WE ALL KNOW NUTRITION MATTERS. BUT do we know the basics of what to eat?
Hey guys, it's Alex Brigham from Fuel Body, Feed Soul here! I'm a nutrition coach with 7 years experience, certified through Precision Nutrition and the CHEK Institute. I've been an active athlete my entire life and have seen the critical importance of nutrition in both my wellbeing and in my performance. Now, before we get any further, I want to be clear about something: no one likes the nutrition police, and that's not what I'm about. In fact, I can't stand the idea of a diet (we get one life people, don't spend it in food prison) and use my platform to advocate for balancing fueling your body with life-supporting nutrition and feeding your soul with yummy, satisfying food. I only have two "never's" in my nutrition coaching:  NEVER say you can't have something, simply based off the idea that a food can be good or bad and  NEVER eat fake sugar. We'll dive into both of these shortly, but I want it to be clear I'm not here to restrict you, but rather to guide you on how to fill your plate with goodness.
Alright, now back to that question I asked up there: do we know the basics of what to eat?
This question might sound silly. Of course we know, right?? I've coached hundreds of people on what to eat, and I can confidently tell you that no, we do not know what to eat. We live in confusing and seemingly impossible times. We live under the control of what I call the evil twin sisters: the food industry (worth nearly $6 trillion) and the diet culture (an $80B machine). Together, these two have thoroughly muddied the water as to what to eat? When to eat? How to eat? We're so confused that we often throw our hands up and just do the best that we can. What if I told you that doing better is actually simpler than you think?
Can you say yes to any of the following:
- I eat something daily that comes in a wrapper.
- I start my day off with typical breakfast foods (cereals, muffins, baked goods, etc).
- I often find myself in a hangry pinch. I'm out and about and lose track of time, and before you know it I'm waiting in line at [insert your go-to restaurant here].
- I'm trying to cut back on calories. My energy is low but that's what coffee is for, right?!?
- I have SUCH a sweet tooth - some days it's all I can think about!
- I'm going low carb - or keto - because it's "worked" for so many people!
- I'm doing a Whole 30/[insert any diet here] right now, but man... I really want to cheat!
Now, depending on what stage of life you are in, some of those questions may not apply. The young gymnast likely has a different food relationship than the collegiate athlete or the mom of 4. But If you can say yes to ANY of those scenarios, then you, too, have been a victim of the evil twin sisters. Hey, I've been there. I was there for many years. But in order to start straightening out the confusion, we have got to get back to basics.
In the paragraphs that follow I'll be outlining 5 Golden Rules of Nutrition that will be the foundation of your eating. These rules apply for everyone - gymnasts and non-gymnasts alike. But in the world of competitive athletics, your body is your machine. You must keep the machine to excellent standards if you want to win.
1. Eat protein often
Protein: the building block of the body. Protein is an essential macronutrient that our bodies need in adequate amounts. Proper amounts of protein help to maintain and build lean muscle mass, stabilize blood sugar and appetite cues, increase mental clarity and increase energy. Good protein sources include lean red meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, quinoa and rice with black beans. Go for organic, pasture-raised, no antibiotics when able.
You need a serving that equals roughly the size of your palm 3-5 times a day. For gymnasts, go for 5 times a day (for more sedentary people 3 times a day is sufficient).
2. EAT MORE VEGGIES THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED
Your grandma was right. You need to eat more veggies! Veggies are so much more than just the green things we have to eat because someone told us to. Vegetables pack a heavy punch in the micronutrient department. Our bodies are intelligently designed to survive. Nutrients are the basic need of the body for survival, so our brains are hardwired to seek nutrition sources. If food packs a calorie punch, that's great. But it's the nutritional density that matters most when it comes to appetite regulation and optimal cellular function. When we digest and absorb enough vitamins and minerals, our brains get the stop sign to stop eating. We then use those nutrients to support the functions of our cells, improving recovery after training and helping to balance hormones (fyi - hormones control EVERYTHING).
So what veggies do you eat? ALL OF THEM! Veggies should be half of your plate at each meal and should look like a rainbow. Some examples to get you started are: dark leafy greens, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions and tomatoes. You can find recipes that roast 'em, saute 'em, steam 'em or you can chew on them raw! Learn to love these guys and they'll love you right back.
3. Healthy fats are good for you - don't leave them out
Dietary fats do not make you fat. Over consumption of dietary fats may make you fat, but that goes for over consumption of anything. Dietary fats are a crucial component to a balanced nutritional lifestyle and belong in every single meal in the right amounts. Fats are crucial to cellular function. Our cells are housed inside a membrane that is comprised of lipids (fats) and so under eating fats will have a direct impact on cells and your metabolism. Additionally, fats are good for your eyes, skin and hair as well as cognitive function and brain health.
A good rule of thumb ... pun most definitely intended ... is to aim for a portion that's about the size of your thumb with each meal. Now, keep in mind, these fats aren't always visible on the plate. If you cook with fat, that counts. But if you only use 1-2 tbsp per skillet of food that's feeding four people then there's still room for more on your plate.
Examples of good dietary fats are olives, olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, coconut meat, coconut oil, coconut milk, full-fat dairy, nuts and seeds.
4. NEVER eat fake sugar
What's a fake sugar? Hold on to your britches...
HYDROGENATED STARCH HYDROLYSATE (HSH)
DiabetiSweet (also contains Acesulfame-K)
Hydrogenated High Maltose Content Glucose Syrup
Sweet N Low
Yep. I'm telling you to never ever eat any of those. Artificial sweeteners are man-made chemical concoctions designed to taste sweet without the food company having to report grams of sugar on the nutrition label. But, here's the catch: your brain still recognizes the sweet taste and triggers all the normal responses that it would if you just ate a spoonful of sugar. And they're death to your cellular health and metabolism. These man-made chemicals are viewed as foreign/unknown substances by your body, and as such are stored in your fat cells in order to protect your body from any potential damage that could be done by these toxins. And the sweeteners that sneak past the fat stores go through your filtration system, backing things up and slowing your natural detoxification processes.
But - these things are in EVERYTHING? So, what do we do? (Again, hold on to your britches...) When life calls for a sweet things, make it the real deal. Believe it or not, organic cane sugar, coconut sugar/crystals or raw honey are all FAR better and healthier options that will have less of a negative impact on your metabolism. So go for the real deal when you need a sweet. And if you follow RULE #5 below, you'll find that you don't need a sweet as often as you think.
5. Cook your food, don't open it from a container or wrapper
THIS. Just, so much this.
An alarming number of people today do not cook. I repeat, cooking is a dying skill. Instead, as a more "lifestyle friendly" alternative we have all turned to convenience foods at meal time. The result is more detrimental than you may think.
If you aren't cooking your food in your own kitchen using fresh ingredients, then you're consuming hyper-sensory foods on a regular basis, multiple times a day. A hyper-sensory food is one that's overloaded with fats, sugar or salts in order to amp up the flavor and get your brain hooked on whatever it is that you're eating. Even if the "calorie count" is "healthy," your brain is literally being rewired to only want those too-good-to-be-true foods. Your sweet tooth gets out of control, your salt cravings become more persistent and nothing you eat at home tastes quite as good as that meal from your favorite restaurant.
The more you cook at home the better real foods start to taste (again). I say again because food cooked at home from fresh ingredients are what we as human beings are designed to eat. Real foods that are minimally processed and as close to farm-to-table as possible are what have sustained us over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.
Okay, so now we all get that home-cooked food is the only way to go, how in the world do we do it?
The 3 P's: planning, preparing and patience.
First, take time EVERY weekend to plan the week ahead. What's for breakfast, lunch and dinner? What are some good snacks? Follow the rules above as best as you can, get creative with your recipe search and don't get frustrated by trying to get it perfect. It's an evolving process, it gets easier as time goes on.
Next you actually prepare. Write out your grocery needs and get your food. What can be cooked ahead of time and stored? What can be prepped (veggies can be pre-chopped, overnight oats can be set up in mason jars, etc)?
And lastly, be patient with yourself. Yes, this is hard. Yes, this is worth it. Nothing in life that's worthy will be easy. If you need some inspiration follow our Instagram to see how my blog partner, Carol, manages working a job and raising 4 busy, athletic kids on home-cooked food.
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