* This is the last part of a year-long series called “52 Weeks to Eating better than Ever”. Click on the side bar for more information and to read the previous essays.
It’s been a great year on nutrition and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!
The Final Word: Everything Else on Eating Better Than Ever
No Food, One Problem.
Too Much Food, Many Problems.
– Chinese Proverb
Innumerable large volumes have been written on nutrition. The most important factor to consider is conveyed in the preceding proverb. So many of our health problems- obesity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, heart disease, and others- are not caused by lack but rather from excess. When we don’t have food to eat, the problem we have is serious, but simple. We need to eat and nourish ourselves in some way. On the other hand, having too much food creates many other challenges, both with food and in other ways. We live in the land of plenty, and in a time of plenty, so our problems revolve around managing excess not lack.
“Science” often contradicts itself. One year coffee is bad for you, the next it’s good. One week eggs will give you a heart attack, the next day you should eat them every day. This series of essays has avoided dogmatic extremes and extraordinary claims and instead has focused on simple habits you can develop to eat healthier over your lifetime. There are of course other habits which could have been added. You may even have some things you could teach me and others about eating healthy. But overall, if you internalize these habits and skills, you will have come a long way towards a reasonable lifestyle of healthy eating patterns. To wrap up, lets’ cover a few more things.
Athletics vs. Normal Life
Eating for athletics and for athletic performance is a different goal than eating for health. It is good for athletes to eat healthy foods, but athletes need more energy, and require more nutrients for recovery, so they need to eat more than the general population. Keep this in mind when you are training. If you decide to compete in a sport, or sign up for a race or physically challenging event, you’ll need to focus a bit more on the timing and quantity of food, increasing your caloric intake to meet performance demands. How much depends on what type of activity.
Pre- & Post-Workout Nutrition
It is somewhat of an easy out to say “it depends” to the question of what to eat before and after workouts, but it does depend on many factors. Pre and Post workout nutrition all comes back to your goals. If your goal is to build muscle, a small snack of simple carbs and protein before a workout is a good idea, particularly if it’s a weight training workout. Afterwards, after a weight training session you want to start refueling immediately to recover, and get a full meal in within 2 hours. Failing to do this could cause muscle protein to be broken down as a fuel source. To keep things easily manageable, here are a two very simple guidelines:
- To burn some fat, you can fast an hour or two before and after a cardiovascular or interval workout, but don’t fast too long or you may burn through valuable muscle to replenish your energy.
- When you lift weights, eat a snack before and a meal after, but avoid heavy fiber before.
- Don’t eat a high fat or high protein snack before any workout because it could cause GI distress.
- Workouts or competitions over an hour justify a small snack during the session if needed.
Track What You Eat
I wrote about this this several times before, but if you are getting frustrated that you aren’t losing fat, it’s probably because you aren’t tracking your intake.
Get Close to the Ground and Stay There
Our overall philosophy of eating is a grounded one. We want to obsess less on fads, bodyfat, and diets and more on our overall style of eating. We want to eat close to the ground, which means a focus on less processed food and more fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains and plant foods, healthy meats, fish and legumes. If it’s highly processed it’s probably not that good for you.
Eating Equals Joy
One of the most pleasurable things in life is eating. Breaking bread with friends and family, or even strangers ,in a communal setting is the epitome of the good life. Opt out of the drudgery, the guilt and the yo-yo lifestyle of fad dieting. Return to joyful eating by taking periods of rest, and by focusing on eating well. Stay close to the ground, build community around food, and for heaven’s sake, slow down a little and savor the flavor and the moment. There’s intense happiness and joy to be found in food when we do it right, so do it light and right!
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