FUEL TO THE FIRE
A huge part of what I do, both professionally and athletically relies upon one of the most important aspects of life – nutrition – how we are fueled day to day. Almost everyday someone asks me “How do you eat?” or something along those lines. (I try not to get offended by the fact that they think my physique, or exercising ability, is totally reliant on my diet and has nothing to do with how much weight I put overhead on a weekly basis. No one ever looks at me and says “How much weight do you put over your head and how often?” Which would be the question I would prefer.)
Anyway, I have grown accustomed to the “how do you eat?” question. I’ve grown so accustomed to it that it’s normal now. I have come to the conclusion that people are actually curious about how I fuel my body – probably because there are so many “great diets” and “proven theories” on how a human should consume food. People want to do the right thing by themselves but are clearly confused – and rightfully so. I am going to dedicate this blog post to explaining how I fuel my body and keep it moving day to day. Before I even start though, I have to make it perfectly clear that 1) I am not a nutritionist (however I am currently studying for my Precision Nutrition certification) and 2) everyone’s body will respond differently to different things, there is no cookie cutter approach to eating. Trial and error my friends.
When I originally heard about CrossFit (the cult!!!), I learned about “Paleo” for the first time. I was curious. Working on an exercise science degree in the classroom then, I knew there was something to this idea that what we put in our bodies will directly affect 1) how we perform, 2) how we feel, and of course 3) how we look. I figured I would give it a try. I was a college senior, mid basketball season, traveling around the country hooping it up. Anyone who has any experience with paleo knows that this would not be an ideal situation or the best time for me to “start”, but I am me – so I did anyway. I didn’t know any better. Needless to say, I wasn’t eating “100% paleo”. However I became more aware of how I was fueling my body and was trying to make some changes where and when I was able to. For me, the biggest issue was that I was eating too much grain. I tried to simply limit that along with the pointless sugars that I was normally consuming on a daily basis.
When I finally joined a CrossFit gym in May of 2012, I did my first and only “30 day Paleo challenge” to date. I didn’t cheat for 30 days and saw amazing results. I leaned out, had more energy, and knew this Paleo thing had something too it. Whenever newbies come into our doors and ask me what the key to success is in CrossFit, I explain that early on nutrition really is the key. I then go on to explain “paleo in a nutshell” and try and use the actual word PALEO as little as possible. I want people to look at this as a way they should revamp their everyday eating to make them a healthier individual, not as a labeled diet they are “trying”. As much as I love exercise, I do believe that our daily input runs the show. Please remember that most people I discuss nutrition with are normal, everyday people looking to lose some extra body fat or “see some abs” (I get that one a lot, it always makes me giggle). They are not athletes in training or competitive exercisers. My point in saying this is that the daily energy expenditure of these people, although greater than most of the American population simply due to the fact that they are showing up to the gym 3-5 times a week, is significantly lower than myself. Remember, the reason for eating is to support our energy levels. Therefore, my daily intake should look different than theirs, because my daily energy expenditure is completely different than theirs.
I have, through trial and error, adapted my diet to support my daily training regimen. The basis of my diet is in fact “Paleo”, but I’m no stranger to non-Paleo friendly foods like peanut butter, whole milk, tortilla chips, and even a weekend full of cheat meals. I keep my weekly diet as clean as possible, and kind of boring. I balance my carbohydrates, proteins, and fats appropriately. I drink protein shakes. However, I listen to my body. If I am not feeling “myself”, I have become pretty good at knowing why and I am usually able to fix it with a food adjustment. Sometimes it could be that I just need some quick acting sugars (M&Ms!), sometimes it is that I need an extra avocado in the day. Bottom line is, it’s not PALEO OR DIE. I don’t beat myself up trying to follow one idea of food intake. I know my body needs other things sometimes, things that are (oh no!!) not Paleo (gasp!). But, Dr. Lorin Cordain’s description of optimal food intake is definitely the best I have came across yet.
I guess the more helpful way for me to paint a clear picture of my diet would be for me to list out what a pretty typical day of eating looks like for me. Here it is:
2 whole eggs + 2-3 egg white omelet with spinach, half sweet potato, half avocado
Some kind of lean protein (chicken or turkey burgers are my favorite) with whatever kind of seasoning/sauce I want that day
As much green veggies as I think it would take to fill me up – cooked in a pretty good amount of olive oil – favorites are broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts
Half sweet potato
Identical to the first lunch but usually no sweet potato or avocado here. Just meat and veggies.
Identical to lunch except usually fish or red meat depending on the day.
I drink a Recovery shake after my workout(s) that contains protein, glutamine, creatine, and BCAAs among other things. I drink 1-2 cups of coffee a day with either almond milk or whole milk. I snack on things like Quest bars, peanut butter, tortilla chips/salsa or a chocolate bar – really no more than two snacks per day. As far as alcohol consumption, I average about a glass of wine a week.
My weekends are usually not like this at all. I take two days (Saturday and Sunday is just most convenient) and I basically “eat whatever I want”. I still always try and start the day with the above listed breakfast but throughout the day I load up on some pretty fast acting carbs, get really happy that I’m eating ice cream and having a burger, and then I’m ready to get back at my regular routine on Monday. On weekends where I am competing, I go all out . I tend to end up eating everything and anything in sight because that is how depleted my body is.
This is just what works for me. It’s the least stressful, it’s organized and regimented. I feel good doing it. I like the way I exercise under this system. My body is responding well to it. There are a million other eating approaches that have been very successful for a lot of my peers. Everyone has their own system, that’s what is so cool. Personally, I have tried Zone (I found it to be too much work for someone like me – I’m not down with weighing and measuring food, I was getting frustrated). I have attempted to try Carb Back Loading – the idea sounded great to me, but after a few days of housing half a pack of Oreo’s before I went to bed and feeling not so great after it, I stopped. But, I’m pretty sure I was really not doing it correctly because the science behind CBL actually makes some sense. I know people that have had great success on both of those methods and love them. Again, everyone is different.
My overall advice is to remember that food is fuel. Every time I put something in my body I understand that I am giving my body gas to run on, just like filling up a motor vehicle. The bulk of my intake is clean, nutrient dense foods that will keep me feeling strong and moving well, however life is always good with some chocolate chip cookies thrown into the mix!
Looking ahead, I am competing at Beast of the East this weekend in Connecticut with the same team that took first place at Flex on the Beach a few weeks ago – the mighty “Cohesive Unit” aka the Blue Barracudas. I’m excited, any weekend with them is a fun one. Plus the workouts are going to be freaking awesome. Updates on that next week !
*You can find this post and other posts by my peers and I at: