Thoughts on nutrition: Lessons Learned from Alan Aragon Pt 1

Past weekend I spent 18 hours in a lecture room at the University of Sports, listening to a presentation by Alan Aragon (https://alanaragon.com). Alan is probably the scientific authority when it comes to nutritional research. The event was hosted by the continuous education board (https://www.bspa-fortbildungsakademie.at) of the national sports academy (http://www.bspa.at), a government-run education program for sports and fitness professionals here in Austria. Among other topics, Alan elaborated on the scientific state of the art regarding macronutrient timing and construction, meal frequency, dietary supplements, muscle gain and fat loss. The presentation was concise and well-delievered, which comes at no surprise when consisting Alan’s professional standing.

Of all the things that were discussed, Alan’s 10 rules of what constitutes a healthy diet were, in my opinion, the biggest take away point. When looking at the big picture, many factors that are often sold as the base of a specific diet (meal frequency, consumption of animal products, dietary fat intake, …) are rather minute details. Any diet that does a couple key things right can work and will, ultimately, produce results, if adhered to for a sufficient time. Adherence, on the other hand, is hard, if the diet isn’t sustainable, affordable and centered around personal preferences. That’s why I chose to do the Precision Nutrition (https://www.precisionnutrition.com) certification in the first place.
There might well be educational programs out there that are more rigid in their scientific approach, make less assumptions and implement more bleeding edge methods. All of this is rather pointless, however, if the psychological aspect isn’t considered. A nutritionist writes a meal plan for his client, based on (hopefilly) his knowledge of physiology and nutritional science. On the other hand, a nutrition coach helps his client change nutrition habits, one by one, until a sustainable way of eating is established that suits the clients individual lifestyle. This ensures long-term adherence, because adhering to habits takes no conscious effort or willpower.
In the S&C world, an interesting discussion is going on that focuses on the question „how strong is strong enough?“ . Chances are, a soccer player, MMA fighter or other mixed sports athlete does not need to compete with powerlifters in terms of squat and deadlift 1RM. Being slightly stronger than the requirements of the sport dictate may well be enough. Personally, I pride myself in being a strong welter weight. Still, in retrospect I now know that I have sometimes neglected my cardiovascular fitness in the past. Does it really make a difference for a kickboxer whether his deadlift 1RM is at double bodyweight or 2.5? Maybe not. Improvement follows a logarithmic scale, i.e., progress is not linear. Reaching a double bodyweight deadlift is no big deal for most people when they follow a proven program. Just pick and choose, there’s so many: starting strength, 5/3/1, 5×5, juggernaut, etc. Any of these will get you decent strength levels if adhered to for a while (adherence – here’s that wood again). Going to a triple bodyweight deadlift will take you deep into powerlifting territory. Much more focused training will be required and hence, training other qualities or skills concurrently might pose a significant challenge. Also, injury risk will go up. I don’t really believe there’s an argument whether our not heavy-ass deadlifts put your spine at risk. Obviously, quality of execution will be the determining factor here, put residual fatigue plays a role as well. I don’t argue against going ultra heavy on pulls – if you’re a power lifter and that’s your sport, by all means, go for it. As a fighter, you’ll have to carefully consider risk and benefit. The additional energy and recovery time might be better spent on technique training, cardiovascular fitness, or simply meal preparation. Josh Hillis and Dan John, in their book „Fat loss happens on Monday“, schedule a meal prep day before the first workout of the week.
It’s really the same with nutrition. Sometimes, good enough is enough. Most clients will not require aggressive carb cycling strategies, intermittent fasting or laser-sharp macro tracking. Eat to live, not the other way around. For most people, reaching and maintaining a healthy (not necessarily Men’s Health Cover material) body fat percentage and keeping clear of severe health issues will present a realistic and reasonable goal. Of course, a fighter who has to make weight or a bikini competitor pre-contest will require a more sophisticated approach, but that’s analogous to the power lifter. These are special cases. For the rest of us, good enough will do.
Well, that was a short one and probably rather random, but sometimes, good enough has to do. The next post will likely be longer.
So long,
Don’t get hurt

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