It’s a rare person indeed that hits their goals at the first attempt. Whether it’s gaining 20lbs of muscle or losing 20lbs of body fat, progress is never linear and without it’s speed bumps, road blocks and diversions.
The issue is that while the theory of fat loss or muscle gain is pretty straightforward, human behaviour and physiology aren’t. We are set up to resist these types of changes.
For thousands of years, consistently losing weight was a problem. Your survival was at stake, and losing weight meant that there must be a food shortage or other issue that stopped you from getting enough food, and because of that, your body slowed things down, subconsciously reduced your energy expenditure and kept you focussed on finding and consuming food to make sure you didn’t die. These instincts haven’t just gone away with the advent of Deliveroo.
Similarly, gaining weight in the form of muscle mass is a costly business. You need to increase calories, not only to build the tissue in the first place but also to keep it. You need to challenge your musculature often enough, and in increasingly intense ways to stimulate the need for new growth. It’s an expensive business in both materials and time.
We all respond differently to different approaches. What works well for me, might not be great for you. For example, my training program (at least when we were able to get into the gyms) was 5 days a week. That worked in my schedule, I was able to recover adequately between sessions and it was training that I enjoyed doing. Most of the time at least…
But that schedule might not work for you with your commitments and lifestyle. The training style may not be enjoyable enough to stick to. Or your “real world” stresses might be too high for you to be able to recover enough between sessions to keep it going for long enough without injury to make any real progress.
Nutritionally, your best friend might be seeing fantastic results on a Keto diet, but you try it and just can’t get past your love of carbs to make it work without being miserable. Or your boss might preach about the benefits of intermittent fasting, but if you were to skip breakfast you’d get so hangry that you’d want to punch a hole in the wall.
But these are all experiments worth trying. After all, you don’t really know what’s going to work well for you until you give a few things a try, discarding those that don’t gel and building a more individualised approach.
A big part of doing things this way is understanding and accepting that some of what you try will fail. Failure is not a bad thing, it doesn’t reflect badly on you, but it serves a valuable purpose: it provides feedback to help you improve your approach.
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
The same is true of fat loss and muscle gain. While principles will always apply, strategies are flexible.
For fat loss, your goal is to create a sustainable calorie deficit, eat adequate enough protein, and lift heavy things to maintain as much lean mass as you can.
That deficit may come from reducing portions sizes of the foods you already eat, cutting out certain foods or macros, or reducing the times in which you eat. You might find that counting calories to build a better awareness of the foods you eat and the calories and macro of each is an essential part of your process. You might find it triggers all sorts of issues around foods, and keeping a journal is a better approach for you.
Some will work for you, some won’t, but you won’t know which is which until you try.
Training for adding strength or muscle mass (both of which are valuable for everybody!) comes down to training with progressive overload and sufficient volume, providing enough nutrients and rest, and being consistent. This might be a classic bro split, a 5,3,1 approach, German volume training, or some other method of training. The choice of which you choose to follow comes down to personal preference, time and lifestyle. If for example you can’t spend 2 hours in the gym 5 days a week, you need to find a training protocol that doesn’t call for that.
The point is that you can’t be too tied to one method of training or nutrition. You have to experiment and figure out what works for you and what isn’t going to fly. Failure isn’t just a part of the process, it’s an essential one.
So if you try a dietary approach and it doens’t work, ask yourself what about it didn’t work? What did work? What could you keep doing even if the rest needed to be re-thought?
With training, instead of program hopping every couple of weeks, see your program through for at least a couple of months. What went well? What aspects of it did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy? And again, what can be kept, and what could be discarded or changed?
The aim isn’t to randomly Frankenstein stuff together, but to figure out what works and combine it in a way that works best for you. And that, my friends, takes practice, failure and more practice.