How Can Fundamentals Make You Better?
The fundamentals of anything are those things you’ll do day in and day out, countless times on your way to proficiency. Major League Baseball players take swings at a ball on a tee. NBA players shoot free throws at practice. Musicians do scales. They do these even when they’re already considered experts.
So, to answer the question in the title: are they boring? Yes and no. There are only 26 letters in our alphabet. Only 12 musical notes (any musicians out there, please feel free to correct me… nicely). Learning them doesn’t take too much time. Once you know the basics, you’ll understand how to tweak them to adjust when necessary. A new book or song doesn’t have new letters or notes, but a valuable new and unique arrangement. But without the focus on fundamentals you…
The fundamentals of fitness are proper nutrition, training, and recovery. Each is like a leg on a three-legged stool. Eat good food, maintain an appropriate energy balance with about 80% adherence. A life of deprivation is no life at all. If you eat well most of the time, that 20% allows you to have minor indulgences we all enjoy without sabotaging your progress. You want your training to be centered around compound exercises and consistent progression. The importance of rest and recovery are often understated. You need all three legs in order to have a stool that actually works.
What are the fundamentals of nutrition?
It seems like every day there’s a new piece on the “right” things to eat. The truth about fads is they’re designed to get you to click the link. Most people selling them don’t care if the information is accurate.
There are only a few fundamental blocks about nutrition. Base your diet around good, fresh food. If it’s got a ton of ingredients or preservatives, it’s not great for you. Get the best quality protein, fats and carbs you can afford. Different people have different tastes, so what works for someone else might not work best for you. People have success eating paleo, or vegetarian, or vegan, or whatever. A diet based on sugary snacks or fast food is not going to be optimal (you already know that, don’t you?). But remember, you don’t have to be perfect. Shoot for the 80% adherence and don’t sweat the rest.
I’m being intentionally vague here. This is about principles. You have to figure out what specifically works best for your situation.
That’s what to eat, but how do you know how much? This depends on a few things. If you’re trying to stay the same weight, you want to eat at maintenance level. Maintenance level calories just means you eat the same amount of calories as your burn. You know you’re doing this if your weight on the scale is relatively consistent over time. There will be some fluctuations day-to-day which don’t really mean much. They’re likely due to water retention.
If your clothes are fitting tighter and the number on the scale is going up, that means you are in a calorie surplus. You are taking in more calories than you are burning. If this is what you want, good. But what if it isn’t?
If you’re trying to lose fat, you will need to be in a calorie deficit. This is when you burn more calories than you eat. The best long-term strategy is to have a moderate deficit. Figure out what your maintenance calories are and subtract 10-25%. The remainder is the amount you should eat. The smaller the deficit, the easier it will be to sustain the process. A large deficit will leave you feeling more tired and more hungry than you need to be, which makes bingeing more likely and without the lasting results you want.
Important note: Carbs are healthy. Fats are healthy. Protein is healthy. Many in the health and fitness industry like to demonize one of these three macronutrients.
Broadly speaking: Carbohydrates give us easy-to-use energy. Eating fats allows our bodies to better function hormonally. Consuming protein gives our bodies the necessary building blocks for muscle and other necessary tissue.
You want to consume all three macronutrients for better health.
But how much? For protein aim for about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So a person weighing 150 lbs. Should have around 150 grams of protein per day. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so 150 grams yields 600 calories in this example. For you, take your number of calories of protein per day from the total number of daily calories. This gives you the remainder calories for the day which you split between carbs and fats in the most satisfying way for you personally.
What are the fundamentals of training?
The most important thing is to find something you like to do. Even if there were an ideal training program (which there isn’t), if you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to do it. Maybe you’d do it for a while but eventually you’d quit. So, again, find something you like doing and do it consistently. Whether it’s hiking, walking, recreational sports, swimming, whatever, have fun. If your goal is overall health, this is all you need.
If your goals include increasing strength or reshaping your body, I would recommend some sort of weight training. There’s a wide variety of modalities to choose from so I’m confident there’s something you’ll like. Bodyweight training, weightlifting, or yoga are a few examples.
Whichever you choose, get proficient with the basic movements. I can’t say this enough: use proper form. Use proper form. Use proper form. Seek continual gradual progression. For bodyweight movement or yoga this will likely involve more complicated positions. For weight training it’s using increasingly heavy weights. Compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, and presses are fundamental movements.
When you first start any program, just the fact that you are learning something new will cause improvement. Your body will soon adjust and you will stall. This is why consistent gradual progression is so important. It’s how you keep getting better.
What are the fundamentals of rest and recovery?
Rest and recovery may sound like the time when not a lot is happening. But it’s a vital aspect that’s easy to neglect. Your body needs time to repair. If you’ll indulge an imperfect metaphor comparing your body to a race car: the nutrition is the fuel that allows the training, which is speeding the car along the track. The rest and recovery is the time spent in the garage where the maintenance crew makes repairs and adjustments so that the car can go faster, longer the next time.
Getting the right amount of sleep will better allow your body to repair itself. The saying, you don’t get stronger in the gym, you get stronger in your sleep is accurate. You have to give your body a chance to use the nutrients in your food to rebuild you from the inside. For most of us this means about 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night. You probably won’t feel the effects of a lack one night, but it compounds quickly if you make it a habit. You’ll be more likely to get sick. It will be harder to concentrate, you’ll make more mistakes at work. You’ll be more prone to make bad decisions.
As it’s important to be consistent with your food and your training, it also matters when it comes to rest. Try to maintain a set schedule. Obviously there will be times when you have to stay up later or wake up earlier. Again, if you shoot for 80% you’ll be good.
Good food, energy balance. Solid training striving for progression over time. Rest and recovery. Over and over again. These will get you where you want to go.
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