Now we have education, tools, and most importantly a health relationships with food... now what? We can have the best information and structure but if we can't execute it then it doesn't mean anything. The 'magic' comes in the application of the principles. Spark provides a unique 7 step approach to creating sustainable nutritional results. This is a simplistic nutrition system that takes into account human psychology, scientific principles, and nutritional momentum in order to build real life results. This gets you to your goal and helps you thrive and sustain it for the rest of your life! Welcome to the Nutrition Baby Steps!
The Nutrition Baby Steps
These steps are systemically set up for a reason. You don't skip steps when you climb a ladder so don't skip steps when you implement this nutrition system. Focus on creating consistency with each step until it becomes ingrained with your lifestyle. Furthermore, don’t try and implement all 7 steps at once. You have to learn how to walk before you can run. The first several baby steps only involve addition. That is to say, they only add things into your life. The last several steps involve some level of restriction. However, by that time you will have some momentum that can help carry you through some of that inevitable adversity that comes with behavioral change. If you can follow these baby steps while pairing it with the weekly exercise program for multiple months in a row then you will see results. It’s as simple as that. These baby steps are the secret pill that everyone is looking for but nobody wants to take. Read that again.
Baby Step 1: Universal Habits
What's nice about baby step 2 is it can be used in conjunction with baby step 1. We do not have to waste 14 days sitting there collecting data. We can use that time to create foundational habits. These baby steps are universal. That means, no matter your position, goal, or individual factors, baby step 2 is essential for your success. The first universal habit is WATER! Every single day drink at least half of your bodyweight + 8 ounces in pure unadulterated water. Spend the first two weeks intentionally building this habit (spark table length). After that 14 day period this habit does not go away! This stays here for life. You have to make this a LIFE-LONG habit. It's the key for sustaining and continuing to build upon your results. Spend the initial two-week period exploring systems that help you do this effortlessly. For me, I drink water directly upon waking. This helps me start the day off with a win and creates momentum as I move into the lunch and dinner time hours. Find a system that works for you and stick with it. This is the common trait among people that find wellness success. If you want to be rich, stick to habits that wealthy people have. If you want to be a better runner, emulate traits that effective runners have. If you want to be healthy, you need to create habits that healthy people have!
ACTION STEP 1: Drink 1/2 bodyweight + 8 in ounces of water each day
ACTION STEP 2: eat 1 micro bowl per day or at least 1 fist sized portion of micros at each meal
The second universal habit is usually the hardest for most people. But it's the absolute key to the thrive mentality. If you don't develop this you will lose the ability to sustain and thrive off of your goal. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, which basically mean fruits and vegetables. Eat at least one fist sized portion of fruits or vegetables with or at the beginning of each meal. Spend the first two weeks intentionally building this habit (spark table length). After 14 days, this does not go away! Again, this stays here for life. You NEED to keep executing this tactic. Consistently pumping micronutrients in your system during the day helps eliminate and/or decrease nighttime cravings. Again, during those initial 14 days, find a systemic way to incorporate this step into to your individual lifestyle. This one will be a game-changer if you can weave it in there and keep it. If you don't want to add micronutrients at every meal then you also have the option of implementing one 'micro bowl' each day. A 'micro bowl' consists of a HUGE salad with multiple vegetables, fruits and/or other micronutrient toppings included. Don't get caught up in trying to track calories and serving sizes with your micros (refer to the free foods list in the nutritional blueprint). Just eat more of them!
ACTION STEP 3: Consume at least 1-2 palm sized portions or at least 20-30 grams of protein at each meal
The last universal habit is also crucial because it creates a much needed awareness for the majority of people. Most people under consume protein and over consume calories. This works against any body composition, performance, and/or longevity goal that you have. For men, make sure you eat at least 2 palm sized portions or at least 30 grams of protein at each meal. For women, make sure you eat at least 1 palm sized portion or at least 20 grams of protein at each meal. Spend the first two weeks intentionally building this habit (spark table length). Again, after 14 days, this does not go away. It only gets dialed in during the next baby step. For me, I preload protein early in the day. I make sure my first couple meals have higher amounts of protein. I found out that I am more likely to eat highly processed foods throughout the day when I don’t start my mornings with water, micros, and protein. This helps me feel on track and allows me more room for ‘treat’ foods ,usually higher in carbohydrates, at night time which helps me sleep and relax.
You need to engrain water, micros, and protein into your DNA. You need to make these LIFELONG habits because habits will not ebb and flow. They don't disappear during the holidays, vacations, and when life gets in the way. They are consistent and that's the key to creating sustainability and ultimately the Thrive lifestyle. These are addition habits. They only add things into your life (no restriction). That means there's no excuse not to execute them everyday.
*Side Note: Consider sticking the the "5 S's" for 80% of your food structure. The 5 S's are: Soups, Salads, Stirfrys, Scambles, and Smoothies. That is to say, make the majority of your meals into this structure. The 5 S's are effective structures because they allow you to include plenty of micronutrients and protein in the equation. Each S has multiple variations and combinations which will ensure variety and limit nutrient deficiencies. Lastly, if you can account for low calories sauces, liquids, and other additives then these are high volume food structures with relatively low amounts of calories. Just something to consider!
baby step 2: metabolism recon
ACTION STEP 1: implement the spark 2 week table
The first baby step is the easiest but the it marks the turning point. This is the moment that you decide if you actually want to change. The first thing you will need to do is to fill out the Spark two-week table found in the nutritional blueprint (attached below; instructions included). Remember this is not a restrictive measure yet. You do not restrict calories or try to shoot for specific targets. You are only collecting data. Think of this step as budgeting energy (calories). For whatever reason, some people believe tracking calories isn’t optimal for your mental health. They might think it’s too restrictive or it doesn’t allow you to enjoy life. I could argue the exact opposite. When people budget their finances they end up saving more money and feeling more at peace with their financial situation. The same thing happens when you budget calories. You give yourself the capacity to reach your goal and enjoy the foods that you love. Some structure actually leads to more freedom. If you haven’t tracked calories before it will be challenging for the first couple weeks. You might have to take some extra time measuring certain foods to get an idea of the caloric value. However, once you get over the initial learning curve, tracking calories won’t add more than 5-10 minutes to your day. It’s an investment that will make all the difference. It is also important to note that you won’t have to track calories for the rest of your life. Tracking calories for a period of time allows you to develop skills around caloric awareness. This is a skill that you can use for the rest of your life.
ACTION STEP 1: implement calorie and protein targets
This step helps develop the skill of caloric awareness. After the first two weeks you will have successful filled out the spark table and implemented the universal habits (water, micros, and protein). Now we can use our data to create caloric targets. This also marks the turning point of addition into subtraction. The first layer of baby steps only add things into your diet. This helps build momentum inside of your bodily systems but also build psychological momentum. Now we see some level of restriction for the first time. This will require some more effort but it will make ALL the difference. Take your two week table and follow the steps discussed in the energy balance chapter. Use this method to find your caloric target range. Once you have your caloric target range, refer to the protein chapter and calculate your protein target range (at least .7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. At this point you should have a calorie and a protein target range to hit everyday. Once you have those numbers, move into the periodization split (below).
ACTION STEP 2: pick a Nutritional periodization split and stick to it for 4 weeks
After you have you calorie and protein targets then you can pick a Nutritional Periodization split that best fits your lifestyle or come up with a plan on your own. Read the nutritional periodization chapter for a reference point. Once you pick your periodization split, implement it for at least 4 weeks before adjusting.
During that 4 week period, read the Stress Management chapter and begin creating your foundation of sleep, stress management tactics, leisure, and mindset hacks.
Baby step 5: Adherence, Adjustment, and plateauS
Action step 1: implement adjustments, adherence tools, and plateau breakers once every 4 weeks (if needed)"
Baby step 5 acts a a dial switch. We have all the most powerful principles working for us at this point in time. At the end of the 4 week periodization plan use the adherence tools, adjustment protocols and plateau breakers found in the nutritional blueprint. If it feels unsustainable, add some adherence tools in right away. If your progress doesn't fall into the "sweet spots" make adjustments as needed. You can also start implementing a few of the plateau breakers starting from top to bottom. Once you've made some changes, take another 4 weeks to allow consistency and the adjustments to play out. After 4 weeks, use the same process (adherence tools, adjustments, and plateau breakers) to dial things in if needed. Rinse and repeat until you reach your goal!
So you reached your goal... now what? This is what must programs fail to talk about...the diet after the diet. The game plan to sustain and thrive off of your goal for the rest of your life. Through proper exercise and nutrition we can reach this goal in a sustainable manner with advantageous hormonal, mental, and physiological levels. We are in a position to sustain, thrive, and improve. However, there needs to be a slight transition. The Nutrition Baby Steps allows us to develop important skills while creating results. The Thrive Transition puts those skills into practice. I'm going to walk you through the last couple baby steps. These are intended to help you sustain, thrive, and improve upon your goal. There is no such thing as a finish line. That's the beautiful thing about wellness. We can always continue to build, adapt, and transform.
