It’s November as I write this. The weather is finally a little less humid here in Florida, and we can sense fall barreling down the tunnel. There are about two months until the end of the year….until 2022. I don't know about you but I feel some anxiety of all the things I needed and wanted to do and accomplish by the end of the year. I'm sure you know what I mean. Did you have health, body composition, or fitness goals that, right now, you wish you'd started 10 months ago? (Or even professional, spiritual or life goals?) Right! That's what I'm talking about. The good thing is, it's October 2021...we could wait until October 2022 to begin thinking about this, or we could start right now so by this time next year, you're potentially where you want to be.
Before we wallow in all that could have been, speaking on health and fitness now, let’s review some basics….sort of like the rules of eating for health, body comp and performance. Pretty much if you can log these things and make them stick, the journey is more downhill than uphill.
BY HEALTH I mean when you get blood work done and some basic vitals performed. Some of these things you can monitor yourself like blood pressure and resting heart rate. But nothing shows what's going on inside your body like a blood panel and if you have a primary care doctor, that's one thing you can do to begin your baseline of monitoring your health. Understanding and knowing what the basics mean, like:
Blood Lipids (Cholesterol)
C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation)
Resting Heart Rate
These tests, among others that only your physician is qualified to advise on, are some of the markers YOU positively affect by improving your diet, sleep, exercise routine and stress in your life. Truly, YOU are the first line of defense.
If you're already in trouble in one or more of these areas, make sure you're looking for the cause, and not just trying to manage the symptoms.
BY BODY COMPOSITION I mean the percent of your total body weight you're carrying in fat versus lean body mass (muscle, bone, organ). Contrary to current pop culture of total acceptance, there are some things that are undeniable, and one of them is that excess body fat is highly hormonal and signaling to the body - and more times than not, it's not good. Many younger (under 40 years old) people can maintain a diet of processed food, little physical activity and too many calories, and their blood work won't show any problems...yet. Trust me, prevention is key. Don't wait until high blood sugar and hypertension from years of eating highly palatable and processed food appears. Or cholesterol elevates. Body composition IS important in health, and recompositioning (or losing/gaining body fat and muscle mass) is possible.
AND BY PERFORMANCE, if you're reading this, I mean CrossFit or your training. I am so inspired by the athletes we train here at GrandMastersRx - average age of 70.8 years old the last time I ran the numbers...and there are 95 of them! Not 95 -70 year olds, but 95 athletes, average age of 70. What's cool, is that many of them ARE interested in their performance...what a freaking retirement goal!!! Get better at CrossFit. Get better at something that gets your heart rate up and makes you strong. I can't wait till my life revolves around my currently non-existent golf game, my CrossFit performance and some gardening...oh and family, of course!
Our bodies were meant to move. Our genetics want us to move. Today's sedentary lifestyle from work to after work couch-slouch is not conducive to health. Buy a dog so you can walk it, find a park...and then find a CrossFit gym or a trainer and amp up your fitness!
I have learned, over the past 25+ years studying nutrition, health and sports performance (dumbed down to "fitness"), working with athletes and non-athletes on their diet, health and body composition, and having been born where food is “grown” versus bought, that it's not ONLY the younger generations that aren’t savvy when it comes to food – what food is, how it is grown (or should be) and what it does to your body, but WE ( Generation X, Baby Boomers and up) are also missing the boat!
Health Class today, in high school isn’t the same...if it exists at all. And many young people have never seen vegetables that aren’t in a can or deep fried with buffalo sauce, and they don’t know that real food grows in “dirt” or roams on dirt.
So here’s a quick and dirty - THE BASICS - the basics from which we can build.
Protein is of primal importance- it is essential. The very nature of the word means of primal importance, or first.
Protein is required for proper structure and function of all of your cells!
Proteins most bioavailable form is from animals (meaning your body utilizes it most efficiently from animal sources.
While there is some protein in vegetables, the digestibility and availability is less than that of animal sources; vegetables are carbohydrates (see below).
The quality of the protein you eat should be a factor in your choice: naturally raised, pastured, free-roaming and grazing animals provide a clean, high quality protein, whereas factory farmed animals may not. Still, this is a better choice for health and performance than protein from non-animal sources.
Protein doesn't have to be deep fried to taste good. 😊
Fat does not make us fat (however highly refined carbohydrates...too many carbohydrates from grains, cereal grains and pseudo-grains can!)
Fat is satiating, good for your skin, brain function and cells, and can be health-protective. Healthy fats come from animals, animal products (butter) and sometimes plants (olives, avocado, nuts, coconut, and seeds).
