A Balanced Approach to Diet and Nutrition
I will start off with a little history of myself. I am almost 40 years old and am now in the best shape of my life. I sit a a comfortable 85kg weight at sub 10% bodyfat (it varies between 5-10% depending on my competitive season) with very little training and what I would consider a non-restrictive diet. It wasn’t always this way. When I was in high school I thought I was buff, but I was just fat. I graduated high school with a 40+ inch waist at 172cm. I grew up in a fairly small town with no internet access so I thought I was doing pretty good. In my small circle I was doing pretty good. I had been training for years but had no idea what I was doing in the gym or the kitchen. When I had gotten to college I met a guy who was an amateur bodybuilder and I started to learn a lot more quickly. I did the classic bulk and cutting phases. Having my weight fluctuate between 110kg and 65kg, with neither extreme looking very good. But I did learn the importance of proper training and food and how it affected my body. I was hooked and began experimenting and recording how various training methods, diets, and supplements affected my body. I still have many of those journals. After graduation I was hired by a big chain supplement store to help sell their sports supplements line. I then started to delve into the research and experimentation with all the various supplements on the market. That lasted for many years. As life move on, I always strived to tweak and experiment with diet, training, and nutrition to find out what worked well for me and what didn't. The end goal was to find out the minimal amount of work to achieve what I wanted. There were many hard learned lessons and time and money wasted, as well as some injuries along the way. I am now happy with everything and can finally say I am happy to maintain my current physical state and health as long as I can.
I share with you, with what in my opinion, are the lessons learned along the way. Keep in mind this is about general health and physical preparedness and does not take into account someone willing to sacrifice their health or wellness to compete in a sport.
This is basically free and probably the most important part whether you are trying to gain muscle or lose fat. The training and diet is only the stimulus. The body rebuilds during the sleep phase. Even fat loss occurs when sleeping through oxidation and exhalation. This is one of the most underrated aspects of performance. I have a few recommendations for this.
Sleep Hygiene - Exposure to light and electronics stimulates the mind and body. We evolved sleeping in darkness until the turn of the last century. Try to have a cool, dark room, free of all electronics.
Consistency - If possible, try to wake up and go to bed within an hour of the regular time. This helps the body establish a routine and puts less stress and reduces the chances of accumulating sleep debt. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot “catch up” on sleep on the weekend. If you even miss 1 hour a night during weekday you would need to sleep in 5 hours on the weekend.
Winding down - This can be done through mindfulness, yoga, journaling, couting sheep, etc. They all acheive the same result, putting your body into a parasympathetic state.
If there are sleep issues, you can look into the supplement section for some assistance.
Being in the right nervous system state is essential for optimal nutrition. Being in a sympathetic state the blood is drawn away from the digestive system to the extremities as it is in a state of panic. You want to be in the parasympathetic state when eating. This has been known for centuries when eating was a celebration where family and friends would gather and spend long quality time eating and talking. There is a reason that a Christmas dinner with the family is different than chowing down on a meal in front of the television. There have been many ways to achieve this you have probably heard. These all work in different ways to achieve the save task.
Mindful eating - Your primary task is eating. This means not eating while watching TV, playing on your computer, driving, in a rush between meetings, etc.
Chewing food many times - This forces us to slow down and be more self-aware. The number of bites doesnt really matter, it is more about the process of slowing down and paying attention to what you are doing.
My recommendation is to perform one of the above tasks while eating. You could also do some breath work before eating. If possible, try to eat in good company and spend some quality time with family and friends, like in the old days, sharing a meal.
Type of diet
There are many diets out there, but they all follow two basic rules. They are either quality based (paleo, keto, Atkins, etc) or quantity based (zone, IIFYM, Weight Watchers, etc.) Both work to some extent, but neither to the exclusion of others. You can’t just eat all the paleo food you want, likewise if you eat IIYFM with just poptarts it doesn’t work well. If you have a diet that works better for you that you can stick to and works for your purposes then use it. If not a more balanced simple approach is best. I have done a ketogenic diet for 20 years as my family had a bad history of diabetes, but I have normalized my insulin sensitivity and accustomed myself to fueling off fat that I can now eat a moderate amount of carbs with little to no blood sugar problems.
