30 Things I've Learned by 30

This past week, I turned the big 3-0. Now I don’t know what the big fear is in turning 30… personally, my goal is to improve myself each and every year so this is just another step forward as far as I am concerned. However, turning 30 does make you reflect back on where you have come from. To honour this occasion, I’ve decided to look back upon 30 of the most imporatnt body transformation lessons I’ve learned to date.

Without any further ado, here we go!

1. The only way to lose body fat is through diet.

Before anyone argues that their 3rd cousin twice removed once lost 50 lbs strictly from walking 30 minutes a day… realize that when you are academically inclined, you tend to disregard exceptions and follow the rule.

Sure a couple of lucky individuals can get lean just by exercising, but for the vast majority of individuals, making significant dietary changes is the only way to go.

2. Squats are the best exercise for body recomposition.

Learning to squat properly is the most important training investment you can make. Really bad squatting form leads to injuries, good form leads to spectacular gains.

Squats may be hard, but the world’s best bodies are built on a foundation of squats and lots of ‘em.

3. The bench press is the most overrated exercise there is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love bench press as much as the next guy. However, the bench press just isn’t that great for body composition. If you want to build a great chest, use dumbbells.

4. If you are training 3 of fewer times per week, steady state cardio will not improve your physique.

At low volumes of training, the intensity needs to be high. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

5. Sleep is the most underrated component of body transformation.

Once you get passed the age of 25, trying to build muscle or lose fat with poor sleep habits is as counterproductive as trying to empty the Atlantic ocean with a spoon.

Sleep is free, improve your sleep habits before you blow hundreds of dollars on training or nutrition supplements.

6. The food most responsible for weight loss struggles: bread.

Who doesn’t love bread? This is the problem. Almost without fail, removing bread from someone’s diet makes them feel and look better. Just my observation… but gluten is not a friendly protein for many individuals.

I was tempted to put high fructose corn syrup here, but that deserves its own special column.

7. If your personal trainer never has you squat, deadlift or perform chin-ups, fire them.

Excluding the olympic lifts, these three exercises give you the biggest bang for your buck. Whether you want to lose weight or gain muscle, these 3 lifts (or some variant thereof) need to be the cornerstones of your program.

8. Avoiding dietary cholesterol diet is idiotic if you are serious about training.

Our body makes many of our most anabolic hormones from cholesterol. Remove cholesterol from your diet and say goodbye to your gains.

9. Too much is made about the “speed” of absorption of various proteins in workout shakes.

Funny – millions of awesome physiques were built back in the day before designers workout shakes. I have nothing against supplementation and I am a firm believer in nutrient timing, as I feel it enhances results. However, the real focus needs to be on total nutrient quality and quantity, rather than how quickly your post-workout shake is absorbed.

Most of these studies that show markedly greater gains using fast absorbing proteins suffer from serious methodological flaws (like studying fasted individuals, using novice exercisers, etc). If you are serious about gaining muscle, your diet as a whole must provide the proper building blocks.

10. “Everything is ok in moderation” is terrible advice.

Does moderation mean once a day, once a week or once a month? Nowadays, moderation is just used to justify terrible food choices.

I wouldn’t recommend you drink a cup of cyanide even once.

11. If you insist on doing steady state cardio, opt for the step mill.

For best results, don’t hold onto the railings and decrease the resistance so you actually have to pump your legs at a good clip.

Just you against gravity. Good luck.

12. If you could only take 1 supplement, it should be vitamin D.

I’m going to call vitamin D even more important than omega 3 and protein powders. In the supplement world, this is as close to a magic pill as we’ve got.

Obviously, if you live in year-round sunshine, this advice does not apply.

13. The real magic pill: avoiding added sugars.

People are always looking for what they need to add to their diets to make them healthy. This is totally the wrong mindset. Eliminating added sugars is hands down the biggest thing you can do to improve your health.

14. Fruit and berries are health promoting.

The last statement applied to added sugars. Natural sugars IN THEIR WHOLE, UNPROCESSED FORM can be health promoting. Fruit still contains the fiber to slow absorption, as well as the complete vitamin and enzymatic complement required to properly process the sugar it contains.

