As promised at the end of my last post, I want to share how I evolved through self-discovery in nutrition for performance and everyday-life.
I went all in here - real deep!
Now that I had reached my goal weight by my target date of Marine Corps Marathon in late October 2012, I needed to up-my-game and learn as much about nutrition and diets as possible. It was at this point that I ventured into the podcast and blogging mediums, as well as social media.
By the way, I still stuck to calorie counting and 1850 a day was still my number. It worked, so why stop?
Anticipating that my body would soon plateau, if it hadn't already, in it's adaptation to renewed fitness and nutrition habits and behaviors, I really wanted to understand the 'why', 'what', and 'how' behind common diets such as paleo, vegan, fruitarian, low-carb, etc. It turns outs that all these different ways to eat are shared very loudly through podcasts, books, and through social media. So in I went!
I read and listened to folks like Rich Roll, Vinnie Tortorich, Ben Greenfield, Abel James, Mark Sisson, and a few more. These are all podcasters, bloggers, and authors. This was just the beginning. These guys had fascinating guests on their shows that turned into even more I needed to research through their books or even more podcasts and blogs. It was awesome!
Podcasts were not just about nutrition for me, but also about fitness and general well-being. Endurance Planet, Trail Runner Nation, and Marathon Training academy became some of my favorites. There are many more.
You might say this is nuts, or that I should get a life. But this WAS my life I was trying to improve. I did this because I had to know and understand what drove folks to be so passionate about the food they ate and what they saw as healthy. Fueled with the similar passion I had in my original focus to lose weight earlier in the year, I set out to educate myself on as many healthy ways of eating as possible according to how I learned about my body through this entire journey, up to this point.
More about that...(enter soapbox).
I sincerely believe it is our individual responsibility to understand as much about our own bodies as we can so as to live the most full, healthy, and authentic life as possible. I often receive a lot of crap about having such a high standard and a 'mighty' stand about this. But I think that is more other's issues, not mine. As humans and owners of this fantastic machine – the human body – we owe ourselves at least that much. This is very much NOT HAPPENING today in our country. This is why we are so unhealthy. Sometimes we care more about our cars, homes, electronics, and other material items than we do our own bodies.
OK, soapbox is away (...for now!).
Not only did I listen to numerous podcasts and read many blogs, I also engaged many of these podcasters and bloggers, AKA ‘leaders’ on or 'experts' in these diets and nutritional lifestyles through email, social media, and even in person or on the phone. It’s amazing how accessible these folks are and open to engage when simple people like me have questions.
I also had the opportunity to speak with world-renowned and widely published scientists and researchers, doctors, athletes, and coaches on numerous subjects around nutrition, exercise, sports psychology, and general behavior patterns and development. This was better than any classroom education I could've sat through. Through my questions I not only learned more about the science and theory around nutrition, but the 'real-world' APPLICATION of key concepts in these areas that is often missing in standard classroom or on-line education.
I joined Facebook groups and got real heavy with my involvement in many on-line communities and groups. Even helping some of these podcasters and bloggers design content and deliver their message to audiences all over the world. I loved it! It was a huge ego-booster, I'll admit! But at the same time, I was able to, again, identify a practical application to all the knowledge I had learned over the past year, combined with my education in the human sciences. It was like a lab class to go with my self-directed research.
Specifically, the Facebook groups were like a 24-hour, real-life look into the minds of some folks that were at different points of the same path I traveled down, and continue down today. I answered questions, received numerous messages and emails asking for individual advice. It was great! I made many ‘virtual’ friends that are still good buddies today.
Where did I end up after all this engagement and interaction? Much more self-aware!
Armed with tons of information around food, diets, and nutrition I began to put some to the test. This was great. Some stuff sucked and made me feel horrible while I heard that it worked well for others. Some foods work well for me even though those foods wouldn't be touched by certain groups. Crazy, I thought but I found out what worked for me. Through experimenting with the eating norms of a few popular diets, there at two that that really stood out to me as game-changers.
When I dove into plant-based eating styles I learned a ton about vegetables and fruits. I discovered the wide array of foods that were so incredibly nutrient-dense that I wondered why people even needed to take supplements when almost everything we needed could come from the ground, on a plant, or from a tree. I mean the type of sports performance benefit and feeling of well-being I actually experienced by eating more plants rivaled what I anticipated performance-enhancing drugs would do for any ordinary athlete. It was amazing! I used our VitaMix to create very concentrated and strategically mixed vegetable and fruit blends. It was hard to get used to it at first but my body adapted and I now actually crave vegetables like I used to crave soda and sweets. I also added plant-based fats to my eating in the form of seeds, nuts, and tree-fruit fats. The addition of fat to my diet was also a performance enhancer with obvious benefits. And yes, you can get plenty of protein from just eating plants! Plants are at least 80% of my diet today.
That's not it - there's more.
When I researched and experimented with the paleo approach to eating, I had two main take-aways. I learned how certain grain-based carbohydrates can affect my body's response to stress. Also, I discovered how sugar can accelerate the deterioration of the metabolic environment of those living very sedentary lifestyles. This was important for me to know considering diabetes and other metabolic issues ran in my family with age. It was during this phase of my journey where I began to move away from a grain- and sugar-based carbohydrate approach to providing fuel for training to more of what's termed a 'fat-adapted' approach to fueling. I continue this today.
