When I first started on my quest to improve my body I had no clue what to eat.
Nutrition was foreign to me but I knew it was an important issue that I needed to fully master if I wanted to increase the quality of my life.
Because I wasn’t about to follow some strict diet plan with every day’s food intake completely calculated out (talk about an annoying way of living), I knew I needed to figure out some guiding principles for optimal nutrition. After years of trial and error and personal research, I feel like I’ve figured what works and what doesn’t. I say this because of the results I’ve experienced. Basically I’ve been able to lean out my body, become more athletic, more muscular, I feel great, I rarely get sick (haven’t gotten a cold or any sort of flu for over a year now), and the amount of energy I experience throughout the day has increased substantially.
Life is good.
In fact, life is great. The foundation for a terrific life has been set, and I owe a lot of it to learning what to eat and also what not to eat. Along with experiencing results, these guidelines and principles have been sustainable and even enjoyable.
Really quick, to drive the point home, here’s a few more highlights of the results that I experienced from eating this way (and I’m confident you will too): more energy, I was able to perform better in the gym (thus amplifying my fitness results even more), crystal clear thinking (no brain fog) limited tired-spells throughout the day, faster recovery times from workouts, a new found youthful energy where being active is actually appealing.
In addition to all that I was able to cut A LOT of body fat relatively quickly (and have continued to lean out over time). Before I started following these principles, I was missing out on all those benefits and I didn’t even know it.
Why are Principles Important?
First of all, let me start by saying the point of this post is to allow people to have guiding principles for nutrition. Rigid diets aren’t sustainable for normal people who are looking to enhance their life. I’m not interested in having my life taken over by obsessive eating habits and I doubt you are either. What I am interested in is simple principles that will allow me to make easy decisions throughout the scenarios I encounter in my life. These guiding principles are sustainable, and simple which is the beauty of them. What they will allow you to do is make better decisions which will enhance your life and allow you to have the body that you deserve. You can still go out to eat. You can still have fun with friends. It’s about simple decision making and having an overall strategy behind what you put into your mouth. Having an overall strategy, and being a ‘conscious eater’ is extremely important. In our modern society, with our modern lifestyles, the people who eat haphazardly and with no conscious awareness of the what they stuff their faces with will almost surely end up overweight or obese, with a host of various lifestyle driven illnesses. Then they will run to the doctor for the magic pill when it’s too late and the damage has been done. Overall health care costs will continue to increase while the quality of people’s lives will decrease. I don’t want to get into these issues in this article, but you must understand this:
These are principles and guidelines for optimizing the human body; male and female, young or old. There are so many stupid myths, outdated conventional wisdom, flat out lies, half truth, quarter truth, misunderstandings, and misguided ignorance that I felt I needed to get this foundation for nutrition articulated for myself and for others looking for real answers, and real solutions. That’s what this post is ultimately about. Having a foundation. Something to stand on, and something to stand for, in regards to diet and nutrition. What this post is not about is specific calorie counting and nazi like ‘meal plans.’ Meal plans aren’t sustainable. I’m in this for life, and I hope that you are too. That’s the bottom line.
The following is real information, not some quick fix or gimmick. I hope you appreciate reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Keep in mind this post is moderately advanced in concepts. I assume you have a basic understanding of nutrition (like what a calorie is for example). I also assume that if I talk about something you don’t know about, you will do yourself a service, google it, and figure it out (it’s okay to be confused, just don’t remain that way, do something).
Getting Clear About Goals
If you’re reading this, you likely have similar goals as mine when it comes to your body. I have 3 goals that I am trying to balance and achieve and in my opinion you should adopt these as well.
Simply put, I want my the rest of my life to be enhanced by focusing on this stuff, not destroyed. Health is the foundation for all happiness. There are a lot of substances out there that can enhance your bodies athletic performance and aesthetic appeal, yet destroy your long term health. I am not interested in sacrificing my health and I would hope that you aren’t either. Health doesn’t just mean a lack of disease by the way. Health means you have a lack of disease plus you have physical vitality and energy. In essence, you feel good physically, you think clearly, and you have an inner sense of vibrance. Remember what it felt like as a kid? That’s youthful energy, and it’s time to take it back.
