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by Dave Thomas

Food is like religion.  It’s hard to talk about without pissing people off.  I find the best approach is to be a Buddhristiawishuslim.  Take the best principles from each and try and apply some reason and sanity to the process, while still getting excellent results.  Here are a few thoughts on the matter.

Your first step with losing weight should be to moderate insulin for 90 days through a low carbohydrate diet. Full commitment.  Lowering insulin has proven weight loss benefits and, is based around excellent science and has proven to work very well for initial weight loss.

If you’ve stalled with such efforts, it may be that you’re metabolically more suited to burn carbohydrates than a high-fat diet, so try decreasing fat content and increasing carbohydrates if your efforts stall.  I’ve seen people try a Paleo approach for months and lose nothing.  Others I’ve seen lose 60 pounds

Always keep the skin.  Excellent, digestive friendly fiber and nutrients.

Eat more ginger.  It is a boss of an anti-inflammatory and digestion aid.  I’m talking real-deal root ginger, not the powdered or minced stuff.

If you’re cutting out gluten, make sure your oatmeal is labeled, “Gluten-free”.  Although oats don’t contain gluten, they are often processed in mills that do.  Gluten contaminants are entirely unnecessary, so regardless of your baseless disdain for gluten-free foods, it has no place as a food additive.

Understand your body type to better understand nutrient partitioning (warning: subscription required).

Eat smaller fish such as sardines and salmon. They feed on algae (good for the omega-3 count) and don’t live long enough to accumulate toxic levels of mercury like predatory larger fish like tuna and swordfish.  Stay away from farmed salmon.  It can have up to eleven times more toxins than wild salmon.

Sour cream tastes incredible.  Like Sam Smith singing gently by your bedside.  I enjoy a nice, cool splash of it on my burrito bowl from time to time.

There is a vast difference between eating to lose some weight, and eating to perform.  If you are under 50g of carbohydrates for any longer than to drop pounds, you very likely could be slowing your metabolism and could likely benefit from a reversal.  If you feel this is you, I recommend a slow on-ramp of increasing your carb count by 25% every two weeks, and then after eight weeks, holding there for another four weeks (at least).

If you handle gluten fine, go nuts on it.  My decision to avoid it has nothing to do with carbs or aesthetics and everything to do with how my digestive system rejects it. I didn’t learn I was gluten sensitive until, after years of “hereditary” heartburn and acid reflux, I experimented with removing it three years ago.  I hate that I am because aggressively gluten-free people annoy the dickens out of me and distract people from the real health benefits, but it’s the truth.  I can’t eat it now without total digestive meltdown.  Because I hate myself, I still eat it on occasion in the form of donuts and the like, but my body has responded in such favor of removal, I will never go back.

Organic diets can be pricey and make you seem like a little bit of an asshole if you overdo it.  If you prioritize your organic hierarchy, insist on organic coffee and produce.  Assuming you consume these daily, it’s worth spending the extra money on getting the most out of them.  Bad coffee is nasty stuff.  I’ll go out of my way quite a bit to not drink piss coffee.

If you don’t like that, I will happily pick you up and place you over my head with one arm.

Digestive function should trump any aesthetic goal.  Most of your immune system lives in your gut and when you mess with that, you get ill.

Put coconut oil in your morning coffee.  It’s one of the best sources of medium-chain triglycerides out there, helpful for a variety of goals including your immune health and improved fat burning.  It’s not too much fat for the high-carb group, and it’s right in the sweet spot of high-fat dieters. (Medium chain triglycerides are considered unlikely to be stored as body fat.)

Donuts, scones, ice cream, cookies.  I could eat these daily.  But I do not because I feel like crap when I do.  Find a sensible balance of foods you like and keeping yourself healthy.  I have found this to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 – 90% adherence.  I’m also finding as I get older and stack of more years of healthy eating, my body rejects it more than I used to and the aftermath is…bad for Raechel.

FAT LOSS HOT TIP: Mix up your routine.  Doing more, harder, is not the solution. Doing different, better, is.

Eat more fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.  Your gut is a war zone between good bacteria and bad bacteria and fermented foods are like dropping cargo of weapons to the good guys.

Eat food because of how it aligns with your goals and the way it makes you feel.  Not because of any other reason.

Flexible dieting is gaining a lot of traction. Krissy Mae Cagney was nice enough to send us a copy of her new book and after reading it, I better understand it philosophically.  It’s not a donut diet like social media would have you believe. I struggle with accepting all of the food weighing and counting but from a macro perspective, I get it.  It’s old school caloric based need, not something I personally follow but one that works for many.  Expect a greater take on us from flexible dieting soon, but all in all really nice work by her.

I am definitely a “low-carb” guy when it comes to initial weight loss prescription.  The science of insulin-based weight management is just too compelling, but there’s the giant hole in the low-carb story that few want to acknowledge.  Nearly every study involves obese people and removal of a heavily relied upon stimulus (carbs).  There are not a ton of studies out there for people under 15% body fat.  I have not found a hypo low-carb approach to work going from lean to super lean, and holding that composition long-term.

A range near 150g of carbohydrates per day will provide a very sensible balance of health, performance and body composition.  Of course, you pull the strings from there towards where you want to apply the majority of your focus.

Raw organic honey, 100% organic maple syrup and coconut syrup are great sweeteners for any recipes.  Stay away from super processed honey and agave.  Agave is basically pure, concentrated fructose.

