a client since it’s already set around the ideal level. So, that leaves carbohydrates and fats to adjust if we need to adjust the speed of progress.
Other reasons that I may change my clients’ macros may be that a client is expressing concerns about their ability to hit certain macros. If after really trying their best and working with me to ask questions to determine ways to make a set of macros work, it may be in the client’s best interest to adjust their macros. In nutrition and in changing your diet, there really are a variety of methods that can be applied to get to your goals.
While some methods may take more or less time or may optimize certain health or body comp markers, many of them can still be effective. With that in mind, the OPTIMAL diet is one that my client will follow. My numbers aren’t helpful if the client can’t or won’t hit them. The coaches at Stronger U take a flexible approach with our clients where we understand that everyone lives different lives and has their own individual “food personality’ and we try to respect that when developing your individual plan.
Takeaways for what to know about your weekly macro adjustments (or lack of adjustments)
The most important thing to remember is there is no standard or perfect set of macros that we can give each of our clients. The beauty of Stronger U is that you don’t just get one set of macros and then sent on your way to see how they will work. When you are working with a coach, every single week we assessing everything that you are reporting to us to make the decisions about where to go next.
A lot of care, time and effort go into us making this decision and some of it is a bit of trial and error to see how each person’s body and personality respond. As a client of Stronger U, our hope is that during your time with us, you learn a lot about yourself, your diet and nutrition as a whole and that you gain some of the tools you need to be able to sustain our success beyond the end of your program.
With that important information in mind, always ask questions if you’d like to know more about why your coach did or did not adjust your macros. We will always have a reason; sometimes it’s based on data and other times it may be based on a gut feeling but we are always happy to educate and share.
As a mom of two young children, I want nothing more than to set my kids up with all the tools needed to live their healthiest, happiest life. Part of that involves allowing them to develop an appropriate relationship with food and activity. Research clearly shows that the eating and exercise habits we build as children oftentimes follow us into adulthood. No pressure to get it all right from the start moms and dads 🙂
The most recent data on childhood obesity rates in the United States have shown that after a few years of celebrating a stabilization in prevalence, we are unfortunately again experiencing sharp increases in childhood obesity rates. The causes of childhood obesity are complex and explanations range from genetics to mom gaining too much weight during pregnancy to environmental factors that we can’t control and lifestyle choices that we can. The “factor” that is often considered to be the most influential on a child’s weight status is their home food environment AND their parents.
One of the most important facets in molding our children into healthy little beings is to first strive to be so ourselves. Like most things in life, our children tend to mimic the things they see us do. Why would your daughter try the asparagus if you aren’t eating it yourself? Why would your son choose to do something active after dinner if you sit down at the TV as soon as the dishes are done? We have the power to not only tell our children about healthy habits BUT most importantly we can SHOW them. They are ALWAYS watching.
Beyond being a good role model, parents also have the opportunity to influence their children’s eating habits in many other ways.
Some of the techniques that I have used with my children come from Ellen Satter and her division of responsibilities for feeding. This philosophy was developed to encourage parents to take responsibility for certain aspects of eating such as what is being served, when it is being served and where it is being served while still allowing a child to listen to internal hunger and satiety cues and decided how much they will eat as well as whether they choose to eat at any particular meal or snack.
Parents need to take the lead on determining what foods will be served because we are not inherently born with a mechanism that encourages us to like or reach for “healthy” food options. We have to develop those preferences over time. If I let my children plan the weekly menu we’d be eating pancakes every morning for breakfast, mac and cheese for lunch, pizza for dinner and chocolate ice cream for dessert….with some chocolate milk and cookies thrown in for snacks.
As children age, they should get more and more involved with determining the what by helping with things like
- Making selections between having broccoli or cauliflower for dinner
- Choosing the apples from the bins at the store
- Helping with washing and preparing lettuce for salads
As they grow older they can gradually take more and more responsibility for the what as they transition into young adulthood.
