We strongly believe that a gym membership that is not married to a quality and consistent nutrition plan is a big waste of time and money. Losing body fat, gaining lean muscle, lowering your blood pressure, adding 20 pounds to your squat, shaving 30 seconds off your mile, and having more energy to run around with the kids are all results derived primarily from what you’re doing in the kitchen, rather than what you’re doing in the gym. When you commit to getting your nutrition dialed in and combo it with training at Immortal, you’ll be blown away by the results and have family members, friends, and co-workers begging to know what you’re doing.
Please understand there is no cookie cutter plan that’s right for everyone. You’re all special snowflakes that metabolize and utilize foods differently. The big thing is to pay attention to the signals your body is constantly trying to tell you. Did you just eat something and feel the need to take a nap right after? Or does that food make your belly hurt? These are examples of your body trying to communicate with you to let you know that the food you’re eating agrees with you or not.
The guidelines laid out for you here are from years of my own experimenting and research. This is a broad overview of the key principles backed up with a little bit of the “why.” Intake levels depend entirely upon YOUR GOALS and YOUR ACTIVITY LEVEL. If my goal is to lean out, but I can only get to the gym 3 days a week, and sit behind a desk 8 hours a day, that has to be
factored in when determining the quantity of food I take in.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE:
On October 1st
, 2002, CrossFit Founder Gregg Glassman published the article What is Fitness
, and summed up this whole nutrition thing in two simple lines. He said:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise and not body fat.”
That’s so on point it’s worth memorizing and will act as your forever guide for helping you make the best food choices. As great as it is, we need to understand it on a deeper level. So let’s dive in!
“EAT MEAT” (Protein)
There’s a reason why Glassman said this first. Protein is the key to performing better, recovering better, and feeling better. So it’s a no brainer, consume protein with every meal. Not just any kind of protein, but animal protein (meat). That means chicken, beef, pork, eggs, seafood, and depending how your body handles it, dairy. The amino acid make up of animal protein is most optimal for repairing and rebuilding muscle. Plant based protein is not the same. Have you ever seen a plant with muscles? NO! There’s a reason for that. The amino acid make up in plants is very different from animals. If you’re a vegan reading this, don’t get bummed out, plant protein can still be effective, but I highly recommend adding a BCAA
supplement. This will help fill in the holes where the plant protein is lacking.
Almost every time I sit down with a client to review what they’re currently eating, I discover that their protein intake is scary low. Understand that every time you hit a hard work out, whether it be a heavy lifting session, Fran
, or a long run, you’re literally breaking down and eating away at your muscle tissue. If you’re not consuming an adequate amount of protein when training hard you’re pushing your body towards a catabolic state. Are you always feeling sore? Are you always feeling lethargic and tired? Do you feel like your strength has hit a plateau, or you’re getting weaker? If yes, chances are you’re not taking in enough protein.
So how much protein is enough?
- If you’re training with intensity and doing any type of weight training, I recommend anywhere from .7 to 1 gram of protein per lb. of bodyweight. Meaning if I weighed 200 lbs. I would be consuming anywhere from 140 grams on the low end and up to 200 grams on the higher end. There is a range because once again everyone has a different activity level and different goals. If your goal is fat loss and you’re eating a lower amount of carbs while training like an animal then you must be closer to 1 gram per lb. of bodyweight.
- If you have no idea how much protein you’re currently consuming, track your food for a couple of days and plug it into an app like My Fitness Pal to get a baseline. Based on my recommendations you might be shocked at what you find. If it’s really low, GRADUALLY start to incorporate more and more protein throughout the day so your body can adjust.
- If you’re consuming 3 solid meals a day with 4-8oz of animal protein per meal, a post workout shake consisting of protein, and a snack made up of something like cottage cheese or Greek yogurt you’re well on your way.
