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Real-World Eating Advice from a Professional Athlete and Fitness Author

by Nick Aldis 2 years ago in advice
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From The Superstar Body: The EAT Principles

Real-World Eating Advice from a Professional Athlete and Fitness Author
Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

The EAT Principles

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. – Aesop

I could have written individual sections on each of the following but I decided that you need the essential information and it needs to be easily digested, so I put what I believe to be the most important need-to-know points into this article as principles that I believe will help you get control of your body by what you put into it.

· Forget Calories – Using calories as any significant way to justify what you’re eating is going to get you nowhere. Measuring calories is outdated and a waste of time. Still not sold? I’ll elaborate; the calorie was first defined by Nicolas Clement in 1824. Yes you read that right, 1824, when people were dying of smallpox and Stonewall Jackson was being born. It was first defined as a unit of heat, but in a food context it is a unit of energy. There are in fact two different types of calorie; one is used in chemistry, the dietary calorie is actually called a large calorie. Even more confusing is the fact that in nutrition contexts, a Kilojoule is the recognized unit of food energy, and calories despite being in common use to this day are not even officially recognized as a unit of food energy. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, somebody made the connection between calories and food and used it to suggest approximate amounts of calories required in basic nutritional requirements for survival. The information was taken completely out of context over time and now our society worships this almighty number of calories like it’s an exact science.

Sure, probably the most basic approach to weight loss (or gain) is calorie deficit (or surplus) which just means if you want to lose weight, the amount of calories you burn has to exceed the amount you eat or vice versa if you wish to gain weight. But in 10 To Remember I said worship the mirror, not the scales. We’re not trying to be concerned with just how much we physically weigh, we’re trying to change our physiques; weight change is a byproduct. So we have to look beyond this outdated, irrelevant information.

· Quality Protein is the key – Remember that the fundamental approach is to think like a sculptor; to add lean mass and then chisel down around it. Protein provides amino acids, which are the building materials you need. Not to get into too much jargon here but to support and facilitate muscle growth your body needs to be in a state of positive nitrogen balance also known as nitrogen retention. Basically, protein is the only macronutrient that contains nitrogen; more nitrogen needs to be retained than expelled for muscle growth. The way you do this is by a) stimulating as many muscle fibers as possible without causing muscle breakdown and b) consuming enough protein to provide your muscle fibers with the amino acids they need to achieve positive nitrogen balance. Remember, if you’re subjecting your body to daily workouts, your protein requirements are significantly higher than any “Recommended Daily Allowance” (I hate that term.) Typically, the most agreed ratio for protein consumption is one gram for every pound of body weight. I like to treat this as a strict minimum, and if I can, go for about 1.5 grams.

You also need to understand that not all proteins are created equal; each protein source has a Biological Value (BV) which in basic terms means the amount of the protein that can be used by the body. The Typical Value refers to it as a percentage, which in my opinion is the easier way to display BV of proteins. As an example, here are the big hitters: Whey Protein 96%, Eggs 94%, Cow’s Milk 90%. As a way to emphasize why it’s important to know this, Chicken has a BV of 79% Beef 74% and most common fish sources are around 76%. For vegetarians BV has to be a concern: while whole soybean protein has a high BV of 96%, soybean curd (tofu) is only 64%. This is the main reason I try to exceed the minimum of one gram per pound of body weight; because while some of my protein intake is from Whey protein and eggs, some is from less valuable sources, so I know some of the protein is not being used.

· Eat Real Food – A common mistake many people make is to get too many of their target grams of protein from bars or shakes. I should know; I was guilty of this for a long time, and it was why I was so frustrated with my lack of density and fullness, especially if I tried to lean out for a big match, photo shoot or just for the beach.

