So lately, I've had a few people asking about my diet. Aside from the weight loss perspective, which is way overrated, most of the people asking are the ones who've noticed the benefits I've enjoyed from it. Personally I look at how I eat as less of a "diet" and more of a "pattern of eating" that allows me to do what I like doing which is to work out "A LOT". But aside from allowing me to workout more frequently and with higher intensities, there are other benefits too.
These are some I've noticed:
- Lower resting heart rate
- More restful sleep in less time
- More lean muscle/strength and flexibility
- Healthier skin/hair
- More energy
- Better concentration
- Better moods
- Faster recovery
I started using this pattern of eating about 8 weeks before Ironman Arizona with the intent of reverting to a more conventional style of eating once the race was over. The changes I noticed in 2 weeks were so staggering, I decided to keep eating the same way after the race. I think the reason for the change was I had a sense that I was short on training time and my body wasn't ready for the physical challenge of an Ironman. Because I felt I couldn't "work out" enough, I had to figure out a way to create the necessary transformation in the time I had left. It occurred to me if I could pack my body with as many nutrients as I could leading up to the race, then at least my body had a chance to be "nutritionally" ready even if it wasn't physically up to the task. But after 2 weeks I was so much stronger, more flexible and visibly fitter, I knew I was on to something. So the eating "pattern" is pretty simple. I start the day with food in liquid form (fresh juices of fruits and veggies) moving from juice to smoothies. Snack on nuts and seeds. As the day progresses fruits and salad are eaten depending on appetite. Eat what I want for dinner.
Now some details.
The juices are from seasonal fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens like kale, collards, spinach, and chard. But also there are things like carrots, broccoli, asparagus and parsley. I also always include beets because they promote healthy liver function which aids in systemic detoxification. The fruits used can vary according to personal taste and seasonal availability, but they also add volume to the total juice yield. I like to use grapes, oranges, blueberries, grapefruit, pineapple and watermelon. The goal is to make the juices as nutrient dense as possible creating a liquid food that is high in quality but low in calories. I drink about 24 to 32oz of juice like this daily and this is typically "first and second" breakfast. I don't worry too much about calories but from past experience 8oz of juice is probably about 150 calories which is enough for me to start my day mildly satiated for a couple of hours before drinking more juice. It also allows for a morning workout not impeded by feeling stuffed and sluggish. But more importantly if you were to take the term "Break Fast" literally, you would start eating after a fast, even one lasting 10 or so hours, moderately allowing your system a chance to "warm" up to heavier digestive work later on.
Once the liquid food is done, then I'll make a smoothie. There are some similarities between the juice and the smoothie in terms of what goes into making it but as a base I start with a blend of coconut water and coconut milk. The coconut water provides a good supply of electrolytes while the coconut milk adds some base nutrients and needed fat. From there frozen fruits and veggies are added again. One difference from smoothies you may by around town is I add lots of leafy greens (usually frozen, but not always) to this. Typically as it is easier to juice the stalks of the greens in the juicer, so I save the leaves for the smoothies. Aside from fruits and veggies and I few things I don't or can't juice, I add goji berries, stevia (if I need something a little sweeter), a blend of hemp, rice, and pea proteins, powdered chlorella, E3 Live (a green algae superfood), chia seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts and dates.
Interestingly the combination of vegetable proteins from the greens and the hemp, rice and pea protein powder seems to work better for me in building muscle than when I used a single source like hemp or soy alone. Also there is some new research on pea protein that suggests it aids in efficient kidney function. Better kidney function = healthier system overall. Again think detoxification.
Basically, if its good for me or has a purpose nutritionally its either in the juice or the smoothie. If I won't eat it cooked or raw but is healthy, its probably in either the juice or the smoothie where I can disguise the taste enough to drink it. Between the juice and the smoothie, I get more than enough servings of fruits and veggies and a whole slew of things I probably should eat but couldn't get enough of if I was eating solid food all day. And that's the reason I started eating this way. From everything I've read, we don't get enough quality nutrition in the typical American diet to support optimal health hence widespread issues our society faces with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Also by drinking juice and smoothies, I save my system the trouble of having to break down a bunch of solid food and nutrients are available in greater amounts more quickly. Its a question of time and energy. Energy I'm now not using to break down food is energy that is saved for other things like working out, recovery, or just reading a book. Less energy and time spent digesting food is more energy and time to do other stuff that is more important to me. If I save an hour this way, that's an hour I could be working out or recovering from working out. The solid food I eat at the end of my day, a few hours before bed, provides fiber and gives me the sensation fullness. It lets me eat normally and socially and keeps me from feeling as though I'm depriving myself of the foods I enjoy. I still eat things I like, just not all day long. Also by eating this meal last and before bed, my body has all night to digest the food while I'm asleep thus eliminating the feeling of drowsiness I used to feel when I ate solid food all day.