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Training for the average gym-goer

podcast transcript Nov 08, 2019

Training For The Average Gym-Goer

Luke Tulloch


The article below is adapted from a podcast episode transcript, so please forgive any spelling or continuity errors. You can listen below:




What I want to talk about is the primary considerations for training the general population client because as much as we enjoy thinking that we are coaches to great athletes and physique competitors and that kind of thing as trainers, the reality is that most of the people we see are going to be your average Joes.

And certainly some of them will be pretty athletic and certainly a lot of them will be in great shape and have lofty goals, but at the end of the day, many of them are simply in there to do their best with what they've got, which might not be much.

Now when we're thinking about training the general population client, what underscores everything is probably what you're going to anticipate me saying is that compliance, adherence, consistency is above all else. This is the number one thing, and to be honest, that applies for advanced people and athletes too.

The difference is with the general population is that they don't have that hard extrinsic motivator that is forcing them to be there consistently because the income is not necessarily tied to their physique. Their athletic endeavor is obviously not necessarily tied to their physique and more often than not they're trying to fit training and nutrition into their lifestyle rather than making their lifestyle about the nutrition and training like a professional athlete would.

The implications for this is that even though we may come up with some factors in research or best practice that is seen to be ideal or optimal for the best results, it's often a case of just trying to match that as much as possible to the individual. I'll give you an example.

If I have someone come in to see me and we want to make some changes to their diet, if they tell me that they only eat twice a day, the first thing I'm going to do is absolutely not to tell them to start eating four or five times a day because straight away, that's gonna start putting pressure on them. Too much friction for them to actually adhere to that consistently. So my first move might be to stick with the two meals a day and simply focus on getting in enough protein, enough vegetables, and enough overall energy for whatever their goal is.

From there, you can start on making those changes that might lead to more optimality. So, for example, I personally believe that if you want to maximize muscle gain, you need as many anabolic opportunities as you can find during the day, and therefore I think at least three meals a day is probably optimal for gaining muscle mass.

And so in that case, my next move might be to start moving people more towards the meal frequency side of things. With this approach, we're always looking to find those points of friction and to reduce them as much as possible, especially in the early stages when the client is still getting used to whatever you're asking them to do, they're still learning. They're learning your personality, learning to trust in what you're telling them.

Now with that said, there are still some keys in terms of what matters most for nutrition, what matters most for seeing results in the gym from a strength and muscle growth perspective.

We cannot ignore those. And certainly it doesn't mean that whatever they do, as long as they're consistent with it, they will get the best possible results - that's certainly not the case, although it plays a really big part in it.

So if we're talking about the nutrition side of things, there are some things that matter a lot more than others, and I think most people should start by looking at energy balance, no matter what.

The energy balance scenario does not mean that you necessarily have to be counting calories by using a scale and entering things into an app or something like that. It does mean, though, that you need some form of portion control and that can take a variety of forms. It could take simply writing foods a down in a food diary as you eat them without weighing them. It could simply be taking pictures of your food as you eat them.

It could be using the precision nutrition model where you use your hands to estimate portion sizes of various foods. And so it means that there are multiple ways of tracking food intake and portion sizes with the end goal being controlling the amount of energy coming in.

Fundamentally, this has taken care of or your client is not going to get results or they're not going to get optimal results by any stretch. So this means that we need to find the lowest point of friction for the individual in front of you. Certainly for some individuals who have that personality type, tracking everything and being told exactly how much to eat may be the best way to go. There's certainly people I've worked with who have that personality type and I work quite well with that way of doing things. But by the same token, there are many more people out there who do a lot better with a much lower friction approach.

And so something like taking pictures of their food or writing down what is in their meals each time they eat can be a really good way of addressing this because it gives them mindfulness over what they are putting in their mouth. And I find for many clients, this is enough to actually make them start eating less and losing weight without really doing anything too difficult in terms of tracking their food using this method. They don't even need to know what a carb is. They don't need know what protein or fat is. They can simply have a look at what they're eating and make a decision and most people tend to know what stuff is maybe not so healthy for them or is particularly energy dense. And so I find that this form of mindfulness is a really low friction way of getting compliance, consistency and adherence from your client.

From the general population standpoint: The next most important thing to think about are macronutrient ratios, and certainly protein is the number one most important macronutrient here. The reason why is because most people tend to under eat protein and we have plenty of data showing that whether you are trying to gain muscle or lose fat, your body composition changes are optimized with higher protein intakes.

