AtA: Workouts and Carb Meals

Posted June 25th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Quick question on nutrition, I have always been told that you should eat your carb-heavy meals before you exercise instead of after but the book says to do the opposite. Does this matter at all, and if so, do you have an opinion on which is better?

I recommend it after (obviously), and though the carbs are the distinguishing factor (compared to the Base meals), I still consider protein to be the emphasis.

The metabolic state that comes with exercise obviously only extends beyond the workout (your body for whatever reason has a hard time predicting when in the future you may work out). While there’s some credence to be given to having the carbs available ‘as fuel’, that’s going to be significantly more of a factor for endurance athletes rather than someone doing the exercises in the book (or for a typical human, natch).

A more practical reason is the shocking (shocking, I say) frequency of people eating a pre-workout carb meal and then unforeseen circumstances preventing them from doing the workout at the time they’d planned, thereby sitting around with carbs in their tum and insulin up, and nothing to do for it. I look at carbs as a type of reimbursement; you do the work, then you get paid.

The other part of it is general restriction of carbs; if you had a carb meal before and after a workout, and had two workouts that day, 4 of the 6 meals you’re eating are low-fat, moderate-carb. Even with that much exercise you’re potentially throwing off the macro pretty fierce, and that’s problematic inasmuch as you’re not getting proper amounts of fat as you are getting ‘too many’ carbs. One peak meal per workout is my general rule.

Base/Peak is the approach I recommend most often to most people. However, if you’re doing it a different way and you’re getting/have the results you want, then there’s no real need to change it to what I’m saying. The same can be said for the Brain Over Brawn program: if you’ve legitimately and faithfully done it by-the-book and aren’t seeing the results you want, do something else.

AtA: Of Calories, Cravings, and Variety

Posted June 18th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

DH writes:

To be honest I didn’t really “get it” until I did it. I really love food, especially sweets, and I never thought that I’d ever be that way either. When people talked about it, it sounded really weird and unlikely to me. I basically set out to create meals that would fit into my desired calories and macronutrient breakdown so that I could be assured I was getting the right amount. I didn’t think that tracking every meal and then fudging towards the end of the day was really the right solution for me. Especially because this way I could make sure that a good number of the meals were portable and I could cook things that needed pre-cooking bulk. I was afraid that doing the same meals would get boring but it was actually really easy and ended up not being a problem at all really. A month or so I in I went to the grocery store and glanced a box of cookies and realized I didn’t even have the faintest desire to buy them, which was totally out of character but also totally awesome. Not having to deal with the whims of my gustatory desires is pretty cool a lot of the time.

This really resonates with both my own experience and what I hear from others.

One thing that stands out when helping people change their eating habits is especially prevalent with people who have means. They’ll go out to restaurants 2-3 times a day, eat expensive, decadent foods, yet hardly even taste them anymore. When ‘treats’ become commonplace they lose the magic of being ‘special’.

You get almost the same vibe from people who simply eat fast food constantly (due to travel, habit, whatever); in many cases it feels like they’re too depressed to generate the motivation to cook even crockpot-level foods or deal with a stove. If they do eat at home it’s a frozen dinner, because they’re too exhausted/depressed to deal with the car/drive-through.

By starting (or resetting) your diet with simple (but not bland), basic meals, you can regain an appreciation for what makes food taste good in the first place, and by focusing on your health/fitness/aesthetic goals you undermine all the emotional attachments that come along with eating garbage-food.

And yeah. The best thing is seeing something you remember loving and being disgusted by it, rather than simply trying to play the MY WILL IS STRONG OH GOD DADDY WAAAAANT game. When I was a kid I used to love Little Debbie cakes, but after being apart from them for a few years and then having the opportunity to try them, I realized they tasted like wax ass. As there is nothing redeeming at all in their nutritional content, that’s a pretty good habit shift to get.

AtA: So what do I eat, a hunk of meat?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

In looking though various food options I’m having trouble finding protein. Besides protein powder and beef/chicken/fish/pork/kangaroo etc. are there other recommended sources of protein? It seems to be difficult to find something (besides meat) that doesn’t have a 2:1 fat or carb to protein ratio.

As mentioned on pg 34, you’ve also got dairy sources and eggs as well as supplementary protein from various beans and nuts. But as I’ve said before, at present I regrettably don’t know of a viable vegan/vegetarian suggestion or solution.

Considering many people I work with and talk to who won’t have anything to do with “weird” meats (or seafood) and stick to chicken and beef (or just chicken), it’s still surprising how versatile even one meat is. While food-as-fuel can lend a helpful perspective, I personally love to eat, and do my chef-ing for pleasure as much as for fuel.