I believe that nature intended us to be athletes. We weren’t meant to be blobs of lard, and we weren’t meant to be so bulked out with muscle that we may as well be blobs of lard (aka steroided bodybuilders). My goal is to be the best athlete I can be. This mean being explosive, having cardiovascular endurance, having balance, as well as having power and strength. Here’s a good definition of what being a true athlete means: “the ability to conduct oneself in physically demanding situations; to function effectively in emergencies; to display superior body composition and aptitude in matters of strength, cardiovascular capacity, power expression, reaction time, speed, agility, flexibility; to evince generally superior health and resistance to injury and disease.”
The final goal is body aesthetics or simply put, looking great naked. Yes, I care about this and so should you. There are many benefits you get in life by having an aesthetic body. There are also many logical reasons for wanting to achieve this (I have plans on doing a post on this in the future), and there is nothing wrong with caring about how you look and taking proactive steps toward improving your looks and aesthetic appeal. Let’s face it, we all care about what we look like, some of us are willing to be honest and admit it and a few of us are willing to take action to make change happen.
I’m not interested in sacrificing any of these goals for any of the others. They are all of equal importance to me. Obviously they work in conjunction with one another as well. When you’re athletic you’re likely to be more more healthy. When you’re healthy you’re likely to be more aesthetic. Etc. However, there is power in knowing preciously what you’re after. Clarity is power. Never fall into a trap where you start sacrificing what you really want because you simply haven’t defined and declared what it is.
So with that backdrop there are 3 achievements that we must strive for in regard to nutrition to achieve the 3 fold goal of health, athleticism, and aesthetics. They are:
Goal 1. Eliminate and keep off excess body fat
Goal 2. Maximize Natural Muscle Gain
Goal 3. Maximize Nutritional Content
Goal 1. Eliminate and keep off excess body fat
***Yes, I’m aware that I look like a myspace meathead douchebag that’s in front of the mirror way too much, taking pictures of himself way too often…. but the point is, I’ve gotten real results from what I’m talking about here, and I don’t need fancy cameras and special lighting to prove it ***
This is critical for all 3 goals; health, athleticism, and aesthetics. This is also what most people are interested in, and for good reason. So what has to happen in order to eliminate body fat? 2 simple principles: 1. Calories 2. Carbs.
Principle 1 for eliminating and keeping off excess body fat: Avoid consistent over-eating and have an intuitive sense of your calorie consumption
The foundation for your body fat levels is, and always will be the amount of calories that you consume. If your body has excess fat, it’s because at some point in time you consistently over consumed calories. No diet pill, dieting fad, or anything that some scammer could think up will ever supersede the reality of calorie consumption. Sure there are ‘good calories’ and ‘bad calories’ (which I will get into later) but the bottom line is calorie consumption. If you want to lose, you must lower your calorie intake, if you want to gain, you must increase your calorie intake. Low carb diets are very popular and for good reason, they generally work. However, it is still very possible to gain weight and body fat while on a low carb diet. How? By consistently overeating on dietary fats and protein. Consistent is the key term here. Hell, consistent is the key term for everything in life. By our consistent actions our results come. It’s not the anomolies in life that make us end up where we are, it’s what we do consistently. Our habits in other words. Obviously there is a lot to what goes into why people are overeating in mass, but just know this: at the end of the day if you have body fat that you’re not happy with, it got there from you over consuming calories.
So how do we avoid consistent over-eating and gain an intuitive sense of our calorie consumption?
You must gain awareness of what foods contain what calories. This is critical. Quickly glance at every label of everything you eat. Look up online what certain foods have as far as calories and macro nutrient composition. Food manufactures are required to provide this information so a quick google search and you should have access to the nutrition stats. If you don’t have awareness of the calorie content of what you’re consuming, it’s time to gain that awareness. One good resource is dailyburn.com where you can sign up for their free food tracking service. If you’re completely new to this, after you begin paying attention to calories and macro-nutrition compositions of foods for a few months, you’ll begin to gain an intuitive sense of your calorie consumption. At this point, things become pretty simple. It no longer becomes a question of “can you do it?” It becomes a question of “will you do it.”
Stop drinking calorie containing beverages. It is hard enough to control your calorie consumption without ingesting mass amount of liquefied sugar. This means quit drinking juices, sugared sodas, etc. You don’t need it and if you’re after a healthy, athletic, aesthetic body it will likely kill your ability to make progress. The only exception would probably be milk for those that can effectively digest it. Simply drink what we were meant to drink, which happens to be the foundation for all organic life as we know it; water.