It’s important to get as many of your macronutrients as possible from whole food sources. It will result in a better quality look due to better muscle composition. Not to mention the fact that you will get all the extra micronutrients, vitamins and minerals from whole food sources that you won’t get from shakes and bars. While we’re on the subject, I try to avoid protein bars for the most part; they’re mainly composed of dehydrated protein and binding agents that are hard to digest. For the money, you’re not getting quality, muscle building food. If I’m traveling, and a protein bar is the best option at an airport for example, I make sure to drink plenty of water with the bar. While there are some great quality protein powders available today, I still try and limit my shakes to two per day; usually after a workout and before bed. It’s tempting to think that you can just get half of your daily protein requirements from shakes and continue to eat 3 meals a day like the rest of society. Unfortunately, the rest of society doesn't have superstar bodies. If you want one, you’re going to have to be different. Eat good quality protein, carb and fat sources and chew it properly; chewing exposes the food to saliva which contains digestive enzymes including lingual lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fat.

· Eat More Fat – For so many years, the word ‘fat’ when it comes to nutrition has been the edible Antichrist. Unfortunately our English language is mostly to blame. Bear with me on this, as it’s a theory I’ve formulated over time and I really think it holds weight (no pun intended)…Because we use the word ‘fat’ to describe people who are overweight or more specifically, people with excess adipose tissue (body fat), the word ‘fat’ when describing the key macro nutrient found in foods has automatically been linked to making you ‘fat’ in the physical way. Make sense? I truly believe that if we had simply used a different word to describe dietary fat, we would have had way less problems, more understanding and more appreciation of this vital and valuable nutrient. Please get rid of the over-simplified notion that eating fat makes you fat.

Fat is fantastic.

Fat is necessary for so many vital functions of the body; it allows you to absorb certain nutrients, most notably, vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat is needed to maintain a steady core body temperature and fat is a valuable source of energy, which leads me to one of the ways we have been so misled for so long: I remember back when I was in high school learning about the food groups and they would give you a basic rundown of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein. I always remember carbohydrates being the most associated with ‘energy’, while fat had energy listed as one of its purposes but the implication was that it was slow energy and you needed carbohydrate for real energy. This is a fundamentally wrong consensus. Much in the same way that the word ‘fat’ has too many connotations, the word ‘energy’ is also misrepresented. Up until recently, I would always start my day with some protein and carbohydrate, under the assumption that it would provide me with some energy throughout the day. After becoming an ambassador for Bulletproof, and learning from biohacker and mad genius Dave Asprey, I realized that by starting my day with protein and good fats, I am full of energy, my mind is switched on and not foggy and I don’t feel bloated. I’m still consuming enough to maintain my size and fuel my workouts. But I’m leaner without working any harder. And it’s all thanks to eating more fat and less carbohydrates.

I should point out that saying ‘eat more fat’ is over simplistic. Obviously you have to limit your carbohydrate intake or you’ll overeat and gain unwanted weight. Also, there are fats that are incredibly valuable and have a myriad of benefits, and there are some which are just plain bad for you and contribute to obesity, bad cholesterol, decreased liver function and all the nasty stuff that can come as a result of those issues. One thing we have to do is focus on Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) which are important for the body to function and have to be obtained from food as they can’t be produced by the body. Eating foods rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids is the best way to go, but there are also some benefits to consuming some natural saturated animal fat, most notably hormonal. Testosterone production is optimized by consuming monounsaturated fats and even saturated fats like those found in red meat and egg yolks. We’ll cover this in more detail in the EAT Food Table and sample meal plans, but for now start getting on board with the idea that eating the right fat is not only delicious but vital for your performance and physique goals.

· Understand Carbohydrates and Insulin – Ah, the great carb debate! What kind of carbs, when to eat them, how much, whether to eat them at all…the arguments rage on. But as is the case with most things, you will have to see what works for you, but understanding them in a little more depth will help. I want to explain how carbs affect body fat so much; enter Insulin.

