One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

diverse

My Paleo Diet

Welcome back all! In today’s post I’ll summarize what I mean when I say I eat a paleo diet. Then, I’ll discuss the issue of strict adherence to any specific diet.

Eating paleo, I focus on food quality. I maximize my intake of “nutrient dense” foods. I minimize my intake of foods with an unfavorable nutrient profile or foods that cause negative reactions in the body.

Nutrient dense foods contain a substantial amount of essential fats, amino acids (proteins), vitamins, and minerals. “Essential” means the body cannot produce them on its own.

Unfavorable foods would be refined flour or pasteurized, homogenized skim milk. These foods are “enriched” or “fortified” because they are nutrient-deficient naturally, or undergo processing that destroys their nutrient content. Companies add vitamins and minerals to bring more value to these products.

A food that causes a negative reaction in the body would be corn oil because it contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fats that can harden the arteries and raise triglycerides causing atherosclerosis. Also, certain foods contain anti-nutrients that bind with other nutrients inhibiting proper absorption. Finally, some foods, such as grains, contain elements that can cause inflammation.

To simplify, here is a list of foods I focus on: meat, vegetables, and eggs from local, reliable farms; wild-caught seafood; fruits; tubers; healthy fats; and dairy. These foods tend to be most nutritious (and flavorful!) when compared to things like grains or processed foods.

The premise of the “Paleolithic Diet” was that humans haven’t evolved since the invention of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago) resulting in modern day health issues and food sensitivities. Although there is legitimate science supporting this claim, I think it’s too rigid to say that every food grown since the advent of farming is problematic for everyone.

For example, many people produce the lactase enzyme throughout their entire life, allowing them to digest dairy. People with autoimmune conditions may suffer from the inflammatory effects of certain nightshades (tubers, peppers, etc) while other people have no issue consuming these foods regularly.

I do, however, always recommend the paleo diet as a starting point. After a month or two of eating the most nutritious foods possible, that contain the least amount of problematic elements, reintroduce foods as desired.

Try consuming dairy for a week then remove it again. Try introducing oatmeal and pull it back out. Track all changes in health and performance. To give a personal example, I tolerate dairy from a digestive standpoint, but my complexion is only completely clear when I am not consuming it.

At the end of the day, the pros and cons of everything have to be weighed. If you consume whole foods, as they grow in nature, you are already prolonging and improving your life. And if not, it’s never too late to start!

The problem with adhering to any strict “diet” is the development of extremism. People become entrenched in beliefs, which are tied to emotions, and lose sight of the fact that science is progressing every moment.

Look at the news – one week eggs are as dangerous as cigarettes and the next, it is recommended you eat 2-4 egg yolks a day!

I love when I learn something new even if it negates a “fact” I knew before. If I discover something I’m eating is doing more harm than good, I’ll eliminate it and, conversely, if I find out a particular food I’m not consuming can improve my life, I’ll start including it in my diet.

I think this issue of strict adherence is most prevalent within the paleo and vegan community. However, I am hopeful. We’ve seen the emergence of pescatarians that consume seafood but avoid animal flesh and ovo-lacto vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs. Even within the last couple years we’ve seen an evolution (ironic based on the founding argument) within the paleo-sphere that now allows more personal choice through the reintroduction method I mentioned earlier.

As a final note, I think it’s important to base your food intake on your goals and activity level.

When the body is at rest, fat is the primary fuel source and, as intensity increases, the body shifts to burning carbohydrates. Thus, on my recovery days, when the most I do is walk, I focus on healthy fats, meats, and veggies. But, on the days I’m lifting heavy and trying to promote muscle-growth, I add a liberal amount of carbs, in the form of potatoes and fruits, to every meal.

Find an approach that works for you.

Maybe start strict to eliminate soda and candy cravings and reach a satisfying level of health and performance, but then tinker. Try reducing carbs and increasing fats or vice versa. Try a bit more or a bit less protein. No two people are the same so there will always be a need for experimentation.

I’m thinking for the next few posts I’ll discuss the 3 macro-nutrient groups – proteins, carbs, and fats. I touched upon these here but would like to explain the importance of each so you can decide what intake ratios make the most sense for you.

I’ll close with a relevant quote by Sosan I just stumbled upon:

“If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.”