A Practical Guide To Nutrition And How I Make Food Work For Me
What this post is not…
I’m not going to tell you what to eat or how much. I’m not going to go into depth about macro and micro nutrients. I’m not going to talk about Paleo, Zone, Whole30, or RP templates. You could read for months about all of those with just a few clicks and google searches. What I will do is give you a practical guide on how to navigate the outrageous amount of information out there, and how to make food work for you. All of the information you are about to read is one hundred percent based on my own experiences which you can chose to apply to your own life or not. This is not a substitution for medical advice or advice you receive from a licensed professional.
First Things First…
Like most of you, I have battled with food and body image my entire life. I have spent the majority of my life worrying about how I look and how others view me. I have tried more nutrition philosophies than I care to admit, though it ranges from vegetarianism all the way to strict Paleo. But none of them seemed to work for me and until recently, I had no idea why. In the past, I would blame the program or philosophy itself. I had this idea in my mind that there was only one answer to the food question, that one of them had to be right, and that I just had to try as many as I could until I found THE ONE. This is something I spoke about in my last post and the is the first lesson in my Guide to Nutrition.
The first lesson is simple, you must Have Patience. The word “patience”, even as I write it, makes me cringe. In my opinion, patience is one of the hardest skills to acquire, especially in a world of instant access that technology has brought us. Unfortunately, eating well for one day will reap zero visual results. Similarly, doing squats one time will not give you a PR squat the next day. It takes weeks, months, even years to see tangible results. One day of change does not make a habit, which applies to more than just food. Patience and a more comprehensive perspective on training (and probably most things in life) is what I believe will bring results. There is not ONE right answer. You can find success in multiple nutritional philosophies but you just have to have consistency with one of them long enough to see results.
The second lesson in this guide is DO. This is certainly not the first piece of writing you have read about food and I bet that you have also watched videos on YouTube, read a couple books/magazines, asked a trainer about it, or have clicked through on Facebook or Instagram links regarding nutrition. For the most part, we have all seen the same information repeated over and over and if I asked you right now what you should be eating, I’m fairly confident you would all be able to give me very similar answers. The difference between success and failure, is whether or not you take what you have learned and apply it to your life. In my experience, I have found that a lot of people will simply take in information but never use it. Everyone has reasons why they haven’t done anything yet. But you don’t need a Monday, you don’t need the 1st of the month or the New Year or to wait for after some event to take place. I prefer the word DO over the word START because, technically, you’ve already started. You did the research. You’re reading this post. But you need to apply your knowledge. Put into practice which ever philosophy you decide, and apply it the next time you eat. Once you DO, then go back to lesson one and have the patience to keep it going every time you go grocery shopping and every time you eat.
The Next Step…
Now that we are doing and being consistent about it, the next step is to identify if the philosophy you initially picked is working for you. Over several weeks or months, gather some data on weight change, body composition, performance in the gym, general mood, etc. Are you going in the right direction? If yes, stick with it, continue to gather data and reassess in a few more months. If not, then take the good, kick the bad, and adjust. The two things that I look at when designing my personal nutrition plan is the following:
Is it sustainable? This question is extremely important. If the way you eat makes you hate food or doesn't work with your lifestyle/schedule then change it. You need to pick something that you can see yourself sticking with for the rest of your life.
Does it make me happy? The worst advice I ever got when it comes to food was told to me when I was very young, they said, “If it taste good, spit it out”. That quote, in one sentence, explains why the majority of diets don't work. This idea that you have to be miserable to be healthy or lean is completely false. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but that does not and should not come at the expense of your happiness. More on this later.
What you don't want to hear…
You can be very successful if you put into practice everything I have written up to this point. Pick a plan, put it into practice, be patient, gather data, and adjust. This is a great place to start, and for most, this is where you will stay for the rest of your life. Do that and you are doing better nutritionally than the majority of the people you interact with every day.