- The when food is served refers to the responsibility of the parents to ensure that regular meals and snacks are made available.
Children do better with structured meals times such as breakfast at 8am, snack at 10am, lunch at 1230pm, snack at 3pm, etc. If a young child is allowed free range overeating whenever they want, they oftentimes will choose to snack constantly throughout the day. The main issue with this eating pattern is that foods that are offered as snacks are often times less nutrient-dense options such as cookies, crackers and chips whereas meals tend to be more nutrient-dense options like veggies and lean meats. If a child has the option to drink juice all day and snack on crackers, they are going to chose that over waiting to eat the “healthier” meals.
- The where refers to the location that food is consumed and ties into a strong line of research that shows that children in families who eat meals at the dinner table together have healthier diets.
I’m making my kids sounds bad here but…if it was their choice, all meals would be served in front of the TV. Mealtime together as a family is also more important than just a list of nutrients. It’s also a time for family bonding and socialization; both things that are important for a child’s development in a variety of ways beyond just nutrition. So what is a parent to do? Make a rule that all eating of food must occur at the kitchen table. That will help limit snacking all day AND will encourage more mindful enjoyment of food with others.
- Where parents need to allow their children to lead the way is to determine how much they eat and whether they choose to eat a provided meal or snack.
As infants, we are born with the ability to very tightly self-regulate exactly how much we need to eat to grow in a healthy, appropriate manner. We give cues for when we are hungry and then stop eating when we are full. Young toddlers are still quite good at this as well and they will continue to appropriately regulate their intake as long as we allow them. BUT external influences like well-intentioned parents making their children clean their plates or children being forced into eating when there is a scheduled time whether hungry or not teach them overtime to no longer trust or respond to their instincts.
Believe it or not, our main goal here at Stronger U is not solely to help you lose fat or build muscle. No, our main goal here is to help teach you what you need to know about nutrition in order to live your life how you want it, as lean as you want it, forever. Not 12 weeks, 6 months, a year, or however long you’re working with a coach for. Fat loss, building muscle, and looking better is just a byproduct of that.
In my time here at Stronger U over the last year, one thing has become even clearer to me: The fitness industry is still very broken when it comes to getting people good, quality, and in most cases, correct info when it comes to nutrition.
One of the largest problems with diets and nutrition plans out there is they’re only about as good for as long as the “program” is – sometimes not even that long if they make you so miserable you can’t stick to them.
This is why the coaches here are not just focused on getting you the best results possible for the next 12 weeks. That is one focus, but what good is that once you go out on your own, you undo all your progress in less than half the time it took you to make that progress in the first place?
We’re focused on getting you results for the rest of your life; to teach you what you need to know to be successful through all of what life throws at you. This is also one of the chief reasons why we don’t provide meal plans – they don’t teach you anything about how to eat for the results you want AND live your life.
And living your life is key. A good nutrition or training plan should complement your life; not control it. It should allow you to enjoy the fun and exciting things that life throws at you. And I know for me – hopefully you too – one of those fun and exciting things is vacations and traveling.
Our goal is never to make you feel like Stronger U is taking over your life; spending all your days weighing, measuring, logging, and missing out on fun with friends for fear of going off plan.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Instead, our goal is to make sure you can have the life with friends and family that you love and enjoy while also being able to eat in a way that supports your goals. Because to us, THAT is what real sustainability is all about.
In my opinion, traveling – be it with friends or family or just by yourself – can be one of the most memorable, rewarding, and exciting experiences of your life. But if you’re stressing out because you’re worried you’re not going to hit your protein goal, or how much oil is being used to cook your veggies, well, you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience as much as you could or would like.
This is why I put together this guide; because many people struggle and stress out about traveling and vacations; while also being able to stick to their plan and hit their goals.
So, if you want to learn how to blend your travels and nutrition as best as possible, while still keeping yourself as on track as possible, read on to learn how to – as I like to say – not eat like an A-hole on vacation.
