Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What better time for nutrition advice?

While this post isn't specifically about statulo.us, I think it is quite relevant to each of us as we aim to keep progressing through the holidays.

A friend of mine recently started Crossfit at my gym and another friend is prepping for his second marathon. I'm focusing on broadening my diet a bit and getting in 4+ Crossfit workouts each week. Nutrition, for all of us, is critical to our success. After being asked a few times for advice on nutritional books, recipes and shopping strategies, I've decided to respond via this blog.

It should come as no surprise that the nutrition information I'm recommending here is exactly what you'll find on a million other Crossfit websites. I hope that by combining much of this information in one cohesive post, it will provide more value than it's otherwise scattered parts.

The Food:

We Crossfitters would say that we "Zone our Paleo". We "Eat high quality foods, in proper portions". This breaks down to:
High quality foods == Paleolithic foods
Proper portions == Zone diet portions

Hitting the books:

Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes (@amazon, New York Times review)
Hardcore science journalism that digs into both the science and politics of why most of us are so incredibly wrong about nutrition. The bibliography of this 447 page book is 113 pages long. It's hard to refute that quantity of research and review. Read this to gain a better understanding of why fat is not bad for you, cheap carbohydrates are, cholesterol has little to do with what you eat and diabetes has more to do with bread than candy canes.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
(@amazon, @michaelpollan.com)
When folks read Pollan's exciting tale of four meals in The Omnivore's Dilemma, many asked "so.. what should I eat?". Pollan's take on that question is simple, and stated right on the front cover. Eat food. Mostly plans. Not too much. Read this for rather simple, while not very prescriptive, suggestions on how to better your diet, with some mild politics and science thrown in for good measure. This book is not technical at all, and very friendly for those looking for a light read on the subject. If you're looking for nutritional information for performance, look elsewhere.

Enter The Zone by Barry Sears (@amazon, @zonediet.com)
Dr. Barry Sears is the originator of the Zone diet, and author of several books on the zone. Enter The Zone is the first book he wrote, which spends as much time describing the science behind the zone portions, as it does with making recommendations. This is a great read to gain a better understanding of insulin response, and why protein/carb/fat ratios are important. While this and other zone books are great at driving home the logic behind the famed "40:30:30" ratio, none of these books are great for making decisions on what specific foods to eat. Use the zone to determine how much of your paleo foods you should be eating.

The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel (@amazon)
While I have not read this book, I have read the Cliff Notes (pdf). This book adds to the otherwise traditional peleo diet and makes specific recommendations for what to eat before, during or after long endurance activities.


Cooking for Health & Performance by Scott Hagnas with Robb Wolf & Nicki Violetti
This is the single best recipe book I have found. This eBook is in your typical cookbook style with photos, great descriptions and directions along with ingreedients and other information. Each recipe also has zone block information, which is quite handy.

Performance Menu Journal by Catalyst Athletics
The Performance Menu journal is my second favorite fitness publication, second only to the Crossfit Journal itself. Each issue has several great fitness related articles and finishes with a few recipes from the folks that wrote the eBook listed above. This is a great resource and a total bargain.

Crossfit Journal - Nutrition section
If you don't subscribe to this yet, do so now. It's an insanely great resource for fitness and nutrition, for Crossfitters and other athletes alike. The nutrition section is another great resource of hard science and empirical data on athletic performance and the nutrition that supports them.

In order to keep a reference of all the great recipes I've found in these and other publications, I've been keeping a binder in my kitchen with print outs of each recipe inside a sheet protector. It sounds a bit overkill, but it's been really nice to categorize meals by protein source and have breakfast, snack and other recipe categories easily accessible. To keep my time in the kitchen efficient, I type up the recipes by hand, in order to minimize the amount of instruction necessary into simple bullet points I can read at a distance.

Shopping Strategies

You've probably heard some of this advice before. "Shop at the edges of the supermarket." "Don't buy anything with a nutrition label on it." "Buy things that spoil fast, and buy them frequently."

I enjoy cooking quite a bit, and I tend to get more satisfaction out of improvising on well-known recipes than trying out esoteric ones for the first time. For the record, I eat some variation of eggs for breakfast every... single... day. While I do get variety in my meals, I don't like to get so complicated that I need a special shopping run for a specific meal. I buy virtually the same stuff, every few days, at our local Trader Joe's.

It seems incredibly simple to me now, but I remember how stressful the first few shopping trips were after I saw the Paleo light. "Can you eat this?" "Can you eat that, now?" Here is what's usually in my cart every few days:
  • Meat: ground turkey, chicken breast, steak (grass fed), turkey breast on the bone
  • Fish: tuna (in the pouches), frozen salmon patties
  • Eggs: Those really good Omega-3 plus Trader Joe's eggs. I eat over a dozen a week.
  • Veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, zuchini, spinach, salad greens
  • Fruit: apples, grapes, pears, berries (frozen for smoothies)
  • Nuts: almond butter (i eat one jar a week), raw walnuts
  • Dairy: Natural organic yogurt, skim milk (for coffee), low fat cottage cheese
  • Others: I buy the Whole Foods brand of protein powder for smoothies, where I also get fresh ground flax which I add to many dishes.
Send in your suggestions!
Be sure to add your comments to this post if you have additional recommendations on athletic nutrition and peformance.

1 comment:

Synthesis said...

The Paleo Diet for Athletes is a great book if you want people to think it's cool to down gels and powders. It's a stretch to call it Paleo. A lot of crossfiters could make a strong argument this book is crap, just another brand extension. There are plenty of endurance athletes doing paleo zone and even relatively low carb paleo zone. That's the vanguard. TPDA is just a nod to orthodoxy that wont rock the boat.