Training is only half the battle. Nutrition is the other half. With your daily nutrition, there are 3 main goals:
1) Recover from your last workout
2) Prepare for your next workout
3) Manipulate your body composition
So without further ado, I will share my thoughts on daily nutrition. If you’re familiar with QT2, you’ll see that my thoughts are heavily influenced by Jesse Kropelnicki’s “Core Diet” concept. It should also be noted that this not supposed to be a theoretical, scholarly article on nutrition. It is merely intended to be advice on daily eating, in the most simple, practical manner possible. Also, this will not cover “in workout” nutrition – this is only about eating outside of workouts.
The basic premise of any nutritional program is this, “Give your body what it needs, when it needs it”. Do not underestimate the second half of that statement – when you’re eating certain foods is just as important as the foods that you are actually eating. For a simple example: A salmon fillet is a great food to have right before going to sleep, but is a terrible food to have in the middle of a run. A Gu packet is great for the middle of a run, but is stupid to have when you’re just sitting around watching a movie.
Section 1) What your body needs
At it’s simplest, your body needs food. Real, actual, food. Not chemicals. Look at the ingredient lists of what you’re buying. If there are things on there that you can’t pronounce, then you are not eating food. You are eating manufactured chemicals. Sweet potatoes are food. Pineapple is food. Propylene glycol is not food. Polysorbate 60 is not food. Hydrolyzed corn gluten is not food. Red 40 is not food. Look at the ingredients of half the crap you find in a supermarket. It becomes pretty clear what is food, and what is just a chemically enhanced calorie-containing substance that will not cause immediate death.
As a general rule – the shorter the ingredient list, the better. (note: the one important exception to this rule is with sports drinks/gels… they often contain some manmade chemicals, but we’re willing to put up with that because these products are an essential part of any endurance workout).
Now among real foods, I divide things amongst five main groups: plants, animal flesh, nuts, dairy, and tea. All of these foods contain various nutrients, and the main idea is to eat foods that are “nutrient dense”.
Plants – The general rule here is that the more color a plant has, the more vitamins/antioxidants it has. Also, remember that fruits are bringing more sugars to the table than vegetables. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware of the impacts it will have on your blood sugar levels (more on this later). Most plant fats (olive oil, soybean oil, etc..) are unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are essential. Consume them, even if you are trying to lose weight.
Nuts – Loaded with unsaturated fats. It’s a good idea to always have a tub of mixed nuts laying around for snacking.
Dairy – You know all about dairy from elementary school health class. Drink milk and/or take a calcium supplement. No one wants osteoporosis or stress fractures.
Animal flesh / Eggs – Best complete protein source out there. The trade-off is that the fat associated with these foods is generally saturated fat. This can easily be solved by having lean cuts of meat, or eating egg whites.
Tea – Tea is the shizzle, fo’ rizzle. It is loaded with antioxidants. I drink the hell out of some tea. I generally have 2 cups of caffeinated tea before my morning workout, 2 more caffeinated cups before my afternoon workout, and end the day with 2 cups of decaf tea. (side note: training with Ethan in Clermont is going to be great – he’s the only person I know who’s more enthusiastic about tea than I am. Last winter, we developed some badass Pomegranate Green Tea. Very excited to see what concoctions we come up with this winter)
On fats – You need fats. Do not avoid fats. But do you think it’s healthier to get your fat from hunk of pepperoni or a handful of mixed nuts? The mixed nuts, obviously, as the fat is unsaturated, and the nuts also contain antioxidants. Same question – a hunk of cheese, or extra guacamole on your sammich? You get the point here. Eat your fats, but try to get them from plant-based sources.
On proteins – If you know about complete proteins, then just skip this. If you don’t, then read on. A complete protein is one that contains the nine “essential” amino acids that your body needs. All animal flesh, dairy, and eggs contain complete proteins (including whey protein powders). Vegetable sources generally are not complete, with the biggest exceptions being soy and quinoa products, which do contain complete protein. So when you see that your spaghetti contains “8g protein per serving”, don’t take it at face value. It is 8g per serving of protein, but since it is an incomplete protein, it’s not nearly as useful to your body as 8g of complete protein. It is possible to combine plant sources to get a complete spectrum of amino acids – beans and rice is a classic combination that accomplishes this.
