The much-awaited article on the Art of the Buffer.
Ever since Episode 61 of RNT Fitness Radio where we spoke in depth about bridging the gap with the buffer, we’ve had an inordinate amount of questions on the finer details of perfecting this art.
We call it an art because it’s not black and white, and it still requires a process that needs fine tuning over time in order to master it.
Learning how to buffer is the middle ground in a dieter’s journey where you move from set meal plans and religious tracking, to learning how to guestimate and create buffers for flexibility, to being able to eat intuitively and autoregulate your bodyweight to your desire.
These intuitive eaters are the ones who’ll boast, ‘I eat whatever I like, whenever I like and I stay in shape’. The reality is that they’re not blessed with superhuman genetics. Rather, they autoregulate their food intake through either skipping meals or eating less at other times to afford the ‘eat whatever I like’ type meals.
This state of intuitive eating is the ‘holy grail’, but it can take years of trial and error, education, and familiarising yourself with strategies such as tracking, guestimating and buffering.
In part one, we discussed the art of perfecting the guess, which links very closely to learning how to buffer correctly, so if you haven’t read that article, we’d recommend you do so before continuing.
In part two, we’re going to arm you with the right information you need to make the best decision around any type of social event, unplanned meal and most importantly, meals that are hard to track via an app, such as when visiting family.
If you’re busy in your work, social and family lives, it’s likely you’re going to have a lot of events that circulate around food and drinks.
If you’re in a hard fat loss phase, you’re going to need to have a strategy around the event. In most cases, if you can avoid eating or drinking at the event and have a back up plan in place, then go for it. But this isn’t always feasible, which is where buffering comes in. Through buffering, you can create flexibility in your eating habits and effectively save calories for a ‘rainy day’. This can create a difference in action from being exclusive, where you may avoid all events or take your own food, to inclusive, where you’ll have a pre-planned buffered amount of calories. This can make all the difference psychologically for adhering to a plan, and creating a lifestyle solution for your goals and gains.
What Phase Should You Buffer In?
Knowing when and how to buffer will completely depend on the phase of your journey you’re in, and your level of education.
If you’re only 5 days into the process, and you’re still Cleaning Your Palate, try work around it. You’re not educated enough yet to buffer and/or guestimate properly.
If you’re in the middle of your Process (fat loss) phase, you’ve got time, and can work a buffer in. The extent to which you use them will depend on your psychology (more on that to come), and your timelines. If you’re happy with a slow approach, you can use them more here to keep you on track.
If you’ve got 1-4 weeks to hit your fat loss goal, don’t even try. It’s worth making the sacrifice against buffering here to stay in alignment with your goals.
On the same note, if you’re light (i.e. 40 to 60kg bodyweight), or you’re on low calories in general, working in buffers regularly is going to be tough, and may set you backwards.
If you’re in a Consolidation (reverse dieting) phase, this is the best time to really work on the art of bridging the gap of the buffer. It’s a critical period to really consolidate your results within the context of your lifestyle, and buffering will play an important part of this.
If you’re in an Investment (muscle building) phase, you should buffer to avoid taking the ‘I’m bulking’ approach and rapidly gaining body fat. This is better known as sensible eating, and not blowing your calories on a daily basis.
If you’re in a Reward (lifestyle maintenance) phase, buffering should be a big part of your weekly eating strategy, and this is where you’ll start transitioning to the holy grail of intuitive eating. This phase can take years to reach, but it’s where your education really pays off.
Pre-Qualifying the Buffer
Before implementing a buffer, you need to understand some key rules:
– You will feel more hunger in the morning if you buffer outside of your normal routine (you typically eat lighter / fast in mornings if eating heavier in evenings).
– Buffering doesn’t work when you don’t have a clear plan in the evening with the portion control / amounts of your food. You’ll have a build up of hunger so if you’re not planning ahead of time, you’ll overconsume.
