Eating as Training and a Discipline

My coach Charles Maka at EVOUltrafit likes to say that most humans can’t do the most basic things. The basic things like breathing and, the topic of this post, eating properly are things that somehow most people can’t do the right way and have lost the ability over the years.
A few months back, I posted about my discovery in Eating for Recovery, where I figured out I was not eating nearly enough to recover properly, and that through eating more, I could recover overnight from a tough workout.
Along with that revelation, I learned a bunch of other things:
1. Eating is TRAINING.
I used to be more cavalier about my eating. I read about other athletes attempting to optimize their food intake but I never tried it myself until my discovery. So at the very least, eating is a part of training along with other stuff I never really paid enough attention to, like stress, sleep, etc.
But as I got deeper into my discovery, I also figured out that eating itself is training. It takes a lot of work to eat in a way to optimize your goals. You can think of it as training an additional 3 times a day (assuming you eat 3 times a day). What if you miss an “eating workout”? What if you workout too much, as in eat too much? Or too little? What if you do the the wrong thing in your eating workout, as in eating the wrong thing? What does that do to how well you achieve your goals?
2. Eating as DISCIPLINE.
Every day, my wife asks me, “what shall we eat tonight?” My answer is always, “I don’t care as long as I can get a 1lb of beef.”
Eating takes discipline to execute in a way that is supportive of your goals. On many days, I am running around stressed looking for someplace where I can get a decent 14-16oz of beef! It takes a ton of discipline to keep eating with a pattern and a plan, when you are running around all day doing the normal things people do.
Then all day, I practice keeping a running total in my head of how many grams of protein I have eaten so far, and then work like hell to make it up in case I don’t get close to my goal at lunch time. I have a strong motivator – if I do not eat enough, inevitably the next day I wake up sore and unsure if I can complete a normal workout.
3. