IFBB Pro Evan Centopani outlines the importance of a good nutritional foundation and how proper supplementation can help.

The Foundation Stack: Get Off To A Good Start

Conventional wisdom will have you believe that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. While I’m inclined to agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, I don’t know anyone with a champion’s mindset who doesn’t make it their business to put their best foot forward, leave the gate strong, and otherwise start off on the right note. No one wants to make up for lost ground in the fourth quarter. Start strong, kick-ass all the way through, and finish victorious. The start of the new year will have many people considering the previous year and thinking of ways to be better in the coming year. While it may be cliché to adopt a resolution, pretty much anyone successful is regularly setting goals and developing a list of actions they will take to bring those goals to fruition.

For many of you, your fitness goals will include things like getting bigger, increasing your strength, and improving your body composition or appearance. The first step to achieving any of those is to develop a list of actions you must take to support those goals. Because matters of physical performance and appearance require massive commitment and constant effort, anyone realistic will accept that they must adopt and embrace a lifestyle conducive to the achievement of their goals.

From personal experience, I have observed that those who regularly achieve what they set out to achieve tend to view the pursuit of their goals as a constructive process. Whether physical or conceptual in nature, if a goal is to be achieved, a solid foundation is a must. Successful people tend to be methodical rather than haphazard. From the ground up, they work by consistently laying the bricks that will create the strongest chance of victory. You’ve got goals, and so do I. While I won’t pretend to have achieved every single goal I’ve ever set myself, I’ve been fortunate to reach a few. Similarly, I won’t claim there is only one way to go about your goals, but I will share something that I feel will help you: your chance of success relies heavily on what you feed yourself.

I have gone in circles many times in a “chicken-and-egg”-style scenario trying to decide whether the mind feeds the body or the body feeds the mind. While I have concluded they each feed each other, I don’t know that I can see one as any more important than the other. What I do know is fueling yourself with the correct mental and physical nutrition is vital. With an adequately fed mind and body, very little is out of your reach. If I felt better qualified to expand on the subject of mental “nutrition” and what we feed our minds, I would do so. However, I’m far more confident in my ability to speak about physical nutrition and what we put in our mouths.

It’s my personal belief that everything starts with nutrition. No matter what your goal is, proper nutrition is fundamental. Food, water, sleep, and oxygen are all critically important simply for sustaining life. That’s before we even THINK about achieving our lofty goals. Sadly, many people will tell you about their big plans and aspirations while simultaneously failing to fulfill even the most fundamental needs. That is illogical.

I’m assuming you’ll cover the oxygen part and if you’re reading this, you already know the importance of hydration and sleep. Let’s have a condensed refresher on nutrition, though. Even for the most advanced, it can be invaluable to hear the most basic concepts. Whether it’s the carnivore diet, intermittent fasting, or “if it fits your macros,” it’s easy to get away from the fundamentals of nutrition. Such fundamentals have, for decades, enabled men and women in various sports to surpass the champions who preceded them.

What are the fundamentals? First off, a proper diet is built on a balanced variety of whole, unprocessed, natural foods. Before we even discuss macronutrients, on an even broader level, the FOUNDATION of our diets should consist of single-ingredient foods, not food products. Single-ingredient foods are what our bodies have evolved to process, and we look, feel, and perform our best when the majority of what we consume accords with this criterion. The backbone of our nutrition should not be food products, which are essentially a concoction of ingredients designed to be more palatable or convenient. Am I outwardly opposed to the consumption of a food product? No. But I am entirely opposed to them serving as the foundation of our diets.

Second, a proper diet should contain a balance of macronutrients that suits YOU. Your activity level, the type of activity you engage in, your genetic predispositions, and your goals should dictate the ratio and amount of each macronutrient consumed, not the latest fad or what someone else is doing. Take the time to try different things and don’t be afraid to roll with what you’ve found to work best for YOU, even if it’s less than conventional.

Third, be realistic enough to recognize the potential shortcomings of your approach. Life isn’t perfect, the foods we consume don’t always create the picture-perfect plethora of micronutrients. Foods don’t always contain the micronutrients they should. Similarly, it’s very possible that you might find yourself in a scenario where your food intake is intentionally restricted.