So remember, PROTEIN IS YOUR BEST FRIEND! Eat up J
The long list of benefits from eating a diet with plenty of vegetables is enough to write another post. In addition to vegetables being packed with an abundance of valuable nutrients, they’re also loaded with fiber. Why is fiber so important? When you ingest carbohydrates, the carbs are converted into blood sugar. When you get spikes of sugar in your blood it leads to energy crashes and the excess blood sugar gets stored as fat. Think of fiber like the bouncer outside a night club. The bouncer is there to regulate the amount of people coming in and to prevent 100 people rushing the door all at once. The fiber slows down the sugar entering your blood and gives it a trickle in effect rather than a flood.
With regards to a quantity prescription, let’s keep it simple: load your plate up with as many multi-colored vegetables as possible. And do this as frequently as you can (aim for 3 times a day). Eating them raw, lightly steamed, or grilled is always best. Be careful on the types of oils you use to cook with (more on that later).
*Side note: Before starting CrossFit and getting my nutrition dialed in, I rarely ate vegetables. I always enjoyed them, but never made it a priority to regularly eat them. It wasn’t a coincidence that I always got sick during the colder months. I was always dealing with a cold, constant sinus infections, always feeling like crap. I just assumed this was normal. When I started regularly incorporating vegetables into my diet all of that vanished. It was like my immune system got a new bullet proof vest. I then realized the power of food.
“EAT NUTS & SEEDS” (Fat):
Eating fat will make you fat. Sounds like it makes perfect sense, right? It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Many misinformed people have taken the approach of only eating fat-free foods (which are often loaded with added sugar), resulting in fat gain! The truth is, you need to eat fat to burn fat, FACT.
From Dr. Barry Sears’ book, Enter the Zone
“Eating fat does not make you fat. It’s your body’s response to excess carbohydrates in your diet that makes you fat. Your body has a limited capacity to store excess carbohydrates, and can easily convert those excess carbohydrates into excess body fat.”
Nuts and seeds not only contain protein but are loaded with healthy fats (Omega 3s). But please don’t get carried away with the jar of nuts! A healthy portion is a small handful. Other healthy sources of fat are avocados, and olive oil.
Here’s a great resource on why you should consume plenty of fat in your diet:
Ten Amazing Benefits of Eating Fats
by Poliquin Group
Cooking with oils
“EAT SOME FRUIT”
- Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, peanut and soybean oil should be avoided at all costs! These oils are highly processed and highly toxic to your body. To give you a very basic explanation, there are good fats (anti-inflammatory) and bad fats (pro-inflammatory). The vegetable oils are LOADED with the bad fat and heavily biased with omega-6 fatty acids. Avocado oil and coconut oil, on the other hand, are not only safe to cook with but contain an abundance of omega-3 (the good fat). The dilemma when it comes to eating out is that a vast majority of the restaurants out there all use vegetable oils because it’s dirt cheap when compared to the healthier options. If you’re struggling to lose body fat and are eating out frequently, this could be why.
- Olive oil is awesome when it comes to healthy fat but shouldn’t be used for cooking and only for things like dressings. Olive oil has a very low smoke rate and a lot of the beneficial properties of olive oil are eliminated when it’s put under high heat. Cook with coconut oil or avocado oil instead. Check out a more in-depth explanation on why you want to avoid cooking with olive oil HERE.
For a long time after first reading Glassman’s line on nutrition I was puzzled by “eat some fruit.” I remember asking myself, what does he mean by some
? Fruit is natural. Fruit is from the earth. Fruit is packed with nutrients. Fruit existed back in the Paleolithic era. So why some? After doing some research it finally clicked, and I was able to understand the two major principles behind eating fruit in a healthy way. Here they are:
- High amounts of fructose in your diet will cause you to put on body fat. The body metabolizes fructose in a very different way when compared to glucose. When you ingest fructose, it’s sent directly to your liver because this is the only place in the body where fructose can be metabolized. Since fructose has only one place to go, the liver can often be overloaded. As a result, any excess fructose will be converted into fat and stored away.
