In this article I want to do a complete review about diet, explaining my own personal diet, what I think is the right way and what I think you should avoid. I want to warn you that in some aspects I am not alligned with “common knowledge” or “popular belief” and what is often recommended in the fitness community.
Before starting I want you to know that, as well as in other subjects I allways remind you that I speak from my experience and I don’t have formal education, for example in the case of injuries and pain, in this case I do have formal education as I am a certified dietist and nutritionist. But as I said before, some of my opinions differ from academic concensus and are based more in my own knowledge, research and experience. I will try to link some scientific research to back up the points I make.
“Food” you should avoid
I think that one of the best ways for you to get something of value out of this article is that you know the worst “food” options and you try to avoid them as much as posible.
The first thing that comes to my mind that I see a lot of calisthenics athletes consuming and that is terrible for their health are energy drinks.
Its a pitty that those producs are so bad, because those brands promote a lot alternative sports and that promotion could be really good for Street Workout… but their product is not healthy at all.
Those energy drinks have stimulant components like caffeine or taurine and incredibly high sugar doses. One can of one of this products can have up to 50 g. of sugar, around 10 tablespoons… thats why you cannot say things like “I only drink one a day”, because even in that case you are consuming high doses of sugar in a short period of time, which can be really dangerous for your health and your fitness.
Other food you should avoid, mainly because of its sugar content are common soda, juices, candy, breakfast cereal, patries, cookies, sweets, chocolate bars, ice cream, cake, and all that kind of products.
The problem with sugar and high sugar doses
¿Why is sugar so bad? When it enters your body, it goes to your blood as glucose, and blood glucose in high levels is toxic so your pancreas secretes insulin that makes this glucose enter your cells where it is used as energy, if you don’t need this energy, it is stored as body fat.
If this process is reapeated in an abusive way over time, with constant high doses of sugar, your cells become insulin resistant, so your pancreas has to make more insulin every time for the mechanism to work, and everything starts to go wrong. The results of this situation over time can be: general disconfort, hunger disorders, obesity, disrupted energy levels, mood swings, type 2 diabets, and cardiovascular disease.
Thats why I also recoomend to avoid high carb, fast absortion foods like: bread, pasta, pizza, white rice or cereals. This high doses of carbs, also result in high blood glucose, that induce the same problems that we commented earlier.
Should I consume “diet” or “light” products
Some of you might be asking if the diet or light versions of some foods or drinks can be used in a healthy diet. The answer in my opinion is that those products are equally dangerous or even worse. In my personal research, I have found that the artificial sweeteners that are used in those products are suspicious (yet not confirmed) of causing problems like headache, migraine, raising appetite, even some have pointed that they might be cancerous, which cannot be confirmed because it has been researched only in animal studies. Mi advice is to avoid unhealthy food, being in their regular version or in the diet version.
And what about whole grains, wheat and cereal?
You may also be asking about this products. And again I am against them, as fas as I have researched, the whole versions don’t give you the same insulin spikes, but they have other disadvantages: they are rich in anti nutrients, that impede mineral and vitamin absorption, and they can also cause damage in your intestinal walls. That will affect your digestive function and cause problems like malnutrition, irritable bowl and diarrea.
If you are worried about fiber in your diet, my opinion is that soluble fiber, found in vegetables and fruit, is more thant enough for your digestive health.
What to eat
So… what can you eat then? Mi recommendation is that you center your diet around meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds and moderate amounts of fruit.
If you need a little extra carbs because you train lots of hours, you can use sweet potatoes or legumes. Those foods have better nutritional profiles than the ones I told you to avoid, and they will help you stay lean, healthy and have stable energy levels.
This kind of diet is greatly accepted nowadays and have different variations with different names, but the overall conclusion is that it gives you great results in health meters, weight loss and overall well being.