Being fat-adapted means that my body will use fat as it's primary source of fuel for all activites and basic functions - whether it be exercising or just through the course of the day. Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, heavy cream, grass-fed butter all became staples in my diet, that I discovered would give me this stored energy. I do not want to get too technical here as to the physiological process behind why fat works this way, but I think you get it. To sum it all up, this is where I really moved permanently to seeing food as fuel for my lifestyle.
As a result of this journey, I made a complete 180-degree turn when it came to nutrition for sports performance. I went from the very common, well-known 'carbo-loading' ritual before races or long-training sessions just about a year earlier, to completely eliminating grain- and sugar-based carbohydrates from my diet in the days leading up to these workouts or races. This was, well, against the grain. (...see what I did there?)
After my body adapted to using fat as it's primary fuel source, I ran faster needing little or no fuel during each workout session. Not only did I notice a huge difference during the exercise, but I recovered quicker with less inflammation and the groggy-ness that I was so familiar with as a standard nutritionally-guided athlete. However, I soon learned that this approach for me had it's limits once I achieved a more consistent, efficient, and generally healthy 'everyday' metabolic state. I'll explain more shortly...
In the meantime, through all this exploration, I continued to slim down and have settled at my current weight of about 173 pounds. A full 55 pounds less than that day back in May 2012. I no longer count my calories and have maintained this healthy weight for nearly a year. My biomarkers are all well-within healthy limits, and even extraordinary under the observations of my doctor, scientists, and other experts I've shared them with.
That leads to this - Where am I now?
I have two methodologies I stick to when it comes to my nutrition. Warning: This is where I get nerdy, so you're welcome!
I call one method my CORE diet, which is a term I learned from a company called QT2 Coaching. Now I got the name from them, not necessary the details of the approach. I just felt the word 'CORE' was a good descriptor of how I applied it. My CORE diet is my way of eating that is designed to provide a stable metabolic environment away from my intentions around exercise and fitness. My CORE diet consists of a lower grain- and sugar-based carbohydrate approach combined with lot's of plants (veggies, seeds, nuts, oils, fruits, etc.) and fresh, grass-fed, pastured raised meats. This is NOT low-carb! This keeps my metabolic hormones balanced so I avoid swings in mood and appetite through the day. I also build in intermittent fasting at certain intervals to help my metabolism adapt to varying conditions. The timing that determines when I intermittently fast depends on my more recent eating habits. For example, if I have a lot of meat over a few day period, I may build in two or three 12- to 16-hour fasting periods to allow my metabolic hormone levels to adjust to more usual levels. I do not recommend intermittent fasting for anyone that has not seen their doctor to be sure this is safe for them.
The second method of eating I incorporate is called my PERFORMANCE diet. This is the way of eating that is designed to support my endurance training and lifestyle. I use this approach to align specifically with the intensities that I plan on tapping into while out training or racing. To arrive at how I know what intensity utilizes which type of fuel (...fat or carbohydrate) I went out and got an Active Metabolic Test. This test showed me, for my body, at what intensities I was burning fat as my primary fuel source and/or carbohydrate as my primary fuel source. This test is available to anyone and can tell you a lot about your fitness and health. Heart rate was measured during this test and I currently use those corresponding heart rate metrics as a gauge to tell me my fuel utilization while training. So if I plan to go out for a long run, I will most likely be in the top end of my fat-utilization zone. This means I'll reduce some of the grain- and sugar-based carbs I eat the days leading up to this session and put more healthy fats in my diet. If I'm planning a session, like speed-work or hill training, these intensities will put me into my carbohydrate-utilization zone for fuel. So I'll top off some of my glycogen stores with some grain- or sugar-based carbohydrates the evening before these sessions. This allows my body to access this fuel more readily without suffering the hormonal swings leaving me needing more and more as my session progresses.
There are other practical methods I use like carb-backloading and specific supplementation to align with my body's needs during a certain period of training. It really depends on where I am in my training regimen that dictates how I add in these methods.
I hope that made sense!
This is what worked for me. While on an anatomical level, we're all pretty much the same. But physiologically, there are some differences. I'd encourage anyone to first understand their own physiology before deciding how to change or improve the same habits I did.
Come back for Part III in a couple of days, and I'll share more about taking an individual approach and rant a little bit with some opinions on how the diet-pushing agendas are incredibly mis-guided.
But first I must say that though this journey, I've landed in a safe spot with food - finally! Meaning I'm not a strict food advocate. I never judge others' food choices, because as a friend once said to me, "everyone is on their own journey." And yes, I do indulge in the fun foods once in a while. I love my pizza, wings, and of course my father in-law's blueberry pie! I'll never deprive myself of living life and letting food dictate my interactions or relationships with others. I hope others that may be struggling can find the same peace I've found. I can sum it up like this:
Instances create habits. Habits foster behaviors. Behaviors drive actions. Actions yield results.
The frequency of instances, will get you results.
Thanks for reading!