Back in February, I posted a huge round-up article featuring 37 of the most respected names in fitness and their biggest workout mistakes.
In case you missed it, you can check it out here.
In that article, a few of the experts talked specifically about mistakes they made with their nutrition and how it halted their progress.
Nutrition is such a key area that I decided to create another round-up article dedicated to uncovering the biggest mistakes the experts made with their nutrition.
The question I asked each of the experts was:
“What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made with your nutrition?”
Here are their responses in the order they were received…
Not eating enough.
I spent so long in my university days trying to build muscle and become more athletic but I wasn’t eating like an athlete, I was eating like someone still trying to lose body fat.
After my obese journey, getting fit and lean, I kept eating well, I was happy and healthy, but didn’t eat enough to fuel and build, and thus I wish I had taken more time to understand some of the most scientific approaches to nutrition. That you need a small calorie surplus to gain weight, that you want to boost how much you can eat as much as possible to ‘fuel the beast’.
My development as an athlete, rugby player, and someone aesthetically concerned would have been so much better. So yeah, make sure you eat enough to fuel the athlete, no one likes losing out progress!
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The biggest mistake I’ve made with nutrition has been not listening to my body.
I’m pretty sensitive to certain foods, so if I eat them too much, I’ll suffer the consequences. For example, if I have too much greek yogurt (if I eat it every day for a week), I’ll get gassy and start to develop acne flare ups on my face. So I know that I shouldn’t be eating it every day. Once in a blue moon is fine.
Personally, I think that if you have troubles with certain foods, and then eat them sparingly, you’ll be “healthier”.
The biggest mistake that I made is thinking that snacking in grazing is necessary for things like workouts or metabolism.
But no research shows that to be true. So now I simply three square meals a day.
My personal biggest mistake was probably overdoing it in terms of cutting and bulking early on when I started training.
I had a very high caloric intake when bulking and used rapid fat loss protocols to get lean afterwards. Short term, this always seems to work great, but I ended up basically wasting a few years of my training career with this approach. I gained too much fat when bulking and needlessly lost muscle mass when cutting.
My current methods solve this problem by carefully optimizing the rate of weight change and nutrient partitioning based several factors, primarily how advanced someone is and what their body fat percentage is. On an optimized program, most people should actually be gaining muscle mass even when you’re losing fat.
Sure, I lost weight. But I was exercising 6 days a week and found that by cutting out carbs I wasn’t building any muscle – rather, I was losing it. I ended up looking ‘skinny fat’ instead of lean and strong. Plus, I was miserable. I would skip parties, didn’t drink alcohol, and avoided social occasions that I knew were going to be carb-heavy.
It was only when I (albeit reluctantly) reintroduced carbs into my diet that I was able to start making significant progress, and got my life back.
Perhaps the biggest mistake I made with my nutrition was obsessing about things that didn’t need to be obsessed about.
Never eating any junk food… always trying to eat 6-7 meals a day… getting a “fast” protein source immediately training… eating massive amounts of protein every day – way more than my body could actually use and process – took a lot of effort and willpower.
But a lot of it was unnecessary, and didn’t make a great deal of difference to my results one way or the other.
For me personally it was probably overeating protein.
All it did was give me a swollen gut with lots of constipation, and then when you add on the ridiculous amounts of fiber to counteract (this is not the answer fyi), it makes for a miserable belly.
I do very well on 1 gram per lb of bodyweight now, with higher carbs, and no need to eliminate healthy fats. How I feel physically and mentally is improved also.
Back when Dr. Israetel and I were in college and still fine tuning our nutrition principles we made 2 main mistakes (which we have since corrected of course!!):
1) Too many carbs in general. We thought that if we wanted to grow more muscle, we just had to eat an insane amount of carbs. That wasn’t just tied to around training or based on activity levels (which they likely should be). We ate a ton of carbs all day every day in order go gain more weight. This leads into mistake #2
2) We gained too much weight and thought that putting on weight was the ultimate goal of growing more muscle. That meant we got well over 15% bodyfat at some points, which come to find out makes dieting phases a LOT harder later on. Our recommendations now are to gain more like 1 lb/week for a maximum of 8-12 weeks for a mass phase and stay leaner in the bulking phases (assuming the ultimate goal is to fill out a given weight class or just to be more muscular/less fat at any given bodyweight).
