Why is it that some people can have a couple bites of goat cheese on a salad and find themselves constipated for two days, while others can eat an entire ring of brie cheese guilt-free without even an inkling of a digestion trouble?
When it comes to diet, there is still so much we don’t know. Yet, everyone thinks they know exactly what the body needs…
“Strict paleo is the best way to lose weight!”
“No way, Zone is more sustainable for the long haul.”
“I don’t care what you say, I stopped eating meat and have never felt better. Long live vegetables.”
“Red wine is good for you.”
“Red wine is a carcinogen.”
“It’s all about anti-oxidants and kale. You can’t eat too much kale.”
“Humans don’t digest leafy greens very well, so I’m off all leafy greens.”
“I have never met a strong vegetarian. They’re either skinny or pudgy.”
“Why do you hate vegans so much? Tom Brady is a vegan!”
You get the point: Everyone thinks they have it figured out when it comes to diet, but the truth is even the experts can’t seem to agree on much. And their advice keeps changing!
There are dieticians and nutritionists out there who promote high-fat, low-carb diets, while others pump the old-school Food Pyramid. The supposed experts can’t even agree on even how many macro-nutrients—carboyhydrates, protein, fats—we should be eating. As a good psychologist friend of mine, Dr. Damian Murray said: “If you think about it, that’s like a psychologist not knowing if thinking happens in the brain or the elbow.”
It’s safe to say, when it comes to nutrition, “You know nothing, John Snow!”
That being said, if there’s one Registered Dietician I trust to give advice it’s Jennifer Broxterman, owner of NutritionRx (www.nutritionrx.ca) Why? Because she’s constantly educating herself, is incredibly open-minded, and has worked with a ton of athletes about what works and what doesn’t work for them. She knows nutrition isn’t a one-size fits all thing, and she caters her advice accordingly.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you might be an already-fit athlete. This advice is for you:
- Complex carbs aren’t so bad, after all
Many times, athletes are under-eating high-quality complex carbs for the amount of high-intensity, high-volume training they’re doing, Broxterman said.
Broxterman believes there’s a misconception among many already-fit people that they should avoid carbohydrates. While more sedentary, weight loss, new-to-fitness lifestylers, should avoid too many carbs, she said athletes need more high-quality forms of complex carbs.
“If you’re an elite level athlete, you’re like a Ferrari, and you wouldn’t put cheap gas in a Ferrari. You’d put premium,” she said. For athletes, premium carbs include not only fruits and vegetables, but also foods like oats, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, and bulgar, barley, Broxterman said.
“Don’t eat like the overweight person at your gym trying to lose weight,” she added. “Don’t be afraid to eat carbs.”
- Rest is where the gains are made
Often athletes don’t focus enough on their recovery and post-workout nutrition, Broxterman explained. She recommends getting both a protein and carb source into the body within 30 minutes after finishing a training session.
She explained the body needs 200 to 400 calories within 30 minutes of training to put itself in recovery mode. This can come in the form of a full-fledged dinner with steak and rice and vegetables, or in the form of a smaller 200-calorie, balanced snack.
She added that you don’t necessarily need to eat something that has been marketed specifically as a “post-workout” product. You just need to get some carbs and protein into your body ASAP.
- Food shouldn’t be a chore
Sometimes Broxterman finds athletes simply don’t spend the necessary time in the kitchen.
“They’re lazy in the kitchen, or have an inadequate meal prep and grocery shopping routine,” Broxterman explained. “You wouldn’t go to the gym and not bring your lifting shoes and gear, so why do high performance athletes think they can get away with going to work without packing two or three high-quality snacks and meals in advance?”
For those who really struggle with meal prep, she has some creative ways to help:
Her first idea is a food swap.
“How it works is each person is responsible for making one meal, and then you come together and exchange your meals. So someone might bring slow-cooker chill, and someone else brings turkey meatball, for example. Then you go home with five or six meals that you can put into your freezer for the week,” she said.
She has done a food swap at her affiliate in London, Ontario a few times; it always receives great reviews from her athletes.
Another option is to dedicate one day each week to food prep, Broxterman suggested.
“Cook lots, and full your freezer with meals for one or two weeks,” she said.
Finally, don’t be afraid to outsource cooking, she suggested.
“People pay for others to program for them and coach them. If you really suck in the kitchen, find someone—a friend, a culinary student—to cook for you,” she said.
- Fixate your eyes on the forest, not the trees
Contrary to those who find food a chore, Broxterman finds some athletes have the opposite approach: They’re so detail-oriented they forget the big picture. These athletes are obsessed with being perfect, on finding the absolute magic diet, to launch them to the next level.
“For example, counting macros, tracking every calorie you consume using an online program, and trying to balance carb percentages to fat percentages perfectly. That shit doesn’t matter,” she said emphatically.
Instead, for Broxterman it comes down to consistency. This means consistent meal-prepping, consistent portions and consistently high-quality foods.
“Just like at the gym, do the work and you’ll get better.”
- Avoid a fitness and figure-style approach to your diet
While the stereotypical fitness and figure athlete tends to eat just three things—chicken, tuna and broccoli—over and over again in order to lean out, Broxterman doesn’t think a diet without variety is good for most athletes.
She once had a client who ate chicken, broccoli and almonds “every damn day for dinner,” she said.
When you eat the same thing everyday, you’re likely to get bored, and often when you’re bored you simply don’t eat enough calories for the volume of training you’re doing, she said.
She recommends adding variety to your diet. Try new recipes, and even new foods, to keep your body and mind entertained, she said.