How to Prioritize Nutrition

I’m sure most of you reading this have been told that certain diets and foods are bad for you, while others are optimal. I was one of those people once. I can remember a point at which I bought into the idea that bread would kill me, grains would give me cancer, etc. Of course with this came the idea that you could eat as much bacon as you want. I ate sandwiches but replaced the bread with bacon. I was ‘above’ eating dessert and pretty much stopped drinking delicious beer, replacing it with hard cider because I thought it was more ‘natural’. I actually still prefer Harpoon Cider over most drinks because it is pretty delicious but, that’s neither here nor there.

I’m not really preaching to anyone about nutrition, just stating some observations based off of the reading I’ve done and real-life conversations I’ve had with people on the subject. As of the past couple years, I have followed some pretty well known people in the nutrition world; Layne Norton, Alan Aragon, Abbie Smith-Ryan among others, some of which were brought to my attention through a friend. Some of them are also very outspoken about their thoughts on certain dieting practices, training theories, etc. making it so they are either loved or hated. They question anything that isn’t science based and are not afraid to call out the bullshit. There are a lot of things that I once thought were correct, which I have found are actually very incorrect. Much of the time I enjoy finding these things out because at least I know I am staying up to date.

Within the past couple years and more recently the past few months, I have been following the work of the crew behind Renaissance Periodization; a team of strength coaches, PhD’s and doctors who have basically outlined a practical approach to health and body composition through diet and exercise without creating more stress from overly strict diet practices. The priorities are outlined in order of importance as it relates to food intake. The first and foremost objective they recommend is;

‘Are you eating enough? Or, too much?’

Secondly, in order of importance, ‘Are your total daily calories relatively balanced from a macro-nutrient standpoint based on your activity level, type, and individual needs?’

In other words, “Do you get enough protein, carbs and fat to support your goals and if so, how much of each?”

I found this extremely interesting as it created a ‘duh’ moment for me. It brought me right back to the basics of which I studied in college. Through conversations I’ve had with people who have asked my advice, these first two questions listed above are what stumps them. In general, all of them believe that carbs are bad, grass-fed meat, bacon, and fresh vegetables are optimal, and that butter in your coffee is a miracle. Tracking my intake was a real eye-opener for me as I thought I was eating “healthy”. As it turns out, I found that I was consuming roughly 40-45% of my calories from fat and 30% give or take, from protein. The rest came from carbs (under 40%). Much too high in fat and too low in carbs for my goals of staying lean but also, improving my strength with weightlifting. On top of that, I still wasn’t getting enough calories to support my training!

At this point, I don’t really track anymore as I have learned what I need to eat to support my training and maintain adequate energy levels. Every once in a while I may go back and log it to check and make sure I’m on track, but have also since learned about the difference in the way my body feels and how I’m able to recover from workouts, based on how I eat.
What I am suggesting to anyone wondering about nutrition is that it is optimal to know how much energy you consume based on how much you expend. From that point, how much of that energy should come from protein, carbs and fat to support your goals. At the beginning, it is very likely that those individual numbers for most people will be far off from where they should be. Getting those in line first, would likely make the biggest improvement in health before stressing about whether or not your meat is grass-fed or that you should substitute your breakfast with a cup of coffee that has a quarter of a stick of butter melted into it.

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