Diet Evolution: From Polliwog to Apex Predator

by on August 19, 2015

Diet Evolution: From Polliwog to Apex Predator

Progress, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.” –Samuel Smiles


Many can agree with the above quote and many cannot due to the fact of wanting to take shortcuts to reach the fastest way to success. The fastest route is not always the best route to take though, nothing in life comes easy, true success takes work, lots of it and takes consistency.

This same approach goes for changing your lifestyle in regards to Nutritional Habits. Changing your nutritional habits does not happen overnight, it takes time, consistency, and hard work day in and day out in order for it to develop into a behavior and thus become a lifestyle.

Do you think all the great bodybuilders, powerlifters, and even professional athletes changed their nutritional habits overnight? We highly doubt that, they all most likely started from the bottom, made mistakes, learned from them, and gradually advanced from beginners to intermediates and finally to advanced levels.

The thing is many people do not want to start at the bottom, they feel it is beneath them, they are entitled to start higher, or their egos take over. The truth of the matter is there is nothing wrong with starting at the bottom and learning things step by step and getting very good at those particular things. Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance.


Beginners in Nutrition:


Habits and Building a Foundation

Have you ever heard the phrase, “In order to build a house, you must build the foundation first?” Well this phrase definitely has merit and can be applied in all aspects in life. When it comes to Nutrition, you have to learn the basic concepts, physiology, and what method can work for your lifestyle and goals. In order to do this, one has to lay down the foundation and start from the bottom in order to advance to higher levels. Rome was not built overnight, so why should your nutritional habits?

Starting With a Goal

We briefly touched up on the importance of building a foundation; from there the next step for a beginner would be to set a tangible goal for themselves. Reason being, if there is a goal to look forward to, written down, or placed somewhere visually to where it can be seen daily it will keep you accountable and motivated to reach that goal. There are so many different goals you can aim for such as: a work event, wedding, photoshoot, vacation, reunion, etc. These goals can be done within 8-12 weeks. This is plenty of time to lay the foundation down, acquire some fundamentals, and take action on your goal.

Cleaning Your Diet Up

Cleaning up your diet and changing certain aspects of it can be a great way to build upon laying down a foundation. The first way to clean up your diet can be to eliminate “Highly Palatable Foods” that are energy dense, high fat, high sugar, and are processed. We promise by making this one change you will notice a huge difference in energy levels and overall performance when being physically active.

Next on the list to cleaning up your diet would be to add in “High Quality Food Sources” such as:

  • High quality protein sources(Eggs, beef, chicken)
  • Complex carbohydrate sources (Oats, rice, potatoes)
  • A balance of healthy fats from Monounsaturated (peanut butter, nuts), Polyunsaturated Olive oil, seeds), and Saturated (Coconut oil, animal fats)

The final step in cleaning up your diet would be “Exchanging Foods” or also known as the “Exchange List.” What we mean by this is to exchange foods that are alike. Foods on each list have about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories. In the amounts given, all choices on each list are equal. Any food on the list can be exchanged or traded for any other food on the list. The lists are grouped into three main groups: Carbohydrate group; meat and meat substitute group; and fat group. This is a tool used to be a bit more flexible within your diet and could be very useful for certain individuals. (1)

As a beginner it can be overwhelming to know what direction to go in when it comes to Nutrition. By following some of these basic concepts they can go a long ways in terms of reaching your overall goals and advancing up the ladder to become intermediates and then advanced.


Intermediates in Nutrition:


Portion Control

Pat yourself on the back because that means you advanced to the intermediate level within your nutrition. Within the intermediate level, we feel there are 4 key rules that need to be focused on and in this order that we lay out for you.

Plate of Thirds Rule: We want you to close your eyes and picture you have a clean dinner plate in front of you, now we want you to divide that plate into thirds, now that you have your plate in thirds, we want you to have a high quality protein source covering 1/3 of the plate, then a complex carb source covering the other third of the plate, and lastly we want a healthy fat source covering that final third of the plate. An example of your plate could look like a chicken breast, red potatoes, and a green salad with olive oil on it.

Each of your meals should comprise of a high quality protein source, complex carbohydrate source, and a healthy fat source.

PN Control Rule: Now that you have a sense of what your plate should look like, we want to teach you how to portion out your serving sizes within this plate that’s divided into thirds. This rule is called the “Precision Nutrition Control” rule. (2)

For women, the portion of protein at primary meals should be the size of the palm of your open hand. For men, we recommend two palm sized portions with each meal.

For women, the portion of carbs at primary meals should be 1 cupped hand sized. For men, we recommend 2 cupped hand sized portions. Side note: You can have your carb sizes a little bigger pre and post workout, since your body is more insulin sensitive and will utilize carbs best at these times. (3)

For women, we recommend 1 thumb sized portion of extra fats. For men, we recommend 2 thumb sized portions of extra fats. If the portion sizes are slightly bigger than your thumb, don’t stress over it.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are just general rules and recommendations. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, your portions may want to be a bit bigger and vice versa if you are dieting, portion sizes may be smaller.

Photos of Meals Rule: Another great way to keep yourself accountable for your portion sizes and making sure you’re including protein, carbs, and fats into your meals is to take photos of your meals and analyze them. Make a folder in your computer with the dates and label them Monday through Friday, each day you will take pics of your meals, save them, review them at the end of the day, and then try improving upon them the following day.

