Just because Renaissance Periodization has made a living on science-backed nutrition and fueling based off of specific templates, doesn’t mean they want you to constantly consult a spreadsheet and get a calculator before you fill your plate.
With the holidays behind us, RP founder Nick Shaw explains when to adopt more of a flexible dieting approach, why you can’t always be dieting and why carbs (yes!) are necessary no matter what your body goals are.
Avoid common mistakes
What are your goals, inside and outside the gym? It’s a good time to be strict with your diet when you have very set, structured goals, and if you can give yourself 2-3 months of dieting. Not when you have a month-long vacation looming or a few weeks at work where you know you won’t be able to meal prep or get into the gym.
“What tends to happen with a lot of people is they’ll say “I want to lose 10 lb.” and they’ll go and have a bunch of cheat meals or something during the course of their diet. If you’re just trying to lose 10 lb., maybe you can do that at 10 weeks. But then you start throwing in more cheat meals and all of a sudden, what could have taken 10 weeks now takes 12, or 14 or even 16,” Shaw said.
“That’s what leads a lot of people, especially females, into this cycle where they always feel like they’re dieting. You don’t have to be 100% strict, but if you want to commit to a cut, then commit. Don’t try to go one foot in. Don’t be half in half out, because that’s what leads to this vicious cycle where 3 months have passed and you haven’t lost very much weight but you’re accumulating that diet fatigue because you are trying to diet part of the time and then part of the time you say ‘Oh, I just want to do whatever.’”
Take a look at your work, vacation, family and training schedule and honestly assess where you are. It will save you a ton of wasted stress and effort down the road.
When it’s okay to be flexible…
You have your three phases of dieting: when you’re trying to gain weight, when you’re trying to maintain, and if you’re trying to cut weight. Of those three, there are two that are best suited to use a more flexible If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) style approach: when you’re trying to gain or maintain your current weight. (Hello, holidays!)
“When you’re maintaining it’s really easy to do [IIFYM]. You don’t have to be 100 percent in your diet,” said Shaw, who does just that as he juggles a family and a growing business. “You can still be pretty close, but you don’t have to worry about ‘Oh, I have to go get something to eat with my kids and I need X amount of carbs, can I have a sandwich from Panera?’ If you know enough about how IIFYM works, it’s very easy to incorporate into a schedule with two kids.”
When you’re trying to gain weight it’s the perfect time to adopt a more flexible dieting style as you’re trying to ingest mass quantities of food. Holidays, birthday, travel can be all worry-free if you are already planning on eating more and being flexible during these times.
It’s a lot easier to eat a few bowls of cereal than three sweet potatoes after dinner. So, when you’re in this stage food quality is less important as your top aim is quantity.
And when it’s not…
When you’re trying to cut, you don’t want to use a super flexible approach to your macros. (i.e.. eating donuts and cake because you can squeeze them in to our daily total.)
Why? Because you don’t get nearly as much bang for your buck.
“If you eat a bunch of tasty food they tend to not be voluminous—think about it in terms of what’s going to keep you more full with 50 grams of carbohydrates: some Skittles or a full size whole grain bagel?,” Shaw said.
“IIFYM has slightly less of an appeal when you think about it that way in terms of food volume, being more satiated, and helping reduce cravings.
Typically what we like to say is if you want to do IIFYM, it’s totally cool and it’s a great diet for a lot of people. But there’s a time and a place for it. When you’re cutting, it’s probably not the best time to do it. Because of those tradeoffs.”
Timing is everything
No, not nutrients. (We’ll get to that later.)
“Nobody, literally nobody in the entire world can diet forever,” Shaw said. “It’s trying to get into this mindset of ‘I know I need to buckle down, so let’s try to tighten things up a little bit for X amount of time, so I can accomplish my goals. Because ultimately I want to spend the least amount of time in that dieting space as I can and more time in maintenance or even in trying to gain weight.”
If you’re a strength athlete in the offseason or a CrossFit athlete with no competitions in the near future, that’s a really good time to relax your diet standards a little bit. That’s not to say you just throw in the towel and just eat whatever. Hopefully there’s still some kind of plan in place. But you have to have some down time when it comes to your nutrition.
“Even the most hardcore bodybuilders—I’m talking the elite Mr. Olympia-type—they don’t diet year-round,” Shaw said. “No one can be 100% perfect on their diet all the time. Trying to expect that is a recipe for disaster and failure.
Traveling, work stress, holidays are all perfectly acceptable times –if they fit within your goals– to be less rigid.
You NEED Carbs. No matter what.
Cutting carbs unnecessarily when dieting is one of the biggest mistakes Shaw sees. (It’s a mistake even elite athletes makes.)
“When people think they have to start cutting calories, there’s this prevailing myth out there that the first thing you have to do is you have to cut carbs first,” he said.
“Cutting carbs is a short term strategy when dieting, instead of a long-term strategy, because you can cut calories but you’re also cutting a bunch of water weight. You’re fooled into thinking you’re having really good results, but eventually your performance is going to tank.”