Majoring in the Minors?
Don’t Major in the Minors (Before you major in the majors)!
How does this saying relate to nutrition? Well, let us remember the hierarchy of nutrition: calories > macro-nutrients > micro-nutrients > meal distribution and timing > supplements. Food composition will fall in there too but its’s position in the hierarchy of nutrition is debated. For health and athletic performance reasons I would argue it is higher up the list than others immersed completely in the body composition/body building world - but that’s a topic for another blog! So, with the whole nutritional hierarchy firmly at the front of our minds, let’s talk majoring in the minors.
How often do we see a regular gym-goer obsessing over their post-workout protein shake? Quite often, right? Pretty much every single time we go to the gym we witness this sacred event! But what’s so wrong with this? Nothing in fact (well perhaps a carbohydrate/protein shake is preferable to protein alone) but other than that there is nothing wrong or ‘bad’ about obsessing over your post-workout shake. Until……..we put this in context and examine your entire nutritional approach or diet. For example, if this protein shake (roughly 25g protein) is contributing to a total daily protein intake of let’s say 110g, which itself is so low that it contributes to an unwanted 400kcal deficit, then Houston we have a problem! This is an example of someone majoring in the minors. The guy who obsesses over his post-workout nutrition only to neglect his overall DAILY nutrition is majoring in the minors – the minor in this case being meal timing and the major being total daily and weekly calorie and macro-nutrient intake. Ok, his nutritional approach is excellent in the 15-minute period post workout, but how optimal is his diet for the other 1,425 minutes of each day? Total weekly and daily calorie and macro-nutrient intake is the Major League. Meal timing is the minor league. We all want to play in the Major League so let’s start focusing on what is MOST important to our diet.
Let’s take a look at the 50 year old, mother of four who is attempting for the umpteenth time to lost those extra kilos and get back into shape. Are we familiar with this character? You may see ‘Atkins’ on the bookshelf in the living room, a healthy bowl of fruit on the kitchen table and she could undoubtedly list the ten ‘super foods’ if asked. A healthy breakfast here consists of fruit, porridge, some granola and a coffee. Excellent breakfast choice. In fact, add a little extra protein and it would definitely be a breakfast we recommend to athletes! Where it could become a problem in this particular example however, is if this healthy breakfast (pretty high in calories) is contributing to an unwanted caloric surplus. Another example of majoring in the minors unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, that is a very healthy breakfast! In terms of food composition it is excellent – lots of micro-nutrients, a small protein hit from the oats, wholemeal carbohydrates and some healthy fats, you could do a lot worse for the same calories!! However, this person is majoring in the minors and neglecting the most important aspect of her diet in relation to her goals – a caloric deficit. You see, what would likely happen in this scenario is the healthy breakfast gets this woman off to a great start. She has a decent lunch and is feeling healthy today. As a result, she treats herself later in the day, has a high calorie dinner after a long day at work and then potentially tops it off with a glass of wine at night. Exercise? Sure why would she exercise after having fruit and oats for breakfast! Yes indeed a calorie surplus is achieved for the day. The following morning, another healthy breakfast is on the menu to make up for the glass of wine the night before, and the cycle continues…. The point I am trying to get across is not that your shouldn’t have a glass of wine at night, it is not that you shouldn’t treat yourself after a long day at work and certainly not that you shouldn’t aim to start each day with a healthy breakfast – my point rather is that you should look at all these things in the context of your overall daily nutrition, diet and caloric intake! Major in the majors first and then look at perfecting the minor details. This woman would best be served by reducing her daily caloric intake, perhaps adding in some light exercise or simply increasing NEAT throughout the day. Next, she should pay more attention to the caloric content of her meals as opposed to food composition alone. After all, granola is great for those struggling to get in those extra calories but how ideal is it for a woman trying to lose 10kg? Oats are an excellent breakfast option but wouldn’t a high-protein, low-carb option be even better for a woman trying to keep calories low, as it promotes greater satiety and keeps cravings at bay for longer? Focus on the MOST important things first. Major in the majors. Total weekly and daily calories > macro-nutrients > micro-nutrients > meal distribution and timing > supplements.
Another common and perhaps more appropriate example for our younger readers is that of supplement use. It’s very common that we get asked about supplement use and recommendations. People (particularly younger guys) always want to know what the best supplements to take are, the timing of them and so on… That’s all great, and believe me, we do give numerous supplement recommendations and have posted lots of advice surrounding supplement use on our website. However, this should all be taken in context with an appropriate dietary approach. Why are you reaching for supplements? Are you supplementing a good diet or are you supplementing a poor diet in an attempt to ‘make up for’ this poor diet? The guy who religiously takes his Leucine/BCAA/Whey/Creatine/HMB supplement every single day, but pays little attention to his overall daily caloric intake is in fact (you guessed it) majoring in the minors! Consistently paying more attention to his daily caloric intake would likely impact his body composition, health and athletic performance-related goals much more than his daily supplement. Are we saying he shouldn’t use these supplements? We absolutely aren’t. What we are saying is that taking these supplements in combination with a consistent and appropriate diet is the optimal nutritional approach. By doing so he will major in the majors and hit those home runs a lot sooner than he thinks!