The most common question I get regarding nutrition from people struggling to achieve their fitness goals is “What can I take to _______ [fill in the blank with get bigger, get stronger, lose weight, etc.]?” Others ask “what should I eat?” Those asking the latter are at least on the right track. My first response to either question relates to what the person’s current diet looks like as getting the proper nutritional foundation is essential regardless of one’s goals and must be solidly in place before any form of supplementation will help. Supplements are just that – intended to supplement a proper nutritional base from food.

Commonly, I hear things like “I eat really well but it doesn’t work” or “I eat a ton of food, but just can’t gain any muscle” (the old fast metabolism excuse). Well, what constitutes eating well and what amounts to a ton of food is a question of fact. Usually by taking 2 minutes to walk through a typical day of eating for an individual, the nutritional gaps instantly become evident. In some cases I will have people track everything they consume for 1-2 weeks to more fully analyze their eating habits. This process is often a humbling and revealing experience even for those who think they eat well.

So what comprises a proper nutritional foundation? This varies from individual-to-individual depending upon a number of variables including metabolism, activity levels and individual goals. For the purposes of this article, I will address the basic components and outline some general guidelines.

Eat Smaller, Frequent Meals

Most of us have heard this one over and over, yet many still do not put it into practice. Five to six small meals spaced 2 to 3 1/2 hours apart is what most should strive for on average for general health. Those trying to increase lean mass and hard training athletes may require additional meals – as many as 8 to 10. This may sound like a difficult feat for those used to three squares a day, but it’s easier than it sounds. It just takes planning and practice.

Planning and preparing meals ahead of time is critical. Preparing meals in advance and taking them with you in storage containers will help you avoid missing meals or reverting to less than optimal choices. Getting the next day’s meals ready the night before rather than rushing around in the morning is a good habit to develop. Selecting a couple of days out of the week to cook enough food to last for a few days is another great way to ensure you are always prepared. Of course, there are times when fast food will have to fit the bill. Most restaurants – even fast food chains – have healthier choices. Making the proper choices at these times is the key to staying on track.

Eating frequent meals ensures the body is continuously provided with fuel and nutrients for repair and recovery. I like to recommend alternating solid food meals with smaller snacks or protein shakes throughout the day. Since liquid meals like protein shakes are digested and absorbed relatively quickly and solid food more slowly, alternating them provides a sustained release of nutrients into the bloodstream. Not to mention the ease and convenience of preparing a shake. Okay, so shakes are technically a supplement, but they are an invaluable source of quick, convenient nutrition from which everyone can benefit, especially when time or travel is an issue. For these reasons, I consider a quality protein powder (whey protein isolate preferred) essential to a complete nutritional foundation.

Kevin Ferrell, CA, CFT

Professional Health and Wellness Coach

Team Canada Bodybuilder

Co-founder, CRE8iON Fitness & Wellness Inc.