Why are so many people over-fat and under-muscled? Why do millions suffer with poor health and chronic disease? Why is it that almost everyone seems to struggle with low energy and rely so heavily on coffee and energy drinks to get them through the day? Sure many people eat horribly and don’t exercise. However, others fall short of their goals not for lack of hard work, but for working hard on the wrong plan. Too main people fail to follow a personalized diet. Pardon my diet pun, but, if this is you – you are leaving a lot on the table. You need to demand more for your nutrition! Your nutrition can reward you with vibrant health, a strong, lean athletic body and high-performance all-day energy – IF you know how to find the right diet for YOU. Here is a simple, overlooked way of personalizing your diet.
Why do you eat what you do?
How do you decide what goes into your mouth? Too many people mindlessly stuff in whatever comes their way. Others do what you do and search online or in books for diet advice. However, too many people bounce around from one “miracle” diet to the next trying to keep up with this week’s latest nutrition fad and follow a bunch of dumb diet rules. Still others try to copy what a celebrity, physique competitor, professional athlete or fitness model eats – after all, success leaves clues – right? This often leads them to nutrition practices that may work well for those people (warning: some people are successful despite what they eat), but may be inappropriate for you.
First, the basics
Learning from credible sources is a great start to nutrition. This can speed up your learning. Life is not long enough to learn everything the hard way. Great nutrition starts with a relentless application of the basics. Too many people get distracted by advanced minor details (e.g. total calories, macronutrient ratios) while they are still shoveling in junk food at most meals. Remember the basics are not sexy or entertaining to read about, but the will have the biggest impact on your results. Here are some examples:
- Be truly aware of what and how much you eat
- Emphasize whole, natural foods
- Eat more veggies
- Enjoy some fresh fruit
- Get high quality protein
- Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats
- Chew thoroughly and don’t rush your meals
- Plan and prepare ahead of time
If you want more info on nutrition, check out my other nutrition posts HERE.
Only when you are consistently doing the basics, can you go to the next level with personalizing your nutrition. For example, I know of people who ate junk food and then when they started eating healthy, they felt awful. Why? Their bodies simply weren’t used to healthy foods.
|Embrace your veggies|
The key thing to remember about personalized nutrition is that there may be things that are generally accepted as good, that may be totally wrong for you. This can include specific types, amounts and combinations of foods.
Sure there are plenty of people who “can’t lose weight” because they refuse to stop eating junk foods. However, some people truly do apply the basics and still struggle with low energy, gas, bloating, stubborn body fat or a lack of muscle. If this is you, consult a qualified health care professional to rule out underlying health problems. Once this is ruled out, you can move to the next step – personalizing your diet.
Don’t worry if this seems overwhelming to figure out. Your body will give you clues on what you should and shouldn’t eat – if you know how to listen. Allow me to show you how.
Step #1: Take the test
To begin figuring this out, simply start by keeping a food journal. You can use the old-school pen & paper approach (you can even write in cursive if you want), an app or just take a picture of your meal. Then after your meal at the 15, 60 and 120 minute marks, give yourself a 1-10 rating on how you feel. I would also suggest adding some comments (especially if you gave yourself low number) to explain what you were feeling: gassy, bloated, irritated stomach, lethargic, etc.
Over time, compare and contrast what you ate prior to the good feelings vs. the bad ones. See if you can make any connections between what you ate or combinations of foods and how you felt. Make note of what you find and don’t be afraid to avoid popular health foods if they don’t agree with you.
For example, here is a list of generally-accepted healthy foods that don’t work for me:
- Raw broccoli
- Most beans
- Most whole grains
- Raw almonds
Step #2: Connecting Your Food to Your Life Performance
In addition to how you feel, you want to track how your nutrition impacts your life. Many people fail to make this connection and they miss out BIG time! Here is how you can do that.
It all starts with breakfast
If you are like most folks, your day starts in the morning. You have places to be, people to see and stuff to get done. You need to be at your best. Now I know some people are into IF (intermittent fasting). If that works for you – great! For everyone else, being at your best means you need to nail down breakfast. Get this wrong and your daily performance will plummet.
I used to love having protein and veggies along with a big bowl of old fashioned oatmeal with a banana, frozen blueberries and walnuts. On paper, this looks like a fantastic high-powered breakfast. However, I started to noticed that I would feel extra sleepy and sluggish after eating this. As weird as it sounds, when it cut the blueberries out, I felt a lot better. Also, if I have a mental day ahead (e.g. attending a conference, faculty meetings, driving), I just have meat, veggies, an apple and walnuts. This is enough to get me (a sleep deprived father of 4 young children) through a morning with high energy and no coffee.
Your application: If your breakfast leaves you feeling sleepy and sluggish throughout the morning, it is the wrong breakfast for you. Try both high and low-carb breakfasts and see how you feel. If you eat a high carb breakfast and feel great – then that is the right type of breakfast for you. However, if this makes you feel sleepy, emphasize protein, veggies and healthy fats.
The post-lunch slump
For years I taught personal training certification courses with my friend, mentor and esteemed colleague Dr. Bill Luke. As a veteran teacher, Bill new to be aware of what he called the “post-lunch slump.” After lunch he knew we had about 30 minutes before people would be falling asleep. We also knew this was a good time to teach them how to coach lunges as opposed to going over the sliding filament theory of muscle contraction.
|Poor lunch choice|
Your application: at lunch, your day is likely only half over. If you were active in the morning and need the carbs, by all means include them. However, you lunch needs to be something that carries you through the afternoon without falling asleep on your desk.
Another key thing to remember is the late afternoon/early evening time is when many folks start to really get the munchies. If your lunch was low in protein and fiber, you will be famished by later afternoon and much more likely to look for treats with sugar and caffeine to get you through until dinner. Note: if lunch and dinner are a long-time apart for you, have a pre-planned snack (e.g. apple and raw nuts) ready so you don’t have a post-work binge.
Another key aspect for nutrition is your training time. What you eat before a training session can make or break your performance for that session. Personally, I like to have some whey protein and a banana 5-10 minutes before training. This works well for me and I enjoy consistent energy and blood sugar levels when I have this before a session.
Your application: experiment with different foods and timing before a training session. Also, carefully track your workout performance (i.e. sets, reps, weight) as well as overall energy (1-10 scale) during that session. Keep experimenting until you find what delivers for you.
There are many diet rules that pertain to evenings such as: “Never eat past 7pm” and “Don’t eat carbs past 4pm”. While they make work for some people, they may not be best for you.
The first thing to understand is that nutrient timing is not as big of a deal as we once thought. If I was writing this 15 years ago, I would probably be preaching the same thing. However, we now know that total calories and macronutrient levels are more important than timing.
Dinner decisions need to be made in light of what you ate during the day, when you train and your night time sleep to come. If you spent all day pounding back all the calories and carbs you needed before dinner, then continuing to stuff more in at dinner and the rest of the evening is a bad idea. However, if you found that eating less carbs during the day worked better for your energy levels, you still owe your body some carbs! This is especially true if you exercise in the evening after work. If you train in the morning, going low-carb in the evening can leave you with lower glycogen stores (carb stores in your muscles) and hinder your morning training performance. Also, while a lower-carb meal can energize you during the morning, it can negatively impact your sleep quality at night. While you don’t want your dinner to resemble a Thanksgiving Day feast, some well-earned carbs may help you sleep better.
Your application: when making your dinner decisions, consider what you ate during the day, when you train and what helps you sleep the best.
How about you? How is your personalized nutrition coming along? I welcome your comments or questions below or on my Facebook Page.