Everyone from bodybuilders to wrestlers knows the pains and deficiencies of a severely restricted diet. And while the reasons for nutritional absence differ, when you’re someone who is busy at work, and you just don’t have the time to sit down and eat a meal, the resulting shortfall is the same. Though we will strive for dietary perfection and lean as heavily as possible on whole food to achieve that, we have to all be willing to accept that there is a possibility our diets might need some assistance and if provided, we will be that much better for it. Here is where supplementation comes into play.

Now, you already know how I feel about whole food and making it the backbone of any sound nutritional strategy. Simply put, we cannot afford to be lazy, haphazard, or try to cheat the system. In the end, if that is the way we go, we only cheat ourselves. If whole foods are to serve as the massive stones we will use to construct our dietary foundation, then supplements are what we will use as the mortar to fill the gaps and joints between the stones. In doing so, we will create a basis that is strong, supportive, and otherwise unfuckwithable. Should you choose to leave the gaps, you’ve got problems. There’s a difference between a foundation and stacked up rocks.

We could spend all of 2022 talking about the various supplements out there, but we’d both rather be making progress than theorizing about it. So, I’m going to keep it simple and tell you what I feel is most important concerning supplements. We have to consider what is most likely to be missing regarding your diet. I’m going to assume, for the sake of this article, that you’re going to do what you need to do for your diet, and in doing so, you will hit your macronutrient requirements each day. The macros are big, easy to calculate, and you know whether you’re getting them.

With micronutrients, it’s not so easy to tell. From my perspective, it makes complete sense to put a product in place that’s going to cover your ass as far as vitamins and minerals go. I could simply suggest a generic multi, but I’m not going to. I’d much rather see you utilize a product that is going to give you a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, and beyond that, is known to boost energy, increase stamina, and improve training sessions. Animal Pak has been the go-to training pack of hard-training athletes for over four decades! On paper, it provides everything a good multi provides, but it gives you something you can feel.

Next, similar both in importance and in potential for deficiency, are essential fatty acids. Not only are many of us failing to eat fatty fish with enough frequency, but also when we do, it is often farm-raised and not as rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) as we would like. Consequently, many of us consume an unbalanced ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s and -9s. If that’s not enough, in pursuit of decreased body fat levels, many of us decrease calories in a way that allows maximized protein intake, and it comes at the expense of fat intake. In my opinion, the necessity for EFA supplementation is akin to that of vitamins and minerals.

To complete the trifecta, I believe joint support is something that ALL OF US should take very seriously. The reality for nearly every single one of us is, at some point, joint and connective tissue problems will severely impact our ability to train. When I was in my early twenties, I would have adamantly told you that you have the wrong guy. I thought nothing of walking in the gym, slapping four, five, or six plates on each side of the barbell, and squatting my brains out. I felt great, and anyone who tried to tell me that I would eventually pay for it with joint pain got nowhere with me. Sure enough, I now feel it and then some.

The mistakes I made are the same mistakes that many will make. First, I believed I was indestructible. I ended up realizing how wrong I was. Second, I waited until things hurt before supplementing, stretching, warming up, and so on. Had I taken my joint health seriously BEFORE it was an issue, there may have never been an issue. Whether you’re eighteen years old or fifty years old, whether you train for performance or for aesthetic value, whether you’re male or female, supplementing for joint health is crucial.

With the advent of the new year and the ever-present desire to begin the year in a way that supports our goals, it’s important to see ourselves as the builders we are. As such, it’s up to us to lay a solid foundation and construct a plan that will result in success. No matter the goal, there is a mental and physical component, and each must be fed.

On the physical side, nutrition is always a logical starting point. And while we would be smart to make a balanced, natural, whole-food-based diet the core of our approach, we have to remain conscious of the fact that, despite our best efforts, gaps, leaks, and cracks may exist. Unfortunately, when a strong foundation is the goal, we cannot allow flaws to compromise the integrity of our structure. Animal’s Foundation Stack featuring Pak, Omega, and Flex is the most efficient and effective way to maximize your nutritional strategy, so you’re rock solid from the ground up.

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