After years of experimentation, I only have a few hard and fast rules left about the way I eat.
- Eat whole foods and avoid packaging.
- Eat foods that make my body and my mind feel good.
- Eat enough to fuel my training.
- Eat well and practically.
Usually, that ends up including a lot of fruits and vegetables; little to no dairy; lean meat with every meal; complex carbohydrates; and a lot of healthy fats (avocados, oils, salmon, chocolate, ice cream… wait, what?).
Eating should do several things. You should feel satiated after meals. Your body should regulates itself at a comfortable weight, even with a healthy amount of indulgence (in my case, that means meals out and/or desserts). Your sleep should be consistent and uninterrupted by hunger pangs or discomfort. Your hair, skin, and nails should be healthy.
All those things mean you’re doing something right.
I can tick most of the boxes, but I still felt the need to change it up. Why?
Why I hired a nutritionist
You guys know that I train a lot. I lift heavy. I condition. And I feel like I should be improving faster than I am.
While a big part of CrossFit is trusting the process, it’s important to recognize when professional advice can be a game-changer.
I wanted to do a little experiment to see how changing up my diet would affect my training. So I enlisted the help of a nutritionist I knew through a friend of a friend.
After asking about my body, goals, training, and habits, she had me track my normal intake for a few days. Then, she put together a plan that changed up the way I was getting my nutrition.
To make a long story short, I’ve bumped up my protein and slightly reduced my fat intake. My carbohydrates are high, but my sugar intake (which I had never even looked at) is limited.
I’m committed to this plan for four weeks. After that, I’ll take note of how my training is feeling, how my body is adapting, and I’ll put together an update.
I’m two weeks in and I’ve already learned a few lessons: Follow along:
Sugar is Everywhere
Maybe everyone in the entire world knew this except me, but it is super hard to get a lot of carbs into your system without also ingesting a lot of the Thing of Evil (sugar). I’m not a fan of processed food, so most of my carbohydrates previously came from fruit. Fruit is great - lots of micronutrients, etc. - but it’s also loaded with sugar, which your body treats as any other source of fructose. While I’m by no means cutting out fruit (the micronutrients!), I am being more careful about how much I eat.
It’s Not Hard to get Enough Protein
Anytime I’ve shared the exact number of grams of protein I’m eating per day, I get the same response: “Oh, there’s no way I could eat that much protein. It’s just not possible."
Guess what? I felt the same way. And it is possible. It’s not even that hard.
Granted, I bent my rule about processed foods to include protein powder, but it’s clean protein without a ton of additives that tastes good. Combined with 3.5-4.0 oz of lean protein at every meal, it’s been easy to hit my protein goal.
Change the Foods, Not the Amount
I’m eating slightly less than I was before, despite my goals of building lean muscle. However, because the ratios are so different, I’m already noticing muscle gains and I just PR’d my deadlift. Clearly, the strength isn’t going anywhere.
Whether you’re looking to drop body fat or increase muscle mass, think about the proportions of your food before doing anything drastic to the quantity. Are you constantly falling below your fat requirements? Are you including enough carbohydrates, especially around your training? Work on that first.
Measuring Food is No Big Deal
One of the reasons I was procrastinating enlisting a nutritionist was, in a word, laziness. I knew that I’d have to start portioning and weighing my food and I just didn’t want to.
Newsflash: it’s easy.
Since I cook simple, wholesome foods, it’s no big deal to keep a scale on the kitchen counter and simply weigh out portions onto my plate right before I eat. Any more extensive recipes get calculated in MyFitnessPal first, and then weighed onto my plate.
My experience has been positive so far. My only concern is a slight weight drop, which is not my goal. The scale isn’t a great indicator of anything, though, so I’m not worrying too much quite yet.
The bottom line? When you feel stuck, take a good long look at the areas you can improve or change. You already know them: training, nutrition, and recovery. What needs dialling in? Can a professional help you make those changes? Sometimes, asking for help is the best step you can take.