Looks like a lot of work? It's not, this is just an example of deferring nightly meal prep to once a week. However you do it, your meals should be this brightly colored, diverse made from whole foods as often as you can.

Regardless of your goal when training with us,  we have a position on how you should tackle it with regard to your diet. These posts normally stem from a conversation or conversations with athletes, and this is no different. One of our favorite athletes (though we actually don’t have favorites – you’re all our favorites!) and I had an exchange. I’m not usually fast on my feet but I was that day!  (Sam here – I was behind the door when my creator handed out zingers and wit!)  The question was about a supplement – had I heard of it? And the answer was yes, with the loudest period I’d ever posted after the word “Yes”. I was winding up! The athlete said he heard that Mat Fraser (CrossFit Athlete) grew a third lung in the gym when he took this supplement. And while this may have been true, I also knew that Mat Fraser’s wife hosts a blog and now a new cookbook called “Feeding the Frasers”…all about how she makes sure he’s eating enough, high-quality and nourishing foods to keep him on the podium. So here I go – here’s my witty analogy: “You just bought a house. The roof leaks and the foundation is cracked. But you start painting and carpeting without fixing these essentials. Wait, you wouldn’t do that right? Of course not. The carpet will get ruined from the leaks in the roof and the paint will have to be patched and repaired because of the foundation cracks.  This is the same thing that will happen if you try to out-supplement a bad diet. Or out-train a bad diet. You can’t. Your diet is the foundation of your health. I’ll never veer from that statement. And so we continue!

First question: Do you want to:

  • get stronger?
  • get leaner (lose weight)?
  • have more energy? (no more afternoon naps?)
  • reduce inflammation?
  • feel better (your health could improve because of weight loss or gain or just a change in your diet composition)?

Your reasons are yours. Not anyone else’s. And they may be a combination of a few or all of the above.

The demographics we now train have made it harder for us to help with diet…much harder than when we trained the younger folks. Why? Because the longer you’ve lived the more set in your ways you are. I mean, you’ve eaten the same way for this long and it’s gotten you this far, right? Well, don’t forget, we’re redefining retirement here. We’re setting a new bar for how fit, active, healthy, and mobile we SHOULD be in our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and yes, 90’s. And in doing this, some things should be considered and reconsidered every single decade. Mobility becomes more important, as does strength, as does capacity…and, well diet too…Ok, all of it! LOL.

My favorite reason for resistance to a change in diet is this:   you don’t care, and you’re going to eat what you’re going to eat because you’ve been on this earth long enough to deserve not to be constrained by what someone tells you to eat. That’s my favorite…why? I just love a challenge!

DIET IS VERY INDIVIDUAL

We’re not a cookie-cutter template. What does that mean? Many nutrition training organizations have a template they dole out to all clients based on height, weight, and goals. It’s usually a macro template, and often they have you eating 4-6 times a day. While that may be good if you’re in bodybuilding and trying to compete in that sport, it’s not the best for health, and that’s always where we start.  Health first. At “our age” (50+) MOST athletes who walk in our door have “something” going on…something metabolic, something inflammatory (even orthopedic issues of knee and hip arthritis are now known to have metabolic underpinnings) or some underlying health issue.  Perhaps this is because we cater to 55+ and with age comes complexity.  What does that mean?

This means it’s harder for us because our athletes have a longer “time on earth” from which to have developed habits, become set in what they believe(d) is actual, and find it harder to make lifestyle changes. Additionally, unlike the newer generations, we’re less likely to change what we believe because someone gave us information that’s different than what we originally thought was true. How can dietary facts change? Butter is good, but then it’s bad, and then it’s good again. Same with eggs. What about Crisco? And the list goes on.

Our general position as an organization that’s studied and taught diet for years, is this:

  • Know the client – a solid history of a person’s current dietary habits and why they do what they do, a knowledge of their medical history, and their activity levels are prerequisite in speaking about diet.
  • Ask what the client is willing to change. There are some things, like the quantity of protein, that we are pretty firm on and that are largely blanketed in the science behind improving your health span.
  • Make small steps toward improvement.

This is an important pattern to learn because in health coaching or even personal training – working with athletes, clients, etc., there’s a lot of data to be gathered in order to advise on this without pushing personal preferences out there.  Shoot – I’d transfer everyone to a “performance-Paleo-ish” diet but we have vegetarian and vegan athletes! This is their choice! It might make my head spin but I have to meet them where they want to be, right?

