In my decades as a personal trainer working in Los Angeles, I’ve watched intelligent, well-intentioned, and focused athletes make decisions that jeopardize all of their hard work. I wanted to draw attention to these five mistakes fit people have been making — and how to correct them:
1. They eat protein bars without looking at the ingredients.
They're loaded with protein, convenient, and sometimes delicious ... what's not to like? Unfortunately, most of these bars are just fortified, expensive candy bars with cheap ingredients like soy protein isolate, artificial sweeteners and sugar. It's like you're shoveling down a cardboard-box-tasting wad of corn syrup and cheap protein.
Ditch the protein bars and stock up on nuts and seeds for snacks. Find protein in real foods like chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs and raw veggies.
2. They use cheap protein powders.
Buying a huge tub of vanilla-flavored whey protein for $18 becomes awfully tempting at those mega warehouse stores, but look at the ingredients and you’ll see why it's so inexpensive. The protein is typically processed in high-heat methods that damage amino acids, using cheap ingredients to begin with such as soy.
Soy is an example of a cheap ingredient that is commonly used in protein powders and even some wheys to bulk them up. Instead, look for a high-quality, non-soy protein powder with few ingredients, no artificial sweeteners or other additives, and no more than five grams of sugar per serving. Hint: You’re not going to find it at your warehouse superstore — ask your healthcare practitioner to recommend a brand.
3. They cheat the wrong way.
An occasional dietary detour can keep you on track while indulging in your favorite foods. Just don’t turn a cheat meal into an all-out weekend blowout. Enjoy your cheats, but practice them mindfully. If you’re craving cake, go to the best bakery that uses quality ingredients, get a slice, and savor every bite. Don't nose-dive into some huge, high-fructose corn syrup monstrosity, like a hot fudge sundae.
4. They rely on several cups of coffee to get through the day.
A cup of an organic dark roast coffee may make a good pre-workout fuel, but caffeine becomes unhealthy when you're using it to pull you through the day after a crappy night’s sleep. If you’re downing your third cup for a pick-me-up, you need to pinpoint your underlying energy lag.
A holistic practitioner once told me she treated coffee like medicine. She enjoyed it and appreciated how the caffeine gave her workout a boost, but like any drug, she didn’t overuse it because excessive caffeine becomes a Jekyll-and-Hyde stimulant. A cup or two can give you a boost, but go overboard and you could become a jittery, over-wired mess.
5. They're too strict with their diets.
Becoming so fixated on eating “clean” drains every ounce of pleasure from your diet. Healthy foods can be delicious (avocado, anyone?), and you can occasionally indulge on your favorite foods without suffering a major metabolic debt. Balance becomes key here. Frequently scarfing down bacon cheeseburgers and chili cheese fries isn’t healthy, but neither is obsessing over how many calories your meal contains or worrying whether kale provides more nutrients than broccoli. Eat mostly whole foods, let yourself indulge every so often, and enjoy your meals. Life is short.
What's the number-one dietary mistake you see fitness folks frequently make?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock