The "Jaws" reference above is the first thing that came to mind when I thought about being prepared for your nutrition or training goals. It's easy to get a new program started. It's exciting, you're gung-ho and any future issues are just some distant speck on the horizon.
Then it's deep water and a giant shark is attacking your plans.
Unless your goals are "run two miles" or "start eating breakfast", most real, life-changing endeavors will take more than a month. I am constantly amazed when people will tell me they haven't been training for 4 years yet their goal is to complete a marathon in the next 6 months. How about going for a walk? How about learning to squat? Nope, some people want to run 5,000 steps after literally doing nothing for months or years. Hello sore knees, back and neck.
Rant: First, if you love running, run. But this persistent belief that running is the way to reach your physique goals just baffles me. I get it, you can literally get up off your couch and run out the door: instant exercise. However, there are better ways, much better ways.
In the same vein, I am often approached with questions on how to improve diet. Someone wants to lose 30 pounds in one month, when a peek at their food journal reveals fast food, ultra-low protein, low water intake and almost zero omega-3s. My experience tells me simply adding some fish oil and getting them to eat any protein source at breakfast will get them moving. Often this person already has their under-sized boat packed to the gills with ideas, aspirations and unrealistic goals that the hull simply can't support. You're gonna need a bigger boat!
Since my goal is NEVER failure, I often try to rein people in from the start. If you start slow, heck, start easy, it's going to be much more likely to continue success for weeks and months to come. Which leads me to my next point:
A Month Is Not Enough
Whatever your goal is, just accept right now it's going to take longer than one month. I'll be completely up-front here and say all my nutrition clients who work with me past the first month see success that simply cannot be attained in 4 weeks. Not only does it take time to to build habits, accomplish goals, measure success and adjust your plan based on these things, it takes consistent effort.
Nerd Alert: Even the physics equation for Work = Force x Distance can be related here. Consider Force as how much effort you're putting in and Distance as the time commitment you make and Work as the results you achieve.
Then Results = Effort x Time.
So often I see all the effort with none of the time. It's the moment when Roy Scheider spots the great white and realizes they aren't prepared for it. The length and scope of the undertaking was grossly under-estimated and it can be a daunting discovery. You're gonna need a bigger boat!
Killing a Giant Shark
There are usually two things that happen in the first month. The first is what we discussed above; it takes almost a month for habits to be built and maintained consistently and the fruit of your labor isn't seen until 5-6 weeks in. The second thing is that you'll see results the first week or two and then find that effort is not sustainable. Either way, preparation is the key to success. You won't spear a shark from a dinghy.
Here are some things to ask yourself:
1. What's my starting point? Am I already eating whole protein at each meal, hydrating, eating lots of vegetables and exercising? Or am I skipping breakfast, eating a burger at lunch and drinking a 6-pack while I watch TV at night?
2. What's my goal? Listen we ALL want to be Arnold. We can say we don't but really if we woke up jacked and lean tomorrow it would be pretty sweet. Plus you would have way more opportunities to yell "get to the chopper!". However, genetics, exercise and diet history, finances, family, work etc all make our goals somewhat more limited. It doesn't mean you can't achieve a 7% bodyfat or 500 pound squat but it just might take more time than the wealthy, personally trained actor, in excellent lighting, with oil, a shaved body and photoshop to make them look great.
3. What habits to I need to build? A goal is great. But a goal is not a habit, it is not the thing you practice and implement to reach success. It is an idea, an aspiration. A habit is always buying vegetables when you go to the grocery store. It is chewing your food 20 times. It is following your training plan. It is implemented for MORE than one month.
4. Am I prepared? Do you have the time, finances, energy to expend to accomplish this goal? You want to cook all your meals but all you own is a microwave. I am sure Men's Health has some print-out for people like this but it isn't realistic. Maybe lets buy an electric skillet first, or a grill? Have you been only exercising once a week? Is going to 5 times a week smart? First off, it is a lot of money to spend from the get-go and you'll likely be too sore and under-recovered to make all your sessions. Enter fatigue, burnout, lack of motivation.
Change Happens Without Us Knowing
One client of mine, Jessie started working with me at least 6 months ago. When we started she was doing elevated barbell pushups, with the elevation quite high. She told me she was serious and committed to her training so I thought about the immediate goals but also long-term. I knew we could inch the barbell down a bit every week. When she got almost to the ground we worked on isometrics and eccentrics. We then worked in some band-assisted pushups. Next we did one or two sets around that per week on the ground, for just a few reps after her band work. Here we are 6 months or so later and she is doing pushups for reps with 20lbs. of chain on her back.