I recommend something along the Paleo approach for food quality, although not as strict. Most people dairy is a no, so don’t bother. There is more than enough research to show that most adults do not react well to milk products, and there are plenty of good alternatives to dairy. No you will not get brittle bones. Weight training is better at creating bone density than dairy is. I have DEXA scans showing my bone density as twice that of a normal man and I haven’t had dairy since I was a kid. A word to the wise, just because it has the word Paleo in front of it does not mean its good for you. Usually if you have to quantify a food choice based on its name, its garbage. You want to eat minimally processed food. The more a food is processed the worse of an effect it has on your body. Let's take the simple carrot for example. A raw whole carrot has a glycemic index of 16 (glycemic index is its influence on your insulin levels, a score out of 100, higher being worse), you dice that carrot and it raises to 35, boiling them raises it to 49. Its best to eat foods without a label on them. Label usually means processed, because they need a nice place to write the long list of ingredients. Easiest advice, eat food that your grandmother (or great grandmother if you are young) would recognize as food. Grass fed, pastured, or free range is the best choice. This means that the animal is also eating quality food. Organic is a great buzzword, but just because its organic doesn’t means its good for you, or any better than non-organic. Some of the organic pesticides can be worse than the chemical ones. DO NOT eat genetically modified foods.
Eat unprocessed food
Get grass fed, or pastured when possible
If Organic as well its a bonus
Avoid GMO foods
Now that quality is done, lets now talk about quantity. I have discovered that if you are eating good quality foods that you require less calories. Most people consume too many carbs, fueling high insulin levels. Yet, have a aversion to fat, which is essential for all hormone production. Remember, your body can live without carbs, it can’t live without fat. Protein is a interesting nutrient. I have never met anyone who was deficient in protein, but I have also met people that over consume it thinking that it will somehow magically transmute their fat into muscle. For most people eating a balance isocaloric diet is best. This means equal parts coming from each group. The exact calorie count is more of a guess, you need to experiment with this number a bit but the following is a good guess.
Eat 15 calories a pound for maintenance
To gain weight eat 16-18 calories a pound
To lose weight, 13-14 calories a pound
Isocaloric diet (33% carbs, 33% protein, 33% fat)
If you make any changes to your diet, wait at least a couple of weeks to see how it makes you feel. Some of the inflammation from bad foods can take awhile to notice. Do not make sudden changes. Only adjust up or down 10% per week for desired results. If you do not know what you are currently eating, shame on you. Download MyFitnessPal and start tracking your food. This will give you a better idea of what you are eating and its also easy to share these food reports with a coach.
This is a heavily marketed part of the nutrition industry, and mostly that, marketing. Most pre-workouts are just jacked full of caffeine and supplements that supposed to make you feel a pump, no permanent results, just a temporary feeling. Best options for pre workout is a coffee or maybe some carbs if you are having an intense workout. Peri workout (during workout) if its a long grueling workout, maybe a good carb source for some extra energy. Post workout is essential, you only have half an hour or you will lose all your gains. Or so the supplement industry will make you believe. If you are getting enough protein in your normal diet, you will be fine. I haven’t had a protein shake since my bodybuilding days and I am doing just fine.
Coffee is the only pre-workout you need
Eat a good source of carbs if needed pre or peri workout (Vitargo)
Don’t worry too much about the post workout shake if the rest is in order
Your carb choice makes a difference. You don’t want to eat a slow absorbing carb as it will take too long to get the energy, likewise you don’t want to get a fast insulin spike and then crash afterwards. My product of choice is Vitargo. This was the first solidly researched carb on the market for athletes. It is fast absorbed but doesn’t cause an insulin spike. Great for pre, peri, or post workout.
I used to be a big fan of supplements and believed all the marketing hype. Problem is, most of it is just that, hype. Lots of research has been done in vitro, injectable, or in animal studies that do not translate to humans taken orally. Many do absolutely nothing, they just have a terrific marketing team behing them. There are very few supplements that have stood the test of time. Most of the important supplements you will never even feel working.
Creatine - The most researched supplement on PubMed. There are literally thousands of research papers showing its benefit from athletic performance to its ability to protect the brain from degeneration. Just get the regular monohydrate version and take 5g a day, no need to load or get some fancy cocktail.
Adaptogens - Adaptogens are a very unique supplement, they can either raise or blunt certain hormones and hormonal responses depending on the need of the user. These have been used by Ayurvedic and chinese medicine for as long as written records exists and are still being used to this day. Many common ones are Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Rhodiola, etc. There are many different types on the market, my recommendation is that you get a good combination supplement that has several different types in them. Some people respond or need different herbs. The best ones I have found are: ATP Labs Andregenik, Lorna Vanderhaeghe ADRENASmart, and Nova3Labs Max Adrenal. NOTE: CBD has been shown to be a powerful adaptogen. My advice is to purchase from a hemp source as it is guaranteed to be free of THC and won’t land you in any legal trouble.