Ok I promised I wouldn’t bog you down with too much science so I’ll try to use broad strokes but this is important. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates metabolism. Insulin does several things but one of them is it causes fat to be stored rather than used for energy. Not good. It also inhibits Growth Hormone production, and seeing as Growth Hormone is just about the best thing in the body (cell replenishment, muscle mass, reduced body fat and anti-aging) this is really not good. Now this may sound a little counter-intuitive but the state we want to achieve if we want to be in great shape is insulin sensitivity. What we want to avoid is insulin resistance.

Insulin Resistance is when cells fail to respond to the normal actions of insulin and the result is high blood sugar AND the pancreas produces even more insulin. The main risk of this is of course Type 2 Diabetes. But even in smaller amounts, insulin resistance will lead to a number of symptoms, most notably intestinal bloating, weight gain from high fat storage and increased hunger, making a vicious cycle ready to destroy your visions of a Greek God physique.

There are many contributing factors to insulin Resistance but we’re going to focus on elevated blood glucose levels from excessive regular carbohydrate intake. I used italics there so that you get the point that eating carbs ever is not going to be a problem, but regularly over filling your body with carbs it doesn’t need is going to be a problem. I’ve used this analogy before when advising people: If you take a funnel and pour oil into it, it will flow through. There may be some residue left over, but it will eventually go through. If you add flour to that oil, it will get clogged and some will be left behind. Think of your body as the funnel. But we do need carbs sometimes to fuel us though intense workouts and replenish muscle glycogen, ensuring that desired ‘full’ look in the muscle belly. My personal favorite technique to find the happy medium of getting the carbs you need to fuel your workouts, keep fullness in your muscles without gaining body fat is carb cycling which I will cover in more detail.

· Control your Sugar – Directly related to the last point, sugar is the fastest way to raise blood sugar levels and cause the problems associated with excess insulin release. Sugar is what is known as an ‘empty calorie’, it has no essential nutrients but a huge amount of energy. Energy which, unused, can be a fast track to unwanted body fat and a stronger reliance on sugar from the constant rise and dip in blood sugar levels, often referred to as the ‘blood sugar roller coaster’.

I’m not suggesting you cut sugar completely; in fact a small amount after a workout can sometimes be both necessary and effective as it helps transport the protein you should be taking in and any other nutrients more quickly.

Sugar is found in so many things that it’s important to understand when you’re eating sugar, not just when you’re eating foods with added sugar. For example, fruit and dairy both contain natural sugars in fructose and lactose respectively. While it’s definitely preferable over refined sugar (natural sugars help transport the nutrients found in those food sources) you still need to avoid excess consumption. Refined sugars are the real villain here; regular white sugar is refined from sugar cane or sugar beets and high fructose corn syrup is the sugar of choice for a lot of food companies that add sugar to things like soda and sweet products. I should also point out that the ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’ options on shelves is often full of this stuff which in all likelihood will make you more fat and more miserable in the long run than just eating some good natural fat. In recent years there has been a rise in popularity of ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ sugar. Many people assume this means it has not been processed but this is not true. In the US, the FDA labels raw sugar as unfit for direct consumption due to impurities, so they’re still refined and processed before sale. So the ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ sugars you pay more money for are actually referring to their farming methods used to grow the beets or cane, grown without pesticides or herbicides and refined in a way that doesn’t remove all the natural molasses content, unlike white sugar. Either way, always check labels for sugar, you will be amazed at some of the amounts in foods you never even associated with sugar.

· Change It Up - Like I alluded to earlier, you have to approach your diet the same way you approach your workouts; get a solid grip of the fundamentals of good nutrition, then adjust the additional intake to suit your current needs. Just like somebody who mindlessly goes through the motions of the same workout day in and day out, you cannot expect to see significant improvement in muscle mass, body fat reduction, greater energy levels or even general wellbeing if you're mindlessly eating the same stuff all the time. This is another common sticking point I see in a lot of people. If you eat eggs or egg whites in the morning, then chicken and vegetables 3 times a day, accompanied by two or three protein shakes, I tip my hat to you for your dedication, but you're missing out on all kinds of micronutrients that come from different varieties within food groups. Last night, before I wrote this section, I went to the supermarket to get something for dinner (I try to buy fruit and vegetables fresh almost daily) and I decided I felt like red cabbage, even though I had never cooked it. I just looked up a recipe online on how to sauté it with red onions, olive oil and apple cider vinegar, and it was delicious! I could have just bought broccoli or spinach like I often do, but I decided I would benefit from eating some red vegetables. This is just an example of what I'm suggesting; go for different types of meat, different cuts, try all the different vegetables that are out there, they all provide slightly different nutrients. Cook things in different ways, all it takes is a few minutes online (I usually just Google it but I most frequently find myself using a recipe on www.foodnetwork.com)

