A Year of Eating for Strength

TAGS: physique, general physique improvement, contest prep, Chase Karnes, meet prep, fat loss, Nutrition

One of the most common questions I get is about my diet. Whether it’s emails, Facebook, or just out with friends, it’s a common occurrence. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not a nutrition expert. I don't hold any degrees or certifications in nutrition or dietetics. But I do have 15 years of self-study and trial and error on myself and learning directly from others much smarter in the nutrition area than me.

What I’ve essentially done is taken what works for me and discarded the rest. While this article does discuss nutrition, it’s more of a “how to” in regards to staying on track for the long term. It’s about consistent goal based eating and making it work. One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people “fall off the wagon” just a few weeks after eating really well. They have an all or none mentality. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can reach your goals while still living an enjoyable life. You don't have to carry around Tupperware and eat a diet of chicken and broccoli on a daily basis.

This article isn't for competitive physique athletes. This article is for those who want to look good and perform even better without eating the same foods daily or eating out of Tupperware. It's for those who still want to enjoy some of the social aspects of life including food and drinks. This is how I do things.

My Nutrition 101

When it comes down to it, nutrition can be really complex. To the average lifter or competitor who lacks much nutrition knowledge, it can be overwhelming. Not only do you have people preaching various diets and ways of eating, but there also seems to be research backing almost all of them, even the ones that contradict each other. So what is a serious lifter to do?

I’ve tried it all—low carb, high carb, ketogenic, Paleo, carb back-loading, and pretty much everything else out there. I didn't try them all because I was following the trends and looking for the next best thing. I wanted to see firsthand how I responded to the principles of the said diet, how realistic it was for me to follow, and my results. I like to experiment on myself and learn this way. During this time, I’ve discovered some interesting things. Before I get some nutrition experts all riled up, I should note that this is all anecdotal evidence based on my experiences.

Shelf with fruits in supermarket

I’m a firm believer in Albert Einstein’s quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” That’s exactly how I approach nutrition. Essentially, over the years, I’ve found the following:

  • Calories matter. While there isn't any exact way to track every single calorie that you take in, you can be pretty close. Once you’ve established a baseline, you can make adjustments from there based on your body’s own feedback. There are various long, complex formulas for figuring calories based on one's goals, but I’ve found that for those who aren’t severely overweight, the following work very well:
    • Fat loss: Body weight X 10–13
    • Maintenance: Body weight X 14–16
    • Weight gain: Body weight X 16–22

    I always start at the top end for fat loss (body weight X 13) and adjust as needed based on results. For maintenance, I typically go body weight X 15, and for weight gain, I’ll start at the bottom end (body weight X 16) and adjust as needed based on results.

  • The second thing I’m typically concerned with is protein intake. For fat loss or maintenance, I typically set it to one gram per pound of body weight. For weight gain, I’ll set it to one gram per pound of goal body weight.
  • Once these bases have been covered (calories/protein), I move on to the carbohydrates and fat. I’ve found that these can vary quite a bit and it's really more of an individual thing. Personally, I like higher carbs and less fat on training days and lower carbs and higher fat on off days. I find that I respond best when these are inversely related. I typically don’t get too hung up on macro percentage breakdowns as long as calories and protein are covered. The only exception here is when I’m dieting pretty strictly for fat loss and have a substantial amount to lose. I’ll dial things in a bit more here.

The majority of the food that I eat has at one point ran, swam, flew, or grew from the ground. In other words, most of my food is real, whole food and typically the food you’ll find around the perimeter of a grocery store. This food only has one ingredient. However, there aren't any foods that I can’t eat. I don’t restrict or limit myself in this regard. So while the majority of my food is what most would call “clean” or “healthy,” I still eat some food that people would consider “dirty,” “junk,” or “unhealthy.”

This isn’t an everyday thing, but it’s also not always planned. I don’t do “cheat days” or “cheat meals.” I just make sure that when these foods are included in my diet, I hit my calories and protein for that day. Essentially, I eat what I want when I want and make sure that my calorie and protein intake reflects my goals. I’ll also note that it just so happens that I feel my best when the majority of my calories come from those real foods. However, I’ve yet to notice that because I decided to eat 20 percent of my calories one day from “junk,” all of a sudden I feel a drop in performance and gain fat. That just doesn’t happen.

Now that you have a general idea of how I look at nutrition, I'll break it down into the different phases I may see throughout the year.

Supermarket interior, empty red shopping cart.

Off-Season

Essentially, my “off-season” is any time that I’m not training for a specific contest. Because I have weight class restrictions during my off-season, I’m not looking to gain or lose any weight. I’m simply training to get stronger and bring up weak points. If this is the case, I’m a bit more “relaxed” on the nutrition end of things. I won’t always track things daily. I typically hit very close to my calorie and protein numbers when I eat by how I feel. A few days a week, I’ll plug everything in to make sure that I’m not way off base, but 99 percent of the time, I’m right on point. I just keep an eye on the scale and periodically plug things in to make sure that I’m still where I think I am.

If the off-season phase, if I’m looking to gain some weight, I'll track my calories daily. I also hit my protein intake and make sure that I’m eating more carbs on training days and fewer on off days. Then fats fill in the rest of my calories for those days.