Imagine if I had her start with pushups with chains or even just pushups from the ground. Not only would she have not been able to do them but her motivation and excitement to train would have quickly been squashed. I always operate incrementally, it's just how I work. Just another 5lbs on the bar, you'll barely notice it's there. Just drop 20 grams of carbohydrates from your diet this week, you won't even miss it. Two glasses of wine to one and a half.
Jessie hadn't even thought about how far she had come until another trainee came back in for group training and said she last time she saw Jessie she was doing elevated pushups. Change happens because effort was expended and time was taken, the rest took care of itself.
On the flip side, I have guaranteed another client (seriously) that in 4 weeks I could get her to do multiple bodyweight pullups. She was able to do them in three weeks. Her starting point, however was already past the beginner's phase. She has an athletic background, decent muscle mass and an athlete's focus. For her, I could make such short-term goals. The difference between her and an absolute beginner's realistic goals I could find by asking myself the questions posed above.
What matters is that you are closer to your goal than you were 6 months ago. Not yesterday, not last week and maybe not even last month. I wrote before about making incremental changes to diet. Christa, my boss, is another great example. She asked for help leaning out after having her third child. All we did was up her carbohydrates to support training but lower her fat to keep calories in check. She did this, found her training was better, found it was easier to lose fat and then just kept implementing it for a few months. With some very minor and common sense changes along the way she continued to make success and a few months later she is quite lean. We didn't even continue to drop calories much or add more and more exercise. Instead she just stuck with the plan. She packed for the long haul and it paid off.
You won't always be able to make one or two changes and expect that to achieve all your goals, but I ask if you gave them the chance to run their course? Even steroids don't work that way. I laugh to myself thinking of the Workaholics episode where one of the characters injects testosterone and his eyes bug out and he becomes enrage within seconds. He throws a Dungeons and Dragons nerd through a window. It's funny but not true.
Even taking testosterone won't immediately get you physique altering results. Yet we expect that adding a 3 mile run or eating 30 grams more protein to do just that within days or weeks.
Real life conversation:
Person: I've been doing EVERYTHING right and not getting any results!
Me: How long have you been eating well and exercising?
Person: Two weeks.
Me: How long have you been eating poorly and NOT exercising?
Person: 8 years
Me: Slaps forehead, mutters, "You're gonna need a bigger boat!"
Whatever you decide you goal is, make sure you are prepared for the journey. Do you have the time, resources, experience, support and drive to make it all the way? I think anyone can achieve their goal, but it is the work along the way that scares us off or the obstacles we weren't prepared for that send us back in search of a better game plan. Realize that any physique and fitness goal is going to require energy and focus in all of the following areas:
1. Nutrition - This doesn't mean just eating healthy but shopping, cooking, packing lunches and dinners and eating it all before it goes bad. All of a sudden "eating well" becomes more than ONE simple goal.
2. Exercise - Cardio or weights? Crossfit or Zumba? Sprinting or walking? You've got to find a gym or if you already have one, implement a smart training plan. Do you know how much exercise is enough, too much?
3. Recovery - Sleep. If you want to achieve ANY goal, please sleep. Then there is foam rolling, a good warmup, stretching, vitamins, minerals, herbs etc to help recovery. Do you need any of these? Does your goal require lots of recovery or just a little?
4. Finances - Maybe joining 24 hour fitness is actually a good start if you can only afford $20 a month.
5. Time - Do you have the time to train for that marathon. Two or three short weight or circuit training sessions a week might actually be the best start. Some may also just need to invest in a protein powder first to boost protein intake if time is severely limited.
6. Motivation - Will just taking your fish oil and multivitamin every day feel like a win or do you need to be deadlifting a house every time you step foot into the gym to be successful? Find the habits that make you feel accomplished and proud and use those as your motivation.
Ultimately, I think considering the scope of your endeavor is great but I realize we don't always know where we're going or have an exact plan. Things change, problems arise and success sometimes comes sooner than we think. What I hope you get out of this is some conversations and thoughts to start having to help you plan for your goals.
I want you staring down the barrel of your rifle at your personal Jaws and saying "smile you son of a bitc*" before blowing it out of the water.