Today we are talking about nutrition and I couldn’t be more excited! Now, before we get into it, I want to make it clear that I am not a registered Dietician and I do not claim to be. But I have learned a lot over my days so my goal today is to just share some of what I’ve learned with you.
When it comes to your health and wellness, nutrition is super important. Contrary to popular belief, what you do in the gym is only part of the equation – the other part, and the more important part, is your nutrition. As part of our Falling for Fitness series throughout the month of October, I’ll be chatting a bit about Nutrition and a bit about Fitness. We’ll start with the basics, and then get a little more in depth later in the month.
I want to start by emphasizing one important thing, and that is that the gym is NOT intended to make you lose weight. I think too often people make this association, and it leads to failure and frustration. I see the scenario all too often – someone wants to lose some weight so they join a gym. Without any knowledge or guidance on what to do, it doesn’t last and they eventually say they tried but it didn’t work. Sound familiar? We all need to understand that the point of the gym and the point of exercise is to push the body. We push it to get stronger, to build muscle, to sweat and to get in better shape – to become fitter. So let’s get that straight. We go to the gym to improve the physical state of our bodies.
If you want to lose weight (or gain weight, if that is your goal), that’s when nutrition comes into play. By manipulating your diet you can either lose the unwanted weight, or gain weight if that is your goal. What we need to do is stop assigning exercising as punishment for making poor nutritional choices, because exercise isn’t responsible for the body gaining or losing weight. Diet is.
Again, if you want to improve your physical capabilities, go to the gym. If you want to make changes to your body and your body weight, adjust your diet. Yes the two overlap a bit – building muscle in the gym will help burn more calories, therefore helping you burn fat, but that is more complicated than we need to get right now. The bottom line is that the gym is for making your body do cool things and nutrition is responsible for your body weight.
Now that we have that covered, let’s start getting into your nutrition a bit. My entire philosophy on nutrition is that in order for it to be sustainable, it needs to be simple and repeatable. I don’t have a ton of spare time in my day, so I can’t make elaborate dishes. If I tried too, it would be too much and I’d eventually give up. What I need is easy: easy prep, easy to cook, and easy to clean. So I base my meals around this idea. Now, let’s take a look at my framework:
- I eat three meals per day, and a post-workout snack
- All of my meals contain a protein source and one or more vegetables
- My starch consumption depends on my activity level
Let’s break those three items down. First, I eat three meals per day, and a post-workout snack. When it comes to the number of meals you eat per day, science shows that the number of meals really doesn’t matter. What matters more is the number of calories you consume in total. Three just works well for me – again, it goes back to the simple and repeatable part I mentioned before. If you need a ton of variety you might need 4 or 5 small meals. If you prefer easy over everything else, you can make one giant meal that lasts you all day. Whatever you prefer!
Second, all of my meals contain a protein source and one or more vegetables. This one is super important – protein is the most important nutrient for your body. When you eat protein, it signals to your body that it is time to build. If you are doing any resistance training, protein will allow your muscles to grow. And if you aren’t doing resistance training, that’s ok! Protein is still very important, because your body still needs protein to rebuild all of the cells of the body, including all of the internal organs that are vital for our survival. I rotate my proteins between eggs, ground beef, ground turkey, salmon and pork. When it comes to the vegetables, we need those for all of the other nutrients our bodies need. I change up the veggies I eat each week so that I’m always getting a wide range of nutrient sources – if you only eat the same thing day after day, no matter how healthy it is, you may find you are deficient in other nutrients!
Lastly, my starch consumption depends on my activity level. If you aren’t sure what starches are, those are the things like pasta, rice and potatoes. I’m not going to say these things are bad for you, because they aren’t. Potatoes have a ton of nutrients, and rice has been a staple in many cuisines for centuries. The thing to know about starches is that it is easy to eat a lot of them, and that is how we get excess calories which turns into the unwanted body fat. My recommendation is to link your starch consumption with your activity level. If you are on your feet all day and burn calories all day long, you are most likely in need of calories and starches are a great way for you to fuel up. However, if you’re sedentary for the majority of your day, you probably don’t need many starches. I typically spend a few hours of my day on my feet, so I limit my starch consumption to dinner only.
With that framework, it’s a little bit easier to conceptualize a day or week of healthy meals. Now I’ll break down my meals on a daily basis and for a week as well. Now, remember I said I need easy and repeatable in order for my diet to work for me – if it isn’t easy and it isn’t repeatable, I throw in the towel and fall off.
- My first meal of the day is eggs, meat and veggies
- My second meal of the day is typically leftovers from Sunday night
- My final meal of the day is whatever my wife and I make for dinner
So, for my first meal, I throw some veggies, a little bit of meat, and some eggs in a pan and fry it up. It’s basically a breakfast skillet, and like I mentioned earlier, I change up the veggies and the meat each week. It’s super easy, and it doesn’t get boring because I’m always changing it up just slightly. This also allows me to experiment with new combinations, so I feel like I’m becoming a better cook as well.
For the second meal, it’s whatever we cooked on Sunday night. Typically we will make a meal in the slow cooker, and we make enough of it to last all week. Doesn’t get easier than that! Slow cookers are a great investment and there are tons of healthy recipes on the internet – you just put everything in the pot and let it sit all day. Again, incredibly simple.
For the final meal, it’s whatever my wife and I are having for dinner that day. The key here is to find some staples that you can go to on a weekly basis. For example, we will have Salmon, Veggies and Rice on a weekly basis, and we love cheeseburgers so we will make Cheeseburgers at home usually once a week (if we are having a bun, we’ll have salad instead of fries to limit our starch intake). We usually have one new meal per week, just to keep things fun and exciting.
Now it’s time for the fun stuff. I promised some tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up over time, so here are a few for you. If you decide to try any of these, let me know! I’d love to know if they help you or not!
- To limit the amount of clean up you have to do, keep everything in one pan. I’m a huge fan of just combining all the ingredients together and seeing what the final product is. Sometimes, like a breakfast skillet, it turns out great. Sometimes, not so much. But it is fun to experiment and try new things. Cooking is meant to be a learning experience, so don’t be afraid to mess up!
- Use spices for flavor. One thing we hear a lot is that eating healthy is boring. Well that is probably because you haven’t experimented enough. Things like salt, pepper, and garlic are super simple and can drastically change the flavor of a meal, and there are so many fun spices to try. The more you try the more you’ll figure out what you like, and then you will actually start to enjoy cooking even more!
- Limit each meal to 3 food items. Again, this just keeps things simple. Like the examples I already gave: eggs, ground turkey, and roasted spinach. Or salmon, rice and asparagus. Or ground beef, chopped potatoes, and carrots. You don’t have to get fancy to make a super healthy, tasty meal.
The last thing I want to leave you with is this – each meal doesn’t have to be the most incredible meal you’ve ever eaten. Some meals just need to be good enough to get by. Sometimes things get boring, especially if you really need the repeatable meal options like I do. In that case, make a tweak to keep it fresh enough. For example, if I get tired of my scrambled eggs, I’ll fry them instead for a while. Again, nutrition is a learning experience, and if you don’t have a ton of experience with it, do your best. Have fun and try different things. See what works for you and what doesn’t.