One of the challenges I commonly hear people struggle with is formulating a complementary diet that supports their active lifestyle. Whether you are trying to lose weight, increase athletic performance or gain muscle weight, when it comes to nutrition the challenges are always multifaceted. Modifying one variable will often not get you the results you want.
On the other end of the spectrum if you modify too many variables in a short time frame the results are often equally disappointing in the long term. It takes more than just eating protein, reducing carbohydrate or portion control to really have a lean healthy body. Like many of the pillars to health, the diet needs to be addressed holistically. It also needs to be a practice that is adaptive and evolves over time. Consistently try to see your diet as a path you walk instead of a destination you have arrived at or a phase you are going through.
Making small incremental changes in the diet tend to support long lasting positive results versus making drastic changes in the beginning like so many diets often begin with. While people have had success with “phase” and “cleanse” style dieting plans, the results tend to be short lived and lack long term results and sustainability. Making changes to your diet has a change related stress profile similar to starting an exercise program. You can’t eliminate, add or supplement things to quickly or your body will struggle physically and emotionally to adapt and hold on to those changes after a period of time.
Life Style Integration
Just like starting an exercise program, the idea is to start with foundational concepts and move to more advanced concepts at a rate that is challenging but not overwhelming. This integrates things into your lifestyle so adhering to dietary changes works on all levels of your personality and not just for a phase of time. This is how a diet becomes part of a lifestyle change and how a lifestyle change is sustained over time.
One of the many reasons dietary changes can be hard to make is many people often have pseudoscience, moral, and emotional attachments to food when it comes to their comfort and belief systems. This is a bond that can be difficult to manipulate taking considerable personal time and effort to reshape. This is a frustrating reality for people when they want to attain their goals very quickly. The key here is learn to eat healthy consistently and you will not need to “phase diet” or “cleanse” because you will already be lean and lack toxic build up of cheap unhealthy food sources.
When it comes to diets there are an endless list to choose from and each one has its own belief system and strict guidelines to adhere to for desired results. It is a good idea to research and experiment with many different types of diets. To choose one diet style purely over another can be very self limiting from a nutritional standpoint.
If we again look at diet in regards to exercise profiles this would be akin to using only one mode of training in your workout regimen. For example, Kettlebell training is a great tool to get stronger and fit, but not as standalone tool. You will yield greater results by supplementing your kettlebell training with other modes of training. The same goes for your nutrition plan.
To get the most out any nutrition program it is best to use the advice of the great martial artist Bruce Lee “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” In other words take a little bit of wisdom, in moderation, from a variety of educated diet plans. Leave out or avoid the things that do not work for you. This can take considerable amount of time, but if you cultivate this within your dietary practice, you will be successful and happy for the long run.
In a nut shell his translates to making whole, healthy and sustainable food choices, identifying specific portions to your specific body composition goals and devising a plan of consistent nutrient intake at regular timing intervals. Be progressive and adaptive with these variables over time. Keep things that are “reasonably” comforting and eliminate it in time when you are emotionally ready to do so.
This can be a daunting task to people that are inexperienced with nutrition, food preparation and their personal body awareness. This is where the help of a professional like myself, can start you on a path to knowledge and empowerment toward healthy eating.
A Work in Progress
Being an athlete and fitness professional, people often ask me what I eat to stay healthy. Personally for me it is a combination of philosophies as we discussed earlier. I like the Paleo diet frame work as the foundation of my diet plan. The Paleo diet consists of strictly eating animal proteins, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. These are all clean and whole food sources of nutrition. However, this diet as a standalone is personally lacking the nutritional and aesthetic values for me.
While this diet restricts intelligent things like refined sugars, processed meats, salty foods and energy drinks. All of which I highly agree. It also leaves out whole nutritious foods like yams, squash, and all types of potatoes. The paleo diet also excludes whole grains, legumes and dairy, all of which can add a tremendous amount of nutritional and aesthetic value to your diet. If used intelligently, these foods will not have any detrimental effects on your dietary goals.
I also apply many vegetarian philosophies into my diet, eating a lot of beans, mixing seeds nuts and grains for protein. I use hemp protein powder to supplement my protein needs, which is a complete vegetarian source. I learned over time how to integrate these aspects into the heavy meat eating philosophy of the paleo diet frame work I also adhere to.
I highly rely on the book “Eating Right for Your Type” by Dr. D’ Adamo’s as a reference guide. I integrate these philosophies into my food selections, which also closely parallels the Paleo diet as well. Dr D’Adamo’s teachings are where I have learned a lot about identifying my personal food allergies and about healthy foods that may not react well with my blood type. The information in this book along with anecdotal experience led me to exclude dairy products all together from my diet, which I used liberally for many years. I can now breathe better and have less allergy symptoms from excluding dairy. This has impacted the quality of my life and health greatly. This is just one of many examples I have taken form Dr. D’Adamo’s book.
In a nut shell this is how I have evolved my dietary habits over time. This is a consistently evolving practice as I am on the path of health. My habits are constantly changing in a progressive manner as I lean more knowledge and gain feedback from personal experience.
Adhering to Change
Like it or not adhering to a healthful diet can also closely parallel the same challenges as trying to manage bad credit payday loan no fax a substance abuse or addiction disorder. In the past, if you have been following a diet plan and go through “binges” of junk food eating you can use this as a source of learning and reinforcement instead of failure and discouragement.
Each time you go outside the bounds of your diet plan and eventually come back to eating healthy again. Make some adjustments to modify your behavior so you grow from the experience and don’t cycle through the same mistake over again. This is where personal discipline and self awareness play heavily on your level of success. Learn to identify triggers such as time restrictions, stressful events, travel and social events to see how they played a role in you going off your path of healthful eating.
Once you identify how these triggers change your intended behavior you can consciously modify your reaction to them. For a common example, if you find that when work gets busy you tend to skip healthy meals and eat quick unhealthy choices. The solution is to learn to prepare healthy food options and bring them to work with you. Make the options quick, healthy and satiating, as well as consistent with your dietary goals. That way when things get busy you will be glad you have a healthy option to turn to. This will be satisfying on many levels as you will have more energy to support your goals.
Variables to Consider
When looking at the diet holistically there are variables to consider. Quality of food selection, portion size, nutrient timing, hydration factors and food reactions need to be addressed first and foremost. Managing these aspects first will form a foundation on which you can build a solid individualized diet plan that is both successful and enjoyable.
Quality and Food Selection
The quality of food selections may be the greatest asset to the foundation of all these variables. The foods you pick need to evolve to be “whole-fresh” sources as possible. Organic is always a better choice over “natural sources” and packaged foods. Eating out is the lowest on the totem pole even for a seemingly healthy restaurant. There are always sacrifices in food quality when it is commercially produced for meals on a menu. Save it for a special occasion or social outing.
“Natural food” is a tricky labeling scheme in order to make you think that there is something significantly healthier about that food, but it is not true. Natural foods will contain pesticides, hormones and even antibiotics which have a significant ability to harm your health in the long run. That is why “Organic” is a better choice over the long term as these foods lack the toxic additives natural foods contain. It is important that these food choices be healthy and also have a personal aesthetic value to them as well.
Where you shop for your food has a huge influence on how you buy your food. For the most part you should find yourself shopping on the perimeter of the store where whole-fresh food choices will be located. The middle sections of any store are full of processed or package foods that you want to avoid even if it’s a seeming healthy choice. Packaging is going to negate something about the food in an unhealthy manner. If it is in a package it is going to be a lower quality food and inconsistent with your overall goals.
Today most conventional grocery stores like King Soopers and Safeway have evolved to carry quality organic and whole-fresh food sources. If you are moving toward more advanced levels of eating I recommend a health food store like Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods. These stores are closer to the “gold standard” as far as food and supplement selections go. The majority of the items and advertising is consistent with your goals. That being said you still want to keep to the perimeter and avoid the packaged foods at these health food store locations.
Aesthetics can be defined as something that has an effect on your sensory-emotional status (8). Frankly nothing has the ability to do more so than food. Having personal enjoyment of the foods you eat is going to weigh heavily on the longevity of your success. Learn to enjoy the creation of healthy food or trying new recipes. Find ways of making healthful food that taste good and that you will look forward to eating. If you are inexperienced with these aspects of nutrition then you are just starting from the beginning. As a Fitness Professional I provide the service of teaching shopping skill and home cooking demos so clients can learn to manage their nutrition better. Please inquire if you are in need of this service.
