I had a mentorship meeting with a member the other day which got me thinking… This member, let’s call him John Doe, is taking part in the Whole Life Challenge. He is eating only whole foods and is mostly paleo. He has cut out alcohol almost completely. And yet he’s worried about the possibility that he was doing it all wrong. Am I eating enough? Am I eating too much? Are carbs bad? Good? Can I only eat them post-workout? But isn’t fat bad too? Or just good fats? Cue exploding head and Coach Tom sitting, astounded, wiping brain off his forehead.
There is a reason for this anxiety. The root of the problem is informational saturation. The idiom “knowledge is power” might often be true but in fitness in the age of social media and the internet “information is weakness” might be closer to reality. We just come into contact with too much data. So how do you cut through the crap, overcome “informational anxiety” and find a strategy that you can be confident will work?
First of all, if like John you are already eating whole foods and 85%+ paleo, your intake of alcohol is limited, you sleep enough and you aren’t excessively stressed, then you’re already doing it right! Really. I mean it. You’re doing fine. You’re doing more than fine. You’re doing better than 90% of the population and if you carry on just like that you will get leaner and stronger and fitter over time. I don’t know how else to put your mind at rest. Of course, if you’re not already living by these principles then give yourself a slap in the face because you’re reading this looking for a short-cut that will get you abs. I love to the bearer of news that isn’t news at all: there are no short-cuts, even if this article’s title includes the word “hack”! Be more like John.
Ok, but what if you’re already like John and you just want to be sure? You just want to make sure you’re really doing the right thing. That you’re eating enough but not too much. That you have the right balance of nutrients. Well then read on because I’m going to break down the 3 easy nutritional strategies that I employ to keep things on point and guesstimate the correct caloric and macronutrient intake for me.
(1) Make every meal either a Carb meal or a Fat meal.
This is a very simple way to think about things that will help make sure you’re not overeating while also allowing you to get the right kind of fuel when you need it. Of course, every meal comes with protein. You already knew that. After that, choose whether it will be a carb-heavy or fat-heavy meal. If you’re going for a Carb meal, you will limit fats. If you’re going for a Fat meal, you will limit carbs. How does this work in practice?
For a Carb meal, you may have (i) protein (ii) veggies (iii) starch (iv) fruit. Now, it’s ok to have some fat of course but you must choose between (i) a non-lean source of protein or (ii) a small amount of exogenous fat to flavour veggies or starch (non-lean sources of fat being things like steak, pork, chicken thighs, salmon, mackerel; lean sources being most white fish, chicken breast, turkey breast etc.). See below for examples:
|Steak, sweet potato
|Steak, sweet potato and veggies dressed in olive oil|
|Chicken breast, veggies and rice with a little butter||Chicken thigh, veggies and rice with a little butter|
|Pork with baked potato and veggies||Pork with veggies and a creamy mash|
What does a little mean? Of course, everything is relative but you want to keep fat to around 10-15g. So 1 tablespoon of olive oil max, 10g of butter max, half an avocado max. Perhaps less if you’re female / smaller.
For Fat meals you may have (i) protein (ii) veggies (iii) fruit and (iv) fat but you may not have any dense, starchy carbohydrates. That means no rices, oats or sweet potato. Now, just because you are having no carbs, that doesn’t mean you can go crazy on the fats. You need to limit yourself to 2 sources of fat maximum (and remember: non-lean protein counts as a source of fat). It’s no good eating scrambled eggs with avocado, bacon and a tub of almond butter. Unfortunately, though I don’t advocate strict calorie counting, you can’t really have a 1000 calorie breakfast and expect to get lean!
|Steak, green beans and spinach with olive oil.||Steak, green beans and spinach with olive oil and sweet potato fries.|
|Steak, green beans and spinach with olive oil||Steak, green beans and spinach with olive oil & 1 avocado|
|Chicken breast with bacon and avocado and a handful of blueberries||Chicken thigh with bacon and avocado and a handful of blueberries|
|Chicken breast with bacon and avocado and blueberries||Chicken breast with bacon and avocado and blueberries mixed with cashew butter|
|Protein smoothy with banana, coconut milk, coconut oil and flax seed||Protein smoothy with banana, oats, coconut milk, coconut oil and flax seed|
Again, you are still getting some carbohydrate form the fruit and veg but it is limited. Don’t feel you have to limit veggies at all. Just be reasonable with the fruit!
I use this strategy daily because it allows me to get enough of the right kind of fuel at the right time without the risk of taking in too many calories total. For those of you who are frightened of carbs, anxious that they will make you fat, this will help too. I promise: if you limit fats you can eat a carb-heavy meal and you will definitely not get fat (so long as you’re training!).
(2) Time your Carb and Fat meals correctly
This one is really simple. Carbs to fuel training and replenish glycogen; fats to fuel productivity and work.
If you’re taking part in CrossFit, then a lot of your sessions will be fuelled by glucose to a large degree. As much as I hate to break it to you, fats can only be used for aerobic energy production and even then glucose is the preferred energy source. Since a lot of CrossFit is heavily glycolytic / anaerobic in nature (the clue is in the name!), you’re going to need some carbohydrate to fuel decent performance. Now does this mean you have to smash pancakes, chips and Ben & Jerrys. No. Not unless you want to be Jabba the Engine. But you will need to have some starch whether that is in the form of root veg for most of you or some rice and oats for others. Why starch? Why not fruit? Isn’t fruit better? No. Fruit is great for providing micronutrients. But not for providing useable energy for training. I’ll do another post in the future on all the finer details of carbohydrates. Get your eye masks and ear plugs ready!
(3) Split your Carb and Fat Meals half and half.
OK, so let’s get practical again. How would you actually plan Carb and Fat meals? Assuming 4 meals a day (3 main meals + 1 snack) I would suggest starting with half and half: 2 Carb meals and 2 Fat meals. I Carb meal should go directly after training. Other than that, you have some flexibility. Below are some templates for different training times.
Post-workout breakfast: Carb meal
Lunch: Fat meal
Afternoon snack: Fat meal
Dinner: Carb meal (to fuel AM training)
Breakfast: Carb meal
Lunch post-workout: Carb meal
Afternoon snack: Fat meal
Dinner: Fat meal
Breakfast: Fat meal
Lunch: Fat Meal
Afternoon snack: Carb meal
Post-workout dinner: Carb meal
That’s it! Super simple but incredibly effective and a method I use every day in order to guesstimate my macronutrient intake. Using these tools you will be able to make sure you are getting enough but not too much of the right stuff. For me, I tend to naturally want to eat more fat and fewer carbs. Implementing Carb meals makes sure I get enough to fuel intense training. A lot of you are scared of carbs. This method will allow you to consume carbs without fear! Since you know you are limiting fats, you can be pretty sure you will be controlling calories well during those meals. Why? Because carbohydrate sources are very calorically sparse. Taking sweet potato as an example, if you had a serving of 300g, that would equate to only 240 calories (60g carbs) for a pretty enormous mound of food! Start implementing this template and let me know how you get on!
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