The biggest mistake I made — and continue to make — is walking away from something that works. I’d make an adjustment to my diet, it would work, and then I’d get bored or distracted and stop doing it.
The biggest mistake I made with my nutrition was focusing on how much I could eat instead of what I could absorb.
I would often eat the usual bodybuilding foods of rice, read meat, pasta, chicken and protein blends but I was often left bloated, sluggish and with stomach upset. Over the years I have learned to eat gluten free options such as quinoa, sweet potatoes and lighter protein options such as egg whites, fish and protein isolates.
I am also careful to “detox” my gut daily with a drink consisting of Apple Cider Vinegar, Pure Lemon Juice, Fermented Glutamine and Greens Powder. This keeps me regular and I feel I can assimilate my foods much better while increasing my synthesis at the same time.
The biggest mistake I made with my nutrition was simply spending too many years before actually tracking how much I was eating.
I spun my wheels for around 5 years without gaining any weight before I finally started logging (this was back in 2006, so this was pre online-calorie counting food journals).
I don’t think calorie counting makes sense for everyone, but if you’re serious about physique training, at some point this information becomes very valuable.
My biggest mistake would be the typical overly aggressive “dirty bulk”.
In my earlier training days I just wanted to be as huge and muscular as possible and was eating massive amounts of food every day thinking that “more calories equals more muscle growth”.
This is of course completely false, as the body can only build a very limited amount of muscle over any given period to begin with. Any calories taken in beyond what your body can utilize for muscle growth will simply be stored as fat.
That’s exactly what happened to me, as I ballooned up to a thoroughly flabby 228 pounds at 5’9. For a smaller framed guy like me, this was quite simply a ridiculous amount of weight to be carrying.
I then had to switch gears into a tedious, prolonged cutting phase and drop over 30 pounds of fat before I began to look even half decent again.
If I could go back, I would have just stuck with a small to moderate calorie surplus and focused on making gradual, lean gains over time rather than trying to rush things.
I would have gained the same amount of muscle while looking better, feeling better, and not having to go through 4 months of unnecessary cutting.
Probably embracing the “eat big to get big” motto too literally.
I started downing pints of whole milk, eating 6 meals per day of 700+ calories at a time, spooning peanut butter from the jar, using coconut oil on everything and having super high-carb workout shakes.
Long story short … I got fat. Strong, but fat!
Not eating enough protein.
At 18 years old I was strong and well developed, I had been lifting seriously for 6 years. I was 245 pounds but not paying much attention to nutrition. I was eating plenty BUT not the right plenty.
At this point I made a commitment to eat 250 grams of protein a day. Within weeks, steroid accusations flew in from every direction—they were 100% false. Getting adequate protein helped some with strength but totally morphed my physique.
It seemed strength was built in the weight room and muscles in the kitchen.
In terms of “mistakes” defined as things that run counter to training goals, my biggest mistake would be drinking too much.
In terms of “mistakes” defined as things that negatively impact my quality of life, my biggest mistake would be not drinking enough.
It’s a tenuous balance.
My biggest mistake was when I first got into lifting. I was being to strict with my nutrition and believing that only “clean foods” would give results.
Not only did I get sick and tired of food, but it also made it difficult to sustain it in the long run.
I still eat pretty decent everyday with minimal processed foods that are high in micronutrients, but my approach is more flexible these days where I focus on having more variety and taking the time to make the food taste good. This has made it more sustainable for me and I actually saw better results when I got more flexible as it was easier to adherent to it.
When I look back, I still can not believe the things I used to do, like drinking canned tuna mixed with sugar free tang. That quickly stopped after I left my shaker cup in my gym bag one day…
The biggest challenge I continue to have with my nutrition is ensuring that I schedule my meals even during a hectic workday.
Being a coach is similar to being in an office, where the work with your clients usually has you busy for hours on end and your nutrition is rushed when you get a minute or so to take something down.
Put that challenge on top of eating with my young family, you have to walk the line between what you know is nutritionally necessary to achieve your goals, and something that is not overboard when it comes to kids.
