Find Your Healthy Food Lifestyle
Lets talk about what we should eat today. What should we eat?
Nutrition is quite a controversial topic today. Athlete, after athlete, after athlete, is coming forward with their story of battling eating disorders. At the same time, person, after person, after person is obese, diagnosed with heart disease, or diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. We fat shame in one breath and are body positive in the next, and we skinny shame the other end of the spectrum. We call out people for eating healthy. We quietly judge people for eating like happy piggies. What the heck?!
Just check out the media, nutritionally speaking, we are a mess:
Whether you are a professional athlete or a couch potatoes, we are all in a health crisis that is centered around nutrition and fitness. Obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes are all conditions that we bring upon ourselves through diet. (It is important to mention, that there are a handful of illnesses and conditions that can cause obesity.) This is bad news and good news. Bad news because we need to come to terms with the fact that we are doing this to ourselves. Good news, because we can also fix it ourselves through diet.
Some of the best medical advice is just about as old as history itself. “A merrie heart doth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones,” (aka, laughter is the best medicine), Proverbs 17:22, spoken by King Solomon around 3000 years ago. “Let food by thy medicine,” credited to Hippocrates about 2500 years ago. Seems like solid advice, really.
What should I eat? The Last Diet You Will Ever Need
Do you think an athlete and a person who is pretty sedentary should eat based on the same diet? What should an athlete or couch potato eat? Have you tried the Keto Diet? The Mediterranean Diet? Weight Watchers? Paleo? Zone? Atkins? Guess what, these plans work. For a year. So, unless you are 110 years old, and looking for a good diet, these diets aren’t for you. Do you want to eat the Atkins diet for the rest of your life? Keto for the rest of your life? Never eat another piece of toast for the rest of your life? Heck no.
These nutrition plans place too many restraints on what you can and can’t eat! These diets ignore specific dietary needs, and attempt to be one size fits all, but dietary needs vary from person to person. My 70 year old parents and I do not have the same dietary needs! Should we eat the same things? But, we can follow the same nutrition plan.
Ok, the last ‘diet’ you will ever need, whether you are an athlete or a bit of a couch potato, is more of a lifestyle. No one invented it. There are no products. There are no commercials for it. There is no NY Times best selling book written by the founder. There is no prize winning scientist behind it. It just takes what we already know about nutrition, our health needs, and our fitness needs, and applies common sense: figure out what you need to eat and how much of it you need to eat for fitness and health goals, and eat it every day. You will never ask yourself again, “What should I eat?”
Tracking macro-nutrients, the best way to know what you should eat.
Tracking macro-nutrients is based on the three macro-nutrients we need to survive: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. It is sometimes called flexible dieting, or tracking macros, or counting macros. I started tracking macros back in 2013, when I wanted to seriously work towards a climbing goal. I wanted to climb 5.11 on lead in my gym. So, I tracked my protein for muscle building and recovery, tracked my carbs to fuel climbing sessions, tracked my calories to lose a pound of two of fat, and it worked. I knew exactly what I should eat to achieve my fitness goals, and it worked.
Tracking macro-nutrients is perfect for all dietary needs. You figure out what your nutrition needs are. Do you have high cholesterol? Do you want to lose fat? Do you want to gain muscle? Then you figure out what nutrients you should eat to help you work towards that goal. Bad cholesterol? Then tracking fats and healthy carbohydrates will be key. Lose fat? Then you need to look at calories and eating a balanced diet. Build muscle? You are going to need a lot of protein everyday.
Tracking macros changes as you change. For example, today, my main concern is protein for muscle building. However, one day I will probably have high cholesterol and I will need to focus a lot of attention on the fat I eat. Tracking macros will help you learn about your own nutritional needs and learn about the food you are putting into your body everyday. What’s more, the research says it works. People who track what they eat are way more likely to have real long term success with diet goals.
If you are interested in learning more, I wrote a whole post about what macros are and how to get started tracking macros, here. I also reference a lot of professional sources in the article, as I am not a nutritionist! High school English teacher here! Nutrition, fitness, extreme sport enthusiast on the side!
My Most Challenging Macro-nutrient: Protein
Once you figure out what balance of macro-nutrients you need for your diet, and you start looking at what you eat, and then adjusting what you eat to hit your macro numbers, there will probably be a food group that is just tough to satisfy everyday. For example, if you never eat nuts or seeds, or avocado, then getting the right amount of healthy fats in your diet could be hard. Or, if you love white bread and pasta then you could have trouble getting high quality carbs into your diet. For me, my tough macro was protein.
For ideal muscle building, I need to eat 130 grams of protein a day. This number comes from calculations from multiple sources. That is the number. For a person my size and with my activity level, I eat around 1400 calories in a day. Fitting that much protein in only 1400 calories took some work. I had to change my diet, and add in staples that were high protein and low calorie.
regardless of your level of activity, there is a very good chance that you are nearly protein deficient. Most people in the US, for all that we eat, are barely staving off protein deficiency. You might be a bit shocked to learn how much protein our bodies need to simply maintain whatever muscle mass we have. Check it out here, and learn more about how much protein you actually need for your lifestyle.
What Protein Supplements Should You Eat?
Protein is such a crucial nutrient in our diets. As men grow older and produce less testosterone, their bodies need help maintaining muscle mass. As women stop producing estrogen, our bone density lessens, and only building muscle mass can help stave off losing bone density. These negative health impacts slowly begin in our forties and follow us into old age. The foundation of keeping our muscles and bones healthy enough to carry us around well into old age is to have enough protein in our diets. I think everyone would benefit from a healthy protein supplement.
Protein powders are the only supplement I take. For me, I figure supplements are a pretty unsustainable habit to have, which is why I only take one. For it to be worthwhile, it has to be something that is so sustainable, I can do it for the rest of my life. I don’t see myself taking vitamin D pills or whatever nutrient pill everyday for the rest of my life, but a good protein supplement. I can live with that.
As I mentioned above, I had to do some work adjusting my daily dietary staples to hit my needed daily protein intake. Full disclosure, I don’t hit 130 grams everyday. I might hit it once a week. It is tough. But I do hit 100 grams of protein daily, and I couldn’t manage it without a protein powder.
But, I kind of love my protein supplements. I serve them up like a milkshake everyday. I look forward to my post workout protein milkshake the same way I look forward to an Irish Coffee after snowboarding. As I am counting my way through my sets of dumbbell lunges, which I kind of hate, I close my eyes and think about the protein milkshake to come. I have been trying a bunch of protein shakes since Covid started, and created a giant review of several kinds 🙂
Nutrition Books: Brendan Brazier
I go through a good fitness nutrition book the way Mike Birbiglia goes through boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, vigorously and passionately. The first book I ever read about fitness and nutrition was Brendan Brazier’s Thrive. This book changed the way I ate at work, it changed the way I fueled for a workout, and it broadened my understanding of the deep impact food has on our health.
I learned that certain foods can cause stress on your body from the inside out. Which is not awesome, because these are exactly the foods we reach for when we are already stressed. I learned the critical role that stress and mitigating stress plays in our overall health.
I don’t reread many books but I have read this one. It will change the way you approach nutrition for your body in more than one way. I can’t recommend this book enough, you can check out my thorough review of the book here. The author is a vegan Iron man athlete, trainer, and nutritionist. However, in no way is the purpose of the book to persuade the reader to adopt a vegan diet, although it might have you adding some more plant based staples into your diet.
Super foods: The elite and the under-marketed
One food staple that Brendan Brazier uses a lot in his nutrition recommendations is super foods. Full disclosure, I do not use any recipes in the book, only the nutrition advice. Super foods are super expensive. Maybe I will use more when my grad school loans are paid off. Nonetheless, there are some super foods that I have dabbled with. On any budget, it is worth investing in a super food every once an d a while. There are some super easy ones to use like quinoa, chia seeds, and hemp hearts, that don’t break the bank.
There are also a lot of less elite super foods, that just don’t get marketed as super foods; foods like arugula, spinach, blueberries, lentils, and almonds are like second tier super foods. Lol. While these foods will not make the posh super food lists, they still are extremely nutrient dense, not expensive at all, and are super easy to use. No fancy new recipe required.
