Hey gang. Today we are talking about a concept revolving around nutrition. This admittedly is a vast and expansive subject, but I'm going to try to make sense of it all. I first heard about "The Bucket" concept from Mike Boyle, a very well known strength coach in the Boston area. He was using it to explain exercise selection and the things that need to be addressed in someone's programming. With this approach, you use the analogy of "filling the bucket" with the big rocks first, and then the smaller pebbles to fill in the gaps.

For example, take an individual interested in getting stronger and gaining muscle. The bigger rocks of the program that fill the bucket are going to be those compound lifts; deadlifts, pushing, pulling, squats, lunging, etc. For this goal, it's all about loading up the weight and grinding some reps out. All the other stuff; mobility work, core stability, self myofascial release, stretching, assistance exercises; is used to fill in the rest of the bucket.

The point is: Don't waste time on the stuff that doesn't have a large impact on you reaching your goals. It all matters, but at the end of the day the bulk of workload needs to be what matters the most. Nutritionally, it works the same way. Here's what I mean, step by step:

Step 1: Get the big rocks in the bucket, first.

In my opinion, if you haven’t mastered the basics of eating a healthy diet, then you shouldn’t stress yourself out over the little things. People usually want the quickest and easiest route to success, which is why they try to go from 0-60 right away. This can end poorly because it limits your progression and makes it hard to stick to a plan that works for you.  I routinely get questions like:

Aren’t carbs bad? I heard that Paleo is the bomb, should I try it? Are GMO’s going to turn me into Goro from Mortal Kombat? Is eating organic important? What supplements should I take to get huge / slim down? 

The fact of the matter is, your nutrition can be as complicated as you want to make it. Without a simple plan to start, it can get out of control pretty quick. So, make it as easy as possible. Solid protein sources, dairy, veggies, fruits, healthy fats, nutrient dense carb sources, and water. Don’t worry about all the things that won’t have an immediate impact when you first start out. Make sure you fill up the bucket with these before you make a ton of room for all the other food variables that could be limiting you.

**Notice that the vague guidelines above never mention specific amounts, caloric needs, or certain goal requirements. Each person and their specific goal is going to be different. With that said, you’ll need to realize that each person’s bucket is going to vary and change what goes into it.

Step 2: Add some pebbles.

I like to envision this as the stuff you simply cannot live without. Maybe it’s that coffee in the morning or enjoying a few slices of pizza every now and again. This isn’t the healthiest stuff on the menu, but it may give you that mental edge you need to keep kicking ass at Step 1. Eventually, you may widdle this stuff down to the point where you might not even want it. That’s the progress you’ll make following a plan that works for you.

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Now, keep in mind, this is not a reason to go all Joey Chestnut at food that doesn’t help you reach your goals. There is some room in the bucket for this stuff, but not a ton of room. You have to be able to indulge yourself and control it by having self discipline; making conscious decisions that help you. Know when you can live a little and know when you have to reel it in.

Step 3: Finish it off with some sand.

The last step is pretty much all of those variables: Affordability, Organic, Non-GMO’s, Grass Fed, Supplements, etc. Of course, these things can be important. To someone experienced at eating for a healthy lifestyle, all this stuff may come into play very early in the plan. But, until you figure out how to fit those big rocks from above into your diet (someone less experienced), you shouldn’t be worrying about whether or not your broccoli is organic, frozen, etc. Just start making good choices, first. Then, progress your healthy lifestyle by learning why all these other things might be helpful, too.

Step 4: Now you have your Bucket: Start carrying it around.

The one big thing that limits many people is adherence, plain and simple. Step 1 is not the same as Step 2. When you start getting confused on why you shouldn’t be powering down tons of unnecessary calories, it’s a slippery slope. That means you haven’t prioritized your goals ahead of what is holding you back, and that’s how you lose focus as well as your willpower. If you are doing a diet overhaul for yourself, you must set a start date and an end date to your plan. Be willing to “experiment” for that period of time. That’s the only true way to know if what you are doing is working. 

Sure, things happen from time to time and you'll have to adjust on the fly. That's why you have those pebbles to balance out the equation. More often than not though, people will make excuses for why they "can't" or don't want to stick to something. Time, boredom, work got in the way, and my personal favorite: My dog ate the top to the Ben and Jerry's so I had to eat all of it (totally fake). In all honesty though, if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. 

Bottom Line

Obviously, I don’t want people bringing their coolers to the grocery store to go shopping with, although that would definitely save some plastic bags. Hopefully this gives you some imagery that helps you mentally organize your diet. As I said above, eating can be frustrating if you don’t have a simple direction to take. Figure out what works for you and build on it each day.