Honestly it doesn’t really matter what you call it, self-reflection can be very beneficial regardless of whether there’s a hashtag attached to it or not.
Admittedly, I’m still very young but none the less, I can think of many things I would tell a younger me if given the opportunity.
Here are just a few from my list…
1. Stop Looking to Mainstream Media as a Reputable Source
18-year-old me wasn’t browsing the annuls of PubMed while sipping a protein shake and contemplating the rate limiting enzymes in the Krebs cycle. Instead, I was pounding Sonic slushies, blasting 90s rap music, and reading whatever was hot off the press. If it sounded good, I tried it.
Intermittent fasting? Check. Occlusion Training? Check. Carb backloading? Check. Cluster sets? Check.
Headlines sell, give the people what they want. Speaking of headlines, have you seen the recent coconut oil article from USA Today floating around social media?
In case you missed it, here’s a particularly profound revelation from one of the studies main authors:
"Frank Sacks, lead author on the report, said he has no idea why people think coconut oil is healthy. It's almost 100% fat."
Quite the astute revelation Frank, most lipids are. Butter, olive oil, heavy cream - they're all almost 100% fat, does that mean they're unhealthy? No, it means folks need to understand nutritional science, caloric density, and how to moderate specific foods relative to their lifestyles and goals.
Remember a few decades ago when butter got trashed for being "unhealthy" and then everybody hopped on the margarine bandwagon? Turns out, 40 years later, we find out that margarine is actually not good for us. Surprise, surprise.
How about eggs? Remember when everyone claimed that eating cholesterol would raise your cholesterol? Not true either. Ironically enough, quite the opposite. Eating eggs may help to normalize cholesterol and lipid values.1
When you read generalized, mass media headlines, please keep in mind that the author rarely has any formal training in the field which they are discussing and as such, their opinions can be rather biased due to preconceived notions, personal experiences, or even the interviewee.
So, if we dig deeper into our coconut oil example above, we must keep in mind that HDL and LDL numbers don't tell the whole story by themselves.
One must consider particle size & aggregation, HDL/LDL subtypes, lifestyle factors, general inflammatory markers (e.g. C-Reactive Protein, TNF-alpha, Lipoprotein(a), IL-6, IL-10, etc.), and individual genetic predisposition before standardizing heart disease risk into something as simple as a single metric (i.e. saturated fat, cholesterol, etc.).
Also, keep in mind there are different types of saturated fats depending upon the source of the lipid (e.g. animal source vs. plant source) and thus can have differing effects in the body.
Demonizing whole foods (aka foods that exist in nature with primarily a single ingredient - themselves) is rarely, if ever, the answer.
Folks should be looking at the primary literature (aka the study itself) to improve their understanding of a specific topic. If they don't understand how to interpret the literature, then they should turn to known experts in the field who can provide a thorough and accurate synopsis which is applicable to the layman. Who can you trust? Here are just a few suggestions:
- Dean Somerset
- Ben Bruno
- Jeff Cavaliere (Athlean-X)
- Bryce Lewis
- Chris Duffin
- Christian Thibaudeau
- Nick Tuminello
- Molly Galbraith
- Greg Nuckols
- John Rusin
- Zach Moore
- Paul Carter
- Dan John
- Joy Victoria
- Brad Schoenfeld
- Max Shank
- Will Levy
Strength and Conditioning
- Tony Gentilcore
- Eric Cressey
- Bret Contreras
- Chad Wesley Smith
- Quinn Henoch
- Kevin Neeld
- Joe Defranco
- Molly Galbraith
- Smitty Diesel
- Nick Winkleman
- Dave Tate
- EXOS (Formerly Athletes Performance)
- Greg Robins
- Mike Boyle
- Mike Robertson
- Miguel Aragoncillo
- Tony Bonvechio
- Mike Tuchscherer
- Alex Viada
- Pat Davidson
- Mike Israetel
- Mike T. Nelson
- Chad Waterbury
- Christian Thibaudeau
- Dave Rascoe
- Aaron Davis
- John Berardi (Precision Nutrition)
- Jose Antonio
- Alan Aragon
- John Meadows
- Scott Stevenson
- Luke Leaman
- Trevor Kashey
- Adel Moussa (suppversity)
- Kamal Patel
- Stephen Guyenet
- Ben House
- Bill Hartman
- Charlie Weingroff
- Doug Kechijian
- Ron Hruska
- Mike Reinold
- Andreo Spina
- Gray Cook
- Kathy Dooley
- Aaron Swanson
- Seth Oberst
Don’t know who they are? Google them and dig into their work. News flash: they won’t agree on every topic. That’s good. Challenge your personal biases and examine all the evidence with an open mind.
Journalists don’t care about your health, they care about sensationalism, clicks, and readership. Go to the experts and stay out of the headlines.
2. Health and Aesthetics Don’t go Hand in Hand
Make no mistake, the two can exist synergistically. However, in the case of many lifters they mistakenly correlate the two before understanding the components of either. As one of my mentors and good friends Dr. Ben House so eloquently put it:
“To all the lifters out there, the amount of weight you lift or your 500m row time is never about health. It is about performance which is not synonymous with health. Performance can be driven through health but be careful with inferring health from performance.
