For about a month and a half now, I have been (mostly) following a nutritional template by Renaissance Periodization. If you’re unfamiliar, it is a program that was developed by doctors, nutritionists, scientists, and weightlifters to optimize nutrition for performance or weight loss results. My biggest take away has been WHAT to eat and WHEN to eat it, depending on my training.
So far, I am a huge fan. Here are the reasons why: (disclaimer: I’m not being paid to talk it up or anything; these are my true opinions unsolicited)
- The auto template is extremely easy to follow. Simple, to the point, no guess work (unless you want to get creative, which is totally doable but complicates things in that you need to count your macros and do some math).
- It stresses a healthy balance of all macronutrients, teaching the user / dieter how to utilize them to maximize results and performance.
- I do not feel deprived, unless I choose to deprive myself for the purpose of weight loss. If I want to maintain for performance purposes, I feel satiated and satisfied, having flexibility to fit just about anything I crave into the template.
- If followed as I believe it was intended to be followed, the program promotes cooking for yourself and using whole foods. It also gets the user familiar with the concept of prepping food to be used throughout the week, making cooking at home more efficient and realistic for the typical busy person.
- It’s scaleable, meaning you can make it fit your activity level, eliminating some of the stress or guilt I would sometimes feel for taking a rest day (which is ridiculous, but hey, it’s just part of my charming neurosis).
Goals, Compromises, and New Habits
I say that I have been “mostly” following it because I am not overly concerned with weight loss, and though I am taking this as an opportunity to form healthier habits when it comes to alcohol, I do not want to forfeit my social life completely. It’s all about balance for me.
And, before you say it, I know I am perfectly capable of having a thriving social life WITHOUT alcohol, but I also just enjoy it and prefer to treat myself with really good wine or beer as opposed to, say, candy or cake. I enjoy the taste, nuance, and craft of wine and beer, and the cordial, jovial nature of getting together with friends and unwinding while enjoying it.
On the days that I do enjoy some beer and/or wine (which I have limited to weekends only for the last few months), I find it easy to otherwise stick to the template. Even while dining out (which has also decreased to about twice a week max), I know what to look for and what to avoid, and most places have at least one option that will fit my needs. I’m also more of a lightweight now when it comes to drinking, as a consequence of drastically decreasing my regular intake. Therefore, my judgement doesn’t get as thrown off and I’m a lot less likely to go off track with food.
So, why am I doing a diet if I’m not in it for the weight loss? Don’t get me wrong. I would like to have more muscle definition, especially in the abdominal region. I’ve always been extremely self conscious of my midsection, and I wish I could care less about it but there you have it.
I work really hard in the gym, because I like it. It makes me feel better. I like to be strong and fast, and I care a LOT less about what my stomach looks like when I feel strong and fast. There’s definitely a level of self confidence that has evolved with my weightlifting and crossfit progression that I never thought possible. Sometimes I think “yeah, my belly has rolls when I slouch and sticks out when I stand up straight but I can squat 200 lbs so who cares!”. But, in all candid honesty, I wouldn’t hate it if my outward appearance reflected the hard work I put in a little more.
Even if that doesn’t happen (I do not expect to look like the amazingly cut transformation pics posted on RP’s website and social media, for example, especially while not following the template strictly 24/7), I am enjoying the new nutritional habits I am forming as a result of giving the program a go.
I have always been a big fan of veggies, and I’ve always thought I ate a lot of them. I have also always considered myself balanced when it comes to consuming healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fats. But knowing how these macronutrients contribute to, or inhibit, muscle repair and protein synthesis and how timing our intake of them can drastically impact the results we see is fascinating to me.
If nothing else, I am approaching this as a nutritional realignment. I want to feel as good as I possibly can as often as I possibly can, and what I put in my body is the best way to achieve that. Over the last month or so, I have been eating a TON more fibrous veggies, smaller amounts of protein spread out over more meals, and have learned to pair carbohydrates with training (and keep fat separate from it). ALREADY these habits have helped me sleep, sweat, and poop better. TMI? I don’t care, it’s a valid point of health.
RP From a Chef’s POV: Food as (Enjoyable) Fuel
I am obsessed with food. I love to cook, and to experience cultures through their food traditions. I love to eat for the pleasure of it. BUT I also like to think about food for what it is fundamentally; fuel. When you really boil it down, we eat certain things to fuel our body’s mechanisms, which is something so basic that it kind of gets lost in the food for pleasure idea. You can have both, though, and this program is helping me realign my approach to achieve that consistently.