Set Expectations Up Front
This one is important. Too often I see people’s unrealistic expectations about what progress they think they should see set them up for stress and frustration.
Know that if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, continuing to make the same progress that you’ve been making at home is going to be tough. Not impossible, but tough. And the reason being that there are so many things working against you.
You may not have complete control over how your food is cooked, or even what’s being served. You may not have complete control over your schedule. You’ll likely drink less water. We tend to get more dehydrated and inflamed when we travel, leading to an increase in water retention and a jump on the scale.
There are likely foods you don’t get at home that you may want to enjoy.
Now, I’m not listing these as reasons why you should throw in the towel and just write a vacation off as an automatic 5-10 pound gain on the scale. You can absolutely come back at the same weight or even lower (and I’ll talk more about that below). I’ve had clients do it.
Nope. I’m sharing this with you so you know what to expect upfront; so you can program your mind to know that a bump in the road may be coming.
Control the things you can control
The biggest reason we struggle on vacation comes down to the lack of control. When we’re at home, we can pretty much control everything about our nutrition most of the time: meal prep, plan our days because we know what we’re going to have or where we’re going, have our snacks and veggies readily accessible, cook things how we want them cooked…the list goes on and on. Once we get into the groove with our plan, we set ourselves up for success.
However, when traveling, a lot of that control goes out the window. We’re thrust into situations where we can’t control what or how things are cooked, where we’re eating, or what’s available to us.
This is where the difference maker becomes not trying to control the things that are out of our control, but rather, focusing on controlling things that are within our control. And this will be different depending on the situation you find yourself in.
- It could be packing high-protein snacks to help make sure you’re getting enough.
- It could be looking at restaurant menus ahead of time, and planning the rest of your day around that.
- It could be making special requests when eating out, or packing your own food for events.
- Or sometimes, depending on where you’re at with your goals, and what you want to achieve it could mean taking your scale or measuring tools to restaurants, abstaining from eating until you get back to your hotel, or ordering off-menu.
The point is, there are always things you can control. It may not be everything you want, but worrying about things outside your control does not make you able to control them any better. Focus on what you can.
And remember, if all else fails, you can always control what food you put in your mouth.
To quote the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X. Relax.”
Look, I get it. You want to nail your nutrition. You want to stay on plan 100% of the time. That’s great. I love the enthusiasm. But the reality is, it’s not going to happen. Life is going to get in the way. Things are going to come up. And when you’re traveling or on vacation, there are simply too many unknowns to be to control them all.
And guess what? Worrying or freaking out about them, is not going to make you be able to control them any more than you already can.
Whether your trip is one day, three days, or a week…it certainly isn’t long enough for you to undo your progress. You did not get out of shape in a day or weekend or week. You’re not going to undo all your progress in that time either. And, if you follow the tips outlined below, I guarantee everything will be fine. Or your money back. From Mike, not from me.
8 Tips For Nutritional Domination While on Vacation and Traveling
1. Plan Ahead.
Did you really think anything else would be first on the list? Seriously, us coaches stress this over and over…and over again for a reason. It works. Taking the time to plan ahead greatly reduces the likelihood of going off plan because you don’t have to make choices on the fly, which causes decision fatigue and drains your willpower.
Now, this may mean if you’re with other people, you have to take charge and make some decisions. Or at least be the one to initiate the decision-making process. But trust me, your future self will thank you when you’re able to stay on plan and come home on track.
2. Look at menus ahead of time.
In today’s world, there are very few restaurants that don’t have their menu on their website or Facebook page. Decide what you’re going to have, log it (if they don’t list serving size amounts, go with standard portion sizes: 4o z for protein, 2 oz for carbs, 1 oz for fat), and plan the rest of your day around that.
3. Bank Calories.
If for some reason a restaurant doesn’t have its menu listed, or you don’t know where you’re going or what’s being served, your best option is to bank as many calories – specifically carbs and fat – for the meal as you can.