The only negative point about this diet is that it is a little bit more expensive, and I know that in some situations, or even in some countries, it might be difficult to follow perfectly. But nevertheless I think it is important that you know what are the best options and the worse ones so you can adapt the best that you can, and in case that you can choose, you choose wisely.
Energy with less carbs
Another problem that people find in this type of diet is that they think that without a lot of carbs you are not going to have enough energy. But this argument is very simplistic and mostly wrong. To think that our bodies only have energy when you eat a lot of carbs is to be blind to the way our metabolism works and to our history as an specie.
If that argument was true, our ancestors wouldn’t have survived. Our body is able to work very efficiently in a low carb diet, and as it adapts to it, it gets even better. If you have been eating a lot of carbs for years and suddenly stop it, your body will be slow to adapt and you will feel low on energy for a while. You will crave sweets but finally you will adapt and get very efficient using fat as energy so don’t worry about it.
Another topic that I want to talk about are fried foods, which have very bad reputation nowadays and everyone who is trying to improve their diet is quick to ditch from their menu. But if you analyze them objectively they might not be that bad.
If you use olive oil, without overheating it and you avoid using the same oil more than 2 or 3 times, fried foods can even be considered healthy. The only thing that you have to take in account is that being oil covered, the food increases their caloric value a lot and the digestion will be slower. If you take this into account and control the total calorie intake from your diet, you can have them in your menu, and you might benefit from the olive oil healthy properties.
The problem is that the majority of food that people fry are bad choices per se, for example battered or breaded foods etc. that are not healthy because of their ingredients, not because you fry them. But if you choose something healthy, like fish and fry it, you have a valid option for a healthy diet.
Another controversial point is dairy products. My opinion in this subject is that if you body tolerates them without problem, you can use them sporadically and they can be a good source of nutrients and energy. Always choose the whole versions without added sugar, for example whole milk, natural yogurt or cured cheese. Anyway they shouldn’t be fundamental in your diet, but more like a no habitual complement.
There are a part of the population that do not tolerate dairy at all or that get symptoms like feeling bloated, gas, stomach noises and abnormal intestinal movement, diarrea or stomach pain. If you feel any of those symptoms I recommend you to avoid dairy.
Fish and omega-3
I want to empathize about consuming fish. Try to do it at least once a week, that way you will be sure to have omega-3 in your diet, which will be crucial to have better health, physically and mentally, avoid systemic inflammation and have better humor and avoid depression.
Number of meals a day
About how many times you should eat in a day, my election is 3: breakfast, lunch and dinner. And only add something in between if I have incredible hunger or really need it. Some times in rest days I only eat twice, that way I do intermittent fasting.
I think it is the healthiest choice, because your body has a lot of hours between meals to digest, repair and start again.
When your body is not receiving food every couple hours, you promote a process called cellular autophagy, which consists in your cells, not receiving energy input, renew, clean and re utilize waste products. As you can imagine, this process ir very positive for your health and correct function of your body. In this study, short fasting periods inducted brain cellular autophagy, which improved brain health in the patients studied.
Another positive about eating less times a day is that you improve insulin sensitivity. Which allows your body to better tolerate glucose spikes and avoid problems related with them. You will stay leaner, stable energy levels, avoid cardiovascular problems and you will have better overall health.
As I said earlier, if sometimes you want to skip a meal, for example skip breakfast and hold it until your lunch, you will be doing an intermittent fast of around 16 hours, which will give you the positive effects that we studied.
I will only recommend to eat more than 3 times a day to people who are in a bulking period and want to gain weight, specially if they are ectomorph , really skinny, and need a lot of food to gain weight.
In case you are really really hungry or you have trained extraordinarily hard and want to eat something, my recommendation is that you use something relatively light, like one piece of fruit or a handful of nuts. If you want some product recommendation, I use natural energy bars, made of dehydrated fruit and I also use beef jerky, delicious and high in protein.
