Healthy eating is a hugely popular topic, and there are loads of people out there who are praised for taking healthy eating to the mainstream. No doubt these people are doing great things by raising the awareness and the demand for “real food”. Most of us recognize that many of the nation’s health problems come down to eating processed junk and copious amounts of sugar.
I don’t eat processed junk or copious amounts of sugar. As much as I lament about my “blow outs” (fuelled largely by wine, cheese and more wine), for the most part I eat totally natural food that I make myself. And even when I’m having a “blow out”, the food is generally pretty healthy (just excessive). I also exercise every day, usually twice (once first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon), and walk as much as I can. I should be the pillar of athleticism. And yet…
Symptom #1: In the last year my weight has increased steadily. Much of this is “good weight” – I’ve put on about 5lb of lean muscle mass (thank you CrossFit). But I’ve put on about the same amount of fat. The end result is that my favorite hiking trousers don’t fit comfortably, I don’t like what I see in the mirror and I feel constantly frustrated. I tried going back to basic principles, things that have worked in the past. As loathsome as it is, calorie counting has always been a helpful process. And so it was here, where I learned that my diet consisted of over 40% fat. Not ideal. Yeah, all that trendy healthy stuff that people think are so awesome – avocado, nuts, seeds, cold pressed oils, cacao nibs, and so on – had taken the place of loathsome carbs, resulting in an imbalanced diet and some ho hum results.
Symptom #2: Muscle fatigue. Cardio-wise I’m fine, “superb” in fact (according to my last VO2 Max test). But when it comes to anything that requires power and strength, my muscles tire very quickly. It also seems to take a while for me to recover (even after a weekend’s rest, I often find on Monday I’m still sore from the week before).
Knowing the problem ≠ Knowing the solution
Ok, I get it: I eat too many avocados, nuts, seeds and oils, and not enough complex carbohydrates. I’ve been trying to fix this for the last year, but I’ve gotten nowhere. It took me a while to realise that even though I know the problem, I don’t really know how to fix it. “Eat less fat”. But how much? And what should I eat instead? Carbs? Protein? When? How?
So I’ve decided to hire a nutritionist, which really seems like a no-brainer in retrospect. I may know a lot about “healthy food”, but I am far from a nutritionist. I also don’t know how nutrition should play into my training schedule. It seems silly now that I’ve been trying to wing it on my own, when there are qualified people just waiting to help people like me!
Hiring a Nutritionist
For the last week and a half I’ve been working with Ben Crook, the lead nutritionist at Blueberry Nutrition, who I was referred to by CrossFit Cirencester. Ben has worked with a lot of athletes, something which appealed to me. Even though I’m not competitive, I do consider myself a fairly active person and wanted a nutritionist who would take this into account. I also like Ben’s focus on science.
Ben has been working with me to create a food plan designed to achieve the following two simple objectives:
- Gain muscle and lose fat (the holy grail of fitness!)
- Increase my energy, especially during workouts
According to Ben:
The first thing to work out with any nutrition plan is – how many calories your body needs to remain at the weight you currently are. Once that has been elucidated the next step is to work out your macro-nutrient intake – Your Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat intake. It is crucial to work out your macro split in order to optimise your time in the gym. A good place to start is
- 50% Carbs
- 25% Protein
- 25% Fat
This ratio – and the number of calories I consume – will be adjusted over time to ideally stimulate healthy weight loss while increasing my energy and improving my performance at the same time.
Ben’s theory is that my lowish carb / high-fat diet means that I don’t have ideal glycogen stores, hence why I get super tired when I’m working out.
How it works
Here’s how the basic process has worked:
- I filled out a basic survey with my body weight / height stats, fitness goals, dietary requirements and foods I like / don’t like / can’t live without (Ben can tailor the plan to include things like avocado, smoothies, and even wine!)
- I had a long chat with Ben on the phone to talk more about my goals and what I’d like from my nutrition plan
- After Ben sent me the first food plan, we had another chat to talk it over and discuss any tweaks I wanted to make.
- Ben has just sent me my second week food plan, which we’re again going to tweak a little. Ben has been really amazing with his communication and response to all of my incessant queries!
A few random thoughts so far
- For the most part, each meal on the food plan consists of a list of food (e.g. “Edamame beans 200g, Watercress 20g, Beetroot 40g, Pumpking Seeds 16g”), so it takes some creativity to figure out what to do sometimes. A few of the meals include pre-defined recipes, which so far have been pretty tasty (see the recipe for the pistachio orange salmon below which I totally love)
- The plan involves a lot of snacks, which I’m learning to love, particularly Nairns Oat Cakes!
- There have been occasional meals where I feel like I’m “eating nutrients” rather than a cohesive meal. Those were a downer.
- I’ve had to change up my smoothies, which has been a revelation – instead of avocado, I’ve been using oats and Naturya chia seeds (it doesn’t take much) to thicken my smoothies. It’s pretty great!
- I’ve been enjoying savoury breakfasts again – on alternate days, I have scrambled eggs, which are particularly good with homemade sauerkraut!
- I’m eating a lot of fish.
- I’ve been getting through a lot of barley.
- The plan calls for post-workout protein shakes. Until now I’ve shirked the idea of taking “supplements”, but I’m willing to give this a go, if only as an experiment. I haven’t started this yet as I’m still waiting for my protein powder order to arrive (I’m using the Impact Whey Protein Isolate from myprotein.com which I’ve used in the past and consider pretty good as far as protein powder goes). I’ve tried hemp and pea protein but found them intolerable unless mixed with juice, not ideal as I’m trying to keep the post-workout shake purely protein. Any tips are welcome!
How do I feel?
There are some recipes that I really miss – my favourite dal and red lentil soup come to mind. But I know it’s not forever. This is a learning process – I have to learn what “balance” really means! And contrary to popular media, “balanced” doesn’t necessarily mean putting cold pressed olive oil and pistachios and avocado and cacao nibs on all of the things!
It’s early days and it’s really too soon to say whether this nutrition plan is working. There have been days when I’ve felt totally shattered, but then again, this has been a very mentally taxing week so I’m sure that’s played a role.
In general, I actually feel pretty good. I’m definitely more motivated to push myself a little harder and see what I can do, which probably has less to do with my diet change and more to do with the mental boost that all of us get when we do something good for ourselves. In fact, when you put it that way, the nutrition plan has already proved successful. This is a state of mind I have to work at; it’s all too easy to be impatient and disappointed. I think it’s time to redefine “success”. Success isn’t about reaching an objective (that’s a “goal”). Taking action is success, and any one of us who are taking steps to reach our goals are already inherently successful. Go us!
More to come as the nutrition plan experiment progresses. In the meantime, here’s that awesome salmon recipe I mentioned…
Pistachio Salmon Fillets
- 4 salmon fillets
- ½ Cup of Shelled pistachios – crushed
- 4 Tsps. Dijon mustard
- 1Tbsp. Orange juice
- 2 tsp. Orange zest
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. Pepper
- ½ Cup chopped spring onions
- Put crushed pistachios into a shallow dish
- Mix mustard, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper into a bowl
- Brush the mixture onto each of the flesh of each salmon fillets.
- Press salmon into pistahios
- Place fillets onto baking tray and bake at 180°C for around 10-20 mins, until cooked through
- Place onions onto baking tray and drizzle with oil.
- Grill onions for a couple of minutes until they start to wilt
- Serve onions with salmon fillets
Per serving: 370 Kcal | 15g Fat | 9g Carbs | 39g Protein