I’ve started and stopped this post several times. The truth is, I don’t like talking about food and telling other people what I think they should eat. Its personal, and I am not a nutritionist. What you eat and how much and why is a big part of your own journey. What serves you may not serve others in the same way.
Folks trying to lose fat, build muscle, or conquer some new feat don’t really want to hear that. I don’t want to hear that. I’d rather there be a clear answer to my important question, darnit. But before we move on, dissatisfied, let's find out if there are any hard and fast nutrition facts for the masses; truths that we can stand on as we explore, experiment, and experience food to find out what works best for us.
Nutrition and Exercise:
The quality of your nutrition greatly affects the quality of your workouts and the quality of your results. Eat like garbage, feel like garbage, look like garbage. Quality matters.
However, the importance of food quantity, timing, and balance depends on what you want to achieve. If you you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll need a heck of a lot more protein than an ultra marathoner. Conversely, that runner is going to put away a lot more vital energy in the form of carbohydrates than say, a bodybuilder or your average mom lifting weights in the backyard.
We all know that protein aids in building and rebuilding muscle fibers. In the same way it makes repairs to damaged muscles following strenuous exercise so the muscle can come back stronger. We won’t go into the many health benefits of building muscle, but just know that, no matter what your goals may be, your body absolutely needs quality proteins for optimal performance.
Good (lean) protein choices:
Plain Greek yogurt
Organic milk (if you must)
Steak (top or round)
Quinoa (“keen-wah” incase you didn’t know)
Protein is slow to digest. Planning your diet to be 30%-40% lean protein will keep you feeling fuller longer.
Carbs are you friend, and don’t you forget it. Carbohydrates provide you with energy. Simply put, your incredibly intelligent body is adaptive. If you over-supply your body with energy, like a good steward, if will store the surplus for another time. Surplus energy is stored in the body as adipose tissue, which we oddly call “fat”.
Once again, if you aren’t consuming energy according to your own goals, it is very easy to over-consume fast digesting food sources like starches and sugars. Most of us can’t eat like elite athletes and expect to thrive. I don’t like running numbers every time I set table, so I don't. Food is much more than numbers. It is sensation and fellowship. It is life.
Your brain needs the carbohydrates, your hormones need carbohydrates, as do your muscles and blood. Hard and fast now, don't over consume energy (calories) that your body isn't utilizing. Serving sizes are key if you’ve no desire to weigh your food.
Whole grains (cereals, breads)
Poor Quality Carbs (in case you need to know):
Cake, cookies, muffins, candy
Poor quality carbohydrates give a short burst of energy (too much, unless we are running sprints for a few miles) with ZERO nutritional value you body can use. When we are stressed (including hunger, boredom, loneliness, and exhaustion) we can experience cravings for carbohydrates that are rarely the healthy fiber-packed ones. This is the brain begging for immediate stress-relief, a “pick-me-up”, or comfort, if you will. When we eat high-sugar foods the area of the brain that processes pleasure is activated and says, “lets do that again sometime!” Enjoy the holidays, and family meals, and the occasional treat. But be aware that you are shaking that part of your brain awake, and if you continue to indulge, cravings may make overconsumption of sugary, starchy foods a tough habit to break.
A Word on Food Preparation
Generally, the more work you need to do to get food on the table, the healthier the choice. Sorry, that is just the way it is. Do the work, as it is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, and you’ll learn to love the process. It actually represents what matters the most and serves to remind you that you are a part of nature, not a separate, lofty “other” that needs strangers to chop and bag your vegetables for you. If you’re too busy to make food for yourself and your family, you’re probably too busy. That may even be why you are looking to make changes in your life. Truth be told, I make bread for dinners and buy bread for lunches. It’s all about balance. No one can tell you what works best for your family. But, the facts do remain; healthy food takes time to prepare.
You need healthy fats in your diet like a squeaky hinge needs oil. Good, healthy fats are essential for hormone balance, cell protection, nutrient delivery, brain function, and to keep your immune system humming.
The reason why fat is so misunderstood is because gram for gram, fat provides twice the amount of calories (energy) as protein or carbohydrates, so it is easy to overconsume. Stick to your serving sizes, even with peanut butter (I know).
Dark chocolate (if you must, above 65% cocoa)
Cheese (I must)
Research on the harm caused by consuming trans fats and saturated fats (butter, *sigh*) is controversial and speculative at best. It comes down to moderation and nutrients and energy balance. Balance is difficult and requires hard work. Counterintuitively, taking the extreme route when it comes to your diet is the easy route.
But, it is best to avoid “empty calories” that offer nothing to your body but something extra to store and stress your immune system out.
All fried foods (including donuts (*sob*)
Baked, high-fat desserts (pastries, cookies, etc.)
Processed snack food (crackers, chips, pretzels)
I am not interested in telling people how to eat. If you truly want to meet your health and fitness goals, you will strive to eat food that is close to its original form, drink clean water, and balance your diet. Read labels, know what you’re eating, and take responsibility for what you consume. Balance, moderation, self-control, enjoying food, giving thanks, and making food to share with others is the diet no one really wants. Without practice and tradition, in this fast-paced, modern world, balance and peace at your table is actually difficult to achieve.
In this age of information it has never been easier to find what works for you, but you have to be bold. You have to look for underlying truths about what humans are here to do and what your own priorities are. I can tell you right now, obsessing over food is no one’s calling. Keep food where it belongs in your life: a blessing given to serve you, and a way to bless others.