A new diet fad seems to pop up every week, making the world of nutrition a maze that can seem to many to be impossible to navigate. But you don't need a degree in molecular biochemistry in order to figure out how to lose weight and build muscle - here's the straight story on what "good nutrition" is.
1. Good Nutrition = Energy Balance
If you restrict your caloric intake for a prolonged period, yes, you'll burn off fat. But you'll also reduce your lean body mass. That's why people that are after a set of killer abs sometimes just start looking smaller, even if leaner.
As I've said many times, diet and exercise work hand in hand, whether you're trying to lose fat or build muscle. But it's important to realize that besides those two important elements, there's a third - the interaction between the two, relating to energy balance.
In short, your program must be carefully choreographed, eating the right foods at the right time in the right quantity, while doing the right amount of the right exercises. WHEW! That's a lot to get right, isn't it?
2. Good Nutrition must Provide Nutrient Density
First of all, let's be honest... it's virtually impossible to follow a strict diet 100% of the time. But occasional minor departures won't have a lot of detrimental effect. On the other side of that coin, though, occasionally eating the right foods won't have the effect you want, either.
That's where most people go wrong, from what I've seen - they assume that calories are calories, regardless where they come from. That is SO wrong!
Be realistic - do you really think that 500 calories of spinach or some other green is going to have the same effect on your system as 500 calories of pizza? Anybody that tells you it's the same is either lying to you or is an idiot.
3. Good Nutrition can Deliver Body Composition Goals, Health and Performance Goals
Those first two should be fairly obvious to everyone, but the third one often doesn't receive the recognition it deserves. And believe me, it's important!
If you're working out like a fiend, but you don't find your performance improving significantly from week to week, your problem is most likely a lack of the right nutrition.
Sure, you may be burning off fat, hitting your body fat target. You're lean and mean, but your plateau doesn't seem to be moving. Why? Because you're tearing down muscle tissue but not getting the right nutrition to build those muscles up.
To make it plainer... if you eat junk nutrition, you can expect to get a junk body. About 70% of your results come from your nutrition, so if you're short-changing yourself there, you can't very well expect to get the results you want.
4. Good Nutrition Brings Goals and Outcome Together
Everything else I've said here, you may have already known, but let me explain what I mean here. If I ask you if you have the body you want, most of you will probably answer no, if you're being honest with yourself. At some level, most of us want to improve some aspect of our appearance or performance.
Assuming you said no, then I would tell you to focus your diet choices on your goals. By "focus" I mean laser-focus! Make your goal a hard and fast target, and your diet a hard and fast path to hitting that target. If you're slack on your diet, that goal will keep slipping further and further away.
As an example, I have taken my own pre-packaged meal with me to a wedding. Trust me when I say that when an Italian does that, at an Italian wedding, it shows COMMITMENT! (It also raises a lot of eyebrows) But I don't care, because I have a goal, and going to that wedding just got me a step closer, rather than setting me three or four steps back.
Make your nutrition your number one priority. Missing a day of workouts may slow your progress a little... missing the nutrition target can set you back... WAY back.
5. Focus on Sustainable Nutrition
Don't fall into the trap of looking for a "quick fix" solution. There are tons of fad diets out there on the Internet that can supposedly help achieve this or that, but they're based on extremes, and they can't be sustained. You may show some results, but poor nutrition won't give sustainable long-term results.
You've already heard, and probably practiced, the basics on how to achieve great health and a rockin' body - eat sparingly and often, cut down on sugar, eat lots of greens, etc. We've been taught some of that since grade school.