Fat can also provide energy - for some trained athletes, it can provide fuel for endurance workouts, and for all of us, it can provide energy for the brain. Think about it like mental energy - certain kinds of fat can make us more alert and help our brains work better. (Also see carbohydrates for "physical energy").
Note that last part: Fat is energy for the brain.
Repeat after me:
Carbohydrates are not all bad.
Carbohydrates are fruit.
Carbohydrates are ALL VEGETABLES (even broccoli is a carbohydrate).
Carbohydrates are oats, and rice, and potatoes.
Carbohydrates are also chips, cookies, crackers, cake, candy...
Carbohydrates are not ALL bad!
Carbohydrates from ancestral roots (roots as in history not necessarily roots and tubers, although still true!) are higher in nutrients, antioxidants, phytonutrients than other neolithic refined-grain-based carbohydrates like wheat, corn and oats.
Starchy carbohydrates, for most of us, are best seen as energy...the more physical energy we need, the more starch we need. The more sedentary we are, the less starch we need. When we're active, our bodies use circulating blood glucose for energy. That's great! But if we eat a lot of starchy carbs, which turn into circulating blood glucose, and then we sit around, that's when the wheels fall off the bus! High levels of blood glucose are not a good thing, generally.
Note that last part: Carbohydrates are energy for physical activity.
Carbohydrates from plants (non-starchy vegetables like carrots, broccoli, tomatoes (technically a fruit), celery, greens, cucumbers, mushrooms) may contribute to a healthier gut microbiome (healthy gut bacteria) which we've learned is the root of your immune system and the more diverse your gut flora are, the healthier you are!
Carbohydrates are not essential for life. Wait...say whaaaaaaat? It's true - you can literally live without carbohydrates which is untrue of our other two macronutrients: protein and fat. HOWEVER, carbohydrates add variety, and again, nutrients, and energy for our active, CrossFitting, performance-based and lives. They also allow us to remain social when friends want to "go out". And yes, someone may live a healthy existence void of carbohydrates (in a ketogenic state, for example), and studies show that though we can evolve to live in this type of culture (the Inuit people still do!). But in general, they have a place in most of our lives.
So now what? I know...that didn't help a bit did it? Well, it should have a little. You really do need to understand what you're eating. So aside from the little history lesson here on what are the three main macronutrients (above), how about some tips for trying to understand how to put this all together?
TIP #1 - INGREDIENTS MATTER
Sometimes it's simple: Apple. Banana. Chicken Breast. Potato. Egg. It's easy to know the ingredients in these foods. And, here's the important part: you know exactly what you're putting in your body. When we start to eat from boxes and packages, take out food and food we didn't cook, it gets harder. Start reading the "INGREDIENTS" on the packages you buys (if you MUST buy packages😬).
If you make it, generally you know what's in it better than if you bought it right? Right! Think about that.
TIP #2 - BUILD YOUR MEALS THINKING ABOUT THE THREE MACRONUTRIENTS ABOVE AND THE PURPOSE THEY SERVE
a) Lead with protein - what will be your protein source for breakfast, lunch and dinner? 4-7 ounces (less if smaller sized or women, more if larger sized/men). Cook your protein in high quality fat like grass-fed butter,
b) Add veggies! Yes, the non-starchy kind. Don't like them? B.S! You all have phones and computers - google recipes. Don't be a victim...find a solution. Be resourceful.
c) Add starch to fit your activity level. If you're a couch potato today, you don't need as much (maybe more fat instead). If you're CrossFitting, gardening, biking and playing with kids/grandkids today, you definitely need some physical energy!
d) Fat usually takes care of itself, for example, in dressings and cooking the protein. But if you feel you're low on fat, add some nuts, avocado, oil or butter to veggies, or choose a fattier cut of meat.
TIP #3 - DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE
You have to be an advocate for your own health (a "rebel" for your health as I like to say it). You can't believe everything you see published...especially if there are sales afoot! Package labels have a goal: to sell you something. Just flip the package over and read the ingredients.
One miraculous ingredient is not going to provide you with exceptional health or help you meet your goal of weight loss, muscle gain, or improving your health. Nope, not açaí, no Chaga, not any supplement or superfood. It takes a combination of high quality foods, in the right amounts, with good activity and socialization to build a healthy human. Don't believe the hype. Dig in, do the work. It takes time, but it's worth it.
CASHING OUT HERE...
I'm not always warm and fluffy when it comes to the basics. If you are sick (e.g. dealing with a lifestyle disease like diabetes, hypertension, overweight, or cholesterol issues) and you haven't addressed the elephant in the room (that elephant being your diet and activity levels (lifestyle), then shame on you. Sorry, but these things are in your control. They're not easy, but they're effective. They're not glamorous, but they're effective. Dig in...do the work!