In both training and nutrition, we have principles and methods. Principles are the governing body that dictate WHAT we must do to achieve any goal. In most cases this is very black and white. A method is HOW we achieve this principle! There are a magnitude of different methods that are governed by respective principles. If the methods are in line with these principles, then you have given yourself a great chance at achieving your goal. The method chosen is dictated by individual variability and preference.
A simple analogy for principles vs methods would be trying to get to any nearby destination. You know where you have to go and it requires you to travel (principle). How you travel (method) is up to you and is dictated by individual variability, preference and the situation. It might be a short walking distance but it’s raining so you decide to drive. You might see there is heaps of traffic so you decide to ride your bike. In short, the goal is the destination, the principle is travel and the mode of transport is the method.
Why does it become important to differentiate between principles and methods specific to training and nutrition? The truth is, there are a magnitude of methods that we can take advantage of. Principles on the other hand are very specific and need to be upheld. Looking at examples from both a training and nutrition standpoint we can get a better understanding why this is the case.
There are 7 common training principles, these being;
Taking Specificity as an example. It’s common knowledge that strength is specific to the skill (exercise). Therefore, to get stronger at said skill you need to train specifically for it i.e if you want a stronger squat then you need to squat. Using this squat example, you will need to set up your training blocks that have a focus on the skill of squatting as well as overloading with intensity over time! More practice with progressively heavier loads eventually equals a heavier squat.
Let’s look at another method. Say you have the same goal of adding Kg’s to your squat but you’d rather program the leg press as opposed to a squat. Whilst this is a method for increasing leg strength, it is not SPECIFIC to the squat. In a general sense, leg strength will increase if you appropriately apply progressive overload but translating it into you squat will be hindered from the lack of practice specifically to the skill.
Two of the most common nutrition principles are as follows:
For fat loss to occur you must consume less energy than you expand (deficit)
For lean mass gain to occur (in most cases) we must consume more energy than we expand (surplus)
For fat loss to occur we must be in an energy deficit, principle! How we then go about creating this deficit can come from any number of methods. As stated variation, preference between individuals and the environment will dictate the method used. IIFYM, rigid meal plans, portion guides and habit based change etc are all different styles of nutrition practice that can be used to plan and create a calorie deficit, but which one is right for us?
A beginner to dieting may not be ready to be thrown straight into meal plans or IIFYM. Simple behaviour change may be more appropriate whilst the knowledge required for other methods surrounding nutrition is developed.
In another example, a busy parent who works long hours could have a lot of success with a rigid meal plan where the decisions on what they need to eat are made for them. What works best for you and what you can adhere to will ultimately have a large say in the end outcome.
The key takeaway is that having a good understanding of the principles underlying our desired goal/s is vital. The method at which we achieve this principle is then selected based on individual variability, preference and what the situation demands. Without this initial understanding of the principle, the method is a guess. The principle tells us what’s required, how we get there is our selected method.