Fruit is one of those tricky things and I’m not saying you should avoid it. I’m saying that moderation is key. The problem lies in people’s perception of moderation
. If you feel like you have a good amount of body fat to lose and aesthetics are a goal, I recommend limiting your fruit intake to 2 servings a day
. That looks like a ½ a cup of blueberries and 1 apple for THE WHOLE DAY. This is what moderation looks like. Once you reach your desired level of leanness you’re then in a maintenance phase and have the freedom to eat more.
The Glycemic Index
- So, we’ve established that when Glassman said “eat some fruit” he was partly talking about the quantity. The other piece to the puzzle is the TYPE OF FRUIT. Not all fruits are created equal. If you’ve never heard of the The Glycemic Index, it’s important that you understand this next part.
The GI is a ranking system of foods that measures how quickly after eating it, our blood sugar level is caused to rise. Every food is ranked on a scale of 0 to 100. Foods ranked higher on the index, are quickly digested and absorbed, which results in a rapid spike in blood sugar. Foods ranked lower on the index are metabolized slower, resulting in a much slower rise in blood sugar. A rapid rise in blood sugar means a big release of insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone, and when you have excess amounts of sugar in your blood the insulin helps remove the sugar by storing it as fat.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY: our diet should be comprised mainly of foods that are ranked lower, and less of foods that are ranked higher. This approach is a sure way to keep off unwanted body fat.
Let’s get back to the fruit.
Every fruit is ranked on this index and now you understand we want to try to eat the fruits that are lower on the index and avoid the ones that are higher. Fruits like cherries, berries, grapefruit and apricots have the lowest rankings. Fruits like watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, bananas, and mangos are higher. For a more comprehensive list, check this out: The Glycemic Index
Who am I to tell you how much fruit you should be eating and which ones to eat sparingly? At the end of the day, DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. I know I’m never passing up watermelon at a Summer BBQ. The information laid out above is there to educate you and help you make better decisions. It all circles back to: what are your goals and how quickly do you want to achieve them?
In summary, when Glassman said “eat some fruit” he meant in moderation to avoid consuming too much fructose and to eat the fruit with a lower GI ranking.
“EAT LITTLE STARCH”
Point blank, starches should be kept to a minimum. Starches typically have a higher ranking on the glycemic index. From what we covered earlier, we know that eating a diet comprised of high glycemic foods will get us fat. Potatoes, rice, pasta, bagels, bread, and any other grains are all examples of starches. I know it’s not fair L
The Myth Surrounding “Healthy Grains”
There is a big misconception out there with regards to healthy grains. Many misinformed people think because it’s quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, or any other whole grain they’re being healthy by eating it. These examples are better choices than eating a bagel, or bowl of pasta, but there is an important question and key takeaway: When you’re eating these “healthy grains” or any starch for that matter, is your body in a state where it can metabolize these carbohydrates and actually put them to good use?
Our bodies have this internal energy gas tank and carbohydrates are the fuel. A donut, a stalk of broccoli, an apple, and rice are all examples of carbs that end up in this same gas tank. As we exercise or expend energy the gas tank is emptying. As we eat carbs the tank is being filled up. The problem lies when there is overflow. In other words, the tank is full and we keep eating carbs. Whenever there is excess we are getting fatter
. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quinoa black bean mango salad (sounds healthy right?) or a donut. What matters is, have you expended enough energy, or depleted enough of that tank, so you can eat those carbs and not have overflow? You have to earn those starches. That’s why it’s best to save that high starch meal for right after your workout.
Following a hard workout, the gas tank has been emptied and needs to be replenished. Your body can handle and absorb carbohydrates very well following a workout.
Not to sound like a broken record, but if losing body fat is a goal of yours, minimize your starches. If you’re eating plenty of meat, veggies, nuts, and low glycemic fruits you will not only feel great, but the fat will come off fast.
There is a commonality these days amongst doctors, nutritionists, and health professionals all over the world. All agree that sugar is at the root of obesity and metabolic disease. If you’re serious about taking control of your health, avoiding disease, and feeling your best, remove sugar from your diet.
