When it comes to nutrition, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do. Skip these food habits so you can reach your goals.

When you learn how to train, you understand that there is a certain form or execution of reps that you should follow in order to train the muscles properly. When you do cardio, you know that you need to follow certain guidelines so you don’t burn valuable muscle tissue for the sake of getting a few extra calories on your tracker.

That same philosophy applies to nutrition and setting up a “diet,” a word we will actually address later in this article. Yes, there are the basics that you know you should follow, but there are also things you may do without realizing it’s actually hurting your cause. Some of you advanced folks may already know these, but the beginner that is new to fitness and Muscle & Strength should heed this information so you will reap the rewards for your dedication.

  1. Don’t binge on your "cheat day"
  2. Don’t lock in on one diet
  3. Don’t think all calories are equal
  4. Don’t pass up the water
  5. Don’t skip meals
  6. Don’t think you can do it on your own
  7. Don’t stop learning

Don’t Binge on Your “Cheat Day”

As soon as the journey begins, the first destination is to make it to that big cheat day, or “free day” as some call it. That’s when you get to finally have that pizza, burger, and ice cream because of how long it had been since you restricted yourself.

If you want to maximize your chances of making your goals your reality, don’t do the pizza, burgers, and ice cream. Do either the pizza, burger, or ice cream. Whatever it is you’re desiring the most, let that be the one thing you have, then get back on the plan. Eating excess calories that aren’t going to serve you will not only affect you that day, but the digestion process will affect your work beyond that day. So, think of it as taking two steps backward.

Now, on the other side of the extreme, don’t feel like you can never have anything tasty again. First of all, there are several ways to make unhealthy foods healthier thanks to recipes like those you can find here on M&S. Secondly, that brief break from the plan can actually help you both mentally and physically. Aside from the treat aspect, your body could respond to taking in that meal by having more energy. So, you should have whatever that food is, but don’t make a full-on holiday out of it.

Recommended: How to Properly Incorporate Cheat Meals Into Your Diet

Close up shot of chicken and rice meal prep with vegetables.

Don’t Lock in On One “Diet”

Just like there are many exercises to train a bicep or shoulder muscle, there are several approaches to nutrition as well. There are advocates for all the diets, including Paleo, Atkins, Carnivore, plant-based, and many others here. You may do your own research and find one that you think you can stick to, which is great. My only ask is that you don’t lock yourself in on that one as the only option there is.

If you’re completely accurate and consistent, but you’re not meeting your goals, there’s a chance that the nutrition plan just isn’t the right one for you. If you went completely carb-free, but find you struggle in the gym, then it may be time to reconsider what you’re doing. If you’re on a meat-based plan, but aren’t improving in performance, some veggies may be in order. 

Try multiple nutrition plans out for a few weeks each, and gauge your progress. Then, you may find that if you take something from one plan, add it with another, you find that works best for you. Ultimately, finding what works for you is what’s going to help you reach your goals.

Recommended: How To Plan Your Muscle Building Diet

Don’t Think All Calories Are Equal

If you’re going grocery shopping and you see “oats” on your list, then you may go to the breakfast section, find the oats, and see those instant flavored packets and think “same thing.” Then, you grab those and continue your shopping. If this was you, you messed up.

No, not all oats are equal, and this can be applied to several different “healthy” foods. Using the oats for an example, instant oats that are flavored have extra ingredients and sugar in them, which could potentially set you back. Look at the ingredients on the back of a box sometime, then look at the ingredients for steel-cut oats. The difference will speak for itself.

Now, do you have to be locked into plain oats? No, you don’t. You can add stevia or fruit to that oatmeal and still please the palate while providing quality calories to kickstart your day. This also applies to protein sources such as the prepackaged chicken that you can nuke in a microwave you see in the frozen section. It beats nothing at all, but actual chicken breast from the deli section is going to be your best bet. 

Recommended: How To Determine Your Daily Calorie And Macronutrient Intake Levels

Don’t Pass Up The Water

Water isn’t as tasty as coffee, tea, or other beverages. So, a lot of folks think that as long as they get fluids in them, it doesn’t matter if it’s water or not. This is inaccurate. You actually need to drink water as well, and quite a bit of it. Most active people need a gallon, but a common gauge is to multiply your bodyweight by .66 to get the number of ounces. An example for a 180-pound person is below.

180 x .66 = 118 ounces of water.

Another problem in the eyes of many is that the more water you drink, the more you go to the bathroom, especially at night. One tip I used to offer my personal training clients was to drink the majority of their water in the morning, and drink a little less per serving after that. By mid-afternoon, you should hit your water goal, and you can sleep at night. If someone needed to drink 100 ounces of water a day, I would break it down like this.

  • Breakfast – 30 ounces
  • Mid-morning – 25 ounces
  • Noon – 20 ounces
  • Mid-Afternoon – 15 ounces
  • Dinner – 10 ounces

Fit female making a protein shake in the kitchen

Don’t Skip Meals

Many of us don’t get to choose our schedules. We have work, family, community commitments, and other things to do. Then, there’s the unexpected thing that pops up at a moment’s notice like getting called into work on a day off.  Because of all this, you may not get to the stove or have that lunch you packed. Some may simply miss the meal and keep moving. 

Sometimes this can’t be helped, but, if at all possible, make sure you can get that meal in as soon as possible. Missing calories affects recovery and progress to your goals. There are ways to plan around those unscheduled happenings. Keep protein powder in your car with a shaker cup. You can get water almost anywhere and have a shake. Prepare a few meals and keep them in a cooler so you can heat them up when necessary. Finding ways to get that meal in will serve you twofold. One, you get the calories. Two, you’re sticking to your commitment under extraordinary circumstances, which can help your confidence moving forward.

Don’t Think You Can Do It On Your Own

Reading articles and using some common sense is great, but there are reasons that even professional bodybuilders use nutrition coaches and trainers. They need help to make the most out of their efforts. No one knows it all. If you’re getting stuck and not making progress, cutting out more calories isn’t going to be the answer every time. Eventually, you’ll get down to zero and that helps no one.

Nutritionists and coaches can go a long way in helping you keep the process simple to execute. Don’t be afraid to reach out and work with one. Even if you’re investing in one for a few weeks, that time can be valuable and help you learn more about food and yourself.

Muscular man on his phone in between workout sets.

Don’t Stop Learning

That previous tip leads to the final one. There are so many foods and research about nutrition out there, and more is coming out every week. That means if you want to stay on top of your game, you need to be a student of the game. You can find recipes to make healthy meals better, you can find foods that have greater immune support, and there is so much more information about which foods are better for pre-workout, post-workout, before bed, and so on.

Besides that, your body is going to change as well. If you lose 40 pounds, then you’re not going to need the same macros that you did when you started. You also may find that you respond better to having certain foods at certain times of the day. Commit a few minutes a week to learn about nutrition and keep monitoring your own progress so you can continue to enjoy this journey and reap the rewards for the effort you give every day.