The world in general is aesthetically more pleasing when you have stable blood sugar levels and are in a positive nitrogen balance with your food intake. This translates into feeling good about your body image and eating foods that encourage healthy body chemistry to support your efforts. Having a stable blood sugar and adequate hydration levels can affect your perspective of yourself, personal situations and the world around. This is where nutrient timing pays a crucial role.
No matter the goal of your diet it is important that you are paying attention to nutrient timing. I highly advise taking in food every 2-3 hours. Keeping it closer to 2 hrs is better than 3 hrs. Typically this equates to having 3-4 solid meals and 2-3 snacks per day. This ensures you are maintaining a healthy blood sugar and will avoid becoming irritable or discouraged throughout your day; which tends to be the source for eating poor food choices for most. From the time you wake up you should ingest something with a balance of low glycemic carbohydrate and whole protein and repeat that at a 2-3 hour interval. Do this until about an hour or two before retiring for the evening. If you are training extremely hard it would be beneficial to eat almost every 90 minutes if you desire.
Nutrient timing also plays a role in the way your body adapts to exercise and physical stress. It has been shown that ingesting food within 45min post exercise enhances recovery significantly. In 2004 a study showed that consuming protein along with carbohydrates immediately after exercise increased carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis by 600% compared to just a 100 %, when the same nutrient profile was consumed 3 hours after exercise instead (2). This time frame is popularly known as “The Anabolic Window” in the sports nutrition world.
This means feeling better faster after your training session and progressing at a higher pace overall. Being fully recovered ensures you will be able to work to your full metabolic capacity in your next training session which is vital to stimulate a strength and endurance response while creating a metabolism for a lean healthy body.
The macronutrient profile of the post-workout food should be close to a 4:1 ratio of high glycemic carbohydrate to protein (40g Carbohydrate: 10g Protein) to elicit this response. The simplest way to do this is chocolate milk. If you are concerned about your sugar intake or have a poor tolerance to dairy there are a million best borrowing rates alternatives to this.
I personally do not use or recommend chocolate milk for both reasons but it works. If you want a lower carbohydrate ratio it will still work better than ingesting nothing at all. Studies done on muscle recovery from physical training in the military showed it took just about 100 calories to elicit a recovery response (6). The key is to ingest something that has quality nutritional value within the 45 minute window post-exercise and then every 2-3 hours beyond that until you retire.
It is also advised to have something about 20 minutes prior to training. This is known as the “energy phase” for the pre-workout period (2). Ingesting calories during this time frame does more than just give you energy for training. Consuming something in a 5:1 ratio (25g carbohydrate: 5g protein) of carbohydrates to protein has been shown to decrease muscle damage and spare the muscle glycogen, which is stored muscle energy (2). Peanut butter and a slice of Ezekiel bread or a piece of fruit and some nuts will supply this adequately.
It’s very common for me to see people come into my studio to train that have NOT eaten anything for 5 plus hours. You are not going to yield much out of the session if you practice this. Your capacity to learn and work at an optimal level will be greatly diminished during the session. Eating a pre-workout meal will increase your personal enjoyment and quality of the exercise session. This will allow your body to produce endorphins and an adaptive response to exercise instead of “hitting the wall”.
Hydration is the most critical factor that is important for your metabolism and health status. There is no one universal way to determine your hydration status so fluid intakes should be somewhat individualized for people (7). Activity levels and environment factors are highly dependent in determining this. If you are exercising intensely in a hot environment you need to adjust your fluid intake in some capacity. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 2.7 liters a day for females and 3.7 liters for males (4). This is approximately 91 oz of fluid for females a 125 oz of fluid for males, which is a very steep number for most people to attain. Finding something in that ball park for your individual needs would be best. For training purposes, try to consume 16-24 oz of fluid prior to exercise and drink when you are thirsty during exercise to keep things practical (7). If you train for long durations and lose weight during exercise the rule of thumb is 16-24oz of fluid for every pound lost during exercise (7).
If you are training intensely or in a hot environment it is recommend to intake fluids, foods or supplements that contain electrolytes. This is more than just adjusting potassium and sodium levels. Magnesium and calcium also play a role in electrolyte status and muscle function. The electrolyte ions are the way your brain communicates with your muscles and the rest of the body, so keeping optimal levels is highly important for feeling vibrantly healthy. Fruits fresh or dried, nuts and diluted juices are all natural healthy alternatives sources. Avoid sugary sports drinks which are popular with athletes as these will have long term adverse effects on your health and body composition.
One of the more challenging aspects of diet is portion control and knowing your macronutrient profiles. Whether a client is trying to lose body fat and become lean or gain muscular weight and bulk it is imperative that you dial in the right portion size and macronutrient profiles. Client A needs to keep calories within in a limit but cannot be too restrictive. Client B needs to make sure they are getting a high caliber of optimal calories at the right ratios of macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fats. For either client A or B, portions of meals need to be adjusted and monitored consistently to attain these goals at both ends of the spectrum.
When it comes to creating the actual portion size for meals and knowing what percentage range you are getting. It is best to use your protein gram total as the foundation of the meal and build the other aspect of nutrition around that. Your protein should consist of approximately 20% of your caloric needs. For example if you are eating a piece of fish that is the size of a deck of cards, that is only 20% of your meal. You need to complement that with sources of carbohydrates at 40-55% and healthy fats at 20-30% to be complete in you caloric balance. To discuss the possibilities of what could be added to this meal is outside the scope of this article and will be addressed in a different article soon.
Protein needs to be consumed throughout the day in regular spaced intervals of 2-3hrs to achieve an optimal level. This will ensure a proper functioning metabolism and tissue repair from exercise. Eating an optimal amount of protein will increase feelings of well being, increase exercise performance, optimize immune function, and prevent injuries.
To make the low end requirement for protein you should consume at least 0.8g per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight a day. For a 120lb trainee the equation looks like this 120lbs/2.2=55kg. 55kg x 0.8= 44g of protein per day.
For an athlete or someone in higher intensity modes of training it is recommended to have 1.2-1.7g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. For a 170lb trainee the equation looks like this. 170lbs/2.2=77kg. 77kg x 1.5=115g of Protein per day.
There are many types of whole protein you can use to reach this caloric goal. If the source comes from an animal such as meat, dairy or eggs, it is a “complete protein”. Complete protein indicates that in contains all the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce.
If it comes from a plant source then you have to mix it with another vegetarian source to make it complete. Classic examples are rice and beans and peanut butter combined with whole grain bread. The exception to the incomplete vegetarian protein can be found in chia seeds, hemp seeds, quinoa and soy. These are complete forms of vegetarian protein to meet your caloric needs. I personally supplement my protein needs with hemp protein powder with great success. This is after giving up whey protein due to my negative food reaction to dairy.
Many people have misconceptions when eating meat as a source of protein. Many people believe that eating meat will make them “fat” or contribute to degenerative conditions like heart disease and cancer. If you choose quality organic meats that are lean and consume them in moderation it will contribute greatly to your health. Consistently consuming low quality, fatty sources of meat will contribute very poorly your health.
A rule of thumb when consuming any type of meat is that a portion size is equal to a standard deck of cards which is approximately 3oz. A deck of cards or 3oz of meat is equal to 35g of protein. Eating lean and organic sources of meat is healthy way to get a lot of protein in one sitting. Eating healthy meat sources will contribute highly to a leaner body composition and stronger muscles.
A lot of people have carbohydrate phobia because of the pseudoscience and availability of junk carbs in processed foods. Healthy carbohydrate intake from healthy sources can provide a wide array of performance benefits during training. Carbohydrates should be low to moderately glycemic and come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Use fruit to supply carbohydrate calories for the “energy phase” and “anabolic phase” of nutrition. Use lower glycemic carbohydrates like quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes throughout the rest of the day. This important to your overall health status as carbohydrate intake has been shown to enhance central nervous system function, maintain immunity, spare protein usage for fuel and postpone fatigue in the heat (1).
Carbohydrates should be consumed at a range of 3-10g per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight per day depending on your activity level. If you use the same conversions and equations from the protein section above, place the carbohydrate grams where you plugged in protein grams to yield this number. If you are an athlete or competing in a sport 6-10g/kg is a good measure to have per day (1). This should be approximately 55% of your total calorie intake per day as recommended (1).
If weight loss is your goal 3-5g/kg is a good measure and should be approximately 40% of your total calorie intake per day. Consuming too low amount of carbohydrates which is 2 g/kg or less of bodyweight, has been found to decrease muscle in healthy subjects (1). This will ultimately lower your chances for weight loss and diminish your overall wellbeing in the long run.