It would be super easy to go across the template and be like “OK I need 2 oz cooked chicken, 2 handfuls of steamed broccoli, a small handful of almonds, and 1/4 cup rice” and be done with it. That is food as fuel. I would not enjoy eating that, I would feel deprived, but I would know that I was fueling my body appropriately.
However, there’s no reason you can’t do a *little* more to make it enjoyable AND appropriate fuel. Granted, my mind works differently with food than someone who is not necessarily passionate about cooking, creative, or a trained chef. I get that. And if you’re fine with eating bland food, you’re good to go (or you can sign up for one of the many meal programs that coincide with the templates such as Trifecta).
For me, it’s a fun prompt that kind of reminds me of culinary school. Like, these are the categories you have to fill, and these are your restrictions – make it good.
One thing I noticed going into weeks 3 and 4, my body/metabolism has adjusted to what seemed like a TON of food at the start of this. For the first two weeks, I was never hungry. If anything, I had to remind/force myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry. But I am now hungry like clockwork every 2-3 hours. For the last week, especially, I have been so hungry after dinner that I want to go to sleep as early as possible just to justify having my nighttime casein protein (meal 6 is always casein, or slow absorption protein to help with satiety and protein synthesis while you sleep), which I have been getting creative with and turning into dessert treats.
I’m actually really hungry right now, watching the clock and thinking about when I can eat again 🙂 (FYI meal 2 will be in 30 minutes).
RP and Training Intensity (Scaling)
Honestly the one thing that continually confuses me a little bit is the scaling guidelines for workout intensity. They use the categories “light, moderate, and heavy” and have varying definitions of these depending on your training method: running, crossfit, or weightlifting. People seem kind of overly concerned with the nomenclature here. (BTW there is a huge Facebook group for members with TONS of discussion about anything and everything related to the program, which is great for answering questions and getting ideas.)
It’s probably the most talked about thing amongst RP’ers. I think some people get actually offended being told that their workout is “light” when they feel like they just got their heart pulled out of their butt (a familiar feeling after an intense metcon). I get that, but the name of the category is arbitrary. It’s just a way to classify how your body is using nutrients and what it needs to meet your goals, specially in carbohydrate intake.
I have come to realize that it’s also kind of subjective, even though there are thresholds laid out in RP’s category definitions, based on your intents and purposes. If your main goal is to lose weight, you should pretty much default to eating for a “light” day. If your goal is to improve performance, it’s more important to make sure your body is getting enough fuel and you might want to move to a “moderate” day template. Some people take an average of light and moderate to find a balance for these goals.
For me, I have found my performance improving over the last month eating strictly for “light” days, (even in Cut 1, which I will describe in further detail) so I am sticking with that. It averages out to around 2,000 calories in the day, which is appropriate for me. If I feel good and am performing well, and the scale is *very slowly* going down, or staying steady, I’m good with that.
OK, what is it exactly?
I purchased the Auto Template – RP’s best selling option. You can pay more for one on one coaching, which users of have raved about. There are other templates for people who DO NOT train regularly (healthy eating template) and those who struggle with nighttime hunger. I picked the Auto Template because it’s the most affordable and fits my needs as a recreational lifter and crossfitter, and as someone who is already pretty in touch with my fitness and nutrition. I was really just looking for some fine tuning.
After giving my basic information to the company (age, weight, goals), I received a personalized template in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. It contains different tabs meant to be worked through in sequence. Starting with “Base”, moving on to “Cut 1”, “Cut 2”, “Cut 3”, “Maintenance”, and “New Base”. If you lose a considerable amount of weight after working through your first cycle and wish to do another cut in the future, you’ll likely have to purchase a new template as your starting information will be drastically different.
BTW, RP also stresses the importance of not doing any type of strict diet for more than 3 months at a time for mental clarity and psychological wellness, which I think is really smart. So, if you finish your first template and don’t reach your goal, you should still wait a while before starting another cycle.
I haven’t really lost any weight yet. Though my weight fluctuates a lot (it always has), so it’s kind of hard to tell. I weigh myself every morning, first thing. On average, I am probably down about two lbs if anything. This means that I have lost about a half pound each week, which is in line with what RP strives for. Slow, steady weight loss is much easier to maintain. And, again, I don’t care what the scale says – I’m more concerned with my health and performance (and appearance, if I’m being honest).
I think I’m going to stay on Cut 1 for at least another week and see how that goes before deciding to move on to Cut 2, which will take away more fat and some carbohydrates from my daily template.
Some RP approved meals I have made over the last month: