Sunday, April 19, 2015
Nutrition #3 - Re-Learning To Fuel Ourselves
FUEL FOR HUMANS
A continuation of my investigations into the modern diet disorder (see posts 1 & 2).
The reason I'm now calling this Nutrition rather than Low-Carb-High-Fat Nutrition is basically because I no longer regard this as a novel idea for eating well, losing weight, and preventing disease, rather a reversion to the fuel the human body evolved to digest and absorb over the past 2 millennia.
Some have suggested that I must be living a very sad life of self-denial, but it's actually the opposite: I feel liberated to eat stuff I've always loved, most of which continues to be wrongly demonized as it has been for my whole adult life. All I have to leave out is the fluff. I look at people eating bread or rice or noodles with a similar sense of pity that I have for smokers. Sure I once used to enjoy the sensation of satisfying my cravings for an addiction to that stuff, but I'm thankfully rid of it now, and I've never felt better.
DIET - THE HISTORICAL DEVIATION
We've been eating this way for the 2 million years of our evolution from pre-chimp to what we are now. Only around 10,000 years ago (that's the most recent .05% of our history) we made a practical decision that would have dire consequences. Grain.
I've been reading a lot of history. It's well documented that the whole shift to living in settled communities - the birth of "civilization" - caused us to look for an alternate food source that was easy to produce in large enough quantities to feed a community of people that could then be freed of the need to hunt and forage, and dedicate themselves to other tasks that benefited the community/landlord. The development of bread and noodles and other products followed, and it kind of worked, because it filled you up. The problem was, that it wasn't very nutritious. Not something immediately apparent perhaps, but it wasn't long before the double whammy of living with each other's dirt, and eating nutritionally poor food started to impact human health and cause all kinds of new ailments and diseases. Enter the plagues of the middle ages.
Still obesity wasn't a big problem, basically because people were too poor to eat enough to make them fat, and the insulin reaction that accompanies our modern consumption of fluff, was low partly through this minimal diet, and partly because the grains were still not refined, so the carbohydrate absorption was slowed by the fibrous elements in the grain. This changed with the Industrial Revolution.
As technology evolved, and industrialization combined with food production to create more effective ways of processing stuff, the whole agenda of producing food in the industrialized West morphed into a fight for corporate supremacy of the mass producers of stuff that could be easily cultivated by machines and stored. Grain and sugar. This provoked new ideas in boosting growth, fighting pests, prolonging shelf-life, adding flavour enhancers, and increasing speed of absorption that have created food addicts out of most humans, who equate the craving for sugar and refined carbohydrate with a healthy appetite. It also created the need for vitamin and mineral supplements and all sorts of therapies and treatments - hey, big business!
AGAINST THE GRAIN
It's hard. It's anti-social. If we insist on eating real food and telling others how they can be healthy and not need to pop pills, or carry any excess weight, just by avoiding all that fun-but-empty stuff that they're obsessed with, we come across as grumpy prophets of doom. Carbohydrate has been hard-wired into most cultures, so that the arrival of the mass-producing, mass-marketing sugar- and grain-selling giants on the doorsteps of every nation on the planet, with their super-refined fluff and messages of wholesome well-fed happy families was greeted as the second coming of whoever their prophet happened to be. Now, globally, all of the messages we receive from the media reinforce our right to satisfy our cravings for comfort.
EAT TO LIVE
But food is not about comfort. Food is fuel for growth and activity. If we get rid of our addiction to carbohydrate, we will eat only when our level of growth or activity demands fuel. We will no longer live to eat, but eat to live. We don't need half as much as we think we do.
If you're reading this without background on the real science of the modern eating disorder, then you may want to check out my previous 2 posts where I cover the basics and which are linked at the foot of this article.
THE EXPERIMENT CONTINUES
And so on to my updates on how this is all working for me in my quest to fuel myself while training for sport (see previous articles). I've been eating like this now for more than 5 months and I can now really keep going on a bike for hours - in fact I've not had to test the limits of my endurance yet. I get very hungry, usually the day after long sessions, but I never get weak with hunger or experience a significant drop in energy. I know my body is running on a very high percentage of fat. I have stabilized at 72kg, which is about 5kg lighter than my previous, fittest, best, and at almost 57 I'm full of energy.
At the moment, though there are those who differ in opinion, I see that there has to be an element of carbohydrate in the diet of the athlete. The timing is the crucial element. Basically, though your body will synthesize glycogen for your muscles from protein if denied carbohydrate, the process is of course much faster with carbohydrate. This is a crucial consideration if you are training daily, as it is clear that maintaining optimum glycogen stores will promote the best energy for training, which in turn maximizes the training effect. You have a 2-hour window after training that your body is in replenish-and-recover mode, and there's no way you will provoke an insulin reaction regardless of what you eat at this point.
However, as I discussed before, and as Finnish triathlete Sami Inkinen has outlined clearly in his excellent blog, you will need to minimize the intake of carbohydrate in your diet on a general basis in order to teach your body to metabolize fat most efficiently for a maximum range of intensities of activity. Sami suggests a reduction to 15% calories from carbohydrate, which is more than the 5% suggested by Tim Noakes and the Real Meal Revolution diet, but it has definitely worked for him.
There is no hard-and-fast rule on the relative quantities of one macronutrient against another, especially for fit athletes who have little problem maintaining weight. Different approaches suggest slightly different ratios. What is clear is that sugar, starches and refined carbohydrates of any kind can not be considered part of a healthy diet. Anything high in the glycemic index is out for any point during your day when your body is, or has been, at rest. We must maintain the homeostasis at all times to be functioning optimally. That would account for the whole of the average day for the majority of humanity with our sedentary lifestyles.
Multisport coaching guru Joe Friel has collaborated with the author of the Paleo Diet books, Dr Loren Cordain, in producing the Paleo Diet For Athletes. In it they suggest that a meal directly after anything over 1hr of strenuous exercise should contain high glycemic carbohydrates - better in liquid form like a fruit juice, and that the subsequent meal a couple of hours after exercise can also contain a fair amount of carbohydrate. The reasoning being that your body needs to replenish glycogen stores and so will have plenty of uses for the sugar, and that it will not create an insulin reaction to your raised blood sugar.
In my own experience I would say that, while it is probably the only time when you can take on the higher GI carbs, if the intention is to train your body to learn to better metabolize fat, then it should be a fairly minimal dose of carbohydrate. Your storage capacity for glycogen is small.
OK, so I'm going to run you through an idea of my daily diet, not because I believe I'm onto anything more significant than anyone else following these principles, but just so those who wish to try it out can see that it probably isn't that hard. This is not about quantity. If you don't sabotage your system with crap fuel, your body will tell you how much to eat. Forget counting calories.
Coffee - straight black, filtered coffee. Latte or similar is great. Obviously no sweeteners.
A bowl of: lots of Greek yoghurt with fruits (blueberries, strawberries, maybe a little apple), flax or chia seeds, guji berries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut oil.
Same as above with added options of avocados, boiled eggs (without the yoghurt if you can't take dairy), or with sour cream.
Post training recovery:
1/2 litre full cream milk
or Avocado/fruit smoothie with milk
This would be adequate for a workout of 1-2 hours. Longer than that I'd probably follow it very quickly with:
Omelette with bacon and cheese
Full English breakfast
Salad nicoise /greek salad
Any combination of:
Roast meat or fish
Caulifower with cheese
Various salads with cheese/eggs/meat/fish and coconut/olive oil dressing
I'm of course advantaged here by the fact that I have no intolerance to dairy products. Since fat is the main fuel, this is pretty crucial. I can eat plenty of cheese, cream and butter. If I were lactose intolerant I'd have to be a bit more prepared - ie cooking eggs, meat and fish in advance, and I'd spend more on nuts, coconut and nut oils etc.