Nutrition fuels your fitness goals — mastering it will give you the body you’ve dreamed of; ignoring it will defeat you. But there’s so many different myths, debates, and camps when it comes to designing a great diet. What do we really need to do to optimize our nutrition?

I asked Nate Miyaki – author of Intermittent Feast, a dude who’s been featured at Men’s Health and Muscle & Fitness, and a certified fitness nerd – to share his deep and awesome nutritional wisdom. From one nerd to another, it was a true pleasure.

In this article, we breakdown nine of the most common questions experts get about nutrition: What should we eat? What should we avoid? How much protein is enough? Can we get lean and gain muscle at the same time? What should we really know about alcohol?

Trust me — you don’t want to miss this one.

Is it possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? And if so, how do we optimize nutrition?

I think it is. I think where we get mislead is the internet stuff like: “Put on thirty pounds of muscle and lose 30 pounds of fat.” You’re not gonna get huge extreme shifts like that, but I think it’s possible for someone who’s in good shape already to do what’s called “recomposition.”

For people with years of experience or already are in good shape, I’ve seen it myself. If you’re someone who’s in shape and gain like 3lbs of muscle mass – it doesn’t sound like much – but that can make a pretty huge difference if you’re already lean.

How to do it: you really have to be more detailed — you can’t just wing it. You have to have the right food choices, you can’t have empty calories: every nutrient that you take in has to be a functional nutrient that has a purpose. You’ll probably be at a slight calorie deficit, but your training needs to be on point. You need to be taking enough protein to build muscle; you can’t go too low on carbs because you need that fuel for anerobic training and to be anti-catabolic.

It’s really the highest of high-level goals so it requires a lot more detail than most people will want.

Strength coaches will argue with bodybuilders, which I don’t get. Strength coaches don’t want to go through the details that bodybuilders go through, adjusting things by 50 grams – they just recommend things like, “eat whole foods” and for a lot of people that’s good advice. But for this goal, that’s what you have to do because it’s a hard one to achieve.

How much protein should we be eating? How much is too much?

Most of the research I’ve seen is about 1.5-2.0g/kg or about 1g/1lb. That’s from a purely physiological standpoint, but you have to consider in a diet, protein satiates. If you’re in a deficit, you can increase that number a little bit.

There are other reasons for it to go up a little bit, but when I hear about 2g/lb, that’s too obsessive. I think that comes from the steroid world, but hey, that might be the right advice for the right person. With steroids, it increases your body’s ability to synthesize protein so you can theoretically use that much protein for tissue construction.

For the average people, something more reasonable like 1g/lb is where you should be. Especially if you’re not following a stupid path like no carbs, where you don’t provide energy for your training. Sure you can convert protein to glucose, but there’s rate-limiting steps there and you can only do so much so fast.

That why I think the strength community rebels against the bodybuilders, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from the old school bodybuilding community. We don’t have to discard everything.

One food everyone should eat but does not is ________________

Fish! Coming from a half-Japanese person, right? It’s like the Paleo thing where we can sustain ourselves with just animals foods alone. We talk about fish oil, we talk about flax seed oil – which is pretty much a bullcrap supplement (with vegetable oils, there’s a very inefficient conversion in the body to derive EPA/DHA compounds which are found in Omega 3s). You’re better off taking the direct stuff – fish oils – than other sources.

With fish, you get those essential amino acids, you get those essential fatty acids, and those essential EPA/DHA, so eat a little bit more fish.

5 best foods out there are ____________________

My hierarchy for body composition and health enhancement is always animal proteins first.

You always start with your essential nutrients first. Fish, red meat, buffalo – whatever source you want. And the animal proteins take care of your essential fats and your essential amino acids.

Next are foods that contain a lot of micronutrients, phytonutrients, vitamins, and nutrients. Things like baby greens have a ton of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, fiber, and alkaline.

An overlooked for athletes because we need this to support anerobic training. Most of the stuff out there is toxic: high in sugar and high in gluten, which is hard on digestion. I’d put starchy tubers up there like potatoes and sweet potatoes which give you glucose without the harmful compounds.

And again, biased man – white rice! For someone who does anerobic training 3x/week, that’s in my top 5 too:

1. Fish
2. Meat
3. Greens
4. Starchy tubers
5. White Rice

5 Worst Foods are ______________

That’s why I think the Paleo diet – as a baseline template, not a creed – is a phenomenal educational template because it simplifies 80% of the health and physique enhancement game. For most people, cutting out the refined foods that’s so problematic for us is going to do more than anything else. For most people, they just eat too much ****.