Minimize overeating by restricting/eliminating foods you are prone to consuming in excess. This is probably the hardest thing to do for most people, including myself. We all have certain foods that we are prone to over-eating. Mine is sugar and chocolate. Some people’s is pizza. Some love to eat an entire bag of potato chips. Some people like to eat 15 strips of bacon. I’m sure you’re well aware of what your most problematic vice is. You MUST start to minimize it. My suggestion is to allow yourself 1 or 2 days out of the week to indulge. Other than that, rid yourself of it. Whatever your primary negative eating habit happens to be, it is probably the main culprit that is killing your dreams of a better body. Kill it. Conquer it. There is no way around this.
Minimize processed foods especially processed carbs. Have you noticed that almost all foods that you are likely to over-consume is processed carbs? There’s a reason why; they are full on addicting. In order to optimize your body like you’re committed to, processed carbs have to generally be viewed as an enemy. A killer. A tyrant that must be delt with and squashed out of your life (more on this later).
Control your hunger by eating the foods that you were meant to eat! Foods that come directly from nature provide much more satiety than processed crap. Have you ever taken a trip to Panda Express where you eat a gigantic fake Chinese meal only to find yourself hungry 2 hours later? The food wasn’t really satifying. This is a major issue in weight loss. Especially since most people don’t have very much will-power. Controlling your hunger is critical and eating the right foods will dictate your hunger levels even more so than quantity (more on this below).
You must become a totally conscious eater. This means you know exactly how the foods you put in your mouth are likely going to effect your body. Again, this doesn’t mean becoming a maniac about dieting. It means when (when, not if) you ‘screw up’ or eat-like-hell as I term it, it’s a conscious choice, not due to a lack of awareness.
Principle 2 for eliminating and keeping off excess body fat: Keep your carbohydrate consumption in check by limiting/eliminating processed carbohydrates (sugar and grain products primarily) and get the bulk of your carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, legumes
I’ll be honest here, the more that I have studied carbohydrates and how they affect the human body, the more that question marks arise. This is somewhat controversial subject. Some say that carbs make you gain fat, some say they don’t as long as you’re within your calories limits. There are classic studies like the Twinkie guy that eats nothing but Twinkies and loses weight because the total calories consumed were still below maintenance level. However, we’re interested in body composition and getting rid of all unnecessary, unsightly body fat and also promoting muscle mass. We want to be ripped and sexy, not ‘skinny fat’ (someone who looks okay in cloths but is flabby once they take their shirt off). So therefore, because of my personal experience along with some studies I’ve read, I still recommend people watch their carb intake like a hawk. The good news (for most people, depending on goals and body types) is when you watch your carb intake, you usually automatically drop your total calorie consumption, which allows you to consume more protein for muscle building (more on this below).
From my understanding the primary reason why cutting carbohydrates works to lower body fat levels, that goes beyond reduced calorie consumption, has to do with the hormone insulin. People who eat a lot of carbs, sugars, breads, and pastas specifically seem to generally have chronically elevated insulin levels. Of course there are counter examples to this, but this seems to be the case for most people living in industrialized nations. Processed carbs seems to be part of the recipe for illness and obesity. The simplest explanation for this is most human beings can’t help but overeat on them when they are readily available (including myself). It makes complete sense when you look at it from an evolutionary perspective as well. Although I have my gripes and annoyances with Mark Sission, he give a pretty good explanation below:
“If we go back 10,000 or more years, we find that our ancestors had very little access to sugar – or any carbohydrates for that matter. There was some fruit here and there, a few berries, roots and shoots, but most of their carbohydrate fuel was locked inside a very fibrous matrix. In fact, some paleo-anthropologists suggest that our ancestors consumed, on average, only about 80 grams of carbohydrate a day. Compare that to the 350-600 grams a day in the typical American diet today.” -Mark Sisson from MDA
Based on my research and personal experience, I believe cutting out sugar, and high carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, etc. is the one of the most important thing you can do for your health, fitness, and body composition. Here’s a graph that sums up my research on WHY this is the case.