Baby step 6: Develop Maintenance
Action step 1: Identify your ceiling and floor
Once you've reach your goal the first thing I would do is create an outline. The goal here is to pick a weight range that you can THRIVE in. I'd suggest picking a 5-10 pound weight range that you feel best at. Take into account, how you move, how you feel (biofeedback, hormones, emotional) and how you look. Mark the ceiling (the highest weight that you feel comfortable at) and mark the floor (the lowest weight that you feel comfortable at). Make sure this range supports all three areas (longevity, movement, and looks). You don't want to pick a super low weight range for the sake of looking amazing year round at the detriment of excessive restriction and poor biofeedback. It's wise to create objective data points that can help steer you as we start to transition into less nutrition structure. Make sure you actually stay within these boarders. Weigh yourself 3-5x per month (on consecutively days) and record the average of those weigh ins (more on this in step 2). That is your actual marker. If we start to sway towards the ceiling then we know to we need to dial it back a bit. If we start getting close to our floor then we know that sustainability might become an issue in the near future and we can increase calories if desired.
*Side Note: If you are like me then my ceiling is usually 5 pounds higher than I want it to be. I tried picking a ceiling that mainly focuses on aesthetics but in reality, 5 pounds heavier puts me in a position to experience longevity and movement benefits to a higher degree. Be smart with your outline! You'll know.
Why create this range?
First, this is a great way to let go of perfection and live life. You have a range! Not an exact number. You can fluctuate. You can overeat some days and under-eat other days and not have to micro-analyze your metabolism. Looking back at my journey, I wish I would have created this outline many years ago. This will help you stay accountable and combat the "lose 20 pounds to end up gaining 30 pounds pitfall".
Secondly, it gives you room to recompose (lose fat; gain muscle). You can float within this outline and still continue to look better, feel better, and move better. During the winter months you can shift towards your ceiling and enjoy the holidays. During the summer months you can shift towards your floor and enjoy the sun. Or vice versa... or create any year long strategy that you want. It's these fluctuations that will improve overall longevity, physique, and movement because your metabolism/hormonal system will not down-regulate.
Action step 2: FIND MAINTENANCE CALORIES AND STAY THERE FOR 2+ MONTHS
After you've established your outline, we have to learn how to stay within those boarders. You HAVE TO learn maintenance. This is not optional. I care about you and I want you to sustain, build, and thrive upon all your hard work! Maintenance is the key. Once you reach your goal it can be easy to take your foot off the gas pedal. It can be extremely easy to get relaxed. During your transformation you've probably experienced a lot of frustration and emotions. After you finish a transformation it can be easy to release your ambitions to the wind and lose sight of sustaining the end product. It's important to remember that maintenance still requires some will power. You can be MORE relaxed but you can't COMPLETELY relax. The goal is to stay within your outline for the rest of your life OR at least 2 months if you decide you want to go after another goal. Here is the maintenance process to follow.
Step 1: Once you reach your goal, you can immediately adjust calories (200-300 calories max). Increase calories if you were in a caloric deficit and subtract calories if you were in a caloric surplus.
Step 2: Eat this quantity for at least 2 weeks allowing for fluctuations to occur. Use these extra calories to fuel your training and enjoy social events, outings, and other food experiences. Pay attention to how you feel.
Step 3: After 2 weeks, you can SLIGHTLY adjust calories if needed (100-200 calories max). Increase calories if you were in a caloric deficit and subtract calories if you were in a caloric surplus.
Step 4: If you feel satisfied and weight is somewhat steady (1-4 pound fluctuation). Then stay at this calorie range! Satisfaction and weight consistency suggests you are around maintenance. You just have to understand what that feels like.You shouldn't feel DEPRIVED but you shouldn't feel stuffed either. If you still feel deprived at this point in time then repeat step 3 one more time. Use the adjustment protocol below during this process.