Should I eat some sweet sweet snacks? Yes!
So, when I take baked goods to a family gathering, people often have the same reaction to my baked goods, but they mean two completely different things. Lol! On one hand, “Oh, did Amanda make these!?” means, “Ok, I might skip these cookies, but I’ll bring a couple home for my neighbor who has to watch his diet.” On the other hand, “Oh, did Amanda make these!?” means, “Nice! I will eat four of these and still feel good about my nutrition today!”
I have such a sweet tooth, I love baked goods, but I also really care about my nutrition. So over the years I have learned about every healthy hack there is when it comes to making cookies and cakes and brownies and chocolates that are actually good for you. When I bake a sweet snack, it legit contributes to my nutrition, not just my caloric intake.
One Bourbon, one scotch, and one beer… Should I be drinking…?
More like 2 glasses of wine, a Scotch, and Z Quill. This is what I used to drink after a bad day teaching. I have been a high school English teacher for 13 years. Teachers and alcohol. You bet. You come home from school on a bad day, or bad day number 4 in a row, and are just so exhausted and so DONE, and you CAN’T stop thinking about school, your 130 students, and the 4 kiddos that are just so tough, so you start drinking the moment you walk in your door just to feel something that is not mental exhaustion. Just to breathe a little of life back into yourself and to forget school for a bit. A pretty common teacher reality. Anyway, there are many teachers who are alcoholics by the time February rolls around. Ok. That is my little teacher awareness PSA.
If you drink alcohol and have ever been mindful of your fitness or your diet, then I am sure that at some point you have wondered what impact alcohol has. Most people just assume that the impact is terrible, and we just do it anyway, because we just love having a drink! Hey, all good! But it really is not that bad! Just knowing a little about what our bodies do with alcohol will go a long way.
Alcohol and Fitness Can Co-Exist
Optimal fitness, nutrition, and alcohol can mix, but only some. The way the body processes alcohol compared to nutrients in food is pretty fascinating. Because alcohol is not food, it is not a nutrient, not a carb, not a fat, not a protein, alcohol is alcohol, it is processed in a completely different way than other things we consume. Understanding exactly what your body is doing and not doing when processing alcohol can help you make informed decisions about when to drink and how much to drink with minimal impact on muscle gains, diet goals, and recovery.
Personally, I have been working on drinking a lot less since Covid. When this started, I was one of those people who really tried to lean in to solidifying new healthy habits, and not drinking everyday was one of those habits. For me, being down to drinking 1-2 drinks a week has been great.
But again, there is a lot more to beer and wine that is not alcohol, (95-85% of wine and beer is not alcohol! ABV!) and those other ingredients do have some legit nutritional value. Check out my post to learn more.
How to Fuel for a Workout and Recovery
We should all be eating a balanced diet of high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and proteins everyday. However, when it comes to getting the most out of your fitness routine, there is some strategy to eating the right foods at the right time.
Before we talk about this, a quick word about working out while fasted. Whether or not working out fasted is right for you depends on your fitness goals. Some studies show that more fat can be burned by doing a moderate amount of moderate cardio while fasted, like a 30 minute jog or elliptical session. However, if your fitness goal is to build muscle, working out while fasted could be counterproductive, as your body could end up burning muscle for fuel. A risk doing a powerful workout, like heavy lifting to build muscle, while fasted, is that your body, having already burned all of your readily available fuel from the previous day, could start breaking down muscle for fuel. So, whether or not you fuel for a workout depends on your fitness goals. I have linked to a handful of professional resources below.
Ok, now, fueling for a workout and recovery is not rocket science. 🙂 All you need are some high quality carbohydrates a couple hours before. Some of my go to favorites are a banana with peanut butter or some whole wheat bread with PB. After a workout, aim to consume around 30 grams of protein so your muscles can begin recovery. Consuming much over 35 grams of protein at a time is pointless, because your body can only metabolize so much at a time.
Best of luck on your nutrition journey! If you have any questions or comments I would LOVE to hear from you!