Does the Training Determine the Diet or the Diet Determing the Training?
As much as I would rather continue talking about my dogs and the Austin Humane Shelter, I suppose it’s time to get back to writing about nutrition, training, fat loss and all of the rest. I’ll note that I do have a surprise coming up and I’ve added a permanent page for the Austin Humane Shelter to the site.
But between writing about my own training in Methods of Endurance Training: Results Part 5 and Methods of Endurance Training: Results Part 6 before the series on Volunteering at the Austin Humane Shelter, it seems like utterly forever since I’ve written about anything related to fat loss. And since I always gotta move that product, that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
And since I’m a bit emotionally exhausted from the last week and a half of updates about the dogs, I’m actually going to try to keep this a bit short. The question I want to address today is this: Does the diet determine the training or does the training determine the diet? This isn’t really a direct question that comes up anywhere, but it is ultimately an issue that needs addressing as I hope you’ll soon see.
This is a situation that I usually refer to as square peg/round hole problems. And by ‘I refer’ I mean this: I stole this concept from someone years ago and want to sound impressive by making it sound like I invented it. Anyhow. The basic issue is when you try to force an, err, issue. That is, when you try to ‘make’ something work in a situation that it’s not suited for. There are lots of these but here I’m focusing on diet.
When Does the Training Determine the Diet?
Many readers are familiar with my own Ultimate Diet 2.0 (UD2). It’s a very specific, meticulously laid out diet incorporating three types of training (depletion, tension, power as discussed in Categories of Weight Training) and which is synched with three types of eating (low carb, very high carb, moderate carb).
And it works. But it only really works when you follow it as laid out (I did give some variations for endurance types or powerlifters). And invariably someone comes along who is involved with a specific sport (not bodybuilding or pure physique stuff) who tries to shoehorn their training (which is usually being set by a coach) into the UD2 structure.
At an even more vague level are folks who want to do UD2 but who’s schedule won’t allow it. They can’t follow the ideal Mon/Tue/Thu/Sat schedule (which can be modded to Mon/Tue/Thu/Fri) or can’t consistently get one of the workouts in. And it fails to work since it only works as laid out.
Another example is that of my Rapid Fat Loss Handbook (RFL) which, due to its extreme nature, requires that training be severely curtailed. It allows for two to three short weight workouts and, at most, a small amount of low intensity cardio. And invariably, again, athletes or folks who need/want to do more weight work and/or high intensity conditioning work want to follow it.
And when they come to the support forum and ask me how to mod either diet to fit their situation they invariably get the same answer from me: pick a different diet.
Because what they are doing is trying to make an approach (either UD2 or RFL) fit into a situation that it’s not set up for. They are trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Either they have to do certain types of training (which makes UD2 unworkable) or they have to do high-intensity or high-volume conditioning (which RFL can’t support).
I’d note that usually in these situations the volumes and/intensities of training being done in the first place not only require fairly moderate dietary deficits but a goodly amount of carbohydrate intake; folks doing that much training shouldn’t need any heroic approaches to losing fat unless they got way out of shape in their off-season. Trying to use any extreme approach is a mistake under these circumstances; much less ones as specific or brutal as UD2 and RFL respectively.
In that situation, the training has to determine the diet. Either the training that they have to do, or want to do, or simply can do. Diets that specify training be done in certain ways on certain days simply don’t fit (they are a square peg/round hole issue).
So I now only tell them to pick another diet but point them to one of the more flexible approaches that are described on the diet. Either what’s laid out in Fundamentals of Fat Loss Diets (for non-athletes) or Fat Loss for Athletes (err, for athletes).
In situations like this, the training determines the diet. You simply can’t shoehorn the wrong diet approach (or often a tremendously specific diet approach) into the training structure. Well you can try but it always backfires.
When Does the Diet Determine the Training?
And basically if you reverse the above situation, you can understand the heading of this section. As noted, UD2 is a specific diet with specific training and eating on specific days. And it’s set up so as to be an integrated system. Not only does the training set up the diet, the diet mandates the training. I often see people who want to use one without the other and it just doesn’t work that way.
RFL is actually a better example of this situation. The nature of RFL is that it can’t support lots of training (the work is done through the caloric deficit) of any type. As noted above, 2-3 short weight workouts are mandatory (to avoid muscle loss) but cardio can only be used in small amounts; quite in fact, large amounts of cardio tend to hamper results as I discussed in Why Big Caloric Deficits and Lots of Activity Can Hurt Fat Loss.
In fact, and this is a rant I’m going to save for another article entirely, the biggest mistake people make with RFL is not listening to my mandate not to do too much cardio. They do it anyhow and screw it up and then bitch that my diet didn’t work. Again, another rant for another day.
But the point is this, the extremeness (is too a word) of RFL very much determines the types of training that can or should be done. UD2 is like this in a slightly different way but hopefully you got my point.
Even approaches like Martin’s Leangains, to some degree, mandate the type (or at least global approach to training). In his baseline setup, with alternating higher and lower calorie days, you end up with a situation where you ideally lift three times per week (on alternate days). Someone who must or who simply wants to train differently can run into problems trying to apply his specific approach.
Update: I’d note that, in other situations, a lifting frequency of twice/week or four/times per week might be used; I don’t want people to think I said that his training is set in stone at three days/week. But my point still basically holds, if the diet approach mandates a certain frequency of training and not the other way around.
In a more general sense, as I discussed in Comparing the Diets, low-carbohydrate diets tend to do a poor job of supporting high-intensity training. There are modifications like TKD’s and CKD’s that can be used but the standard low-carb diet is a bad fit. The diet determines what training can and can’t be done.
Basically, in these (and other situations) the diet determines the training. That is, the specific nature of the diet determines what types of training is and is not allowed or workable.
And that’s really all there is to today’s article. There are certain circumstances, those where training is either specific or set and can’t be changed, or where someone wants (or needs) to do certain things that can’t be supported by (usually specific) dieting approaches. The training has to determine the diet and you can’t shoehorn the training into a diet that won’t work.
And in other cases, specific dietary approaches, for whatever reason (the degree of deficit, the layout of the diet, the macronutrient composition) mandate what types of training should or even can be done. In those cases, the diets determine the training. And trying to deviate from what the diet can support or require leads to problems.
So before you start trying to follow any diet, you need to figure out which situation you’re in and answer the question for yourself: Does my current training determine what diet I can/should do, or does the diet I want to follow determine the training I can or cannot do? Start from there and stop trying to put a square peg into a round hole. It works better.