You tend to lose more fat and gain more muscle or at least retain more muscle in a fat loss phase if you're eating enough protein. I think most of you probably know that, but it is really important that the client understands that as well. Usually as a trainer, we don't do the best job of explaining those basic things to clients who have never come across this information before. And so I think making that really clear to the client is another way of guaranteeing adherence and consistency.

As far as the other macronutrients go: carbohydrate, fat and alcohol. Alcohol is something that most people can have as part of their diet, but obviously it's very easy to binge with. So I'll talk mostly about carbohydrate and fat. The ratios of this I think should come down to personal preference for the client. Now certainly for myself, I feel much happier eating more carbohydrate. My wife's a little bit different and tends to gravitate more towards fat. So she's really happy having a lot of butter on things. She loves cream and sour cream and that kind of stuff. And for me personally, I tend to gravitate towards sweetest stuff. So I like a fruit a lot more. I tend to like muesli a lot more bread, that kind of thing. And using these types of foods and understanding what your client prefers rather than what you prefer them to have is a great way of making sure that they still have some stuff from their diet that they enjoy.

And that means that you're going to guarantee their compliance and consistency. I do think there's some evidence that there are people who respond genetically better to a higher fat diet or a lower fat diet, higher carb diet, lower carb diet. However, as a trainer with a client in front of you, it's not really up to you to make that sort of decision. We don't have the tools yet with genetics to actually do this on an individual scale yet, although that will probably come pretty soon in the future. So for now, my advice in this realm is basically to go off of client preference and I think you'll probably find that most people will earn a little bit more towards either fat or carbohydrate, but most people will probably end up being at a moderate level of both of those. So the sort of classic 30, 30, 40 (percent) split between protein, fat and carbs is probably pretty close for most people and it makes it quite comfortable.

It means you don't have to necessarily go hunting for a lot of the low fat stuff that you don't go over your fat allotment. It doesn't mean that you have to seek out really a carb dense foods that are quite lean. For example, once you've got all that stuff sorted, it really comes down to, again, sticking mostly to client preference.

After that, I like to think more about food quality. So where are those those macro nutrients coming from? Are the carbohydrates going to be simple carbohydrates or complex carbohydrates? And this is really where most of our health concerns come in. You can get really lean eating KFC. I've seen people do it just because they stick to the energy balance equation and they get the macronutrients more or less, right? However, that's not a path to great health. So fat composition, carbohydrate composition and the source of your protein can start to matter after you've got everything prior to this sorted out.

I tend to prefer having as little saturated fat as possible because most people will naturally get quite a lot of saturated fat out of their diet, especially if it's heavy in proteins such as dairy and animal proteins. And so getting some plant fats, the monounsaturated polyunsaturated fats is really of a lot of importance for most people's health. That means focusing on things like olive oil and other plant oils, for example, focusing on things like nuts, although those can be really easy to overeat, so you'd just be careful based on the person and focusing primarily on those things and not going too much towards the butter, the coconut oil and that kind of stuff, which has tended to be a little bit more in Vogue lately in the industry. And certainly we can't talk about this without talking about fiber as well.

So fiber and resistant starch is really important for health and therefore I think trying to have most of your carbohydrate coming from things like fruits, vegetables, and starchy sources is ideal. But generally what I tend to do is allow a certain amount of food to come from "junk sources". Whether that's just sort of really sugary sources or you know, whatever the client wants. There is research showing that if you have part of your diet a be a personal choice where you have a bit of wiggle room to do what you like, you get better adherence to the diet. So having something like 10 or 15% of overall food intake, being completely up to the clients' choice is a really, really good idea to guarantee compliance and consistency.

Following on from that, we like to look at meal frequency, how many meals they have during the day and how a spaced apart  those meals are, and also where you're positioning those macro nutrients around training and sleep and things like that.

Now for most people, this doesn't really matter much at all. Like I said before, I'm pretty happy if people wanting to try and maintain or a focus on their muscle mass as much as possible to simply eat three times during the day and get in enough protein and enough energy and that will be it really if you really want it to optimize things, I think having somewhere between three to six meals a day is really ideal for muscle gain. Going more than that has some implications for how often we can actually stimulate protein synthesis from a chemical signal in the muscle. Going fewer than that, like I said before, limits your anabolic opportunities. There's just not that many opportunities for you to signal to the muscle to grow if you go on a really low eating frequency.

Having said that, for some clients, something like intermittent fasting protocol can be really helpful for portion control. So I certainly wouldn't completely rule that out. And again, I think catering to the client's needs in that regard is a really important thing to do. I've certainly had a lot of clients who have had a lot of success controlling the hunger and satiety by simply fasting until mid morning or lunchtime and then only eating two large meals for the rest of the day. And I really think that because it's allowed them to control their energy intake that's overall giving them the best possible results, whereas it might've been very difficult for them to stick to that foundational pillar of managing the energy balance if they hadn't done the fasting. So you've got to obviously cater to the client in front of you and their personality and what they find works for them.

