5 Things Your Nutrition Is Missing
Lets talk messing up the basics.
And, let me be first to toss my name in the hat of people who let some important things slip from time to time. Personally, I find I might let a really solid nutriton tenet slip if I am so used to doing it I start to question if it's actually that important. A prime example of this is when I have a week where I am low on prepped proteins and my usual 220+ grams of protein per day slips down to 175g. Maybe 165g. Do this for a day or two and it's no big deal. But after a week or two you start to realize how much more you want to overeat carbs, feel hungry at weird times and feel under-recovered.
I know the research now clearly points to 1.8 to 2.2 g/kg. being an optimal range for strength training individuals. For me at 89 kg that is 160 to 195g per day. So a measly 165g of protein is within the range of optimality but I cannot argue with my personal experience of feeling better with a higher protein intake. So a week or two of feeling lousy reinforces how great I feel on my normal 220g per day.
Another slip up of mine is that sometimes you simply make exceptions until you end up with a totally different situation. Some of the best sleep I've ever had is when I read for 30-60 minutes in bed before hitting the hay. I always read, pretty much daily but the change in my routine throws me off. Instead of reading I might watch a little more T.V and then that includes watching Netflix in bed. Sooner than you think, I am now staying up later and watching more T.V than before. Bad for sleep, bad for recovery, bad for blood sugar control; pretty much bad for everyone except Netflix.
If you master the basics and rarely make exceptions on them, it buys you a LOT of flexibility in what you encounter on a day to day basis. Solid sleep, enough protein, hydrating, eating loads of veggies and getting 10,000 steps per day bulletproof you a little against that 1/2 cookie here, stressful day there....you know, all the life stuff. But an overall poor recovery and blood sugar management approach means that 1/2 cookie hits you WAY harder. And that stressful day turns into a burned out week.
So my PSA to you? Don't compromise on the basics, they are likely doing you way more good than you even realize.
The more you know......
Protein - Despite what everyone tells you
Yeah yeah I am so sick of hearing an anecdotal story from someone as to why THEIR personal experience applies to everyone. "Well, I know a guy who gave up all meat and got shredded!". Cool. It tells us nothing about context. I gave an anecdote in the opening of this but that is related to me and my personal experience, it's not to say you have to do what I do.
We've got some pretty solid recommendations for protein intake in the 1.8 to 2.2 g/kg range as cited by Eric Helms , Menno Henselmans and cited here by Examine.com.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend 1.4 to 2 g/kg per day here with some evidence to show amounts around 3g/kg or MORE can be beneficial without any harmful effects.
To go even further, Jose Antonio (THE protein researcher) has found through rigorous and very well structured studies that up to 3.4g/kg daily has a positive effect on body composition in well trained individuals. Check it out here. What's really cool about this study is that they not only chose already resistance-trained individuals but they put them on a periodized program to ensure proper intensity and volume. In addition the had all subjects keep a food log to determine adherence and food quantity. Furthermore, the two groups (a normal protein and a high protein group) consumed different calorie amounts. The high protein group not only ate 3.4g/kg or more daily, but they also consumed more overall calories than the normal protein group.
The results? Both groups gained WEIGHT. Cool. They probably gained a mix of muscle and fat right? But the real kicker is the high protein group on average gained 3 kilos in fat free mass (muscle) with about a 4.3% decrease in body fat. The normal protein group on average gained about 1.5 kilos fat free mass but only a 0.5 % decrease in body fat.
Despite consuming more protein and overall calories the high protein group gained more muscle and lost more fat. Most people would overlook this because their WEIGHT didn't change as much as the normal protein group, but the details above reveal why.
Oh, and their blood markers? Totally fine. Many people might harp on higher BUN (blood urea nitrogen) as problematic but it just means your kidneys are processing more nitrogen (from protein). Not everyone needs to go this high obviously but it does point to strong reasons for going over the measly RDA recommendations and beyond even the solid ISSN recommendations too.
Veggies and Fiber- AKA be an adult
This sticks in my craw. Adults not being adults. I know not everyone loves vegetables and maybe you aren't a great cook. But there are a lot of options out there for you and there's really no good excuse for not consuming enough vegetables. I get it - you're an adult, no one can make you do things. But that doesn't mean your decisions don't have repercussions so to me, an adult decision is sometimes doing things you aren't wild about for the pay off they provide.
Honestly, I am not judging anyone for this. If you're content with out of control blood sugar, poor digestive capabilities and bowel movements that require HAZMAT cleaning, so be it. But if you aren't, lets do this thing.
The RDA recommends 25-30g fiber daily. I like Eric Helms' recommendation for about 15g fiber per 1000 calories consumed. It means an average woman or smaller guy maintaining on 2000 calories per day has to consumer around 30g fiber. Easy to do if you eat veggies.
In addition to making you full with a high food volume but low calorie density, veggies and fiber help to control blood sugar, improve digestion, feed beneficial gut bacteria, are synthesized into short chain fatty acids in the colon and of course provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and some soil bacteria as well. Psst! Guess what? All these things will help you feel better and control your calorie intake to lean out - in addition to maximizing your health. This is a sweet deal.
Not even counting other starches, nuts and fruit you might eat - these few basic items easily get you right to 30g fiber:
2 cups broccoli
2 cups green beans
1 cup blueberries
8oz sweet potatoes
So if you have 1 cup veggies with each meal, 8oz of sweet potatoes with a meal, some berries as a snack and 1/2 avocado you've nailed your fiber goal. And all of that only adds up to 600 calories. Plenty of room for protein, additional fats and carbs.
Omega-3s - You probably need them
The average American consumes a ration of about 16:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. Essentially 16 times as much Omega 6. To reduce inflammation, improve cell health and even implications for improving cardiovascular disease and cancer, it is recommended to aim for somewhere between 3:1 and 1:1. That's a huge gap to fill.