However, if your goals require more precision and optimization, then there is one more thing that you can add in to the above information. It’s something that I have avoided talking about thus far, because it is easily the hardest thing to implement and be consistent with due to the fact that it can become all-consuming. Nevertheless, it has changed the game for me.
Weigh and measure your food. That sentence is one that I used to skim over, or roll my eyes at because it does not seem as though it could be sustainable or fun. It was never a concept that I gave two seconds of my time to. It was only after some self-reflection that I realized it might be the only thing I had not tried. When I finally dove head first into weighing and measuring my food, I finally found the results I was looking for. This step is not for everyone. This step is for those who want to have more control over their food, for those who want more exact data on how quantities of food affect them, and the ability to make more precise adjustments.
How I make food work for me…
I am a huge fan of simple. I believe that we overcomplicate fitness and our food to the point of paralysis by analysis. I firmly believe that doing is the only way to get results. Here’s a quick summary of my personal nutrition plan which is mostly guided by CrossFit’s recommendations:
- Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar (most of the time).
- The above foods in quantities that support exercise and not body fat.
- Weigh and measure all food, gather data, and adjust accordingly to my goals.
Adjusting your food can be tricky. Knowing what to adjust and how much, takes time and practice. I primarily adjust my carbs and fats. Protein is always at one gram per pound of body weight no matter if my goal is to gain or lose weight. Carbs will vary depending on the amount I train. I let this variance in carbs happen naturally, for example on days I train a lot, you can guess that I tend to be more hungry, so I bump up my carbs a little. Whereas, on days I take a rest day, I will eat much less in general, so my carbs will be lower. If I am in a phase of gaining weight, I am more generous with the amount of carbs I eat and don’t worry about the number as long as I am eating healthy carbs (i.e. potatoes and fruits). During phases of weight loss or competition season, I will try to manage those carbs more closely. Of the three macro nutrients, I have found that for me, fats have the greatest effect on my body composition. My fats will vary similarly to my carbs depending on what my goals are. I have to watch these numbers more closely, letting this number get too high will lead to very fast and unwanted weight gain.
Adjusting is very much individual to each person. What works for me, might not work for you. For example, your body may be more sensitive to carbs than fats. Learning which macro nutrients and which foods in those categories effect you the most, is very important. It’s okay to experiment with lots of food and different macro nutrient ratios! If you notice a trend that you do not want, adjust it. Remember there is no one right answer. Each person must find their optimal levels. Before moving on to the final section, keep in mind that I do not track my food all the time. There are times during the year where I let myself eat by feel. This is something I can do because I have been doing this long enough to know how my body feels when it is missing something or what 100g of a particular food looks like without weighing it. This also does not mean I go off the rails and eat red hot dogs and cake all day. It’s still based on the three primary guidelines that I have set for myself, only with a few more privileges.
Do and Don’t…
I want to leave you with this last thought. There is one thing that trumps everything when it comes to food. No matter what you eat, how much you eat, if you weigh and measure or not, the most important thing is does it make you happy? Some weeks I weigh and measure my food and hit my macros exactly, and others I eat whatever I want (within reason). This ebb and flow of doing and not, keeps me sane and happy. You have to find balance between one extreme or another. Be comfortable with wherever you are at on that spectrum. Eat well, train hard, and enjoy.
Thank you, guys, for reading! If you are hungry for more specific information I have linked content produced by individuals who are more highly educated in nutrition than myself and who dive deeper into this topic. If you click one or even all of these links, please do me a favor; when you are done consuming, start doing! Doing is the only way you will get to where you want to be.
Until next week,
CrossFit Nutrition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O6XV-5kYUU
Avoiding Disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK86W8Ls5nY&t=34s
Optimizing Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKz6GfUGVlo
Simple Nutrition Part 1: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ecnutrition-01.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 2: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ec-nutrition-2.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 3: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ecnutrition-03.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 4: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ec-4.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 5: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/simple-nutrition-part-5.tpl