It seems some things in training/dieting come in threes:

1) Training

2) Nutrition

3) Hormones

These are the “big three” you should focus on, at least when it comes to physique enhancement/manipulation.

(Note: Although I’ve seen these principles many times, Shelby Starnes has posted them in this format before. Obviously the ideas are not “his,” per say, but I feel obligated to give him some credit.)

Shelby practicing what he preaches

Training and nutrition can be further subdivided into three sub-categories:

1) Training

a) Volume

-In this context, volume traditionally refers to the number of sets, the number of reps, and the interplay therein.

b) Frequency

-Most often, frequency refers to the number of days a week you train. Frequency can also more specifically refer to how often a particular body part or muscle group is trained, or how frequent a particular type of training is performed (e.g., sprints twice per week).

c) Intensity

-The percentage of your maximum muscular contractile capacity you train at. The higher your intensity, the more recovery time is usually needed. Training at sub-maximal loads can have a restorative effect, for example; training with maximal or supra-maximal (above maximum — trying to achieve a new maximum) efforts can severely attenuate the body’s adaptive reserves for several days. Some people insist intensity can be increased via shortening rest intervals, or incorporating intensification (justly named?) techniques such as drop sets, rest-pause sets, forced reps/negatives, and the proximity to failure one trains at. Granted, all of these techniques serve to intensify the working effort, in terms of difficulty, and effectively increase acute muscular fatigue. Still, intensity is, classically, a measure of nervous system fatigue. I won’t say either interpretation is correct or incorrect; I’m just defining terms.

2) Nutrition

a) Protein

-You know the importance of protein: protein builds and repairs tissue. High-protein meals have been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis more than “adequate”-protein meals. Similarly, high-protein diets have been shown to cause greater fat-loss when compared to normal-protein diets. It also has the highest thermogenic effect of the macronutrients. Protein in excess, however, can be detrimental, so it’s important to keep protein in balance.

b) Carbohydrates

-Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source. They also maintain, replenish, or increase muscle glycogen stores, and maintaining adequate muscle glycogen stores prevent a decrement in performance over time. Carbohydrates also have a “protein-sparing” effect: they spare muscle and dietary protein from being oxidized and used as energy (so the protein can be utilized for its “intended” purposes, see above). Carbohydrates have also been shown to have a synergistic effect with dietary protein on muscle protein synthesis, and carbohydrates can increase the efficiency of fat-burning — the old biochemical adage “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame” (note: there are exceptions to this rule). Carbohydrates do need to be controlled, however, and not consumed ad libitum, but they have their unique benefits.

c) Fats

-Fats provide energy, maintain cellular (membrane) integrity and turnover, and may be protein-sparing. They also have diverse hormonal implications, are important in the manufacture of certain hormones, and may influence homeostatic inflammation controls.

3) Hormones (We’ll leave this one alone for now. Just know all hormone have important implications, and hormonal manipulation will affect both training and nutrition. There is some debate about the extent hormonal manipulation is possible through diet/supplementation and training, at least among natural athletes).

Finally, some notes:

-All of the “big three” are interrelated, and interdependent. Changing one, especially drastically, can have profound effects on the others.

-Supplements are either included in nutrition (e.g., protein powder) or hormones (any supplement aimed at the endocrine system, e.g., ephedrine, or D-Aspartic Acid). Some supplements even affect both, like fish oil and arachidonic acid (this goes back to the idea that fats can govern hormone production).

-Striking a balance between all the subcategories of training (volume, frequency, and intensity) determines your workout split. There is no “ideal” split, just one that balances the interplay between volume, training, and frequency. If you have trouble progressing from workout to workout, consider retooling your training split to find a more ideal balance for you. As emphasized, what is “ideal” can vary wildly from person to person.

-Recovery (via various modalities) can be grouped in training, because expedited recovery can allow you to manipulate volume, frequency, or intensity. Conversely, poor recovery will undermine your efforts.