Highly processed “natural” sugars like agave nectar or Demerara sugar are still junk.

15. Many vegetable oils are trash (including their by-products).

Speaking of junk, most bulk vegetable oils are more appropriate for your car than your body. A few of the oils of vegetable origin you should use are:

  • Olive
  • Coconut
  • Walnut/hazelnut/almond/macademia
  • Avocado
  • Flax

16. Natural saturated fats do not cause heart disease.

The paranoia surrounding saturated fats is based on terrible science. Literally, it’s laughable. Saturated fats were an integral part of our diets for millenia, to think they somehow became deadly starting in the 1950s is crazy.

17. Milk is the ultimate double-edged sword food source.

Milk is highly anabolic. Used properly, it contributes to significant muscle gain. Used incorrectly, it just prompts the formation of body fat and a whole host of food allergies.

18. No one ever got fat eating vegetables.

It doesn’t matter how many you are currently eating, you should be eating more. Lots more.

19. Sprinting is the best activity for stripping body fat.

Ever seen a fat sprinter? Nuff said.

20. Green tea may be even better for you than water.

An essentially calorie-free beverage that increases metabolic rate and decreases your risk for various chronic disease? If you aren’t already drinking this stuff, you need to be. And trust me… the loose leaf tea tastes vastly superior to the stuff you get in tea bags. You can thank me later.

21. Red meat isn’t endangering our health, how we treat red meat sure is.

Let me get this straight, we feed cows corn, which they can’t digest. As a result, they get fat and sick and we give them antibiotics and hormones to keep them “healthy”. We then wind up ingesting unnatural amounts of fats and chemicals… and somehow it’s the cow that is the problem?

Does deep frying broccoli and smothering it with CheeseWhiz make broccoli fundamentally unhealthy?

Do yourself a favour, opt for grass fed meat or befriend a farmer who practices sustainable agriculture and livestock practices. Your health and the environment will thank you.

22. Even a bogus workout supplement will produce results for newbies.

The placebo effect coupled with even basic nutrient timing can be a very, very powerful thing.

23. Fish oil helps everyone.

The laundry list of positive health outcomes associated with omega-3 fats gets longer by the day. If you aren’t taking some, stop reading this article, run to the store and pick some up. I’ll wait.

24. We don’t appreciate or understand stress, and it’s killing us.

Nothing ruins physiques or your health faster than poorly regulated stress. There isn’t a trainer or nutritionist alive who can design an effective program for someone with poorly regulated stress levels.

A good rule of thumb is to learn to not sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff.

25. The idea of “eating right for your type” is 100% correct.

However, the notion that it’s simply a product of your blood type or lectin content of food is not.

Correct typing involves looking at family history, hormone levels, activity levels, age, gender, medications…

26. Training the abdominals with repeated flexion (e.g. situps or crunches) makes no sense.

The primary function of the abdominals is stabilization of the torso and spine, as such abdominal training should always start and end with planks.

27. Everybody needs to stretch more.

Flexibility training isn’t glamorous, but it’s necessary. Think of it like going to work.

28. Distance running causes more injuries than all other forms of training combined.

Slight exaggeration, but it’s probably not far off the truth. This isn’t to say distance running is bad, because it’s not. It’s just that too many of us don’t have the body structure or running mechanics to run long distances. At the very least, humans weren’t designed to run on asphalt and pavement.

29. There is no one perfect diet or approach to training.

People who spend their time claiming to have invented the “perfect” approach to anything are morons. Inter-individual variability is too great for universal recommendations. Lots of dietary and exercise approaches work; the key is finding one that satisfies your moral, religious and health parameters and stick with it.

30. Success doesn’t happen by accident, planning is paramount.

The only people who experience success long term are those who are following a plan. Workouts… diet… life, you need to have an objective measure of whether you are progressing towards your goals. Otherwise, it’s too easy to find excuses for failing.

Where there you go: 30 lessons from the past 30 years and I feel like I was just getting started!

I guess I’ll have to hold some of them back until I hit my next milestone birthday. Of course, by that time my feelings on most of this list will probably have changed 180°. Such are the joys of nutrition science.

Till next time: train hard and eat clean!