To explain the graph above, all carbohydrates eventually get converted to glucose. Whether it’s oatmeal, an apple, wonder bread or whole wheat bread, eventually they will all end up converted to glucose. You may have heard of the glycemic index which is simply a measurement of how fast this process occurs. While glucose is a fuel, it is actually toxic in excess amounts. The body has evolved a way of getting it out of the bloodstream quickly and efficiently. How does your body do this? Insulin response. When you pollute your body with excess amounts of carbs, insulin comes to the rescue. It’s job is to get the glucose (the end result of what carbs get processed into) out of the blood stream. Where does this excess glucose get stored? First it goes to your muscle and liver for fuel. However, if your muscle and liver are already full, it then gets transported and converted into body fat. Eating excess carbohydrates seems to cause chronically high levels of glucose and therefore insulin response which cause a host of illness including obesity, fat gain, type II diabetes (obviously), inflammation response, fatigue, heart disease, and even has links to cancer.
Goal 2. Maximize Natural Muscle Gain
Now that we understand what it takes to eliminate and keep off excess body fat, it’s time to talk about gaining muscle. Almost every guy I know would like to add some muscle, however this section is for girls as much as guys. Girls don’t like to hear this, but an athletic, toned, girl who has lean sexy muscles…..is sexy! What got most girls fearful of ‘getting bulky’ is the steroided out freak show bodybuilder chick. So girls, get over the idea of trying to avoid ‘getting bulky.’ If you’re not injecting large amounts synthetic hormones, it’s not going to happen (especially when you’re eating lean, like you will be when you follow the principles you’re reading about here). Guys are attracted to athletic, lean, natural looking girls just like girls are attracted to athletic, lean, natural looking guys (here is an interesting wikipedia article on physical attractiveness). Putting on some muscle would be a good aesthetic upgrade for most girls I see, and will also in-turn allow them to lose fat more effectively and easily (muscle=metabolic tissue=metabolism). So from a nutritional perspective what has to happen in order to achieve muscle gain?
Eat plenty of quality protein
Consuming enough protein is absolutely the most important nutritional factor behind building muscle in my opinion. In order to effectively build muscle you need to have a daily protein intake goal; 1 gram per 1 lb of body weight minimum. Ever wonder why 99% of dudes who start weight training don’t actually see any results at all? Lack of workout intensity is probably a factor, but consistent adequate protein consumption is probably an even bigger factor.
My personal experience, and working with lot of other people, has shown that it’s nearly impossible to build muscle without consuming what some people would consider massive amounts of protein. The 1 gram per pound of body weight (195 lbs so around 195 grams) is a minimum. If I’m really hitting the weights hard and trying to gain, I’ll go even higher than this. This isn’t some hard science rule, it’s a principle/guideline, it can be broken but you need to aim for it on a daily basis if you’re serious about muscle gain.
To get your body weight in grams of protein you’ll likely need to focus on having a source of protein with every meal (eggs, meat, nuts, whey, cottage cheese, etc.). This can be a hassle and the biggest reason why I recommend a natural whey protein supplement and maybe natural casein protein too. In addition to being convenient, whey protein (which is derived from milk) digests quicker than other protein sources which is why it’s recommend drinking whey shakes around workout times in particular. Remember, consistency is key. Getting adequate protein for muscle gain on a consistent basis, day-in day-out, is what’s going to allow you to experience results. There nothing that makes this easier than protein powder supplements. BCAA’s and glutamine are also a good idea for muscle building. Especially if you’re doing an intermittent fasting program and fasted workouts like I do. The other muscle building supplements I would recommend giving a try is creatine and possibly a pre-workout matrix. I don’t want to get into supplements too much because this is a post on diet and nutrition, but know that if you’re serious about maximizing your hard work at the gym, supplements are very important. Here’s a list of my favorite products:
Goal 3. Maximize Nutritional Content
The final goal is primary about health. However, it obviously is critical for athleticism, and aesthetics as well. It’s now time to focus on optimizing the nutrition content we feed our bodies since we’re at a point where we’ve successfully understood the foundations of calories, limiting carbs and everything else I just wrote about. This is all about getting the most bang for our buck with what we’re consuming on a regular basis. Remember, this is your life. Having energy and vitality will increase the quality of your existence in all facets. Never forget:
Principle 1 for maximizing nutrition content: Eat nutrient dense, live, natural foods
This is about maximizing your nutrition intake. So what foods have the most nutrition (anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc)? The short answer is short; foods that come directly from nature. I’m talking about plants and plant produce (aka vegetables and fruits). Simply stated, eat your vegetables dudes! The more green, the better. In addition to greens, eat fruits especially berries, and ones that have been show to have high antioxidant levels. A simple question to ask yourself: did this come directly from a plant? If the answer is yes, chow down. If it came directly from nature, it is sure to have the nutrients that your body craves, and needs.
