Systematizing your meals to adapt to your active lifestyle.
From infancy we know how to eat. It’s not a difficult concept. Nevertheless, most of us are doing it wrong. Granted it’s much easier as a baby when your one source of nutrients is milk or formula. As we grow, so does our world of food, and this is where we tend to lose sight of the reason we are eating in the first place. If I asked you why a baby eats, what would you say? To grow? For nourishment? Because they are hungry?
The reasons do not change as we become adults. We may not be growing in the same sense as a child, but our bodies are constantly growing to replace our cells (think of how a cut heals). We need to be eating for nourishment just as much as our former infant selves. So why are we eating for different reasons? Because food is delicious? We are bored? Cravings?
Or is there a much bigger reason behind this global failure to eat right? I ask myself this constantly. The generations of today have the greatest minds, and yet we are struggling with the simple act of eating? What are we doing wrong? Then it hit me: we are expecting the same rules to apply to a new world. Our ideas on what and when to eat are antiquated in this world of processed and fast foods. We haven’t adapted, and we are suffering because of it.
But not all of us are suffering. There is a group among us that is thriving: athletes. They are using food for its chief purpose, to nourish. And they are achieving amazing feats because of it. So what is it that athletes do so differently with their diets? Athletes systematize their diets.
They are taking the complexity of meal planning and organizing it into daily meals. Meal planning may be simple in concept, but multifaceted when considering all the macro and micro nutrients needed to stay healthy. Think about how many times the USDA has had to revise their food pyramid (which is now a plate) because of new information, and they’re still getting it wrong!
Systematizing our diets is the combination of planning and timing. Based on a countless factors (weight, age, lifestyle, etc.) we need to plan the right amount of nutrients to best support our system. Secondly, we need to time our nutrient intake, so we are getting the right nutrients at the right time. Simple right? Unfortunately, it can be a daunting task and one that needs to be continually worked on as our lives change. It’s one reason why professional athletes have nutritionists to help develop their meal system.
WHY DO WE FAIL?
One major hang-up I’ve seen with aspiring athletes is the thought that we can eat anything we want since we are burning so many calories each day. I say we because I’ve done this countless times. While it’s true that our bodies will make use of whatever we feed them, we are not helping our bodies when we give them processed foods high in sugars and fats. By doing so, we are not supplying ourselves with the best nutrients.
My favorite analogy for this is the story about the three little pigs. We are not surprised when the first two pigs’ houses of straw and sticks are blown down. Only the third pig’s brick house can stand the test of the big bad wolf. It’s the same for us.
If we want to build the best body, we have to build it with the right nutrients.
When we ignore our diet and eat as we please, we are setting ourselves up for failure in two ways. First, our incredibly efficient bodies will take the excess fat and sugar that we eat and convert it into body fat. Our body thinks it’s helping us out by creating these little fat reserves for emergency purposes. We can be reasonably fit but still have body fat if we are eating like this.
Secondly, when we eat garbage, we feel like garbage. Highly processed foods not only have harmful attributes (additives, preservatives, etc.), they are also unlikely to have any beneficial nutrients. Without the right nutrients, we can experience system failures. This is where our bodies fail because we are simply depriving our bodies of an essential nutrient, or our bodies are not able to make it fast enough from what we ate. Either way, we will feel it in our performance. Bonking is a commonly known form of this. But we don’t have to get to the extreme of bonking to know that our bodies are struggling.
Related- Creating A Healthy Balance
Timing of nutrients is also important. The adages that you should start your day with breakfast or never eat dinner right before bed point us in the right direction. But there’s much more involved in timing when it comes to our workouts. Not only do we have to supply our muscles with the right nutrients, we have to supply our other systems and most importantly our brains.
This soft mass of nervous tissue is vital to our bodies’ performance. If we deprive our brains of any required nutrients, our brain functioning will diminish. Let’s use glucose, sugar used for energy, as an example. Our brains need a constant flow of glucose to function and low levels of glucose will give us the perception of fatigue. This means our muscles and other systems could be fine, but because our brains are deprived of glucose, we feel tired and lethargic.
So it’s essential to eat in a timely way that keeps our brain and other systems well equipped with the right nutrients to perform well. Even keeping ourselves hydrated with a constant flow of water can be a game changer. Dehydration causes a myriad of symptoms that are detrimental to athletes from headaches to muscle cramps. And for most people, the sign of thirst comes too late.Poor timing on post workout replenishment is another common pitfall for aspiring athletes. Complications arise when nutrient delivery is delayed, especially water, carbohydrates, and protein. During our workouts, we deplete the glucose in our muscles and liver (which delivers it to our brains), so we need carbohydrates to refill those glucose stores. If you sweat, you are losing water (even if you don’t you’re losing water), so you need to rehydrate. Lastly, we need protein to help our muscles recover and grow. All three nutrients need to be delivered in a timely fashion to ensure optimal post workout recovery.
Poor timing on post workout replenishment is another common pitfall for aspiring athletes. Complications arise when nutrient delivery is delayed, especially water, carbohydrates, and protein. During our workouts, we deplete the glucose in our muscles and liver (which delivers it to our brains), so we need carbohydrates to refill those glucose stores. If you sweat, you are losing water (even if you don’t you’re losing water), so you need to rehydrate. Lastly, we need protein to help our muscles recover and grow. All three nutrients need to be delivered in a timely fashion to ensure optimal post workout recovery.
Poor meal timing explains why so many people struggle with dieting. If meals are eaten too far apart, we are ensuring we will get hungry between meals. When we feel hungry, our brains are hungry. And as we learned before, a hungry brain does not care about much else than getting its next meal. Our resolve quickly slips away along with our diet. Timing is everything.
Once we find something that works, we tend to think it will work all the time. As we grow and age, our nutrient requirements change. Think back five years and ask yourself if your daily routine is the same as today. Chances are things have changed. You might have a new job, live in a new town, or have made new friends. Or maybe nothing big has changed, but you have physically changed due to increased workout or lack thereof.
Whatever has changed in our lives, we need to take those changes into consideration when systematizing our diets. Our diets need to adapt just like us; otherwise, we are just setting ourselves up for failure. Take something as simple as moving your workout time from the morning to the evening. If you don’t move the accompanying protein shake with the workout, you may experience headaches or poor muscle recovery.
Everyone hesitates at the first signs of change because it’s something unknown. Changing our diets can be daunting especially when it comes to trying new foods. Not changing though leads to boredom. It may take some of us longer than others to get bored of the same oatmeal for breakfast, but we all will get bored eventually. This is another reason why systematizing our diets is important. Plus change brings excitement due to the unknown.
Nothing says change need to be drastic either. Adding fruit to your morning oatmeal will give it a tasty new appeal as well as balance out your nutrient intake. Spacing your meals differently might give you an extra boost of energy when you thought it was normal to crash. Help your meals evolve, so you can too. It’s easy to dismiss a systematized meal plan when you’ve never had one, but it’s one of those things that you would never go without once you have it.
Getting the right nutrients at the right time is not a simple task, but you can accomplish it by thinking simply. Simply eating when you are hungry and stopping when full. Your body is adept at letting you know when it needs something. Start listening. Also, simple, unprocessed food have the best nutrients. Imagine the steps each food took before arriving in front of you. If you can’t, it’s probably a highly processed food.
Let’s look at bread for example. Some of us have made bread ourselves, so it has to be simple, right? Just add all the ingredients together and bake it (with some kneading and rising in between). But have you ever thought of how the ingredients are made? Bread flour is wheat that has had the nutritious germ and bran removed and is pulverized into a flour. During this process, we lose out on protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Many of the ingredients are processed like this. Bread is no longer looking so simple.
The ultimate way to keep it simple, is to find help. There are experts and companies that specialize in creating meal plans specific to you. If you are creating a system on your own, it will take time and energy and many revisions along the way. The end will be worth it though because you will have joined the elite group of athletes. You will be one of the few that is using food for its sole purpose: to fuel our bodies so we can achieve amazing feats.
What to Watch & How to Fix it
Eating recklessly (yes, I’m going there) because we exercise regularly and that makes it ok.
Ignoring our daily nutrient needs. We set ourselves up for failure by depriving our bodies.
The Fix: Follow a simple plan and know what your body needs to run properly.
Letting ourselves get hungry too often. Hunger leads to weak resolve; weak resolve leads to cheating; and cheating leads to the dark side.
Not refueling after a workout. We can crash even after the workout is done.
The Fix: Listen to your body. If you want to have successful results you need to be fueling your body! Do not try to rush the process, those short-term "results" can lead to serious health complications and simply won't last!
Maintaining the status quo. We age, we grow, we change; our diets should too.
Hesitating to try something new. Not changing can be boring. Be bold and jump in.
The fix: Do not go into a "short-term" fix. You need to be able to adapt your diet with your changing lifestyle. Think long-term. Think: lifestyle change.
Do not overcomplicate it by getting to advanced too quickly.
Try to avoid "learning everything on your own" and ask for help!
The Fix: Look into programs that are designed for long term success and don't be afraid to seek help in your journey. It will save you a lot of time and stress to have someone who is specialized in this field helping you along the way.