There are lots of options out there for how to organize your nutrition and exercise plan. If you want to gain muscle mass your plan will look a lot different than if you want to maximize your fat loss.
And like so many things in life, everyone you talk to has an opinion about this one. Everyone is an expert. Atkins, the Zone, the Ornish diet, <$CurrentFadDiet>, whatever. And they all have advantages and disadvantages. Mostly you should probably be wary of the ones that demonize a specific food or macronutrient. Carbs aren’t going to kill you, neither is fat, and as we’ve covered before, protein is absolutely essential.
Diet is one of those things that is really individual and there is a ton of variance from person to person. I personally function better when my protein is kept quite high, and so long as I’m not training 6 days per week, I can get away with the bare minimum of carbohydrates. In fact, if I have too many carbs, especially refined ones, I get all lazy and lethargic and it’s just not a great scene. I can and will binge on them until I feel sick, then do it again the next day, even though I know it’s a bad idea.
So I tend to lean towards a higher protein lower carb style of things, and let fats fall where they may. I actually function surprisingly well (outside of the gym) on a ketogenic style diet – I don’t get any of the brain fog/adaptation issues that a lot of people do.
On the other side of the coin, some people find their energy levels crater if they don’t get enough carbs, even if they aren’t training much. I know a couple of people like this, and if you tried to get them to cut carbs out of their diet for any length of time longer than an afternoon, they might just stab you in the face.
Is there a best or optimal diet out there? Not really. The best plan is essentially the one you can stick to. If you aren’t an athlete, you can get away with pretty much anything that is reasonably not stupid so long as you cover your protein requirements and get enough carbs to support whatever your training level is.
I’m probably going to get crucified by a certain segment of the fitness world for saying this, but “Paleo” isn’t a really terrible way to start things off. I really disagree with some of the more extreme bits of it, but if you go with the general principle of trying to stick to whole real foods that are identifiable as plants or animals, you’ve got a good base. Add in some reasonable grain or starchy root vegetable choices, and you have a pretty solid nutrition plan.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t feel deprived when sticking to a “clean” meal plan 100% of the time, congratulations! I sure as hell don’t, and neither do most people I have talked to. There are a bunch of different ways to allow yourself to have some things that aren’t “healthy” or are considered “junk,” but basically as long as you get it mostly right most of the time, you are going to keep moving towards your goal.
You might not be moving there as fast as you possibly could, but what good is perfect progress if you can only sustain it for a week at a time before losing your mind and eating an entire bakery, including the poor hipster behind the counter?
The Pareto or 80/20 rule is a good one to keep in mind here. Get it right 80% of the time, and don’t worry about the little stuff. A bunch of different strategies for doing that will be covered later on, but essentially, research[link] suggests that by being a little flexible in your plan, you will have significantly greater long-term success.
So get out there and be awesome.