The biggest mistake I made was trying to be perfect with my diet. That ensures failure. Further there is no such thing as a perfect diet. There are no good or ‘bad foods’. Everything requires context. Even a bad food can be a part of a good diet if integrated correctly.
There is nothing inherintly lipogenic about certain foods. For example a diet that includes sugar when calories are controlled has shown zero difference in fat loss vs. a diet that does not have sugar when overall calories are controlled. The problem is that sugar is easy to overeat on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat it as long as you keep overall intake under control.
Most people do not understand that, and do not want to consider context. It’s easier and intellectually lazy to think in black and white terms.
Going too low carb for too long.
I think low carb diets are great for body composition improvements. However I think you can plateau with almost any nutrition strategy and low carb is no exception. Plus, if you have any performance goals, having carbs for energy can be extremely helpful.
So if you need some quick body comp improvements, hit the low carb for a few weeks then get out of it.
I can’t imagine anyone writing anything but this: I was told by “the best minds in nutrition” that my high protein and low carb diet was ruining my performance. Eating meat, fish, poultry and eggs would skyrocket my cholesterol levels. Bread was energy. Cereal for endurance! Save your kidneys with low protein.
My coach, Dick Notmeyer, preached protein as the answer to all questions. Not strong enough? More protein! Can’t throw far enough? More Protein! If a meal didn’t have a decent serving of protein, send it back and start again.
Dick was vehemently anti-steroids (and all drugs) and promised the same gains with extra protein that the druggies were getting in weeka, save it would take us months or years. And, to quote Dick: “You’ll live longer!” Dick was, and is, always right.
It’s pretty clear now that cheap, easy carbs are one of the keys to the obesity epidemic. The body seems to know how to take fat and turn it into energy and take protein and turn it into all kinds of wonderful things. There are no essential carbs.
When I “rediscovered” low carb, my waistline came back down effortlessly. My throws actually improved and I had the best seasons of my life in my mid-40s.
So, yes, bad advice can hurt a career. I would love to have those 15-20 years back when I was grazing from carb to carb to carb and never feeling full.
Eat protein. Drink water. Eat Veggies. Take Fish Oil.
The biggest mistake I made with my nutrition was assuming healthy eating was solely about calories.
This commonly-held belief hamstrung every effort I had to eat “healthy” because I assumed keeping my calories at some arbitrary number was all it took to manage my weight and health markers.
But once I became educated about the impact of food quality on hormones which are at the heart of weight and health maintenance, it was then and only then that I came to the conclusion that calories are about as useless as a screen door on a submarine!
My biggest mistake would probably be finding ways to justify poor choices.
When you’re eating junk food and saying it’s carb loading for the next workout, it’s not going to go very well, especially if you skip the next workout.
Anything could be justified if you try hard enough, but in many instances you have to weigh the most likely outcomes of a choice and whether you’re willing to live with the negatives of poor choices.
Not eating enough healthy fats.
10 to 15 years ago, when I first started getting into lifting weights and bodybuilding, fat had a bad reputation, at least as far as I was concerned.
Like many, I mistakenly believed that eating fats made you fat.
I would err away from juicy steaks, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and eggs but think nothing of grazing on bread and pasta all day long.
Unsurprisingly, this hindered my progress considerably.
Healthy fats have a multitude of short-term and long-term benefits, from boosting your satiety to improving brain function and heart function, reducing recovery times, balancing hormone and testosterone levels, as well as expediting fat loss.
These days, my daily diet comprises two tablespoons of fish oil as well as plenty of other healthy dietary fat sources.
Society generally seems more educated on the importance of healthy fats now, but supermarket shelves are still rammed with “low-fat” products which are being marketed as healthy alternatives, and 40-something office receptionists with names like “Debbie” and “Lorraine” will continue to buy this chemically saturated guff to complement their “7 day organic tea detox” which has been sponsored by some oxygen thief from Geordie Shore.
The biggest mistake I’ve made with my nutrition was thinking I could white-knuckle my way to 100% perfect compliance.
There’s no such thing as perfect nutrition, especially when you have someone else (like a coach, expert, diet book, plan, etc)dictate what that should look like. For results, the name of the game is constancy and consistently 80% 7 days a week will always beat 4 days 100% clean and 3 days of binging.
My mantra is #moderation365: better for sanity, stress and yes, even results. Building into your eating some nutritional relief is even a compliance tool!
My biggest nutritional mistake was avoiding fat.
Years ago, when I followed the “heart-healthy” nutrition plan recommended by my doctor that limited dietary fat and cholesterol, I got fat and sick. High triglycerides, high blood sugar, and excess body fat were only some of the problems, despite the fact that I was running 30+ miles a week.
But when I abandoned conventional wisdom and started fueling with high-quality fats again – like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocado, etc. – my physique and health improved tremendously. Now maintaining low body fat and significant muscle mass very little effort (and far less cardio).
Fueling with fat rules.
My biggest mistake I made with nutrition was believing that physique was more important than health.
What I mean by this is that sometimes, in the fitness industry we sacrifice our health to look a certain way. So for example, counting calories and macros can bring success to getting us the physique we’ve always dreamed of. We look at food as calories and macros, when it’s so much more than that. It’s information for our bodies to analyze and it effects us at the cellular level.
We focus so much on how food effects our physical appearance that we forget about what it can do to our organs, our hormones, etc. So I’ve shifted my focus from counting calories and macros to making sure my food is nutrient dense and a low glycemic load so that I can try and get the best of both worlds…longevity/vitality/health
I’ll answer this question in context to helping the skinny guys out there who want to pack on their first 30+ pounds of muscle. Keep your approach extremely simple and don’t major in the minors and minor in the majors.
What are the majors? Nailing your caloric requirements and macros. If you’re under 12% body fat then a great place to start is 50% carbs, 30% protein and 20% fat. Eat a variety of protein, carb and fat sources and incorporate 1 cheat meal per day if you’re having trouble hitting your daily macros. Live by the mantra, “If you want to look solid, eat solid food” and aim for at least 4-5 whole food meals a day and limit your liquid nutrition to 1-2 meal replacement shakes per day.
The minors are meal frequency, meal timing and supplements. These don’t have a considerable impact unless you’re nailing your calories and macros 90% of the time.
Now, want to know “the real secret” to muscle growth? It’s not that sexy but here’s the truth. Never. Ever. Quit! Muscle growth is like building a house and it takes time.
When it comes to bulking up, focus on overshooting your goal ripped look by at least 20-25 pounds before you even think about fat loss, cardio and abs. Those words shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary. Until you add a substantial amount of weight to your frame, you have no business asking about those things. So, if you want to be a shredded 175lbs, bulk up until you’re 200lbs and then start your cut. Then and only then will you look dramatically different… in a great way!
When I first started following a fit lifestyle, the biggest mistake I made with nutrition was following a rigid low calorie and low carb meal plan that required me to eat small portions of food every 2.5 hours.
This left me feeling hungrier than a hostage in a hold-up situation. The problem with meal plans is that you are forced to demonize all foods that are not on the plan, which leads to an extremely unhealthy relationship with food.
For example, if I didn’t eat exactly what was outlined in my meal plan, I felt like a failure. Then I would throw in the towel and eat “wrong foods” (i.e., foods that were not on the plan) for the rest of the day. What I learned from this experience is unless you can follow the diet for the rest of your life, then the diet will fail you.
It wasn’t until I implemented my Fat Loss Fast System of intermittent fasting and flexible dieting that I was able to achieve satiety, re-establish a healthy relationship with food, and maintain a lean physique year-round.
Falling into the low carb trap!
There was a time that I was hearing so much about low carb diets that I decided to try eating as few carbohydrates as I could. As an incredibly active person, this was a huge mistake—not only did my workouts suffer, I was cranky, fuzzy headed, and constantly tired throughout the day.
Although low carb diets may work for fairly sedentary people and as a short-term fat loss strategy, they just aren’t ideal for active people or for athletes trying to constantly achieve new personal records in their training.
These days, I consider carbs like oats, quinoa, fruit, sweet potatoes, and other healthy carbs pure fuel for the body and brain!