· Stay Hydrated – It should be common sense to understand the need to drink plenty of water, especially when undertaking a lot of physical output. Your performance both mentally and physically will suffer if your brain, organs and muscles are not adequately hydrated.

One commonly overlooked issue with achieving great definition is water retention. Often, subcutaneous (under the skin) water is mistaken for body fat because it causes a similar look; an undesirable one, unless you want to look like an unmade bed.

There are several causes for water retention; some are hormonal, some are environmental. But the best way to ensure that you don’t retain water is by drinking plenty of unadulterated water. Your body is very smart and very adaptive; just like with essential fats, if the body is deprived of water it will hold on to the water it has in order to stay cool and the first place it goes is under the skin. Drink more, lose the wobbly bits.

· Learn how to cook – I touched on this in the intro, but trust me, you will eat cleaner for way longer and be happier about it if you get creative and explore ways to make the food you eat taste delicious while still eating clean. There is this defeatist mentality out there that all great tasting food is bad for you and ‘clean’ means ‘tasteless’. Not true! There are so many ways to cook the usual suspects like chicken, fish and beef to keep it interesting. There are so many types of cooking oil now that are not only tasty but great sources of essential fats and MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) like coconut oil, grapeseed oil, virgin olive oil and many more. And it has never been easier to find recipes. If you have a bunch of ingredients in your fridge and you don’t know what to do, type them in on a search engine and see if any recipes pop up, you’ll be surprised how often they do. I recommend stocking up on herbs and spices and other seasoning, as that can often be the difference maker. Plus, many herbs and spices have health benefits for example, cayenne pepper is often associated with fat loss which is why it is often an ingredient in many fat loss supplements.

· Limit your sodium - While I'm all about adding a little flavor with seasoning, and don't shy away from salt and pepper, I do realize that you have to be careful about your sodium (salt) intake, especially with the amount of food I eat in a day in comparison to a regular person.

For a long time, people have been just focused on sodium intake in the diet. This is because sodium is known to draw water from cells (this is why it is used as a preservative, as it dehydrates unwanted organisms on food) and the result is the body holds onto water. But actually, the more important factor is the sodium to potassium ratio. Basically, your cells act like a pump, and for every two potassium molecules that go in, three sodium molecules are pumped out. This affects fluid balance, which is our main focus here. Unfortunately, food companies are only required to print the sodium levels in their food, not potassium. Contrary to the belief of many who try to cut out salt completely, you actually need sodium to maintain a healthy water balance, but it's about moderation. Aim to eat Sodium and Potassium in equal amounts (the average American eats five parts Sodium to one part Potassium) Try not to add too much extra salt to your diet, try to consume potassium from quality fruit and vegetables, especially try to replenish potassium after a workout, and avoid big fluctuations in sodium intake and you should be just fine.

· Eat Natural: Avoid Processed - Processed food may be the biggest double edged sword in food history; the original motivation behind food processing was to preserve food and in fact dates back centuries. Very noble. Modern food processing techniques stem from the need to preserve food for soldiers at war which is again very noble. Unfortunately, once the techniques became more and more refined, people realized that it could lead to huge profits (follow the money!) Because by making food that lasts longer, you can make and sell more of it and offer the selling point of all selling points: convenience.

