Updated: Dec 26, 2021
It happened. An athlete asked me a question I felt myself backing away and shutting them door on them. Gulp! No, double gulp! It wasn't intentional, but there are steps to accomplish any goal. Want to do a pull up? We first have to develop general integrity of the shoulder, then strength in all the pulling muscles, then, or at the same time, patterning of which muscles activate first, and then practice, practice and practice...get stronger...and then, the pull up comes. It doesn't come from simply jumping on the bar and pulling. Have a plan, right? Fail to plan = plan to fail.
Well, health, or feeling and testing good, is no different. We have to start with the basics. And the basics are diet, sleep, stress management, and physical activity - the very basics! Before you can should start supplementing or doing exogenous things to attack a problem like inflammation, body aches or bloodwork that's pointing toward an upcoming problem (high glucose, for example), you need to get these basics in check. I think I used the words "you can't out supplement a bad diet", just like you can't out-train a bad diet. Set the foundation and then build on it.
At this point, the question was, again, a bad diet? Ugh...the definition of a bad/good diet these days is pretty hard to pin down. So let's attack it a different way:
YOU HAVE TO EAT. You need calories to extract nutrients from in order to make your body and cells work well. An average 130-160 pound human needs at least 1500 calories to live well -meaning, you can't get enough nutrients to thrive on on less without supplementation...and there's really no proof that supplementing with, say, protein powders is better than eating protein from a natural animal source. So why not stick with what we know works: food. The key point here is amount of food (calories and/or macros) and quality of food.
Amount - like I said above, minimum 1500 calories. Now, if you're on a very low calorie diet right now, you don't want to pop up to 1500 tomorrow. Every week or two, add 150-200 calories per day and hang out there for a bit. Get used to it. Feel the energy!
Quality for WHAT to eat - if you are inflamed (joints ache, skin problems, energy deficiency, etc.) or to the point where you are LOOKING FOR A SUPPLEMENT FIX, I highly recommend a basic elimination diet for a minimum of two weeks to see if you find improvement in your symptoms. And if you choose the right elimination diet, you'll find higher quality foods from a nutrient standpoint and get a "twofer". If you do find an improvement in your symptoms...score! If you don't, at least we got you more and better nutrients before you work your way down the supplement rabbit hole. We found something that's making you not feel good.
There are a lot of elimination diets out there but I still think the Paleo Diet is the best - one of the originals.
YOU CAN'T OUT-SUPPLEMENT A BAD DIET. Nothing replaces quality food. I hate to take the pleasure out of eating, but to this level, you might make better choices. When I/we (Ed and I) construct meals, I think about protein first - is it the same source we had last meal? Could I choose something different - chicken breast vs. thigh, tuna, beef, etc. What kinds of vegetables can I add, and making sure they're various colors. Yes, even for breakfast. And finally - how active will I be? Do I need starch or more veggies. Typically we have a starch with a meal (e.g. sweet potato or white rice). But sometimes not, especially on non-training days. What starches? Start with the healthiest and least damaging. Damaging? Yes, starches can be both metabolically (e.g. straight sugar - all starches break down into sugars) damaging. Start with the safest, like sweet potatoes or purple potatoes (yes...color!). Finally, what about fat? SUUUUPER IMPORTANT and probably the most vilified of the macronutrients in the clientele we train these days. Fat is not bad for you. It really isn't. The best fats will come from natural animal products. Those grass fed burgers you just cooked? Healthy fat. That pastured, uncured bacon? Yes! AND keep the fat to use as a flavorful cooking oil for your veggies. I'm not crazy, it's true! Grass-fed butter. Avocado & coconut oil. And finally the old standard extra virgin olive oil from a high quality producer.
YOU HAVE TO MOVE. We were meant to move. I noticed one of our athletes has been gradually slimming down and asked her what she was doing. SHE GOT A DOG! DUH! Outside of your training with us you need to be moving. Humans were meant to move! (I linked a used book because new is too expensive). If you're reading this 6/10 chance you CrossFit or your train well 3-4 times a week. That training day doesn't give you a pass to sit on the couch the rest of the day. Move, walk, work...be physical.
And that's it! Seriously, start here. Eat well and move. If you eat well and move, you'll likely sleep well too! Happy & Healthy!