Cholesterol is not bad.  It is needed by every cell membrane, including our brain cells and is required for Vitamin D synthesis.  Stop thinking you need to avoid foods high in cholesterol.  The trouble is not in high-fat or high-cholesterol foods, but when we combine high fat foods with a high carb foods.  This causes triglycerides to be converted into VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins), which can lead to the artery clogging atherosclerosis.  Further, high HDL cholesterol is typically a good thing as HDL is like the post prom janitor coming in to sweep away the garbage.  If you want to watch your cholesterol, don’t consume a high-fat, high-carb diet.

Nothing has ever improved my digestion or health like when I closely adhere to a Paleo approach.  On that end, I believe in it wholeheartedly.

Stevia may be okay, too.  It has been consumed for centuries (usually a decent sign), is not technically a sugar and most believe it does not feed yeast (which in turn makes it okay for your digestion and gut).  However, there are also two sides to every coin. For the record, I don’t eat it.  But I don’t steer others away from it who are overcoming sugar addiction.

French press your coffee.  It tastes so much better and has the added bonus of making you feel like you’re better than everyone.

Ditch the soy protein.  Too much soy can mess with your metabolism and anabolic hormones.  If whey or casein protein disrupts your stomach, go for some plant-based protein.  Anything but soy.  You’re not a gerbil.

Own and use a crockpot.  You literally just have to press on and you get to come back six hours later to a sexually arousing smell in your kitchen.

Try to buy fruit from local suppliers of farmer’s markets.  It’s typically less of a frankenfruit and more the real thing, from real soil.  You also get to support hardworking folks.

Choose white rice over brown rice.  White rice is void of the phytic acid that is found in the brain (the outer covering of the grain).  White rice does not have that outer cover, which is what makes it white.  White rice is also in Chipotle bowls, and Chipotle is delicious.  Don’t pay much attention to the, “White carbs spike your insulin more”.  Not only is that not necessarily true, but once you in the land of carbs, you’re splitting hairs over the difference.

Take a quality wild fish oil.  Balancing your omega-3s against the omega-6s we all eat too much of continues to be an underrated, underplayed aspect of diet improvement.

If you wish to prioritize performance for your goal, try and get at least 200g of carbohydrates per day.  Carbs help performance in a way that ketones simply cannot accomplish.  Yes, we can survive and lose weight on them, but we usually can’t fuck shit up on them.

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Consider intermittent fasting if you are lean, have a healthy metabolism and wish to get leaner.

Cheese.  Keep it like George Clooney.  Hard.  And aged.

Don’t have time to cook every meal from scratch.  Me neither, bro.  I rely on a lot of pre-cooked items (Trader Joe’s has really good quality in this area) that I whip together and heat on the stove.  I don’t ever spend more than ten minutes making dinner and you shouldn’t either.  Pre-cooked chicken breasts are my jam, son.

Drink kombucha.  It’s also solely responsible for permanently getting me off diet soda.

The main reason that grains are avoided by so many is because phytates and lectins. They are believed to be toxic anti-nutrients that are thought to mess up our body’s ability to absorb nutrients and cause dysfunction in our guts.  (For the sake of well rounded discussion, here is another perspective on phytates).

Why do we hear so much about our guts?  It’s where up to 80% of our immune system resides.  When we mess with that, we get sick more often than we should.

Eat pomegranate seeds.

FAT LOSS HOT TIP: Consider sugar removal to turn on your fat burning genes.

Ditch the commercial olive oil.  Instead opt for organic, extra virgin in a tin container that usually has four numbers on the price tag.  I know, sounds like some elitist hipster shit.  But cheap olive oil is nasty stuff and the good kind is like Blue.  Totally glorious.

Two things that I recommend for every shake: spinach + fresh chopped ginger.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cocoa Puffs?  What say you?

One of the best ways to bulk is to drink.  Shakes are easily digested and easy to consume, so you can easily get an extra thousand calories in your diet through your Ninja.

Need quick energy for a workout?  Try a banana.  Or a shot of espresso.  Simple sugars or caffeine effect our immediate energy fastest.

Protein absorbs very slowly and muscle catabolism is not a short-term occurrence.  Don’t get in the habit of skipping meals, but don’t buy into the six small meals per day myth, or forcing food down your throat because you thin your squat is going to vanish.

Eat the yolks.  You already knew that, but still, eat ’em.

Have a frequent sweet tooth?  Try a little bit of dark chocolate over 80% cacao content.  It is low in sugar and extremely high in antioxidants.  In fact, it has the second highest nutrient density score of any food on Earth from Chris Kresser.

My current favorite carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, white rice, and gluten-free Eggo’s.

Elevate macadamia nuts to the top of your nut hierarchy (just sounds wrong).  Macadamias have an excellent omega 3:6 ratio, contain essential aminos and have a very favorable fat profile.  Be careful of snacking on too many unless you are a rather strict Paleo dieter.

I attempt to make all of my meat grass-fed.  Not because it’s “Paleo” or because our ancestors hunted them and all that jazz, but because Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations are just flat out disgusting (1, 2, 3).  If I can pass on eating animals that are fed animal byproducts, anti-polio medicine, their own feces, drugs and an unnatural diet, I will do that.  If you are what you eat, then what are those poor bovines?  And what are we who eat them?  Yuck.

Read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s DilemmaIt still remains the best book I’ve ever read on food and how to consume it.

There are so many different routes to the same result.  I think the more our industry moves away from dogma and towards flexible coaching, the better results people will get.  Enjoy the foods you love while keeping within arm’s distance of your home base.  Find something that works for you.

Dave Thomas is an owner, coach and nutrition coach at Performance360 in San Diego, CA.  Dave is a certified USA Weightlifting coach, certified nutrition coach, author of 360Nutrition and contributor to the Dirty Fork online magazine.

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