The challenge is that sugar is practically EVERYWHERE. It’s in nearly all packaged foods and is commonly disguised as different names. If you stick with whole, unprocessed foods you will be setting yourself up for success.
Below is a document from the Whole 30 Challenge
. It’s a list of all the added sugars commonly found in foods along with some of the sneaky named ones that may be foreign to you. Check this list out and make sure you start to read the labels on food.
Here is what a sample day of eating looks like for me:
2-3 eggs scrambled with 2-3 slices of chicken breast (deli meat) + 2 large handfuls of spinach (cooked in grass fed butter). ½ a cup of blueberries. ½ of an avocado.
2 cans of tuna mixed with primal kitchen chipotle lime mayo
(this stuff is amazing). 2 sweet bell peppers sliced up eaten raw (I usually make boats out of the peppers and put the tuna in them). ½ an apple. 1 small handful of cashews.
Post workout meal:
30-40 grams of whey protein powder mixed with 30 ounces of coconut water.
5-7 oz of either grilled chicken, pork, steak or fish. Large serving of grilled asparagus. Salad with garden vegetables, olive oil + balsamic. ½ of an avocado. I will have a sweet potato depending on my activity level for that day.
½ a cup of cottage cheese mixed with ½ a cup of blackberries. Cinnamon + vanilla extract added for flavor.
*Notes: after years of experimenting this is what works best for me. I don’t really eat grains anymore, my starch intake is low, and there is plenty of healthy fat throughout the day. Most importantly, not a single gram of added sugar.
Portion control and balancing your macronutrients
There is plenty of factual evidence out there supporting the link between balancing macronutrient intake and its powerful influence on hormone control. If you’ve never heard of the zone diet I encourage you to read up on it. Although the zone diet isn’t for everyone, there is still a valuable tool that we can use from the zone method to help guide us on how to balance our macros and make sure we eat appropriate portions. It’s called the Zone eyeball method.
The circle above is a breakdown of what a plate looks like using the zone method.
- One-third of the plate should be made up of animal protein. Use your hand as a rough guide. The protein should be the size and thickness of your palm.
- Two-thirds of the plate should be carbs made up of veggies, fruit, or starch. If it’s only veggies, don’t hesitate to load your plate up (think two large handfuls). If it’s a safe starch like a sweet potato or butternut squash stick with one handful.
- Don’t forget about the fat. A healthy serving could be an olive oil based dressing on your salad, one-third or half an avocado (depending on its size), or a small serving of nuts (think of what you can fit in the palm of your hand).
As simple as this is, it’s super effective and doesn’t require a food scale, measuring cups, or a fancy app where you have to scan barcodes (MyFitnessPal).
Finding balance, eating the cake & drinking booze
- Life it too short not to indulge once in a while and completely go off the rails. Not to mention, nobody likes the weird guy at the wedding whose skipping cake because he’s watching his carbs. C’MON MAN! You have to live a little to! If you’re dialed in with your nutrition and getting to the gym regularly, you deserve to cut loose every now and then.
- I’m a big fan of the cheat meal or cheat day once a week to help keep myself in check. One day a week (usually Saturdays) I eat whatever I want. Nothing is off limits and I go hard! This helps me stay sane, and the next day I’m back on the wagon for 6 straight days. If you’re looking to drop fat quickly, try to limit this to one meal rather than a whole day of eating poorly. Especially if you had a low volume week of exercise.
- What about alcohol? I won’t sugarcoat this one. It’s going to be really hard to improve performance and decrease body fat if you’re drinking regularly. If you refuse to give up that glass of wine or two every night because it helps relieve stress and makes you happy then go for it. Everyone has a different definition of what balance looks like in their life. We dictate our level commitment and sacrifice through clear goals and the timeframe in which we want to reach them.
I hope you’ve learned something reading this. If I can inspire just one reader to start taking better care of themselves, I’m a happy camper. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at Tommy@immortalfit.com
. Thanks for reading 🙂