I field this question frequently throughout my day of work and in my life in general. In my line of work, nutrition is a big factor. It closely correlates to tissue quality and the person's ability to recover from treatment or injury. It affects performance. Whenever I suspect and voice nutritional concerns, people immediately turn it around and ask me, "Well, what do you eat?" So here goes: today's blog will be about what I eat!
My stance on nutrition is that nutrition should be somewhat an individual trial and error based process. We also should use as much empirical evidence as we have to help formulate that decision-making and process an individualization therein. I believe that nutrition is one of the most polarizing argument-based topics up for discussion. Most people have a hard time identifying with other people's nutrition beliefs and philosophies. I think, at the end of the day, nutrition, food, and the judgments and choices we make about food take on almost a religious nature. People tend to develop certain attitudes and mentalities around their food, basically emotional attachments. While I can't fault this, I do believe we should be aware of this huge emotional and cultural environmental aspect to food and the way that it is consumed. Ultimately, I feel strongly that nutrition can be a pretty simple topic if you approach it logically and keep some basic principles in mind.
Personally, I find nutrition is a fun way to experiment on myself and experiment on my performance, on my ability to do things with my body, or, to not do things with my body. When I'm thinking about nutrition for myself I constantly think about the impact it has on my hormones--many hormones, but especially things like testosterone, growth hormone, insulin, and leptin, to name a few. Also I'm considering the factors that go into recovery, performance, hunger, and satiety. I think nutrition should be very dependent on activity levels and on performance goals. Taking all that into consideration: What do I actually eat?
I definitely eat a plant and animal based diet, focusing on whole, natural foods. I eat a lot of organic food. Almost all of my produce is organic and almost all of my animal sources are grass fed. I think that's a foundational thing for me; it's a non-negotiable. From there I try to eat a wide variety of foods; I think that's one of the biggest things we can do. I try to eat a lot of different kinds of vegetables, a lot of different colors of vegetables, and a lot of different kinds of animal products. Perhaps it's beef one day, bison the next, followed by a little bit of pork, then maybe organic chicken, and then some salmon, and oysters, and shrimp. I think the diversity of the foods we choose often gets restricted: we develop habits and patterns. We have salmon on Tuesday and meatloaf on Wednesday and then we get stuck in these ruts of always eating the same kinds of products. I think the better we can diversify to get more micronutrients the better.
I think another key facet of my nutrition is that I eat a pretty high-fat diet. This works well with my lifestyle, work schedule and training. Probably 30-40% of my food is lipid heavy, from foods such as oils, grass fed organic butters, avocado, nuts, coconut oil, coconut products in general, and then fats from animal products, especially when grass fed or ocean caught. I take in a lot of oil in my coffee in the morning, drinking bulletproof coffee, which I highly advocate if you're serious about mental and physical performance and optimizing nutrition. In addition to lipids the rest of my diet is high quality vegetables, as discussed earlier, and proteins from various animal products, and some tuberous vegetables. My carbohydrate sources tend to be berries, rice, and tubers-- such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, yams, etc. I eat a good amount of rice in particular, but I do try to minimize those really starchy vegetables and sources to only post-training. The body is most insulin sensitive after training and that's when I'm most prepared to handle carbohydrate intake of a starchy nature and glycogen replenishment is optimized.
Right alongside the question "what do I eat?" is the question "what don't I eat?" Chief among the foods that I avoid would be sugars at almost all cost; I try to eat very little sugar. I shoot for less than 20 grams of fructose per day if I can help it. I drink no fruit juices; if I'm going to consume fruit it is going to be after exercise or training, and it will usually be fruits that are more in the lower-glycemic index--berries, citrus, apples, or pears. I also try to minimize consumption of grains of any type, but especially wheat and ryes and cereals. This is big for me. People ask me all the time "Are you gluten-free?" and I say, "Well, I'm gluten-free in the sense that I try not to eat gluten, but I actually try not to eat any grains." The big elephant in the room with the gluten-free movement, is that most people are substituting some sort of a bread product with a gluten-free packaged alternative. That leads to the next thing that I don't eat which is that I don't eat much packaged food or processed food at all, ideally none.
When it comes to nutrition, very much like training, or fitness, or life, once you get moving with it it becomes easier to stay on the wagon. It's just getting the wagon started that's hard. I feel that you're better off being really strict six days out of seven and having one seventh day when you can cheat and let your hair down. I think that's a better way to go about it than to always give yourself little outs day to day. I think it's the consistency of eating well, and eating great food, and nourishing yourself that really promotes health and optimizes your daily performance, not just of an athletic nature but mentally and emotionally. I think we can get away with one cheat day out of seven, especially if it keeps you going strong the rest of the week (a strategy I learned from Mauro Di Pasquale and Tim Ferriss).
That's a pretty basic summary of what I do and don't eat. I like to drink red wine; I like to have a dessert once in awhile. I like to have a stack of blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup every so often. I live my life and I don't really have regrets about what I eat. I never worry about what I'm missing out on, because I'm always full and I'm always feeling good. I think the better and the cleaner we eat, the more fired up and motivated we feel in the day, the more ready to tackle obstacles and make the right choices. It's one big positive cycle, of nutrition and health.