The biggest mistake I’ve personally made with nutrition is falling into the dogmatic debate about “eat this not that” and this is “good or bad” for you. When we start to apply moral labels to the foods we eat, we enter to a whole new world of thought.
For example, if I label cheesecake as “bad”, and tell my client they should not eat it, yet they love to enjoy the occasional piece of cheesecake from time to time, then those moments of lapse can create internal tension and guilt. Guilt never does anyone any good and ultimately can lead to making further decisions that detract one from reaching their goals.
The ultimate hope with my clients (and from my own personal experience) is to develop happy, smart relationships with the foods we eat. Asking ourselves the qualifying question, “the food or drink I’m about to consume, does it bring me closer or further away from my lifestyle goals?”
Being mindful of your decision and being ok no matter what you decide.
My biggest mistake was believing that a “magic bullet” existed rather than respecting that many factors play a role in muscle gain or weight loss.
It’s never going to be just about carbs, or fats, or protein, or meal timing, or supplements…the list goes on. Good nutrition is about following a few simple principles consistently and then paying attention to how your body adjusts.
Oh yeah, and being patient with the process. Everyone wants to change their diet or macros every week. Doesn’t work that way.
The biggest mistake I made was cutting my calories WAY too low.
Being somewhat of an extremist, whenever I’d try to get leaner I’d starve myself in an attempt to accelerate the process. All this did was leave me “skinny-fat”, weak and angry.
As I got older and more experienced, I realized I didn’t have to torture myself in order to reduce bodyfat.
The biggest mistake I made early in my career is not studying the likes of Mauro Di Pasquale.
I learned very quickly after reading his material & working under Dr. Eric Serrano, that a high fat approach was much better for me. I could never get as tight as I wanted with low gly carb rotation type diet, no matter how much cardio I did, I was too insulin sensitive in my opinion.
Just like I preach, you need to educate yourself daily. I waited almost 5 years before doing so with my diet. Since then I have learned from both Dr. Eric Serrano and devised my own diet called Anabolic Fasting which has been a great success for me & my members at corygfitness.com
I was able to squat & deadlift 540 at 181 last meet. The weight manipulation I was able to utilize was unreal, cutting from 195 to 181 then lifting at 202. I then returned to my walk around weight of 192-193 by that following Monday. Understanding how big a role fats play in the overall diet really made all the difference for me.
My biggest mistake would be searching for monsters under the bed instead of acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
When I was chubbier, I used to stress about my insulin sensitivity, and whether I was “genetically carb intolerant” — which is laughable, as both my parents are lean and have eaten bread and potatoes every day for 80 years.
When I finally wrapped my head around what matters — calories, good food choices, consistency, and above all, training hard and frequently — I suddenly got lean, despite rarely eating less than 200 grams of carbs a day.
Do these simple things solves a lot of physique problems. Trust me.
My biggest mistake with nutrition early on, and I see a lot of this today, is only focusing on macronutrients, and not micronutrients. Personally, I never want to do anything that would compromise my health for the sake of increased performance.
I got too wrapped up in “the science.”
I focused so much on the research, studies, literature (whatever you want to call it) and forgot to just listen to my body. They’re both important — you can’t succeed with one and not the other — but your body is your best source of knowledge. If something makes you feel good…eat it. If something makes you feel like shit…don’t.
Listen to your body, watch it over time, and pay attention to what it’s telling you. If you’re able to stay objective with your body you’ll have no choice but to succeed.
The biggest mistake I ever made with nutrition is hoping for magic from my foods.
I spent decades trying different diets and styles of eating hoping for magic – the one combination of food or way of eating that would magically give me muscle and abs and better performance.
The truth is, I found the best results and the most freedom from accepting that their is no magic in food. Food is food, once you realize this, everything becomes a little bit easier.
Well that was pretty epic wasn’t it!
Before you close down the window for a well deserved break I want you to do 3 things…
- Make sure you book mark this page for further reference if you haven’t already done so.
- Write down one change you’re going to make to your own nutrition and make a commitment that you’ll follow through on it.
- Share this commitment with me in the comments below
I know from experience that it’s all too easy to nod along whilst reading and then take no action.