However, I also eat wild boar, venison, clams, crawfish and so forth on a regular basis (although obviously not nearly as often as chicken and beef), so it’s not often meals get repetitive. But I hit up things like garlic and lemon juice all the time, and most of my meals, while robust, are absurdly simple.

Then again, we’ve come a long way from meals being a hunk of moldy cheese and hard cornbread. Or a scupper-full of lutefisk (ugh, I feel queasy just typing the word). So these “simple meals” are in actuality fairly exotic if not opulent, both compared to the current non-1st-world countries and to everything up to the last century.

A helpful reader suggests:

The tip in the book about the chicken will put you on the right track. Buy some kinda raw meat and two vegetables. Cut’em up however you think would be best and cook’em. Chicken breast (or Turkey Sausage), onion, green pepper. Salmon, zucchini, tomatoes (I like to soak them in balsamic vinegar with some salt and eat’em raw with this). Very cheap meals that are very easy to make in an amount that will give you 4 – 6 meals. So, cook this kinda shit to start with 2 or 3 nights a week and fill in the gaps with protein shakes and other simple snacks like nuts, beef jerky (this one’s not so cheap), and cottage cheese.

This is working out pretty great for me and when I get bored of eating this kind of stuff I’ll learn to cook more complex meals, but for now some minimal spicing of some simple meat + veg gets me some pretty tasty eats that make it easy to stick to base meals.

This right here is aces, and expresses the point perfectly. Start with simple building blocks and then grow creative, rather than blowing your load cooking some 4 hour casserole monstrosity and then being annoyed and frustrated at the idea of making food and hitting up the Arby’s. The idea isn’t that feeding is a boring chore, but that you can make simple things great despite (or perhaps because of) their simplicity.

AtA: The Pollan Conclusion and Brain Over Brawn

Posted June 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

[...]when I was reading the section on food and obesity and your critiques on the food industry, I though I was reading Pollan. Yet you arrived at a very different conclusion, and a low carb one at that, with room for exceptions. I was wondering if you came across Pollan when you were researching the food and nutrition section, and if so what your opinions are of him? More broadly, is the recommendation of 40:20:40 p/c/f because you feel this is a reasonable goal for people to aim for, or is this what you have found is an ideal ratio from your experience helping your individual clients?

Pollan is certainly a hell of smart dude, and even though some of his thoughts are hard (for me) to mutually reconcile, his books are worth reading just because he has an incredible style, and puts forth some really well-researched analysis that may blow your mind, even if the particular study may be familiar to you. He also manages his activism where he can get his point across without coming off with that slimy ulterior-motive aftertaste that’s so frequent lately in the wake of evolutionary/historical diet becoming A Big Thing. I’ve only read “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but Food Rules is in my cart and I intend to read it soon.

My major divergences are probably summarized due to two things:

1) Individuals. People are radically different not just on the genetic and biological levels, but on the ways all these systems interact with each other. There are millions of permutations that make it to where two people on the exact same diet and program will almost invariably get differing results. Hard to say with someone’s lineage what sort of responses, tolerances, and so forth will apply, and each of those things complicate still further based on the the interactions of food, stress, stimulus and so forth.

In short, people are mad complex and there’s no blanket solution. However, one thing that is becoming apparent (thanks to diabetic research more than anything diet or supplement companies have contributed) is that many diet profiles are complicated and hindered by poor carbohydrate control, especially in excessive sugars. Vice versa, controlled-carb diet studies suggest that body composition and health are improved, independent to exercise or even (gasp) genetic/ethnic diversity.

That said, I seldom advocate extremism (the exception being against trans fats) and I feel like carbs have a place in a diet, and exercise both enhances the benefit from carbs and minimizes the potential negative impact.

2) Practicality. A pragmatic, realistic approach for “everyone” is a core concept of Brain Over Brawn. Even if we had the infrastructure in place for everyone to switch to a quinoa-and-red-yeast-rice diet tomorrow morning, not everyone has the money to buy everything organic and local, and even fewer have the immediate desire. Or to give up all their foods, or eat “mostly plants” or anything else. It’s certainly something I can agree with philosophically, and I respect Pollan’s stand against the factory-farm food industry. But it’s not going to change overnight, and my target with Brain Over Brawn was specifically designed to be things that can change overnight, or even right now, as someone reads it.

And all that said, I agree with you. Macros really aren’t that important in the grand scheme, especially since the type and quality of food, the foods with it, the eater’s internal chemistry (both genetic disposition and at-the-time), add so many factors that the same meal could have a significantly different effect on a different person or just a different day.

