Savage Masters! As I said in my bio, I’m not a nutrition expert. I am a nutrition nerd however. I love to learn about food and the effect of nutrition on our bodies, and in my 48 years I’ve tried pretty much every possible “diet” and way of eating. The result? I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, dialing in my nutrition is the key to truly feeling my best and reaching my goals in the gym. The tough part is that there is such an overwhelming amount of information available about nutrition. What “way of eating” is best? Just have a look at social media or tv commercials. You don’t have to look very long to find information on Paleo, Zone, If It Fits Your Macros, Vegetarianism, Veganism, High Fat, Low Carb, Ketogenic, Carb Cycling, Whole30, not to mention the big corporate diet programs like Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig…the list goes on and on. But here’s what I’ve found after a lifetime of trying pretty much everything. All of these “diets” can be effective in the short term because generally the plans are based on taking in less calories then you’re burning. The holy grail is to find what will work for you long term, as a lifestyle. I’m talking about truly discovering which foods in what quantities work best for you.
Nutrition is probably the biggest thing I’ve changed as I’ve hit my 40’s. As a kid, I fueled softball and volleyball-filled weekends with donuts, pizza and soda and felt fine. At least I thought I felt fine. Even through college, we’d go out and drink and then order giant slabs of pizza at midnight. Then, filled with guilt the next day, we’d run or stairmaster or do whatever type of cardio torture we felt necessary to make us feel better until the next night when we’d do it all over again. Even into my 20’s and 30’s I’d do marathon training runs of 20+ miles fueled by handfuls of M&M’s or sometimes no food at all. Now I find if I don’t eat well it’s an absolute nightmare. I sleep horribly, my digestion is messed up for days and my workouts suck (such an awesome feeling doing burpees when you’re bloated and feel like your belly hits the floor before anything else). What I’m not sure about is whether I actually felt horrible when I was younger and just learned to live with that feeling? Would I have been a better youth athlete had I fueled my body better? Am I just more dialed in to my physical reactions to food now? I don’t know, but I do know that for me to reach my training goals and frankly, to just be able to live my life the way I want to, I need to fuel my body with premium grade fuel. And lots of it. I’m also of the generation that felt that eating as little as possible (when we weren’t consuming pizza and cocktails) was the key to bikini-nirvana. Wow, was I wrong.
To be clear, I’m not talking about short term, “lose 30 pounds in 30 days”, “get your beach body NOW” kind of dieting. I’m talking long term eating for performance. In the gym, on the trail, for your life and your job – wherever you need to perform. The key is finding what works best for you as an individual. For example, it’s taken me a very long time and the help of nutrition professionals to learn that I need to eat more. More! And, my body thrives on carbs! Those evil things I’d spent a couple of decades avoiding! Turns out that carbs are the key for me to lean out and perform my best in the gym. Who knew? Currently, the plan that makes me feel best is based on macro counting. I thrive on having carb, protein and fat targets set for me and all I need to do is plan my day of eating to hit those macros. I like the planning ahead and controlling aspect. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy having a plan to follow and not having to think about what I’m eating throughout the day. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve found I thrive on plenty of carbs especially timed around my workouts, but very little added sugar. Round out with lean protein and low-ish fat (at least compared to what I had when I was “strict Paleo”) and as little processed food as possible. I’m a volume eater, so I’ll happily trade in a half cup of pasta for a mountain of zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. I will bake (I have a massive sweet tooth) and substitute applesauce or Greek yogurt for butter and oil so I can eat more of whatever it is I’ve made. But that’s me. For now at least, this makes me feel fantastic. And as I said, it took a lot of experimenting to figure that out. Here are couple of key points based on my experience:
- If you aren’t focused on increasing muscle, and don’t want to gain weight on the scale, calories in need to be equal or less than calories out. It’s simply math.
- BUT – the math doesn’t work if you’re eating so little that you have no energy and all you can do is lie in the corner of a room and cry (not that I’ve ever done that. But I know someone…) The human body is ridiculously resilient. Your body will make some hardcore adjustments to your metabolism and it will be tough for you to recover.
- YOU DO YOU. There’s no silver bullet and we are all different. Try different foods and ways of eating to see what makes you feel your best. Experiment, experiment, experiment and you will eventually find a way of eating that satisfies you and fuels all of the savage things you want to do. That’s when you know you’ve hit it. And are 6 packs of donuts part of that plan? Probably not very often (trust me, I’ve tried). Will you still feel the need to polish off a giant pizza or dive deep into the world of Patron every now and then? Maybe. But as long as you know what works best for you, and it’s sustainable in a way that you can stick with it most of the time, you’re golden. If you’re feeling like you’re starving all of the time, weak, and white-knuckling it through the day to stop yourself from gnawing off your arm, you probably aren’t fueling yourself properly.
- The biggest one for me – FOOD IS FUEL. Good quality, premium food gives me premium results, in the gym and in life in general. Food isn’t something to fear but is something to appreciate and enjoy.
I highly suggest that if you haven’t already done so, try out some different plans, gauge your feelings, physical reactions (How’s your digestion? Your skin? Are feeling tried or bloated?) and results in the gym and in your day to day activities. Consider keeping a journal of what you ate and how you felt even just for a week. Dial it in, and you’ll be well on your way to crushing your goals.
What foods best fuel you? What ways of eating make you feel SAVAGE?