- Lack of planning
- Looking for shortcuts
- Fearing the fat
- Too much protein
- Quitting too soon
- Not listening to your body
- Not being disciplined
There’s a practical and a psychological part to this. You need to plan your menu and your training.
Planning your menu means making sure you have what you’ll need throughout the week, or taking inventory of what you have available and making the most of your ingredients.
If you know you’re going to need some ingredients and you’re low or you’re out, you’ll need to make sure you get them ahead of time. Waiting until the last minute to execute your meal plans is not always a great idea. Of course, personality will play a role in this, too. If you know you’re the type to need variety and precision in your meals, you better be paying very close attention to your food and what you plan to make throughout the week.
Planning your training means making sure you have accounted for your training and recovery time and that you’ve fit those things into your daily/weekly work/life schedule so you can maximize your efforts.
Fretting about your planning is also not a good idea. Planning isn’t about creating a strict, rigid, inflexible set of time blocks. It’s about getting the most out of your time. If you have to improvise and change some things around at the last minute, that’s perfectly okay. You gotta think long-term. If the whole process of planning causes you too much stress, you’re doing it wrong, and you’re hurting your progress.
Whether it’s processed paleo, primal, or keto foods; questionable supplements; or ridiculous contraptions that are sold as uniquely effective, cutting-edge appliances that can create elite physical performance with little effort, there are no shortcuts to becoming the most badass athlete you can be.
There are three things that you need to maximize your innate, God-given abilities: diet, intensity, and discipline.
Everything else is a matter of how dedicated you are to working to improve yourself.
I’m writing this as much for myself as anyone else. My relationship with exercise has evolved over the last couple of decades, and I’ve come to realize that exercise is about finding something you enjoy doing and becoming as awesome as possible at that as you can be. You love to run? Run. You love swimming. Swim. You love powerlifting. Lift. If you are exercising because someone told you it’s a quick way to get results…you’re doing it wrong. This isn’t about that. It’s about maximizing yourself, loving the process, and being awesome.
When you’ve been taught your entire life to avoid fat, it’s a hard paradigm to change. But the truth is that fat is a preferred fuel for the body. Not only because it has more energy per gram than carbs, but because it is a much CLEANER fuel for your muscles and brain. Typical glucose oxidation, inside your muscles and brain, will produce something known as oxidative stress, which can be thought of as “rust” inside you brain and muscles. That oxidative stress is deleterious to your progress and to your health. By eliminating carbs (and especially sugar) you are taking a huge step to increasing your performance and your health. Not only that, but keeping your dietary fat (saturated and monounsaturated…with plenty of Omega-3) between 65%-80% (based upon Phinney and Volek), and keeping your carbs low (between 20g-50g/day), you are eliminating the primary inflammatory factor in your soft tissue…and that helps with recovery and performance. Besides, the amount of stored sugar in your body is seriously small (ever bonk on a long run or ride?). The amount of stored fat, even for lean athletes, is tremendous (5x to 10x that of stored glucose/glycogen). So don’t fear the fat. Use the fat to fuel your awesomeness.
I realize there is a very vocal contingent in the keto community who will scoff at the idea of too much protein. But one thing that cannot be debated is that everyone has an upper level of protein. You can experiment to find what that upper limit is, but if you’re constantly exceeding that limit (and it’s not very high for a lot of people), you are not helping yourself. Testing your blood sugar a couple of hours after you eat a certain amount of protein will give you an idea of your level of gluconeogenesis…both for the amount and for the protein sources (yes, some proteins are comprised of amino acid combination that are more inclined to be converted to glucose than others).
Your body utilizes your dietary nutrients based upon the internal demand. That means, if you lift heavy or workout with intensity, the demand is higher, so your tolerance to the amount of dietary protein increases. Keto happens to be protein-sparing, which means the overall depletion of system-wide amino acids is decreased. It also allows for a higher level of blood and stored branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). So you don’t need as much and you have better access to the amino acids you’ve already eaten.
If you test and you find out that your tolerance to protein is pretty high, then that’s awesome. Eat much steak. But if you test and you find otherwise, then you need to limit your protein.
So you tried keto for a couple of days and you didn’t run as fast, lift as much, or feel as good, so you quit. Or you tried to lift heavy for a couple of days, and it was hard, so you quit. Or you tried to ride 5 miles, and it was hard, so you quit.
If that sounds familiar, then that’s okay, because it happens to a lot of us. Quitting something that is unproductive is perfectly okay. But you need to allow yourself enough time to find out whether or not it actually IS productive. As far as keto goes, you need to give yourself six weeks. That’s the bare minimum amount of time to get past the sugar-burning stage and into the fat-burning stage. Quitting keto after a couple of days or weeks, because it’s hard, is not ideal. You have to allow yourself enough time to make the internal shift. Also, make sure you get enough salt (2 tsp/day at least). That helps.
Quitting an exercise because you hate every minute of it is TOTALLY okay. If you don’t enjoy the exercise you engage in, you’re not going to stick with it, your stress level will rise, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
It’s important that you understand the difference between the two.
This applies equally to the training and the food portions. You have to listen to your body to know if you’re sore, hurt, injured, or just lazy. You also need to listen to your body when it comes to your food. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. I can assure you that your body is going to let you know what it needs (rest, food, intensity, etc.).
Of course that doesn’t mean you should never “push the training limits,” of course you should. But if you do, you need to be willing to accept that you might have pushed too hard and you need to bring it down a notch, get some rest, or skip a session.
If you go into a training situation, knowing you’re not 100% and you push too hard and you get injured, you run the risk of not being able to workout for an extended time. That’s just not worth it. Be smart.
Also, as a corollary to this, you should never base your training or food on what someone else is doing. Listen to your body, and do what’s best for you.
When you allow other people to sway you into eating stuff you know isn’t in line with your optimized training, when you allow others to convince you to change your training for no real reason, or when you bounce around from one thing to the next with no purpose or intent, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Devise your plan. Execute your plan. Stay focused on your plan.
When you allow the undisciplined behavior take center stage, you are working against your best efforts.
So be disciplined.
And reap the rewards.