Past a certain point in performance is where health goes to die and that is ok. All depends on what people want and what price they are willing to pay. Nevertheless, performance will never be an objective marker of health and should not be the only value you collect even though in certain scenarios it may top your list of importance.”
Feeling good is equally as important as looking good and performing well. Remember, numbers have no value on your self-worth. You are enough.
3. Context is King
Have you ever met someone who won’t answer questions directly? They always respond with “it depends”. Truth be told, I’m that guy. But, in my defense, I never want to provide a standardized answer without understanding the contextual demands of the situation.
For example, recently I had a client ask, “What’s the best post workout meal?” Rather than hand out a simple copout such as, “Just have a protein shake and you’ll be fine”, I wanted to give her some simple guidelines instead.
Not only will this help her to understand the finer points of nutrition from an educational perspective, it will also provide her with more dietary freedom which enhances her lifestyle. Here’s a brief synopsis of what I told her:
THE BIG ROCKS (Aka the "must haves")
- You must have protein. This is essential and non-debatable.
- Complete protein source if possible (aka meat, eggs, dairy, whey, etc.)
- 0.18-0.23g of protein/lb of BW2
- If you don't want to fool with numbers, remember this:
- Women: 4-6oz of meat/1-1.25 scoops of whey
- Men: 6-8oz of meat/1-1.5 scoops of whey
- Add some carbs - how many? That requires a few questions for context sake:
- How much do you weigh?
- How long was the workout?
- When was your last meal?
- If you just ate before the training session, there isn’t a pressing need to push food immediately after you finish.
- How much high volume work did you just complete?
- Lots of lifting (repeated sets of 8s, 12s, 15s, etc.)?
- Long run or lots of tempo/repeat intervals?
- Cool, enjoy 2-4 servings of carbs that digest easy for you.
Some people have trouble with certain foods (ex: oats or sweet potatoes due to the higher fiber content), choose foods that you know you can eat without any digestive issues and simultaneously allow you to get in plenty of calories - aka don't choose spaghetti squash and Brussel sprouts if you need to get 1000 calories in your system.
BONUS POINTS (These are like sprinkles, not necessary but great to have if possible)
- Keep fat lower(ish)
- Fat slows digestion by delaying gastric emptying and in the case of a workout, we want nutrients into your cells as quickly as possible.
- Does that mean you shouldn't have something like eggs? On the contrary, eggs are one of the best choices for post workout. When I say lower fat, I just mean don't blow out 80g of fat on a pint of BnJ immediately after you lift.
- Also keep in mind that fat is important for the digestion of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K) and if you're consuming those with your postworkout meal it would be wise to have a small amount of fat. If you are consuming a very low/no fat meal (ex: sugary kids cereal and whey) then you might not be absorbing as much of them as you could.
- In the end will this make a markedly large difference?
- No, probably not but from a theoretical standpoint it is likely beneficial.
- HOWEVER, I will make the caveat in saying that if you avoid certain situations, restaurants, or social outings after a workout to get in the "ideal" meal, then I would say the stress of trying to follow these rules is more deleterious than beneficial in the long run.
- Choose potassium rich foods (plantains, bananas, potatoes, spinach, etc.) and add some sea/Celtic/pink Himalayan salt.
- Electrolytes drive hydration and thus adding them to your postworkout meal can help enhance cellular hydration which is incredibly important for recovery but can also enhance hypertrophy via self-mediated cellular swelling.
As you can see, there is quite a bit to consider and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to individual nutrition considerations such as genetics, lifestyle, training, personal preference, budget, food availability, school/work commitments, or portability.
See how this could get complicated quickly? You may have a PhD in googling but that won’t cut it when it comes to working with real people.
4. Sustainability is the Name of the Game
Remember our nutrition discussion from above? If the recommendations provided are too abstract or rigid, the individual won’t be able to adhere long term. But, without proper context, one cannot make appropriate recommendations to drive sustainability. It’s all interrelated.
I referenced Alan Aragon above in my list of experts but I’ll leave you with a quote from an intriguing passage in one of his recent research reviews (Lee and Legge, 2015):
“The average person thinks of being fit as a hassle. It’s an aggravating process and the sole objective is to make it to the final destination as quickly as possible.
They’re ready and willing to climb mountains (read: trudge away on the treadmill for hours a day) and starve half to death (note: eat lettuce and be sad) if it means taking the fastest route to Shredsville.
In their minds, once they blast through the eight, ten, or twelve weeks, they can go back to their former lifestyle and enjoy their newfound bodies for the rest of their days. Easy-peasy…
We all want to go resort to extremes. We want heroics. For one reason or another, we want to suffer.
But it’s extremely important that individuals work on behaviors they can execute even when their motivation is low. In other words, we want to take motivation out of the equation as much as possible…
The majority of personal training clients don’t need optimal. In fact, most individuals are so far away from optimal that they can’t even see it on the horizon.
What they need is sustainability."
Motivation is a fool’s game as it ebbs and flows with emotions and environment. Sustainability drives adherence.
Hindsight is Always 20/20…
Even at a young age, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made more mistakes than I care to count or wish to remember.
I’m sure most have come to this same realization at some point in their lifting career but who’s to say that’s a problem?
With age comes experience and with experience, growth both mentally and physically.
Think critically, challenge everything.