Food Journaling: Finally, after you have gone through the above recommended rules, you will be ready to journal your food intake. A 2005 study from The New England Journal of Medicine showed that “lifestyle modification” practices that include keeping daily records of food and calorie intake and physical activity resulted in significant weight loss. These results also confirm previous reports from Klein, Sheard, Pi-Sunyer et al. 2004. Of the benefits of lifestyle modification (i.e., keeping daily records of food and calorie intake and physical activity) used alone for inducing weight loss. (4)

Another study in 1993 study from The Journal of Behavioral Therapy showed self- monitoring is necessary for successful weight control. Specifically, the monitoring of: Any food eaten, all foods eaten, time food was eaten, quantity of food eaten, and grams of fat consumed was positively correlated with weight change, while no monitoring at all was negatively associated with weight change. (5)

The above studies support why food journaling can be a useful tool to improve body composition, improve your relationships with foods, make sure your including high quality food sources, and to stay accountable within your nutrition program.


Advance’s in Nutrition:


The Art of Being Flexible

The moment everyone has been waiting for is finally here and that’s to have reached the advanced level within nutrition. Once you have reached the advanced level, you will have some more tools in your tool box from going through the beginner and intermediate levels, and that our friends, will allow you to have flexibility and long-term sustainability within your nutrition program.

Since journaling your food, this will teach you to see how many total calories you are taking in per day as well as your protein, carb, and fat ratios. Once you know this information, you can decide on whether you want to be in a calorie surplus (muscle mass gaining phase), maintenance phase (maintain weight/body comp), or a calorie deficit (fat loss/retain muscle mass).

Once you’ve decided your personal fitness goals, you can now start counting your macronutrients (daily protein, carbs, fats) along with hitting a fiber goal which can easily be achieved through eating whole and minimally refined food sources along with a couple servings of fruits and veggies per day.

By counting your daily macronutrients, this will allow you to have more flexibility within your diet. Having more flexibility allows you to eat the foods you like in moderation, not have you eliminate food groups, and still get results. Flexible dieting has shown a stronger association with lower bodyweight and the absence of depression and anxiety within a nutrition program. (6, 7)

Moreover, Westenhoefer and colleagues compared rigid control and flexible control eating. (8,9)

Rigid control is characterized by a dichotomous, all or nothing approach to eating, dieting and weight, aka cookie cutter diet or set meal plan.

Flexible control is characterized by a more gradual approach to eating, dieting, and weight, in which “fattening” foods are eaten in limited quantities without feelings of guilt, aka flexible dieting.

Outcomes showed that flexible control was inversely correlated with body mass index, while rigid control was not directly correlated with BMI, higher rigid control was associated with a higher BMI in both men and women and with higher energy intake and lower success for women, but not for men, and flexible control on the other hand, is actually associated with decreased food intake.

As you can see, a very rigid diet such as a meal plan or cookie cutter diet where you’re either on the diet or off can lead to a lot of problems. This is not a sustainable diet, this will teach you nothing about nutrition or your body, and it will cause problems with schedules, work, family, kids, vacations, and activities.

The caveat to flexible dieting is one can be too “flexible” and get away from some of the basics they learned in the beginnerslevel; hence the majority of the diet should comprise of high quality food sources. Try looking at flexible dieting in this three-tiered view:

  • Tier 1: Coming Closer to Your Exact Macro Targets
  • This would be best suited for competitors and physique athletes
  • Hitting macros within 5g ranges daily
  • Designing a couple of meal plans within your macros to avoid rigidness
  • Total calories comprising of 90% whole and minimally refined foods of preference and 10% comprising of junk food of preference


  • Tier 2: Having Bigger Ranges Within Your Macro Targets
  • This would be best suited for someone not looking to get to contest levels of leanness
  • Hitting macros within 10g ranges daily
  • Total calories comprising of 80% whole and minimally refined foods of preference and 20% comprising of junk food of preference


  • Tier 3: Tracking Protein and/or Total Calories
  • This would be best suited for someone who is on off season (looking to increase muscle mass) or just looking to maintain a certain weight/look
  • This would entail hitting your daily protein goal and then using the rest of your daily calories for however you prefer distributing fats and carbs
  • Or you could just count your daily calories and distribute protein, carbs and fats however you’d like
  • Allows for a more flexible approach
  • Able to eat out more often


The moral of the story when getting to the advanced stage is to focus on consuming a variety of foods to hit your protein, carb, fat goals each day, and if some junk food is part of that in moderation, there is NOTHING wrong with that. 


Practical Applications:

Now that you have learned the how to advance to higher nutrition levels, we want to leave you with a checklist:

  • Within the beginner’s level, make sure to be patient, build a foundation and learn the basics of nutrition along with developing good behavioral habits.
  • Within the intermediate level, remember the 4 keys to portion control which are the plates in thirds rule, PN control rule, photos of your meals rule, and journaling your food intake
  • Within the advanced level, figure out the context of your goal so you can get specific with what tiered system you need to land in, then start counting your macros, and remember to include flexibility within your nutrition program



  1. Whitney E, Rolfes S. Understanding Nutrition. 13th edition. 2013
  2. Precision Nutrition.
  3. Goodyear 1998, Borghouts 2000, Ebeling 1993, Hardin 1995, Gulve 1995, Host 1998, Philips 1996, Jentjens&Jeukendrup 2003
  4. Wadden et al. Randomized Trial of Lifestyle Modification and Pharmacotherapy for Obesity. N. Engl. J. Med. 2005
  5. Baker R, Kirschenbaum D. Self-Monitoring May Be Necessary for Successful Weight Control. J of Behavior Therapy. 1993
  6. Stewart TM, Williamson DA, White MA. Rigid vs Flexible Dieting: Association with eating disorder symptoms in no obese women. J of Appetite. 2002
  7. Smith CF, Williamson DA, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Flexible vs Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. J of Appetite. 1999
  8. Westenhoefer et al. Validation of the flexible and rigid control dimensions of dietary restraint. 1998
  9. Westenhoefer et al. Cognitive and weight related correlates of flexible and rigid restrained eating behavior. 2013