During the off-season, you’ll see me consume more of those foods that most consider “unhealthy” or “dirty.” I’ll eat pizza, drink alcohol, and eat cereal and dessert and not hesitate to eat at family functions, barbeques and parties. I also eat bread, drink milk, eat gluten, and do about every other “taboo” nutrition thing out there. I just make sure that I’m hitting my calories and protein. The rest falls into place where it may.

If I have a weekend when I know that I’ll be eating and drinking more than normal, I simply enjoy the weekend and make sure I hit my protein intake that day or two. Then the next few days, I’ll consume a bit fewer calories and typically eat all “clean” foods. This is just to help keep my calories in balance without being obsessive.

Pre-Contest

This is when I guess you could say that I tighten things up a bit. At this point, I’m looking to maximize recovery and performance. My calories and protein are set, but during this time, I’ll also keep a closer eye on my carbohydrates and fat. I’ll cycle my carbs based on training days or off days. Typically, this is a maintenance phase, but at times, it can be a fat loss phase when I’m looking to minimize my water cut or drop a weight class.

During this time, I eat a much more structured diet unlike in the off-season. Most days are very similar with the exception of my carbs/fats being inversely related. I stick with what most would consider “clean” or “healthy foods.” Alcohol is cut out for the most part, but I’ll enjoy a drink or two one night a week. I still don’t have foods that are off limits, but I tend to stick with mostly “clean” or “healthy” foods. This is just what I prefer.

Pushcart detail

Applied Practical Nutrition

There are times of the year when I may pre-cook my meals and carry them with me in Tupperware. Typically, this is only if I’m dieting pretty strictly and it definitely isn't something that I do often. Most of the year, you won’t see me carrying a cooler around full of Tupperware. For those who do this and enjoy it, that’s fine. Keep doing what you’re doing. For most though, I don’t think it’s necessary nor realistic for the long term. So just how can you eat for your goals without all the hassle? It’s pretty simply actually.

  • Look at your typical daily schedule. Identify times of the day when you’re typically hungry and identify times of the day when you can typically eat.
  • For the times of the day when you’re typically hungry but can’t eat food, simply slam a protein shake.
  • For times of the day when you can eat and are hungry, see what your food options are. For those working a 9–5 job, you probably have a lunch break. You also probably like to get out of the office to eat somewhere or maybe you have a lot of business lunches. Either way, identify a handful of restaurants in your area that you can eat at. Look over the menus and have a couple of “go-to” items at each place. Base this meal around a protein source and then decide your sides based on your current goals and calorie needs. Reference the meal's calories, protein, carbs, and fat on the restaurant's website (most have this available) so that you know.
  • If you get hungry and can’t eat a meal, some easy choices to have on hand are:
    • Beef jerky
    • String cheese
    • Cottage cheese
    • Yogurt
    • Fruit
    • Nuts
    • Protein shake
    • Low carb chocolate milk
    • Sandwiches
  • If you’re pretty social or don’t like to cook so you eat out for dinner a lot, stick with the system from lunch but just apply it to dinner. If you cook at home, cook whatever fits your goals and needs. Another thing that I like to do is cook enough for the next day’s lunch as well. So if you do eat at work during the day, you have complete control over what you’re bringing in and eating. Sure, you’ll be eating out of Tupperware here, but one meal a day isn’t too much of a hassle to transport. And remember, it doesn’t have to be plain chicken and broccoli. Just make sure that it matches your goals.

chase karnes nutrition shake PLExp 082014

Pre-plan out days based on the next day’s schedule. Sit down the night before and plan what you’ll be eating, when, and where based on your schedule and food availability. This gives you a “meal plan” for the following day. Here are a few other tips/tricks:

  • I use an app on my phone to track my calories and macros. It doesn’t take very long at all to plug things in and you can add any foods you want to it. This is a very simple and effective way to keep track of things.
  • Keep beef jerky and nuts in your glove box, office desk, or anywhere you may find yourself needing food without any options. This is great for times when you’re hungry and don't have any options to fit your goals. Also, the protein and fat are very filling.
  • If you’re dieting and attending a get together, drink a protein shake beforehand. This will fill you up a bit and keep you from eating more than you need to while still allowing you to eat and socialize with everyone else. For example, I did this last year when dieting for the Arnold before Thanksgiving. I still ate some great food, got full, and hit my calories and macros for the day. This was much more enjoyable than eating out of Tupperware, and my calories and macros were the same.
  • I keep 80–90 percent of my calories from whole, unprocessed foods. The other 10–20 percent typically can be anything I choose as long as I’m hitting my calorie and protein requirements.

Conclusion

While some of my practices may go against what some nutrition experts say, I’ve found this to work best for me. I’ve found that what looks good on paper and what’s practical in application aren’t always the same. The sweet spot is finding the balance that allows you to stay on track and enjoy life. Sure, tracking calories and macros may seem like a pain at first, but it really isn’t. Once you get your most common foods that aren't already listed added to the app and you get a system in place, it takes less than five minutes a day to track your calories and macros. Sparing five minutes a day to stay on track with your nutrition is nothing. I don’t care how busy you are.

 

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...