So I tinkered a bit with a pretty solid diet. I created a meal plan that includes chicken breast, grass fed beef, avocado, broccoli, green beans, blueberries, sweet potatoes and whey protein isolate. I came up with pretty solid macros of the following:
Omega 6:3 Ratio = 8:1
Even with excellent food choices, awesome fiber and plenty of food volume, my Omega 6:3 ratio was STILL 8 to 1. Sigh.
I add ONE tablespoon of fish oil and BOOM this changes to 1.75 to 1.
Need I say more?
N.E.A.T - It's not just about vacuuming
This makes me chuckle because N.E.A.T stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It encompasses the energy you expend walking, fidgeting, tapping, sitting and standing, doing yard work etc. Weve got your Basal Metabolic Rate which is the amount of energy it takes to run your organs and systems, energy expenditure from exercise and energy spent digesting food.
But N.E.A.T encompasses stuff you can't really control. Now we can say walking 10,000 steps per day will raise this as will being more active in general, like taking the stairs and not the elevator but it's hard to MAKE yourself fidget more. N.E.A.T is largely genetic and neural meaning you don't have control over your programmed level and you probably aren't even aware of how much you might be fidgeting.
Bringing it back to my dumb joke......I'm an antsy person. I fidget, I tap, I stand and move around a lot between brief periods sitting and I do crazy stuff like vacuum and clean when Im bored. Essentially my N.E.A.T helps keep me neat. Funny right?
However the average person can't control or maintain fidgeting or tapping more. And in some people, overeating calories results in an increase in N.E.A.T. So the more you feed them, the more they fidget and move and they end up balancing out. Some classic studies have looked into the variability in response to over feeding. Here's a fascinating one below, with a great summer here.
Poehlman et al.(27) recruited six sedentary pairs (12 participants) of male monozygotic twins and overfed them by 1,000 kcal for 22 days with a diet that was 15% protein (2.4 g/kg), 35% fat, and 50% carbohydrate. Participants were housed in a hospital and under 24-hour supervision for the duration of the study. The average body weight gain was 2.2 kg, of which 50% was FM. However, there was considerable variability in the response to overfeeding. It is notable that some individuals lost FM and reduced their body fat percentage despite eating an additional 1,000 kcal per day.
Just in case you missed that - some people LOST weight while being fed 1,000 calories over maintenance. They have such adaptive metabolisms that their N.E.A.T goes up with more calories to keep them weight stable.
Since you can't directly control those neural and genetic factors, what can you do? It's pretty simple really. Walk 10,000 steps per day, don't sit still or work at a desk for more than 30-60 minutes at a time without getting up and moving. Make sure to stay active! Walk your dog for more than 5 minutes, mow your lawn, park far away when you go to Target, spend time strolling around the aisles in the grocery store. Just move and be a human as often as possible (and hit those 10,000 steps daily).
Can you chill?
Lets wrap it up with one we should all be excited for: knowing how to chill the F out.
I'm not talking about coming home from work and planting those cheeks on the couch and not moving until it's bedtime. I mean not stimulating yourself from every angle, all day up until the moment you close your eyes to sleep.
We're talking about limiting your coffee intake to 2-3 cups per day max, and those are 8oz cups people. Three Ventis are not the same. Don't drink the coffee past the early afternoon, save for special occasions.
Practice some self-mastery. Work on not flipping out in traffic, screaming at your dog, yelling at the TV or getting into a tough discussion right before bed.
Take 60 minutes before bed every night and read, do a crossword, talk to your spouse or meditate/pray. Get away from all the screens and artificial light. All those little dings, announcements and "likes" are stimulating dopamine and that makes it hard to sleep. Get your body used to winding down the same time and the same way every night so when you pop open that book, your brain knows its time to go parasympathetic and wind down.
Try to get some sun as soon as possible every morning. This helps set your circadian rythym so you fall asleep at a solid time at night.
Work on posture. Forward head posture, extended lower back, tension in the neck, tight hip flexors (you know, all the stuff you feel bent over at a desk job) make you sympathetic and drive fight or flight. If you're using your traps and scalenes to breath you are turning postural muscles in respiratory muscles. And being hunched forward shortens your hip flexors and pecs which limits range of motion, your ability to take full breaths and basically ensures you move like shit.
Look at a very nervous person you know. They dont stand tall or make broad, relaxed gestures with their arms. Nope. They scrunch down and make small, nervous movements. They'll have low-back pain, headaches, a tight neck and pecs, tight hip flexors, weak abs, tight hamstrings, weak glutes, weak lats. They might have a high heart rate and their shoulders go up towards their ears when they breath. I dug up a great post by Mike Robertson here that goes into further depth on what makes good breathing patterns to help you move and perform better.
If you are constantly driving the sympathetic side of things, there is no time for physiological repair mechanisms to properly run their course. What you end up with is a person who feels like crap, moves poorly, recovers poorly and gets hurt a lot.
Practice laughing (aka have fun), socializing without a screen in front of you, taking full deep breaths, managing your rage and anger and making time to wind down at night and get some sun during the day.
Seriously, do it
When we look at the these 5 things, most people might say "oh, I've got that covered", but my experience with clients who say that reveals they aren't practicing what they think they are. It might be over-estimating your protein or veggie intake, thinking olive oil is all the healthy fat they need or assuming a bottle of wine every night is quality relaxation.
Dive into this. Get your stuff in order. Dedicate your life to quality, not quantity. You might find that all the things you wanted out of training and nutrition fall in line here while the over-exercising, under-sleeping and over-stressing aren't helping at all. These will.