Studies on effectiveness of vitamin supplements come back with differing results, and different experts have different opinions. It’s important to make sure that you’re not relying on vitamin supplements as your source of nutrition and instead you’re getting them directly from their natural sources. With that said, I do take a multi vitamin and mineral supplement, however, it’s critical to not kid yourself into thinking that because you take a vitmain pill once a day, your nutritional content is sufficient. It’s not. You’ve gotta focus on eating the right foods. Vegetables and fruits are the ticket to a healthy body.
Principle 2: Eat healthy fats, especially omega 3′s
Fueling your body with the proper fats and fatty acids is critical for your health, fitness, and even your well-being. Sorry to burst your bubble if you are currently operating under false assumptions that dietary fat is a bad thing, you’re wrong. Fats that come from natural sources are generally very healthy for you and supply your body with efficient energy and nutrients. **Quick note unworthy of mentioning (for most people reading this at least)…I’ve noticed that for whatever reason a lot of people make the false assumption that eating dietary fat equals gaining body fat; nothing could be further from the truth and if you have this in your mind you’re wrong** So what are some healthy sources? Coconut oil, shredded coconut (my favorite…make sure no sugar is added) olive oil, nuts and nut butters (again, make sure no sugar is added), seeds, fish, avocado, egg yolks, and even some dairy fats like butter (get organic) to list a few. Do you notice a pattern here? Fats that come from nature.
Omega 3 deficiency/imbalance is a major cause for concern and is associated with a host of modern illnesses. It’s extremely important to focus on consuming omega 3 containing foods as often, and as much as possible. If you eat a modern diet, it is almost certain that you are omega 3 deficient or imbalanced. A general guideline is to eat fish as often as possible. Grass fed meats are also an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Another great source is flax seeds. Try out some ground flax seeds and sprinkle them on salads, eggs, etc. Flax seeds give your meals texture and they’re a delicious addition. Also, taking a quality fish oil, cod liver oil, or krill oil supplement is highly recommended. Personally, I take 6 grams per day (which is 6 large, awesome pills ).
Principle 3: Focus on eating pro-biotic rich foods
Probiotics are friendly bacteria for your gut and are crucial for proper digestion. If you’re not properly digesting and assimilating the foods you consume, you aren’t going to be getting the nutrition from them. I’m always amazed that doctors prescribe antibiotics so freely and rarely council their patients to focus on probiotic consumption after the cycle of antibiotics is complete (or probiotic consumption as a daily habit for that matter). Anti biotics generally wipe out friendly bacteria as well as the ‘bad’ bacteria. If you have digestion issues, like most people in the modern world do, lacking proper amounts of probiotic consumption could be why. Probiotics have also been shown to increase immune function greatly. If you’re constantly getting sick, it may be time to start focusing on consuming large amounts of probiotic containing foods.
Plain yogurt, plain kefir, and sauer kraut are great options (assuming you can handle dairy). One of my favorite things to do is whip up 2 cups of plain yogurt or kefir, mixed with shredded coconut, protein powder, and some cinnamon (cinnamon is excellent for your immune system btw). I’ve found these habits to be a major contributor to the overall performance of my body. Probiotic supplements are an option as well (kind of expensive though). There also a tasty tea available called Kambucha that has large amounts of probiotics.
Principle 4: Minimize man-made substances
We live in a world that is filled to the brim with man-made substances. Artificial flavors, artificial coloring, artificial sweeteners, artificial everything it seems. When you buy boxed, processed foods you better believe you getting a whole list of artificial fillers and preservatives in that food (not to mention all the other crap it is likely to contain). Is this going to kill you off immediately? Obviously not, people are still alive despite consuming large amounts of artificial stuff. However, this is about maximizing our lives, not just surviving and being part of the living dead. Artificial stuff, all of it, is stuff to be conscious of and avoided at least most of the time. I don’t believe in being a maniac about this stuff like say Doctor Mercola is, but I do know that if you do limit the amount of artificial ingredients that you consume you will likely benefit greatly.
Continue reading part 2 by clicking above.