Joint Health - When you are young you do not appreciate this, when you are older, you miss this. Unfortunately even joint damage at the smallest scale does not heal on its own. Once your cartilage is broken down, it does not rebuild itself. The market is flooded with these supplements and most do nothing. Trust me, I have had major joint issues including septic arthritis for years and have rigorously tried everything on the market. The ones that work for reducing joint inflammation and easing pain also work as excellent anti-oxidants. Curcumin, Boswellia, and Astaxanthin are the only ones I have found that have helped. Buyer beware though, there are many forms on these on the market, some much better than others. For example, curcumin can be found almost everywhere, but if it is not in a phospholipid state it has a horrible absorption rate. Hallelujah Diet makes a product called Joint health, which has all of these ingredients, plus a few other great ones, in one convenient capsule. Unfortunately the product is not easy to find, but well worth it.
VItamin D - This is actually a hormone necessary for proper metabolism that your body can create on its own through as little as 15 minutes of exposure to the sun. The problem is many of us are not spending enough time outside, or lucky enough to live in a climate where we can do this year round. 3,000iu per day is enough for most. I have tried upwards of 5x that dosage and the bloodwork showed no symptoms of excess.
Omega 3 - These are an essential fatty acid. Key word is essential, this is not something our body can make on its own. Unfortunately with most foods today are loaded with omega 6 oils and most of our sources of omega 3 oils (such as salmon and grass feed beef) are few and far between. I would recommend an refrigerated oil type. It makes it easier to obtain a proper dosage and improves oil stability. There are many brands online, often with added vitamin D. I usually rotate to what is currently available at my health food store. NutraSea and SFH make two of the most popular oils in Canada. Fermented cod liver oil is an excellent source of omega 3 as well as vitamin D and K. Unfortunately it is also very strong tasting substance and an acquired taste. Nordic Naturals and Green Pastures make excellent fermented cod liver oil products.
NOTE: Taking high amounts of omega 3 will not offset maintaining high levels of omega 6 oils. The goal is to increase omega 3 and reduce omega 6.
Probiotics - Technically you are more bacteria than you. The bacterial cells outnumber the human cells in your body. There is leading research showing that more serotonin (the happy chemical) is produced in the intestine than in the brain, probably where the old saying “gut feeling” comes from. The problem with the bacteria in the gut is is you feed them bad food, the good ones die off and the bad ones get stronger. The rampant use of antibiotics in food and for unnecessary medical appointments destroys both the good and bad bacteria. I advise either getting a stool sample to know the exact composition of your gut. If this is not possible, it is a good idea to rotate between supplements to ensure you are getting what is needed. Most brands vary immensely what strains of bacteria are held within. If you must take antibiotics, once done the cycle, ensure that you are taking a high powered product. NOTE - Ensure these are refrigerated when bought. The bacteria contained within will quickly degrade if exposed to heat. Make sure they are already refrigerated when buying.
Sleep Aid - As noted earlier, sleep is essential for success. If following the above section on sleep still does not lead to satisfactory sleep there are some great supplements to help. Sleep issues can be caused by numerous factors so unless you know why, it is best to take a sleep combination supplement. There are many different supplements that help with sleep. The main one being meletonin, magnesium, GABA, velvet bean, and valerian. These all help different aspects, from regulating sleep cycle to helping improve sleep latency (time to fall asleep) to helping you get a more sound sleep. I recommend taking a combination product. There are several great combinations available out there. SleepCocktails, ATP Labs Optisom.
Magnesium - Magnesium is essential for relaxation of the muscles and the majority of people are deficient in magnesium through their daily diet. Don’t just grab any magnesium pill. Different forms have much different absorption rates. Magnesium oxide being one of the most common and least absorbed, to magnesium glycinate or malate which is absorbed much easier by the digestive system. Slowly titrate the dosage up as an overdose on magnesium will also cause the bowels to relax, resulting in diarrhea. You can get these in pill form or from a powder product such as Natural Calm or Lorna Vanderhaegen MagSmart.
The information contained in this article is up to date with all the current knowledge I have. As I learn more and experiment more I will eventually update the information contained herein. If you have any questions, or would like more detail on a certain topic feel free to contact me.
Yours in health,