People starting their health and fitness journey take some time in figuring out that their training program isn’t the most important factor to consider to reach their fitness goals. There are two other factors that are more important than training.
Sleep is usually the most neglected and hardest to control, although it is the most important. After sleep comes nutrition, which many people do figure out relatively quickly, but even then they fall into many traps and don’t know what to eat even once they’re aware of this.
There are lots of fad diets out there. Fasting, keto, and too many others to name. The reason they work is because they restrain people from eating what they regularly eat, which in most cases is a lot of processed food. Diets that aren’t sustainable long-term are doomed to fail, by design.
However, the long-term solution is pretty simple. Eat real food. This may seem mind-numbingly simple, and it is.
The problem is most people don't know real food from fake food anymore. There are some general guidelines that will help you identify real food however. While we cannot legally or ethically give out diet plans (ONLY registered dietitians can), we can help you make the distinction between real food and processed food. Which in the vast majority of cases is enough for people to lose weight and have proper nutrition to reach your goals in training.
How to eat healthy: Real food vs processed food
Here are the six ways of identifying healthy food
- If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it: A very simple way to see if the food you’re eating has chemicals and other non-natural ingredients is by reading the ingredient list on the back. If there’s a lot of ingredients, this is usually a sign that you shouldn’t eat this. Any soy of vegetable oils should be a red flag for you.
Any ingredient you can’t pronounce is usually a chemical. Good peanut butter for example would say something like: roasted peanuts, and maybe salt. Any added oil is a no-go.
- If it's made by God, its real food. If it's made by man, its not: Pretty simple principle. If it walks or swims the earth, or grows from the ground or trees, eat it. If it’s not found in nature, then that means there’s a process behind it.
This is what is called the ‘Vertical Diet’, which in reality is just real food.In summary, eat lean meats, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits (fruit juice is NOT found in nature).
- Keep the ingredient list short: Look at the back of a bag of beans, the ingredient list is usually very simple, beans. The more complex the ingredient list becomes, the higher chance that it has additives of some sort that you probably shouldn’t eat.
- Avoid gluten, pasta, bread: Gluten, pasta, and bread are made by man. They come from wheat usually, but there is a process behind them. Gluten is best avoided regardless of whether or not you have celiac’s disease or not. The reason for avoiding gluten is because it promotes inflammation.
Inflammation has been linked to all kinds of mental health issues, cancer, depression, alzheimers, as well as delayed muscle, joint, and tendon recovery which is relevant to athletes.
- Real food is usually found on the periphery of the supermarket: Most supermarkets have food products in the isles, with a few exceptions like olive oil and a few other items, but if you pay attention, the dairy, meats, fruits and vegetables are all on the outside. This is where you should primarily shop to get real food.
- Fermented foods for gut-health: Gut health is a big topic nowadays. Our gut biomes play a very important role not only in digestion, but also in immune function, controlling inflammation, and many other very important functions.
Fermented food is a great way to keep a healthy gut biome. Fermented foods include kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, plain yoghurt, and more. Kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut provide a lot of fiber as well. Adding these to your meals is great to maintain good gut health.
Sleep and its benefits for weight loss
People nowadays tend to undervalue sleep. For training, it is safe to say that sleep is the most important factor for training and obtaining the desired adaptation. Sleep is where adaptations occur. There are four factors that determine sleep quality, which is essential for training whatever your goals may be.
- Temperature: For most people that don’t live close to the Equator the ideal temperature range for sleep is between 60-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Light & noise: There should be no light when you sleep. You can invest in blackout shades or a sleeping mask to make this a reality. Noise should also be kept to a minimum. Ear plugs are a good option if your environment is noisy.
- Quantity: The vast majority of people need between seven to eight hours of sleep to function optimally. This isn’t to say that people can’t go on five hours of sleep, but the scientific literature points out that the vast vast majority of people are affected when sleeping less than this amount of time.
Your hormonal levels drop amongst many other side effects. It is important to reiterate that to build muscle you need your body to be in an anabolic state. This simply will not happen if your sleep isn’t great because your hormonal levels will not be where they need to be.
- REM sleep: Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the stage where your body is truly recovering. This is usually where people have dreams. The important part to understand is that within eight hours we usually get to the REM phase between four to six times a night.
There are also many things that can inhibit your REM sleep. A few relevant ones today are our phones being less than seven feet away from our heads and sleep medication which puts us in a sedated state which isn’t the same true sleep.