Fat – You can’t get lean without it! People will always have some association with consuming fat with getting fatter. And why notâ¦it is the calorie source of the very thing you are trying to eliminate. People often times try to avoid fat all together to gain a lean body composition. This is detrimental to your health and your goals of becoming lean. Consuming the right types of fats will contribute greatly to your well being and disease prevention.
30% of our total calories should come from healthy fats. Consuming a diet with a healthy fat profile has been shown to protect the cardio vascular system in several ways, decrease all types of inflammation, reduce asthma symptoms and also contribute to better mental health (5). Best of all consuming healthy fat will contribute to your energy levels and lean body composition goals. Omega-3 fat consumption has shown to increase fat oxidation at rest and during exercise in all populations (5)
Good vs. Bad Fat
There are several types of fats that we consume though food, but you can put fats into two categories, Good and Bad. Let’s start with the good news. Good fats are contained in whole-fresh food sources like animal proteins, seeds nuts and even grains. These are the fatty acids omega 3-6-9. The Omega-3 fatty acids are the healthiest type and the hardest to attain in the typical American diet. Buffalo, cold water fish, chia and flax seeds are the most abundant and concentrated sources for this fat. Walnuts, grass fed beef, and kale are less concentrated sources.
Omega -6 and 9 fats are important but less healthy for the body when consumed in to high amounts. These fatty acids need to be in correct ratio with Omega-3’s for optimal biological functioning and attaining good health. Avocados, meats, nuts, seeds and coconut oil are all great sources of these fatty acids. The easiest way to complete this ratio is to make sure you have a source of Omega -3 each time you consume food or use an omega -3 supplement.
Bad fats are labeled as hydrogenated oils or Trans fats. These fats do not occur in nature and are not metabolized well by the human body. The process of hydrogenating healthy oil makes it solid at room temperature which is more cosmetic for packaging and preservative purposes. Hydrogen is saturated into the carbon chain of a normal fat which inhibits the body’s ability to enzymaticly break this type of fat down. It then tends to deposit itself in arteries and is used for lining of nerves and to create cellular membranes. The problem is that these hydrogenated fats do not function the same way natural fats do. These fats tend to do the exact opposite of Omega-3 fatty acids; increasing the risk of heart disease and inflammation. These fats should be strictly avoided at all times!
The way some foods react with the chemistry of your body can have a detrimental effect on your nutritional status and body composition in many ways. A frustrating fact is that even the healthiest food choices can still hold you back from your dietary goals if they do not react well with your personal chemistry. For example, healthy foods like cauliflower can lower thyroid function in some individuals (3). Gluten in wheat can cause many people to gain weight and have chronic inflammation (3).
According to Doctor D’Admano, your blood type is what dictates this most of all. There are four basic blood types and each one has foods that work really well with that particular chemistry to attain a healthy body. Dr D’Admano addresses the foods that work with each blood type as well as the foods that do not. For example Type O blood does well metabolizing meats, fruits and vegetables of most types. While dairy, grains and even certain fruits, like citrus have many detrimental effects on this blood type (3). When reading the science and research combined with anecdotal experience, you can start to see how this can work for you.
This was an introduction and the first installment of Iron lion Nutrition covering the foundational concepts that are needed for long term success. Please stay tuned as I will elaborated and expand more specifically about some of these concepts and beyond. Coming soon is the topic of intelligent supplementation, travel tips for diet and exercise as well as a quick reference guide to foundational concepts.
1. Berger, Christopher. Healthy Nutrition for Collegiate Wrestlers, NSCA’s Performance Journal, issue 12.6: 1-2, 2013.
2. Chat, Williams. Matt, Jacob. Nutrient timing for resistance training, NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, issue 12.6: 27-28, 2013.
3. D’Adamo, Peter. Eat Right for Your Type. G.P. Putnam’s Son, New York, 1996.
4. Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride and sulfate. 2004. Retrieved March 29, 2014 from http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2004/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-Water-Potassium-Sodium-Chloride-and-Sulfate.aspx
5. Jones, Brian. Fish oil and Athletic Performance, NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, issue 11.6: 11-13, 2012.
6. Training the Tactical Athlete, Symposia Manual. 2008
7. Wein, Debra. Murphy, Kelly. Hydration for athletes; Findings from food and nutrition conference and expo, NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 12.6: 29-30, 2013.
8. Zangwill, Nick. Aesthetic Judgment, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 02-28-2003/10-22-2007. Retrieved February, 2014 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aesthetic-judgment.