– If you have a history of binge eating, you shouldn’t buffer unless you have a very clear system, schedule and routine on how to manage your food.
– You should never buffer in the evening or before bed as this is near impossible to action and complete. They should be done in the morning.
– KEY RULE: Buffers do not give you license to over consume or eat calories in which you have not over-estimated for. You should seek guidance on calorie buffer limits by your coach – we repeatedly see people remove 150-400 calories out of their days to replace with a 1000 calorie meal, which simply doesn’t work in terms of the mathematics for fat loss. This interaction with your coach will play a critical part in the education process to moving towards more ‘intuitive’ approaches.
Principles of Buffering
When trying to execute a buffer, the first step is to do your homework on what you’ll be consuming in the evening.
If the calories aren’t listed specifically online, the next best thing to do is go with something similar and provide an educated guess. If you’re unsure, always err on the side of caution and overestimate the calories. What you don’t ever want to do is rely on your assumptions or thoughts.
In part one of this series, we listed a number of different baseline readings to work off. As a recap with some guides:
– Typical main meals at restaurants are 1000+ calories (without alcohol or chips, and not pizza)
– 2-4 spirits and mixers are 500-600 calories
– A ‘normal sized family meal’ (Asian cuisine) – 1400-1600 calories
– A fist sized portioned family meal – 1000 calories
Once you know how much you need to buffer for, you can then reduce / remove breakfast and snacks from your day in order to compensate.
Generally speaking, if it’s just a main meal at a restaurant, the 1000 calorie guideline works well. But you have to accurately understand your values here, as ultimately, you can’t adjust what you can’t measure.
Words of Caution When Buffering
Light Bodyweights– If you’re further down in the spectrum of calories, especially for women in the 40 to 50kg range, one of the unfortunate realities is that this buffered amount may account for your entire allowance of day’s food. In addition, it may actually require an increase in expenditure via steps and cardio too, as well as a 2-day buffer scenario to allow for the meal. There’s little that can be done here if you’re someone with lower calorie requirements, except for making better choices when out, and being even more stringent with the buffers.
Conflicting Goals and Actions – Continuing on the above, the further down the calorie spectrum you go as you’re getting leaner and leaner, the less wiggle room you have for over-estimating and buffering. For those that want a typical ‘night out’ or a ‘dinner with drinks’ will likely need to buffer 2 to 3 days in order to allow for it, and still make progress. Without sounding harsh, it’s the reality of hard dieting and attempting to enjoy polar opposite goals and conflicting actions. It’s not impossible, but it can be very difficult to manage with your hunger and energy levels when executing the buffer required.
Blood Sugar / Sleep / Stress Management – While buffering can be very effective, if you don’t have great control of your blood sugar levels, quality sleep and/or a handle on your stress levels, you can run into some trouble. For example, if you attempted to do all your training and steps (10-20,000) prior to eating a substantial meal, you may experience signs of dizziness and lethargy. Instead, if you’re buffering ‘hard’ on 800-1000 calories per day, you should limit your activity during buffered periods to steps or low intensity work, and save hard training for the afternoon once you’ve broken your fast / eaten something more substantial. This can be the ‘make or break’ of your buffer, so it’s important if you’re attempting to buffer during harder dieting phases that you consult your coach to help you work through it.
Knowing When To Buffer
Learning how and when to buffer can be a real game changer when it comes to building a long-term, lifestyle solution. The ‘how’ is straightforward, so long as you’re being sensible in your method of buffering. The ‘when’ is a little more complicated, and it’s where this tool can be abused.
If you want maximum return on your investment and time, and want to gain the best results possible, you may need to manage your use of buffering and save it for when you really need it.
We see it time and time again where too much of a good thing can only send you backwards, and this applies directly to mastering the art of the buffer. Knowing when to use it is just as important in knowing how, and if you can strike this balance, you’ll reap the benefits of a tool that can take your results to the next level, and keep you there.