1. Trans fats

There’s a ton of research on why that’s so bad. Things like hydrogenated oils that are there to extend shelf life. It’s been linked to bad cholesterol and premature death – which I would say is a pretty **** good reason not to eat it, right?

2. Concentrated sources of fructose

High-fructose corn syrup and refined table sugar. People get confused then because they’re like, “you gotta cut out fruit.” The fructose content in fruit is minuscule to say a 64oz Big Gulp.

3. High omega-6 vegetable oils

You might notice a theme here: refined and packaged foods. This is now used to cook everything rather than more natural sources of fat like coconut oil and things like that.

4. Gluten-based carbs

It depends, but for a lot of people, they handle it well. For gluten, I’d just test out how it works for you. Take it out and then add it back in.

5. Dairy

Dairy is one of those foods that are controversial too, and I lean towards cutting it out. For a lot of people, it causes GI [gastrointestinal] distress.

For people who approach it from a health and cosmetic convergence, most people aren’t going to argue the first three. Gluten and dairy are a little bit more controversial, but with anything like that, I just tell people, “don’t get caught up in the industry bullshit. The thing to do is to test it out in the real world because the only thing that matters is how it affects you personally.”

Just test it out for two weeks. Cut it out, take some notes, and see how you feel – then add it back in. You’ll get your answer right there.

People think I’m crazy for fasting. What are some of the benefits and who should (and shouldn’t) be fasting?

I’m going to veer off on a tangent if that’s okay? [Editor’s note: Nate Miyaki’s tangents are always welcome.]

Here’s my hierarchy, from an athlete’s perspective:

1. Numbers

Making sure you’re in the right calories, the right protein, etc. If you hit the right calories with the right macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins), you’re going to get good physique results.

2. Food choices

If you get those two right, you’re going to get physique and health benefits you’re after.

3. Diet structure

6 small meals a day. 3 meals a day. Intermittent fasting [IF]. Diet structure is about what helps you stick to 1 and 2 the most. It’s about what is the most practical, sustainable approach to dieting that you could use as a lifestyle plan. To me, that’s where IF shines – it’s so much more of a practical, sustainable lifestyle plan than 6 small meals a day or eat every 2 hours and packing food and all that.

And the research supports that. The research says that as long as you control food choices and calories, meal frequency and distribution has no meaningful impact. You can break it up anyway you see fit. From my experience, switching clients to more of an intermittent fasting and feasting protocol, their adherence goes up and their results skyrocket.

It’s so much easier just to worry about lunch and dinner. I’m not trying to overhaul my career, my life, and my social life to follow a fitness-based diet. From a practicality standpoint, fitness nutrition doesn’t work for 90% of people because it’s not practical.

That’s my number one argument. But then again, there’s a ton of science behind it. You’re essentially improving insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning, you’re optimizing your ability to burn fat through the fast period, and then you’re entering a highly anabolic period when you’re restocking those glucose reserves.

If you’re trying to build muscle and drop at the same time, I think IF really points to that. And I don’t want to diss trainers, but some are just stuck in what they’ve been reading about for decades. And I was too. As a nerd, what really helped me embrace it was a lot of the science stuff.

What do you say to clients who say, “I don’t have time to cook?”

My template is a Paleo lunch and a Japanese-village dinner. A Paleo-style lunch is a piece of protein with some non-starchy vegetables – maybe some healthy fats or some fruit. And for dinner is pretty much the same thing with a starch source: rice, potatoes, etc.

If you’re following an IF structure, you can cook when you want or you can go out and get a Paleo lunch anywhere. You can go get some steak, some vegetables, and a piece of fruit anywhere. Then, if you have a business dinner, you can go eat a piece of fish, a potato, and some vegetables as well.

Boom. You can do that anywhere.

It also depends on who you’re talking to: are you talking to people who want a real answer or just make excuse after excuse after excuse?

A guy I quote from all the time is Serge Nubret: yeah, I eat two times a day and eat steak and rice – I don’t know else to tell you, haha!

What is your guilty pleasure?

You’re gonna be like, “dude, I’m sick of this Japanese bias,” but man, I ******* love tempura! Deep fried shrimp, deep fried vegetables – there’s nothing better! If you allow for it in the diet and eat healthy 6.5 days a week, there’s room to go out with your buddies and have a few drinks (oh, alcohol’s another big one!) and get back on your plan.

Your take on alcohol.

I believe it something that can be included in a diet. I don’t think people should get in the habit of drinking everyday – it’s can prevent the oxidation of nutrients meaning that it stops fat burning and there’s some research saying that inhibits the pathways toward muscle growth. But that being said, I like to have a little fun, I like to have a little buzz every once in a while.