Most meals out aren’t going to be high in protein, so you want to fill up on that and veggies during the day, and at the meal, make the best choices you can based on what’s being served, and what you have left to eat for the day. It may not be ideal, but by banking calories, you’re greatly reducing the risk of any real damage being done. And it’s just one meal, after all.
Now, some people worry about not being able to track accurately when out to eat. And here, you really have two options:
You can bring your scale. And I can hear a few of you already: “Won’t people think I’m weird.” Maybe. I don’t know. But let me ask: What does that matter? Seriously, who cares? You are doing it for you, not them. That is the attitude you need to adopt.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, bring your scale for some reason, the next best thing is to estimate portion sizes using your hands:
- Protein: 1 fist-sized portion = ~4 oz
- Carbs: 1 palm-sized portion = ~2 oz
- Fat: 1 thumb-sized portion = ~1 oz
Are these exact? No. But they’re close enough to help keep you on track.
4. Order What You Want.
This is another one people have a hard time with that honesty, you just have to get past. It’s the same as bringing your scale. Just order the protein you want, with a side of veggies, or starch if you’re training, request it not be cooked in oil, and you’re golden.
Or, customize what you want. Want a salad? Get dressing on the side. Burger? Maybe hold the cheese or bun. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, how you want it.
5. Intermittent Fasting (IF).
IF is a great tool to use while traveling because it restricts the time you spend eating, which will allow you to bank more calories for later in the day when bigger meals or get-togethers tend to occur. Simply don’t eat upon waking until at least lunchtime. Have a small meal or snack of protein and veggies, and then save the rest of your calories for later.
Using IF will greatly reduce the chance of going way over your calorie limit for the day by giving you the maximum amount of calories to work with when you need them.
6. Pack/Buy Snacks.
Protein is pretty hard to come by on the road because most restaurants/hotels/wherever you are don’t have protein readily available. So the best thing you can do is either pack your own high-protein snacks, like protein powder, bars, beef jerky, canned/packaged tuna, or chicken or go to the store once you get where you’re going (hint: this is also cheaper than eating out every meal).
Along these same lines, when booking your place to stay, try and request a room with a fridge or microwave. This will give you a lot more options for having food on hand in your room, and most places will accommodate; especially if you tell them it’s for dietary purposes.
7. Follow the 80/20 rule.
At the end of the day, if you’re on vacation, I still want you to enjoy yourself, try foods you may not be able to get back home, experience world-class cuisine, and relax. And the best way to do this is to follow the 80/20 rule where 80% of your food should come from lean proteins, veggies, and maybe a starch, and the other 20% can come from foods that, well, aren’t those.
Essentially, this works out to an indulgent meal, one out of every five. And especially if you’re utilizing all the other tips above, this one meal will barely register as a blip on your nutritional radar.
8. Don’t be an A-hole.
I don’t really need to explain this one because I think everyone knows what this looks like; we’ve all been one before. Whether you’re downing red velvet pancakes and omelets at an Austin iHop at three in the morning, decided it was okay to be the drunkest person at your company retreat, or think the all-you-can-eat cruise buffet is a challenge, not a suggestion; each of us has had our moment in the nutritional A-hole sun.
Is it fun at the time? Sure. Does anyone ever wake up the next day, proud of themselves that they ordered every dessert on the menu? No.
Enjoy yourself; within reason. Eat like an adult. Not an out-of-control child.
If you’re looking for a way to eat all the food you want while traveling, not have to worry about nutrition, and still come back having lost weight, sorry, that guide doesn’t exist. You can certainly do that. I won’t fault you for it. I have. But there is a tradeoff or you’re probably going to come back 3, 4, 10 pounds heavier.
However, if you have travel or vacation on the horizon, and want to keep progress moving in the right direction – or just survive with your progress intact, the tips and methods above are essential for doing just that. And like anything, it takes a bit of practice. But also like anything, the more often you practice it, and the more diligent you are, the better you will be in the long run; both in terms of your results, and in making a sound nutrition plan a part of your lifestyle.
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