Clean Up Your Diet FIRST

    • “Clean up” your diet. First.  Period. (Pause for effect). Don’t move past this point until you have accomplished this. Why?
      • Kind of starting backward with why, but here’s why:
        • Are you taking supplements to sleep, but you eat crackers, Pop-tarts, bagels, chicken nuggets, and frequent McDonalds or Checkers for lunches? Do you drink alcohol every night? Your diet affects your sleep.
        • Are you in an infrared sauna or dunking in a cool tank but you also don’t exercise, or you train with us and then sit and watch television or are generally inactive the rest of the day? Are you too sedentary? Remember:  human DNA is meant to MOVE!
        • Or are you still looking for that next diet pill, or supplement to melt off the fat? Hat tip: it won’t work. Not until good habits are ingrained in your lifestlye.
      • But what does that mean? Clean up my diet? While we’re trying not to be drill sergeants with quality, 99% of the time if you clean up the quality of what you are putting in your body (meaning food), results happen. You may think it’s not sexy…that the image above is boring. Trust us it’s not – that food was GOOD! And cleaning up quantity usually seals the deal.
      • We define quality as whole, natural ingredients -and the less the better. For example, If you visit Ward’s Seafood Market or Jensen Brothers Seafood where you choose some fish and they wrap it up, there is no ingredient label because there is one ingredient and it’s obvious. It’s fish. I guarantee that if someone who is eating out all of the time switches to making their own food for two weeks, you’ll notice an improvement in a lot of things: energy, joint pain, etc.  For example animal proteins (I refrain from saying lean because animal fat from free-roaming, pastured, natural (not feedlot) diets is one of the healthiest fats out there), vegetables (other than peas and carrots….everyone likes peas and carrots, but there are other options 😂), fruit, and safe starches like all potatoes, other roots like beets…all 100% whole, minimally processed foods. And let’s cut to that chase with regard to the word “processed”. Unless you want to go to the grove and pick your own veggies and fruits, or to the beach and catch that fish, filet and prepare it, or to the field and select your cow or chicken, slaughter it, skin / pluck it and then filet it or carve it up, there is “some” processing we all afford in our lives for the convenience of the skills and effort we once used to put into gathering food.  And for that long sentence, I’ll guilt you into actually COOKING your food instead of ordering it prepared (and that’s for another post).
      • For CrossFit and the extra starch needs: white rice and oats. Both are more gut-friendly than whole wheat and sans-gluten.  Maybe consider some other ancient grains like amaranth, millet, and, Kamut. The high-intensity needs of our sport generally require a little more carbohydrate.
      • Fats tend to fit in themselves – grass-fed butter, fat from meat avocado, and cooking oils (non-vegetable/seed).
      • After the foods are “whole”, then we can clean up the sources – chickens that are free roaming and not fed “feed”.  Cows that are grass-fed from birth to slaughter are eating their indigenous diets and are healthier for you. Wild caught fishes, also feeding off ocean sources are healthier than farmed fishes fed by…fish farmers.   Organic isn’t always needed…watching the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 from EWG is smart. Not all foods need to be organic.
      • The type of food you eat is important and understanding what goes into your food is important. Become an educated consumer and your health will improve. If you don’t know what something is on an ingredient list, your body probably doesn’t know what to do with it either. Google what things are and trust us, you’ll change how you look at your food.  For example, the pretzels I just munched on have 12 (TWELVE!) ingredients including Canola Oil. What the H-E double hockey sticks is a Canola? Guess what – there is no such thing as a canola tree, bush, or plant. Nor a Canola animal (but it’s a fun name for a pet maybe!).  It’s not a good oil in comparison to animal fat from healthy sources, or oils from olives, coconut, or avocado.   Asking someone to clean up their diet means stripping out the crap and eating only whole foods that the body KNOWS what to do with. It might be hard, but it makes sense!
      • Final tip…what if you’re someone who lives on canned energy drinks and meals from Wawa? You’re in for a big change if you decide to start looking into what’s in all of those ingredients and subsequently how to pronounce them, and what they actually are. Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals. Let’s get back to basics.

Next step – supplementation – maybe

Not so fast.  MAYBE.  This depends!  You have to know where to start, which means knowing the person who’s in need, what their diet, habits, lifestyle, etc. are.

