Over the last few years I have heard many comments from people justifying why they eat differently to me. The most common being “But your an athlete, you need to eat healthily”. To which I normally reply “So does that mean because your not an athlete, you need to eat unhealthily?”
For most people, all they are doing is justifying the fact that they have a poor diet and refusing to entertain any idea about making a change.
This poses the question – “What is the difference between an athlete’s diet and a non athlete’s diet?”
The only difference is quantity.
It’s well known that athlete’s nutritional needs are much higher than for example a person who sits all day in front of a computer. But that is really the only difference. We really don’t need to change the way we eat when we start exercising. We don’t need to start eating a ton of pasta, rice or bread just because we exercise. Although a lot of trainers will tell you to.
Now this leads on to the next question – “So you just follow the food pyramid then?” I could go on for hours about the healthy food pyramid and its flaws, including the updated ones which are just as bad, if not worse. Since it was introduced, the levels of obesity and nutritional related diseases like diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed. They are just terrible.
If I were to redesign the food pyramid, it would look like this:
Top level (least eaten) would be grains. Processed grains and sugar do not even make it on to my pyramid. So I’m not talking about just any grains, but sprouted grains. I would advise anyone who is eating them to eat in moderation and eat with a source of healthy fats and protein. This minimises the sugar hit they can provide.
Something else that should be eaten minimally, not because they are bad, but you just don’t need much of them , is herbs and spices. They make food taste even better and also provide many valuable nutrients.
Next level down is nuts and seeds. Just like grains, they should be sprouted, by soaking in water overnight then put in a dehydrator so they keep for longer. I did a post on this recently so read here for more information. Almonds, brazils and cashews are the nuts I choose. Sunflower, pumpkin and chia are my favourite seeds. Chia doesn’t need much soaking, just a few minutes and they are done. But never roast any of these. The fats just go rancid and go from a healthy snack to very unhealthy.
Next we have fruits. Try to only stick to a couple of serves a day due to the high levels of sugar in them, especially the tropical varieties. However fattier fruits like avocado, coconut and olives don’t count here as they have little to no sugar in them. These can be eaten freely.
Fats and oils come next. This section on the “healthy food pyramid” is the least eaten one, but are actually very healthy and the ones I which actually have no relation to heart disease or obesity. Coconut oil, olive oil, natural butter (or ghee, clarified butter) are good options for cooking as they are so heat stable. I always have a nob of butter on my steamed vegetables. Or a splash of olive oil on a salad is great. Oils to eat raw are pumpkin seed oil, krill oil and cod liver oil. The last two are more a supplement, but should never be heated. Avoid ones like flax seed oil, canola oil and vegetable oils. They really aren’t great at all.
The next biggest layer is proteins. The most reliable source of good protein is from animal sources. Eggs and meat. Sorry vegetarians! Eggs are a perfect food and have plenty of protein in the yolk despite popular belief. The fat in them is great, so eat them freely and eat them whole. Meats are all good, I like the fattier cuts as they have more flavour and tend not to dry out like leaner cuts. Organ meats are even better, like liver and kidneys. Most people squirm at the mere mention of these, but they are packed full of nutrients and should be included in the diet. Historically they were considered more valuable than the more common cuts we have today. Now they are just fed to animals half the time!
Next one vegetables. Vegetables are what I term free foods. Eat them in abundance. The more colour the better. Green leafy ones are number one on the list and the darker the better. Compare an iceberg lettuce which is mostly water, to kale which is very dark and one of the most nutritious foods around. Try to make your dinner plate as colourful as possible. Green beans, red capsicum, purple cabbage and orange carrots. That with a protein source is a great meal. Just avoid white. White foods are nutrient poor foods. The only exception is cauliflower. I eat potatoes on the odd occasion, but always with a good dollop of butter.
The bottom layer and the most important layer is water. We can go for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Water should be the most abundant thing that you consume.
If you look at it, the most nutrient dense foods are at the bottom of my food pyramid and the least nutrient dense at the top. Obviously water has no vitamins or minerals in general, but I just like to remind people how important it is to drink plenty. But these foods at the bottom are the ones that help us thrive and perform at our best as athletes. They give you plenty of energy, and are great at optimising your weight. Even more importantly than this, eating this way is the best for your health. Plain and simple.