Today I’m going to give you a quick overview of a few broad, heuristic strategies I would recommend you use to improve your nutrition. Employing these tactics will get you leaner and performing better. What may stand out the most is what is NOT on the list. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m bored and a bit frustrated with all the hype surrounding macros. I believe macros are secondary to other considerations. So you won’t find much discussion of protein, carbs and fat below. What I am doing here is presenting a wholly different approach to thinking about and executing your diet. I’m calling it the plant-centric horizontal diet (see also the Micro-Max approach on the blog). Sounds pretty cool right? So what is it?
1. Avoid “macro-mania” and choose a plant-centric diet
Macro-mania is a very serious condition in which the patient succumbs to a needless obsession over the precise macronutrient quantities they consume each day. Macro-manic CrossFitters can most often be seen hunched over iPhones inputting reams of data into MyFitnessPal or weighing sweet potato on digital scales at fine-dining restaurants. Understand that it doesn’t really matter if you get 150g or 165g of carbohydrate a day. The devil isn’t in the detail for most people, most of the time. The devil is in the big picture.
Instead of worrying about how much protein or carbs to get, worry about how much plant-based food you are eating each day. Worry about the quantity and diversity of vegetables you are consuming. This is the plant-centric diet: a nutritional strategy that emphasises high quality vegetables over everything else. If you have a choice between controlling the quantity of protein and carbs in a meal precisely on the one hand, or getting a proper serving of plants on the other, choose the plants!
My thought process is: (1) what veg will I get (2) what protein will I get and (3) do I need to add additional fat. So I am NOT saying macros don’t matter at all. I’m suggesting that you reverse the priority-ordering of your thinking when it comes to food. PLANTS FIRST! Macros second.
Why eat plant-centric?
Why use a plant-centric approach? There are 3 reasons.
(1) Prioritising vegetables will ensure that you get adequate vitamins and minerals to support an effective and efficient metabolism, improve recovery and protect you against long term chronic diseases.
(2) Eating more plants will tend to reduce total calories allowing you to get leaner.
(3) Eating more vegetables will generally boost your fibre intake leading to a healthier gut (see below)
2. Eat a horizontal diet
I listened to a Barbell Shrugged podcast recently in which Stan Efferding, a bodybuilder, talked about the “vertical diet”. The point of this diet was to limit food choices to a few easily digestible options in order to reduce demand on the digestive system. The goal of the approach was to add muscle mass and in this context it makes perfect sense. You can’t gain weight on broccoli and chard, after all. But it got me thinking about what a horizontal diet might look like and how this might be a beneficial concept for the more typical gym-goer / CrossFitter.
The horizontal diet prizes diversity of food choices, particularly the diversity of vegetables and fibre. Rather than limiting food choices, I encourage you to explore as many different vegetables, fruits and whole foods as you can. The easiest way to do this is to
(1) Use a high quality organic supplier like Abel and Cole and
(2) Eat seasonally (which is also easier if you use a mostly-local, high-quality supplier). Don’t just stick with kale: try sprout tops and cavolo nero. There is more to cruciferous life than broccoli: try cauliflower or, if you’re feeling particularly fancy, green cauliflower.
Why eat horizontally?
This all sounds like a lot of fun, but why bother? If you’re getting lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, why would you go to the extra effort of trying to vary things? For 2 very important reasons:
(1) if you eat the same foods over and over again, you run the risk of prioritising certain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals at the expense of others. Thus you could eat what you think is a very healthy diet and yet still end up deficient in certain crucial compounds.
(2) If you eat a varied selection of vegetables you will get varied sources of fibre. Current research suggests that variety of fibre may be even more important for gut health than quantity of fibre. Gut health is totally fundamental to your overall quality of life and recovery, so this is a big, big deal.
3. Employ time-restricted eating
Time restricted eating is a nutritional strategy that limits all of your day’s eating to a set window of between 8 and 12 hours. Not to be confused with the traditional intermittent fasting approach which has followers fast during the morning hours, time restricted eating favours a circadian window, fasting in the evening and eating throughout the day. On a typical implementation, followers would eat between 8am and 6pm, fasting from 6pm through till 8am.
Why follow time restricted eating? Research in animals has shown an incredible range of benefits to fasting with this protocol, from improved blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity to increased muscle mass and decreased body fat (see these references: 1, 2).
The diet also appears to be potentially protective against cardiovascular disease. More straightforwardly, eating within a window is an easy hack for caloric reduction since we tend to eat less if we eat for shorter periods. It also improves overall food quality because we tend to snack unhealthily and drink alcohol at night. For a fascinating overview of the science and implementation see this podcast from Rhonda Patrick featuring Satchin Panda.
That’s all folks
That’s it folks:
Be plant centric: prioritise vegetables in your diet over everything else.
Eat horizontally: aim for diversity of whole foods for a powerful immune system and robust gut health.
Employ time restricted eating to reduce temptation and improve cardiovascular health.
See you next time!