The physical fitness industry is one of the largest markets in the United States. Why? Most people want to improve themselves either aesthetically, physically, or some kind of combination of the two. Wading through the gimmicks, fads, and shortcuts can be difficult. Before you read any further I can tell you this – There is no “shortcut”. If you want to change your body or increase performance, it will take dedication, hard work, and sacrifice.

Exercise

There are three pillars with regards to fitness: exercise, supplementation, and nutrition. With literally thousands upon thousands of free workout plans online it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that fits your goals. The key is the plan has built-in plateau breakers. After doing the same exercises, with the same rep ranges for about three weeks, your body will have made adjustments and your growth will stop. 

A great example of this is fence building. Regardless of how in-shape you are, if you had to dig fence post holes you would be incredibly sore the next day. Now, lets say I have you dig those same holes for a month. Around the 2-3 week mark you won’t be getting as sore, and around the 3-4 week mark you may not get sore at all. You have plateaued, great if you are working for a fencing company, bad if you are working out in the gym.

The only other thing I would add here is failure. I go to failure with every exercise, on every set. There are different styles that people use, but this is the one that works for me. Growth is achieved through breaking muscle down, and then repairing it through nutrition. The last 2-3 reps are where all this damage occurs.  I literally push until I cannot do another rep. Regardless of whether you build to failure, or start there, it should be difficult.  

Supplementation

I have tried a lot of different supplements over the years.  My go-to supplements are: monohydrate creatine, isolate whey protein, complex carbohydrate powder, and a pre-workout powder. Creatine isn’t the stuff of the late 90s or early 2000s. No longer are you required to pre-load and saturate your body with water. Simply take the tiny amount pre workout for 6-8 weeks, and then stop for 2-4 weeks before using again. 

I use the isolate whey protein, and complex carbohydrate powder immediately following my workout (within 20 minutes of my last rep). This is the “golden” time where you have a better chance of delivering the nutrients your body needs for growth/repair directly to the muscles in question. Most pre-workout powders are simply caffeinated powders that are the equivalent of drinking 2-3 cups of coffee. Due to the fact that I get up at 0430 to go to the gym, I simply don’t want to wait around to drink 2-3 cups of coffee.  If I was an after-work gym guy, I probably wouldn’t even use this supplement. 

Regardless of the supplements you choose to use, make sure that you set aside time to cycle off of them.  They will become useless if you stay on them forever. In some instances your body may become dependent upon a certain supplement for the production of something that your body normal produces on its own.

Nutrition

The single most important pillar is nutrition. You can have the perfect workout plan, with the perfect supplementation, and because your nutrition sucks you see zero results. If I was to place a value on the pillars I would say: 70% nutrition, 25% exercise, 5% supplementation. Yes, there are people who say they don’t care what they look like as long as they get strong. Even if strength is your only goal, exchanging fat for muscle will increase: strength, stability, power, endurance, etc.. One pound of fat takes up more room and does less than one pound of muscle.

Why You Aren't Seeing Results in the Gym
This image illustrates the volume differences between fat and muscle. (Image courtesy of redbeardfitness.com).

Food Plans

Through research, and experimentation I find the most success with calculated macronutrients coupled with a food plan. If you want to see dramatic results you need to rethink the way you feed your body.  Someone, somewhere came up with the idea that three meals a day is what the body needs.  To change your metabolism you need your meal frequency to increase to 5-6 meals a day (eat every 2-3 hours).  If your body is always receiving clean food, it is less likely to store food (fat). Once this change occurs, all the work you put in at the gym will better target your fat reserves. 

Frequency alone will not achieve these results. You need to eat clean. Lean proteins (chicken breast, lean turkey, white fish, sirloin steak, etc.) with complex carbohydrates (oats, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa) calculated specifically for your goals is the key. These calculations are called macronutrients, and this is the hardest part of an all-encompassing fitness plan.

Macronutrient Formulas

These formulas are a great place to start. However, you should weigh yourself once a week, at the same time of day, and make adjustments to your food plan as needed. Didn’t lose any weight? Reduce carbs, etc..

P=Protein BW=Body Weight C=Carbohydrate G=Grams

P=1.3G-1.5G X BW / 5-6

The above formula calculates your per-meal protein needs for a food plan.  Protein calculation is 1.3-1.5 grams multiple by your body weight, then divided by your meal frequency. Lets do mine.

1.5GX190=285      285/6=47.5G Per meal (six) I need 47.5 grams of protein.

C=2-2.5G X BW / 5-6

After you have your numbers you have to start researching lean proteins and complex carbohydrates to determine the quantities for each meal.  Using the formulas above, I know that I need 47.5 grams of protein, and 63 grams of carbohydrates per meal (six per day).  Lets do a single meal so you get the idea.

Breakfast:

Carbohydrates: 1 cup quick oats = 56 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of protein

Protein: 1 cup egg whites= 25.5 grams of protein

Protein powder: 1/2 scoop whey protein added to oats (flavor) = 12.5 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrate

Totals: 57 grams of carbohydrates, 48 grams of protein.

That is very close to the macronutrients we determined earlier. You continue to do this with each meal so that you know exactly what quantities are needed to make your numbers. Why do all this?  If you do not know exactly what you are putting into your body it is nearly impossible to make adjustments. When you consume the same numbers consistently you can cut/add food as needed to get the results that you want.  Add weight, cut fat, lose weight, these are all simple tasks once you have your nutrition down.

Why You Aren't Seeing Results in the Gym
I worked out with the same intensity and frequency in both images. Left: when I started taking nutrition seriously. Images are less than one year apart.

I like to make seasons for myself, so that I don’t go insane. I have a cutting (fat loss), bulking (add weight), and an off-season. I am extremely disciplined during a cut or bulk program. I don’t cheat and I won’t miss a meal. During my off-season I maintain meal frequency, however I can eat what I want, and drink what I want (in moderation). There is a balance between discipline and living your life. 

Anyone can achieve their fitness goals with the right mindset. If it was easy everyone would be walking around with six packs while lifting extremely heavy weights. To help keep yourself accountable tell people your goals. When people know your goals, they are more likely to make accommodations for you. I have friends who make sure that they have chicken breasts for a barbecue because they knew I was coming and couldn’t eat hotdogs. Awesome friends will always help you out.

Have questions? Leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to respond.