Europe was a blast! Spain and France were great, but by far Italy resonated with me the most. It was also very eye opening in terms of fitness and nutrition. With the recent explosion of Cross Fit abroad as well as Sir Richard Branson opening a chain of Virgin Active Health Clubs, it was interesting to see the gym incorporated into the Italian lifestyle.
The Italian men and women in the gym had great physiques, and the men’s locker room at Virgin Health Clubs was like a male model show with long, lean, chiseled frames. And outside the gym I didn’t see one person that struggled with obesity.
They ate a ton of carbs, smoked cigarettes like chimneys, and going to the gym wasn’t a huge part of their culture…so what gives?
Here are my TOP 4 REASONS the Italians had lean, long, athletic physiques and what you can do to build a similar physique!
Quality over Quantity in Nutrition
Fitness Dominated By “Hybrid” Athletes
Long Meals + Tons of Cigarettes = Caloric Deficits
1. Nutritional Quality > Quantity
Of everywhere I’ve travelled, the best food was in Italy. The chefs were awesome, but you could go to a hole in the wall bar and eat food that tasted similar. What really sets Italian cuisine apart is the quality of their foods. The tomatoes were absolutely perfect everywhere you went: ripe, fresh, juicy, very red. Our cab driver told us all the beef was grass fed, too, which actually turned out to be a lie. But looking up the Italian regulations for the way their cattle is raised, they use no soy, corn, or hormones! Pretty awesome.
2. The Italian “Hybrid” Athlete
Patrick Ward wrote a couple years about the hybrid athlete you can check out HERE. How you train in energy systems (anaerobic, aerobic) directly influences your body composition. For example, an endurance athlete will have less muscle mass, more body fat, and weigh less than a sprinter. When thinking of the different energy systems, think of a continuum with power on one side and endurance on the other. In the middle would be the “hybrid” athletes.
Why are most Italians hybrid athletes? Well, to answer this you have to pose another question. What is the largest sport in Italy? SOCCER.
These hybrid athletes reap the best of both worlds in terms of physique. A body fat in the middle of these two spectrums as well as weight in the middle gives them that super lean, slender look similar to Jared Leto’s below:
3. Caloric Deficits
The typical Italian meal I observed:
- Sit at table
- Eat food for 45 minutes
- Smoke a cigarette or 5
- Talk for 20 minutes
Our driver told us his family sits down for 90 minutes every evening for dinner! These drawn out meal times with the cigarette after allow the stomach to understand when it’s full, and then with the cigarette they suppress their appetite even more. Now, I’m not advising you to smoke cigarettes or get on any appetite suppressants, but I am recommending to make it a point to help your food sit in a healthy fashion like taking a long walk afterwards.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug on the planet. For this reason it has been researched quite extensively, specifically on it’s properties on metabolic benefits and appetite suppression. A high metabolism and a decreased caloric consumption equals fat loss and weight loss!
I go back and forth on my recommendation for coffee consumption. The research is pretty split on long-term health consequences and benefits, and I’m right in the middle. If you’re not comfortable consuming coffee, switch to green tea. If you don’t handle caffeine well, then don’t take any!