Accountability breeds consistency breeds results.
The new year has begun, and millions upon millions of people around the world have commenced ambitious personal resolutions. Whether it be saving a greater percentage of one’s financial income; devoting more time to family; or losing weight for an upcoming wedding; a mere ~8% of people actually attain them (University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 2015).
Sorry to be the bearer of that daunting statistic, but I believe this overwhelming lack of fulfilment when it comes to New Year goal-setting is due to the absence of accountability. I, myself, have been guilty of this too, in the past, but am now fully cognisant of the necessity to quantify progress.
You are undoubtedly here because you are conscientious of your own health and/or fitness, and share my own yearning for continual self-improvement. As such, I commend you for taking this initiative, and I only want to help you crush your health goals for 2016! It will be a year of complete accountability of your progress, and avoidance of extreme diet approaches that are inherently unsustainable. Accountability and concomitant consistency will perhaps never constitute a best-seller in the health aisle at your local Dymocks, but they will always trump the latest, most glamorous paradigms.
In this article, I will put forth two tools that were the fundamental catalysts in my own success over the last 36 months. As simple as they may seem, especially given the fitness industry’s asseveration of extreme methodologies, they will (almost) ALWAYS yield positive results. The disclaimer to this previous statement is, however, that they need to be habituated (which may take anywhere between 3 weeks-2 months, depending on intrinsic motivation and bio-psycho-social factors). But, intrinsic motivation should be a non-issue because 2016 is going to be our year, right?! Right.
- The ‘MyFitnessPal’ App.
It is safe to say that the majority of people either massively over-estimate or under-estimate the amount of calories they are consuming, and are clueless as to the macronutrient breakdown of various products. THE most important factor in both fat loss and muscle gaining goals is the numbers pertaining to the difference in energy expended & energy consumed, on a daily basis. The quality of foods you eat will help to curb your appetite, thus making an energy deficit (fat loss) or slight energy surplus (mass gain) more attainable. This is one major reason why I do not advocate an ‘if it fits your macros (IIFYM)’ mentality, although some people report success (and are even dogmatic) with this style of eating.
I consider the hierarchy of importance within the nutrition sphere, for body composition purposes, to be:
Calories (energy in VS. energy out) > Macronutrients & timing/frequency > Micronutrition > Supplements. I endeavour to post about my approach to macronutrients shortly.
MyFitnessPal is a fantastic mobile application which conveniently calculates your daily calorie requirements (based on weight, age, activity level), and hosts an extensive database of foods/beverages. I have used MyFitnessPal consistently from 2013-present, and in this time I have gained 22kg of healthy/lean weight whilst minimising fat gain (indicated by a recent body fat calliper test of 9.1%); this app ensured consistency to a modest daily calorie surplus (consuming 300-600 calories more than I expended in a day).
While the accuracy of food breakdowns in this app is reliable, the calculation of an individual’s daily energy expenditure (DEE) is a completely different beast and is rarely precise. This is due to inevitable variations in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), levels of leanness, metabolism, to name but a few. Thus, you may need to make adjustments early in your journey as dictated by a weekly scales measurement.
Now, I accept that some people reading this will retort to the tune of, “This seems too laborious, having to track everything I eat!” OR “Isn’t this a bit obsessive?!”.
To this crowd, I have a few thoughts that you must ponder before closing the door on this essential tool:
- Once you have entered your food consumption for a few days, the process becomes rather quick and routine.
- After a few weeks of measuring food volumes, you can ‘eyeball’ it and be quite accurate (NB: it is a good idea to overestimate the volume for those seeking fat loss, and underestimate for those seeking muscle gain).
- Even if you do not use it for more than a week, it will instil in you a greater awareness of the amount & quality of foods you are eating. You will therefore make more informed decisions that are aligned with your health/weight goals.
- If you are truly seeking to enhance your body composition, and see credence in my opinion, you will adhere to the use of this app (for the sake of a few minutes a day).
As mentioned earlier, I am going to be posting an article on macronutrients in the near future, but for now I will suggest to aim for a healthy split between the major food groups:
carbohydrates/protein/fats: ~33%/33%/33% or 40/30/30%. This is roughly where I sit at the end of a day, and have had success with for over 2 years, but personal preferences and/or health condition(s) may sway this in favour of one nutrient over the other. In saying this, I believe most ‘healthy’ (disease-free) people are best with a balanced macronutrient profile.
Lastly, before I move on to #2, MyFitnessPal is free! You must at least download it and give it a chance for a week!
2. A Training Diary
Just as we should quantify our food intake regularly to see steady progress, a training logbook is indispensable for consistent gains in any fitness marker. I am sure we have all been witness to many of our fellow gym acquaintances, year after year, going through the motions and either remaining the same or gradually degenerating.
This ultimately boils down to the fact that they do not record their training sessions, and so do not have clear objectives to work towards every time they decide to train. By a similar token, many people are sensible in carrying out a structured program with goals, but they are periodically deviating from one routine to another, preoccupied with finding that elusive (non-existent!) fitness ‘panacea’.
Health & fitness should be simplified, and a simple training program that is easy to monitor is imperative for long-term success in this game. I have followed only three training programs over the last 3 years, and only when I hit a plateau do I consider oscillating between these routines.
This approach has led to my own improvement from: a 60kg max deadlift to 200kg; assisted chin-ups to +40kg chin-ups; 50kg bench press to 110kg. I am using strength training as an example as this has been the nature of my training in this time, but the principles I mention work for any feat of athleticism/fitness.
How can one expect to measure their progress if they are haphazardly recalling last week’s training numbers, or constantly improvising? This is insanity. Do not be insane in 2016! Be very specific with where you want to be by the end of the year, patient, and accountable. Six-pack abs are not made visible over night, or even in a matter of weeks (IF that’s your goal! :P).
I carry a small exercise book and pen with me around the gym at all times, because I am old-school like that, but if that is too much of a hassle then consider your smartphone. MyFitnessPal can also be used, but I prefer to solely use it for nutrition.
Furthermore, having your recently logged sessions readily available serves as a tremendous motivator to achieve one extra repetition; or 2.5kg extra weight for a given work set; or completing your 1km intervals in 5 seconds less.
I do not know anybody who honestly wants to settle for stagnant progress, and to not strive for minor increments of improvement. A training diary is a simple, inexpensive, oft-overlooked tool that facilitates this.
I have found a training diary also beneficial in alleviating decision-fatigue, which can diminish strength and impede consistency. Jot down how much sleep you had prior to the session, whether you trained fed or fasted, the execution of technique, etc. This way, relationships between variables are easily identifiable and one can determine how they best operate.
If you haven’t already been monitoring your progress with a logbook, get on to it ASAP and watch the gains unfold!
Although this is not an exciting topic by any means, these utilities are vital in keeping you accountable over the coming months. Nevertheless, with time your results WILL be exciting. We are all guilty of gravitating towards seemingly ‘quick-fixes’ in our journey towards enhanced health and appearance, but we should endeavour to be consistent with a basic approach over an extended period of time. Quantifiable progress is the name of this game. Let’s make 2016 an unprecedented year of personal bests and self-fulfilment.
Healthy regards and Happy New Year,