    • For example, the majority of Americans are low in Vitamin D. How do we know? Years and years of athletes reporting their blood markers show it.  If you wear sunscreen, you are probably deficient. If you avoid the sun, you are probably deficient. Most Americans show low Vitamin D in blood work and this essential vitamin is required for optimal health. It’s a cheap supplement and easy to incorporate. It’s a little harder to get enough Vitamin D through your diet but salmon, smelly fish, tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms are all high in Vitamin D….more whole foods, yay!
    • Protein – sometimes the only way to get enough is to supplement. Protein is the one macronutrient you cannot live without. Yes, you can live without fat and without carbohydrate (it won’t be fun but you can do it), but you can’t live without dietary protein. If you aren’t getting enough (defined by around 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound of ideal body weight from our camp), supplementation is recommended. But again, if you’re buying pre-made protein drinks – check out the ingredients! You’ll be surprised. 
    • A smart man once said: Americans have the most expensive urine! Why? Because we over-supplement. We supplement without an objective marker to tell us that’s what we need. Blood work is the easiest way to identify deficiencies and should be your gold standard. If you’re not a good researcher or don’t have a good functional medicine physician or a physician who will work with you on YOUR goals, we recommend you find one. Don’t be gullible.  The U.S. is only one of two countries that allow direct-to-consumer marketing from pharmaceutical companies. The supplement industry is the middle ground…they reel you in the same way as the pharmaceutical ads with promises of a better memory (yet you don’t sleep), of a thinner waistline (yet you eat poorly and don’t exercise), or of higher energy levels (again, you eat poorly, you don’t exercise and you don’t sleep well).  Don’t be gullible.  You should still be critical in your thinking and start from square one – your diet.   The more you know. You can’t out-supplement (or out-train) a bad diet. So step one, clean up the diet. Then, get some bloodwork done and go from there. 

Meal Frequency

This really depends on the person. For a lot of reasons, the old bodybuilding mentality of 6 meals a day does not make sense. Evolutionarily, eating this frequently is not backed by history, science, or anything as it relates to weight loss or health. In fact, it’s contraindicated for health – your body needs time resting…not digesting all the time. The most common way to ensure this is to eat dinner early and then eat breakfast late. That provides. 12-16 hours of time for your body to heal and do the things it needs to do when it’s not processing food. Advising beyond this really needs to take into consideration activity, and goals…it’s hard to build strength in a calorie deficit and it’s hard to lose weight in a calorie surplus. It’s all about individual those goals!

Our generation is the three meals a day generation. But snacking has crept up on us, and we’re not sure why. Do you snack because you don’t eat enough at meals? Do you snack because you’re trying to keep your metabolism fire “stoked”? (nope! doesn’t work that way) Do you snack to keep your blood sugar stable? (again, a misnomer) Or Do you snack because you want energy before you train? BINGO! There’s the first good reason. Again, more to consider, right?

Macros – maybe

Most of our athletes find counting macros difficult. They weren’t born into this culture of counting food (other than calories maybe, and even that has a negative connotation for many). The percentage or grams of total daily intake of protein, carbs, and fat are your macros – how much protein do you eat, how many carbohydrates, and how much fat? Now, when you clean up your sources, this is pretty easy to get down thinking in terms of a handful (a cup), your palm size (4-5 ounces) or a thumb (a tablespoon). Most of us can eyeball quantity pretty accurately with a little practice after measuring. But it might not be necessary. It might be easier for a person to follow this:

Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1 cup egg whites scrambled up with 1 cup veggies of choice (like onion, garlic, spinach, and tomato).  About a handful of shredded potatoes cooked in olive oil into a “hash”. 1 cup of berries of choice.

versus

Breakfast: 25 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbohydrate and 20 grams of fat.

Both of these scenarios equate to about the same numbers…just written differently.

The first thing we do when meeting someone on diet is to quantify how much they’re eating and of what. With quantity and quality, we can easily make some determinations of how much and how inflammatory their diet is. Then, once we know the athletes’ history, their concerns and/or conditions, and their goals, we can help build a plan that’s largely based on their habits, with small changes along the way to improve quality,  Once the house is cleaned up and any perceived deficiencies are tackled, someone may want to dive further for performance or body composition benefits. When you start working on specifics like weight loss we like to say if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. With weight loss, we try to get you in a calorie deficit with protein high so we don’t catabolize muscle mass. Managing that calorie deficit is important so we don’t lose strength. For performance, optimizing calorie load that’s not too high to cause weight gain but high enough to fuel heavy training. See….one size doesn’t fit all. There’s an art to this if you want to do what’s right for each person.

But counting macros isn’t imperative.

In Summary

A lot goes into your diet. Shoot, a lot goes into Ed’s and my diet. We’re pretty regimented but I’m always on the lookout for a way to make it more interesting…picking the veggies I wouldn’t normally pick, or coming up with a new combination of seasonings for the protein. What about snacks? We snack occasionally – especially after a coaching shift and before we train. We’re the master of quick digesting snacks! But we don’t snack all day every day.

Do we intermittent fast? Sometimes yes. Strategically placed on non-training days so we can fuel our training.

Digging into the individual is very important before making recommendations – otherwise, how do you know what to recommend?

We used to be super successful with the experiment of a Paleo or Evolutionary Health Diet challenge in the past. I haven’t considered one here yet because it seems the older we are the more set in our ways we are about what truly is healthy – a lot of our people are “the box said it’s heart healthy” or “I’ve always had two pieces of toast and butter and one egg for breakfast and I’ve lived this long”. If/when we do that – it’ll be an uphill battle! LOL. You may see this in the future….we’ll see!