So you might have noticed by now I haven't mentioned supplements once and that's for a very good reason. Some of the supplements I personally use are protein powders to help people hit the protein targets. This can be quite handy for people who are very busy or for people who train first thing in the morning and don't feel like eating or for vegans who find it difficult to get enough protein. I also use creatine. I think that has a really good track record and is useful for everybody in every situation. Aside from that, I don't think there's a lot of supplements that do a whole lot. Taking something like a multivitamin just to cover your bases may be a good idea, especially for vegans. Having something like a fiber supplement can be helpful for some people who find it difficult to eat enough fiber.

But I would say that's more an issue of their diet than anything else. And finally, I think having something like a fish oil or an Omega three supplement if you don't eat much fish would be a really good idea for most people too. Aside from that, I don't think there are very many valuable supplements. Probably the only other one I would choose is something like melatonin to help with sleep, but we'll do a separate podcast on that.

Supplements are often a waste of time and money. And I would rather spend the time, money, the effort into getting a better diet. Basically, if I'm spending $40 or $50 a week on supplements, I'd rather turn that into better quality foods, to be perfectly honest. Now on the training side of things, for the general population I don't think there's a whole lot to be said here other than you need to make sure that your client enjoys what they're doing so that they keep coming back.

I think that's pretty obvious. You also need to do enough for them that they're actually getting an adaptation. I think there are too many people out there that are just unable to push themselves through discomfort barrier to actually get much of a gain. Remember, we're in the gym because we're trying to create an adaptation, so there needs to be some kind of stress to adapt to. Otherwise you're kind of wasting your time in the gym.

Now there are hundreds and thousands of different ways you can program for people to make sure that they are getting the health benefits. I would have a mixture of resistance and aerobic training for ultimate benefits, but again, we're trying to make sure that people basically do their exercise no matter what it is, so I'm not going to speak too much on that. One point I do want to make is that general activity is probably the most overlooked thing on the planet as far as benefiting your health.

General activity means that you should not be training super hard for 45 minutes and then sitting on your ass for the rest of the day. We have a lot of things that happen when we move around, so if you have mobility issues, guess what? It's probably because you're in the same posture all the time. There is no such thing as a bad posture. There's only such thing as a posture you spend too long in. Secondly, for blood glucose control, insulin sensitivity, you don't necessarily need to make someone eat low carb and take diabetic medication if you simply have them get up and move around more often throughout the day, you get plenty of benefit of blood glucose mobilization and use. This is a really great trick to improve insulin sensitivity. If you're sitting at a desk, all you need to do is stand up and remain standing for a couple of minutes and your blood glucose mobilization goes up because all of a sudden your muscles are having to work a little bit.

And finally, NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Unplanned exercise is super important. Now I know a lot of coaches are prescribed step counts every day for their clients and I think this is a really good way to go. When we're programming for the general population, one of the biggest things they need is general movement because it helps with energy expenditure, blood glucose mobilization etc, improves the mobility, but at the same time they also need stress relief. Now, if they come into the gym and the training really hard and adding another stress on top of things, they probably are getting some health benefits, but at the same time, shouldn't we be doing something to help mitigate their stress that they feel in the modern world? I think something as simple as a 20 minute walk outdoors is unbelievably helpful for mental health. Plus you start to get your steps up.

So we get greater energy expenditure and blood glucose mobilization, like I said. And so the client generally feels better, sleeps better, has greater mental health, and this is a really important part of training in the gym. As well as keeping their exercise activity up outside of the gym. It's such a massive part of health. I think as trainers, is that something that we really need to encourage and keep on top of and help provide accountability to the clients are about.

So when you're talking about training with your clients, whatever you end up doing with them, make sure it's something that they enjoy that they can stick to. But I would also emphasize that they should be moving as much as possible. This helps a lot with people who have pain from injuries as well, by the way. It helps with their mental health, it helps with general health, with energy expenditure and all the big pillars of their nutrition.

I don't think there's too much else to talk about as far as gender general population goes. I mean we could easily go into all of the nuance of training all of the science that's out there on everything and I will do so in future podcast episodes.

I guess the underlying theme of this entire thing has been adherence, compliance, consistency making sure that your catering to the client and reducing friction points, but at the same time you are the boss. You're, they're paying you to tell them what to do and you do have to make sure that you play your role in that sense though. All right, that will finish us up today.

Thanks for reading,


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