Coach Al here with a post inspired by a conversation a couple of my athletes were having regarding nutrition. Their talk began as a lament about how confusing it is to navigate all the conflicting information about how to eat well and fuel for performance.
There is no doubt that nutrition can SEEM complicated with all of the information "out there." My advice always is to simplify as much as possible. With that thought in mind, let's let's look at some of the topics my athletes were confused about and distill things down to the basics.
The basics of good nutrition and healthy eating are simple:
a. Avoid processed, packaged, and sugary foods as much as possible.
b. The great majority of what you eat should be fruits and veggies.
c. Good fats are not only good, they're great. Has anyone ever asked you how much "fat" you ate today? They should. It is essential to get in good fats.
d. Eat more calories earlier in the day, and less as the days goes on (king, queen, pauper).
e. If you're an endurance athlete, you NEED carbohydrates! Perhaps as much as 60-70% of calories, mostly from fruits and vegetables.
My thoughts on Paleo? If eating a Paleo diet means you're eating more fruits and veggies, and less junk and starch, then yes, it is a good thing.
Is Gluten Bad?
If you experiment and eliminate gluten from your diet and you feel better, then it, perhaps, may be "bad" for you. If you consume it on occasion and you don't notice adverse effects, it is likely perfectly fine for you to eat.
Is Rice Good?
YOU NEED carbs, and rice can be a good source of carbohydrate. Sports physiologist Allen Lim wants the cyclists he works with to be fully glycogen loaded when training, prompting him to recommend a source of concentrated calories from carbs as a staple in the diet. Rice fills that bill perfectly.
It is my personal opinion that it is not normal to drink the milk of another animal. Let me reiterate--that is my point of view. As with gluten, if you eliminate it from your diet and and you feel better, there is your answer. We don't necessarily NEED dairy to get enough in the way of minerals and protein. Much of our needs for those things can come from fruits and veggies--leafy greens especially.
It's about balance. In moderate quantities, whole-grain breads can be a good source of carbs. Sometimes we can go overboard and eat way too much carbohydrate in this form. A couple of slices with a sandwich? No harm in that.
In this day and age, athletes have become more aware of their protein intake than ever before. I would venture to say we have been "sold" on the benefits of a high-protein diet, both by the companies selling us protein powders of every description, as well as from the diet companies selling us on the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet. My opinion is that we may be over doing our intake of protein, and maybe sacrificing the carbohydrates necessary for energy, as well as the good fats necessary for optimal health
Quality proteins, which can be found in many whole foods as part of a balanced healthy diet, should make up no more than about 25% of total daily calories for the typical hard training athlete. Individual needs may vary, of course. Excessive protein intake WILL NOT make you recover faster, or get "ripped" more easily, despite what the bodybuilding world would have you believe. Great recovery from training happens for many reasons, including making sure not to deplete carbohydrate completely (glycogen saturation). Recovery is also greatly enhanced by having a strong, stable body that moves well so you're not routinely shredding smaller muscles as they try to do the job of larger ones. Sleep is hugely important, as is a smart training progression. All of these things, and more, add up to great recovery. It is not about pounding large amounts of protein powders, seeking the magic bullet for fast results!
It seems clear to me that ANY kind of food that increases inflammation and/or increases the acidity of the body--starches, processed foods, sugars, and "bad" fats--is to be avoided as much as possible.
Keeping It Simple
We could go in depth for days on any one of the topics outlined above. But the purpose of this post is to help you keep it simple, and, therefore, executable in your life. The keys are:
- Eat fruits and veggies of all varieties and in copious amounts.
- Don't overdo protein intake at the expense of good carbohydrates.
- Get plenty of good fats from nuts, seeds, fish, etc.
- Time your meals to limit insulin and maximize fat burning.
Easy? Not always.
Shopping for fresh foods is work, and most quality foods are more expensive. Breaking habits and sticking to a plan, even if you know it is best for you, can be a challenge. Experimenting to find what works best for YOU, is also sometimes a chore.
Is this all worth it in the end?
WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT.
In my opinion, we really are what we eat. What we eat matters more than what kind of exercise take part in when considering long term health and longevity.
Hope this helps. Coming soon, I will be posting more in-depth information about the issue of good fats in the diet.
Get strong, train smart, eat well!