The best practical solution I’ve found is to orient carbs to exercise, making carbs less of a factor for people when physical activity is also less of a factor for them, and allowing for increased carbs alongside more exercise (both as a reward, and due to the tendency for higher tolerances due to improved physical profile). I allow for most vegetables in Base meals (without fearing for carb count), and for fruits as well in Peak meals; the 40/40/20 split is a target for people who simply can’t come to terms with the Base/Peak division of meals. Going with the Base and Peak meal design makes accurate counting/hair-splitting largely irrelevant; restricted carbs for sedentary people, carb allowance for active people. Bing bang boom.

AtA: When to Eat, the “9 hour” concept

Posted June 2nd, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In the nutrition section, you mention breaking up the day into 9 hour phases with meal breaks every 3 hours. What was the purpose of the 9 hour phases? I get that one phase is for sleep and metabolism is low. Am I right in thinking the next phase (morning-afternoon) should have meals with higher calories? Then with the last phase (afternoon-evening) should still have meals but with lower calories? I think that may have been what you intended but it was a bit vague.

The “9 hour” thing was simply to try and pry people loose of a “24 hour cycle” sort of mentality that has people scurrying to eat a bunch of calories before they sleep in order to meet some numerical goal, or else starving themselves because they ate too much that morning.

Really, the focus is on “what am I putting, or about to put, into my mouth?” A significant factor in that decision is what you’ve eaten earlier, and what you intend to eat later. You might consider eating more if (for example) you did not eat 3 hours before (you were asleep, say) or you do not intend to eat 3 hours later (zzz). Or when you plan to exercise, your meals will adjust as well.

If 3 hours ago you could only get a snack, your right-now feeding might benefit from being larger. Or if 3 hours from now you intend to eat a big meal, you may want your current meal to be something simple.

I should have said “6 hours”, in that with what you are currently or about to eat, you want to take into account what you ate 3 hours prior, and what you plan to eat 3 hours hence. More like this:

-3 —– 0 —– +3

Hopefully that clarifies things.

AtA: Cookbooks and Meal Design

Posted May 28th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Do you have any recommendations for good cookbooks for your base and peak meal structure? I have this “Healthy College Cookbook” which I thought would be awesome because I can’t cook [...] and it lists nutritional info for every meal but all of them pretty much have more carbs than anything.

That cookbook appears to have the problems typical of many cookbooks, then. I have two suggestions for this.

The first is starting with simplicity. Pick a lean protein, such as chicken, fish, beef, whatever. Pick a vegetable or two. Season them. Then cook and eat them. Prepare multiple servings and eat the leftovers later on (so you’re not having to turn on the stove every 2 hours).

At some point you might get bored of just ‘seasoned meat+vegetable’ (some do, some don’t). The easiest thing then is to find a low-carb cookbook for your ‘base meals’, and a low-fat cookbook for peak meals. Since most of your meals will be low-carb, that’s really the ‘learning curve’. It’s easy to get carbs for the Peak meals (rice, grains, potatoes, etc); all you have to do is minimize the fat content.

AtA: Exercise Frequency and Off-day Meals

Posted May 26th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What is your take on daily exercise? If I lift a 5×5 three a week, is it okay to spin on the in between days, or should I let my muscles recover?

Also, do you eat a peak meal on days that you don’t exercise?

As I mention in the book, I think it’s great. The more the merrier. I might debate the merits of Spin class, but as long as the intensity is high enough there’s nothing wrong with using it as an interval exercise.

One thing I would recommend (and I do recommend in the book) is that you allow for proper recovery, which includes both adequate sleep and active recovery, such as taking a decently long walk. Honestly, if you had the time on your hands, there’s nothing wrong with weight training every day and doing interval, provided you get proper recovery. If you find yourself fatigued or with reduced performance, you simply either increase active recovery (more massage, more rest, more walking and so on) or scale back training. It’s pretty straight-forward.

It’s not like in ye olden times (of a whole century ago) dudes would be like “hell, guess I can’t toil in the fields since I just chopped wood. I’ll overtrain! MWF is butter churning, T-Th is for wrangling livestock. Better eat mah glucose snakes.” What a horribly hamfisted analogy, but hopefully the gist is clear.

As for Peak meals, no. I don’t recommend them if they don’t accompany an appropriately intense activity. I sometimes take a Sunday off as a complete rest/recovery day, and those days basically mirror a meal plan from a ketogenic low carb diet.

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