How much of all this does your body need? Well, you figure it out, based on what is happening to your body composition in relation to your body composition goals. If you have a mirror, a scale, and skinfold calipers, then you have all the tools you need to determine if you need to change your calorie intake (and don’t complain about not having skinfold calipers – you can get them for $15).
My one bit of quantitative advice – if you’re training, and not trying to strip muscle off your frame, then I recommend consuming at least 0.75g of protein per pound of body mass per day, spread out over several meals. Simple – if you weigh 160 lbs, then consume at least 120g of complete protein every day, and spread it out over several meals (your body can only effectively digest 30-50g of protein per sitting).
Section 2) Timing is everything
When thinking about timing, it helps to look at the food you are eating as a fuel source. What it comes down to is the regulation of blood sugar levels. You have to think a little like someone with diabetes, as they are obsessed with blood sugar levels.
Glycemic index – foods with a high glycemic index cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels, and an associated spike in insulin levels. Foods with a low glycemic index have a more delayed, gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with simple sugars (candy, white bread, etc..) tend to have a high glycemic index, and foods with more complex carbohydrates (whole grains, sweet potatoes, etc..) tend to have lower glycemic indexes. This is important not only from an energy perspective, but also from a body composition perspective.
Foods that cause high levels of insulin secretion (i.e. high-GI foods), when consumed during periods other than when the body needs them, are associated with increased fat storage. The italicized section is important, because your body does need simple sugars and high-GI foods during your “workout window”. Your workout window is the period immediately preceeding a workout, during the workout, and the length of time after your workout that is equal in length to the time of your workout. For example – let’s say you’re doing a 90-minute run. Your workout window would open about 60 minutes before the workout starts, and stay open until 90 minutes after the workout ends.
Getting high GI carbs into your body immediately after a workout is very important if you are on a regular training plan, especially one with several workouts per day. Your body is most receptive to absorbing carbohydrates and storing them as muscle glycogen during the post-workout portion of your workout window. Your body’s fuel levels for it’s workout on Sunday morning are largely determined by what your eat during your workout window on Saturday. Great post-workout drinks include smoothies and chocolate milk. Ideally, you want roughly a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to complete protein in your post-workout drink/meal. Don’t get too nerdy about this though. Your friends will think you’re a total doucheball if you turn down a PB&J sandwich that they offer you post-workout because it doesn’t have exactly the right carbo:protein ratio. The most important thing is to get those carbs in immediately post-workout.
Ok… back to timing. How to apply this. Is there any reason to eat high-GI foods late at night, or during a rest day? Nope, not that I can think of. This leads to the concept of a “Core Diet” (trademarked by J-Krop). My take on the Core Diet consists of plants, lean proteins (flesh, eggs), dairy, nuts, and tea. This is all your body needs for daily functions (work, shopping, errands, sleep, etc..). You then supplement this Core Diet with carbohydrate-dense foods to fuel your workouts, as needed. It’s really just that simple.
When you get comfortable with eating in this manner, you can also get pretty good at tweaking the macronutrient profile of your intake in order to manipulate your body composition. And I’m just talking about tiny tweaks, not “wholesale dietary changes”. For example, it’s very easy to tell when I’m trying to gain weight or lose weight – all you have to do is look at what’s in my cupboards and in my fridge for a couple of key indicators.
1) Are there tortilla chip, cheese, and an abnormally high number of eggs? Doug is trying to gain weight.
2) Are there a lot of tomatoes? Doug is making a lot of pasta sauces – must be a high volume training block.
Honestly – those are about the only changes I have to make. Everything else stays pretty constant throughout the year.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again… the core of your diet stays the same at all times – nutrient dense foods with low glycemic indexes (indices?). You then just add in carbs as needed to fuel workouts, and tweak carbs/fats/proteins to manipulate body composition. You want to manipulate your body fat levels? Then tweak your carb/fat intakes. You want to add or subtract muscle? Then tweak your protein intake. It’s insanely simple, but also something that a lot of people have trouble with.
Ok, this post is already way too long, so…
Until next time… keep training hard, and resting harder,