Losing weight, gaining muscle mass or cutting
When talking about food quantity in each meal, my advice is to act based on your goals. If you want to lose weight, use small dishes and serve you small quantities of each food, also play with removing complementary food like nuts, fruit, desserts etc. If you want to gain weight, don’t feel shy about your rations and always add those complementary foods, using them as appetizers and dessert. With time you will get a handle of how much do you have to eat to lose, to gain or to stay in your weight.
Vitamins, zinc and magnessium I use them to complement my diet, depending on the day I might take one or the other, mainly depending on how complete my diet was that day and also if I had some sunlight or not. And the cocoa, protein and creatin I mix it up in a home made powder that I take in my breakfast with water, or sometimes whole milk.
As those products have to additives, they taste really sour, that might surprise you the first time, but with time I have liked them more and more, to the point that now I love it.
Example of one day in my diet
I’m going to describe one typical day in my diet so you can see it clearly and practically:
- Breakfast: French Omelette with 1 or 2 eggs, with some turkey and tomatoes. A glass of water with 2 spoons of my home made powder. Some nuts like: brazil nuts, or mixed nuts.
- Lunch: My first dish is always vegetable cream, sometimes with some cured cheese, and for the second dish I have some meat, being chicken, beef or pork, with vegetables like pepper and onion. To finish I add some nuts or some jerky.
- Dinner: Fish, being fresh fish or sometimes canned, or any kind of product. And normally with some sweet potatoes and vegetables or with a boiled egg.
Pre and post workout
I personally don’t do any of those.
I think it is really dumb to think that if your body doesn’t receive food just before doing some physical activity it isn’t going to function at it max performance. It is also dumb to think that if your body doesn’t receive food just after the exercise your workout didn’t have effect.
Those beliefs are obviously not true, your body will take the necessary nutrients and compensate for the activity, even if you eat 3 or 4 hours after your training. In my personal experience, if I eat just before training, I have worse performance, because I feel my stomach heavy, so even if I train hard, I don’t change my 3 meal a day plan. Only when I train for too long and I feel really exhausted I might take some carbs like a piece of fruit or a bar.
As I said earlier, if you think our ancestors (and our genetics) are designed to require eating just before and just after exercise you are mostly wrong. So my recommendation is that you focus on making your training effective and demanding instead of worrying about pre and post workout.
Hungry is your friend
You have to stop being afraid of being hungry.
If your goal is to lose weight, when you are on your path you will be hungry, but this is positive, it means that you are probably in a caloric deficit, and so you are losing weight.
Being a little hungry is not something that should scare you, you are not going to get sick, or faint. It’s just a feeling in your stomach and little more. Learn to live with hunger and not panic when you feel it. Another tip I can give you is that if you want to lose weight and have a nice body fat percentage, don’t eat if you are not hungry. This will make you some times prolong your times between meals and benefit of what we discussed earlier.
On the other hand, if your goal is to gain weight and add muscle mass, specially if you are skinny by nature, you should eat even if you are not hungry, and keep eating a little more when you feel already full. This way you make sure to be in a caloric surplus that will help you achieve your goal.
I am tired of hearing really skinny people say things like “I eat like a beast and don’t add weight”. If you are one of those… just take what you think it is “eating like a beast” and double it for a couple weeks, and then check if you gain weight or not.
Do I need to be completely strict with my diet?
To finish, I want to say that I try to keep this diet at a 100% when I am at home in my day to day life. But if some day I go out to have dinner with a friend, or I go to my parents and my mother makes me some macaroni and ice cream, I eat it without guilt.
One of the most important factors to your mental health is your social life. So if you reject going out and being social because you don’t want to eat or drink something that is not in your diet, you might be worsening your situation. The key is that these “cheat meals” are not more frequent than one or two meals a week. If you do cheat meals 3 or more times a week, you are not doing a correct diet.
The same happens with alcohol; it is not the same to go out one day a week and have one or two beers or one or two glasses of wine, than to go out 3 times a week and get wasted every time… so use your common sense and moderation and you won’t have any problems.