-Side Note- Make sure to weigh yourself 3-5x per month (on consecutive days) and record the average of those weigh ins. During this maintenance process you WILL fluctuate. That's okay. However, you should stay within your 5-10 pound outline (ceiling and floor). You need to be patient when reintroducing new caloric levels. You have to allow your metabolism to adjust to new intake. That's why we only weigh 3-5x per month on consecutive days) and ONLY record the average. This allows us to see past the fluctuates and where our metabolism is at. The goal is to get calories as high as possible while staying within your 5-10 pound weight range. It's also a wise idea to track biofeedback a week out of the month. This gives you an idea of maintenance as well.
baby step 7: Build the Thrive lifestyle
Action step 1: wean off of tracking and develop intuitive targeting
Track calories every OTHER DAY
At this point you should be pretty good at tracking calories and have a general idea of your daily meal structures and rhythm. The next step is to practice the skill of caloric awareness. Just like any skill, we have to put it into practice in order to refine and develop it. Track your calories and protein every OTHER day. On the days that you don't track, use similar meal structures as the tracking days. The goal with step 3 is to let go of NEEDED to track calories and trust yourself to INTUITIVELY TARGET (get in the ball park). This is not intuitive eating. This does not mean just listen to your body and eat how you want. Somedays you will be really stressed and will want to eat tons of junk food. That's why I don't believe in intuitive eating. I coined this term called INTUITVELY TARGETING. This means to trust the skills, habits, and tactics that you've develop in the baby steps and emulate them without actually tracking. This allows you to let go of perfection and accept fluctuations while enjoying life. Somedays you will overshoot and that's okay. This is why we use this strategy during a maintenance period because we WANT to have fluctuations. This helps drive exercise progress and allows us to continue to recompose our physique (lose fat, gain muscle). while staying within our outline (ceiling and floor). We DO NOT want perfection, we want fluctuation.
*Side Note: This is a great time to practice eating at restaurants without tracking. Pick similar meal structures to your regular meals but enjoy different variations and combinations. For example, if you primarily have stir-frys (meat with rice and veggies) then you could select a burger and substitute the fries with a side of rice or baked potato. This would mimic a 'remixed stir fry'. The burger takes place of the meat, the bun acts as another source of carb, and the rest of the meal would look like something you eat on a regular basis. You might have some extra fat and carb intake from the burger and bun but it gets you in the ball park and that's the goal with "intuitive targeting".
Track Calories 1 day per week
After you implement tracking every other for at least 1 month you can move onto reaction tracking. This is our end goal. Reactive tracking is picking 1 day per week to track calories/protein and compare it to the other days of "Intuitive Targeting". Don't pre-determine your tracking day. Just reactively choose it when life allows for it. Just think of this step as the oil in a car. It just makes sure everything is running smoothly. Or you can think of reactive tracking as the wandering high school principle checking in on students moving from classroom to classroom. It's just there to make sure you are focused. It can identify if you are over consuming certain foods, overshooting portion sizes, and/or under consuming protein. Continue this process for the rest of your life. It's just one day a week!
*Side Note: If you enjoy tracking you can implement more reactive tracking days inside of your week. It can ebb and flow with your personal preference. I do think there is value in only tracking 1 day a week for at least a period of time because it forces you to 'let go' of needing to track while still having some level of caloric comparison. In the same manner, if you miss a week or two from tracking that's totally okay. The main goal is to shift away from tracking calories and towards intuitive targeting.
Action step 2: float
By this point in time, you've created your outline (ceiling and floor), you've found your maintenance level, you've embedded the water/micronutrients/protein baby steps into your DNA, and you've weaned off caloric tracking... eventually making your way towards reactive tracking. The last phase is to use the strategy of reactive targeting to float up and down through our weight range (ceiling and floor) throughout the year. Look at your lifestyle from a year viewpoint. During the holiday months of during times of the years where you utilize vacations intentionally float towards your ceiling. Use this an opportunity to enjoy more calories, fuel training, and build lean muscle mass. During the times of the year that you are more stagnant or want to look leaner (summer months for example). Float towards your floor. Use this time to stay diligent and focused with your nutrition. Lastly, set aside a couple months out of the year to focus on creating your sweet spot (the spot in the middle of your floor and ceiling). The secret lies in your ability to float between these set points. This allows you to flow with life and not be constantly working against it. The weight range acts as a accountability framework and always keeps you within arm reach of aesthetic, longevity, and performance capabilities. This approach creates the thrive lifestyle. The thrive lifestyle will:
Allow you to look, feel, and move well throughout the year in a sustainable manner
Prime metabolism and hormones for an optimal recomposition environment (allow you to progress year after year)
Allow you to enjoy life, vacations, holidays, and special occasions without sacrificing your fitness goals
Normalizes calorie, exercise, and stress fluctuations. Simply put we need to allow life to ebb and flow...this approach does exactly that.