Let me clarify something before I continue; when I use the term ‘processed food’ I’m referring to food that has been chemically processed. Any food that has been prepared in some way or altered from its original form (for example ground meat) is technically ‘processed’ but for the purposes of this when I say ‘processed food’ I mean food that has been chemically processed. What do I mean by chemically processed? Instead of real, whole food, food that has been made using a combination of refined food ingredients and artificial substances. Here’s an example: People love to throw around the phrase ‘whole grain’ like it implies something healthy. But the reality is that most ‘whole grain’ products are those grains pulverized into flour then mixed with a bunch of chemicals. If I brought you a bowl of flour and a bowl of chemicals and asked you if it looked appetizing, you’d probably look at me like I just asked you for your kidney. Getting a clearer picture now?

Here’s a rundown of why to avoid processed foods:

- They’re usually high in sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup; If diabetes, heart disease and cancer don’t concern you (!?!?) perhaps getting fat does.

- They’re often full of refined carbohydrates; see above.

- They’re a cocktail of chemicals; pick up a food item that you think might qualify as processed. Read the ingredients. If the ingredients list reads like a science exam, or if there are more ingredients that you don’t recognize than ones you do, put it down. Ironically, ‘diet’ bars are often some of the worst offenders.

- They’re low in nutrients; yes, sometimes companies will add synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace the ones that were lost during processing. If you think that’s going to get you where you want to be I have a car with no wheels I want to sell you.

- They’re often high in Trans fats or processed vegetable oils; cheap fats from hydrogenated vegetable oils like seeds and soybean are just about the worst thing you can put into your body. Eat them if you want a significant increase in risk of heart disease, the most common cause of death in Western countries today. The excess of omega 6 acids also causes inflammation, the most underrated risk in health. Elevated inflammation is a risk factor for the most common disease of ageing. Worse than that, chronic, low-level inflammation is linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression and even Alzheimer’s. If you want to learn more I recommend going to InflammationFactor.com.

- They require less energy to digest; because processed foods are a cocktail of blended food bits and chemicals, they don’t require a lot of chewing or digestion. Which means you eat more of them, and burn less energy digesting them. Next stop, Fat city. Population: you.

- They have less fiber – Fiber basically keeps everything moving through your system. It also slows absorption of carbohydrates and feeds the good bacteria in the intestine. Think about it like this: If I left a turkey burger out all day, or even 3 days, then offered it to you, would you eat it? No? Well if you’re not getting enough fiber that 3-day-old burger is stuck to your insides somewhere.

- They’re ‘Hyper-Rewarding’ and can be addictive. This is where it gets really evil. The human body is an amazing piece of technology; we’re equipped with all kinds of awesome tools including taste buds, which help us navigate our natural food environment. We gravitate towards sweet, salty and fatty because we instinctively know these foods provide nutrients we need to survive. So food companies engineered food that is all three and therefore very desirable. When we eat them, our brains are so overwhelmed by the rewarding sensation of the food because we’ve never come across anything like this naturally. Our bodies have a mechanism from the brain that regulates energy balance, basically telling us when to eat and when to stop, and therefore keep us healthy. These foods bypass that mechanism because they’re ‘hyper-rewarding’ and that leads to overconsumption. But that’s not the worst of it…

The hyper-rewarding nature of this food can cause a dopamine release (dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain, associated with bodily functions and behavior. If you want to know more please look it up) and essentially hijack your brain chemistry and make you ‘addicted’ to the feeling. There have been numerous studies that show that sugar and hyper-rewarding junk food activate the same areas of the brain as cocaine. Actual addiction of anything is often down to an individual’s brain chemistry, but I bet if you think hard enough, you know at least one person who eats junk food regularly, almost systematically, without concern. I really believe that they have in a unique way, become addicted to the hyper-rewarding nature of engineered processed food.

The contents of this article is for entertainment and information purposes and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. Always consult with a physician before undertaking any diet or exercise regimen.

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Nick Aldis

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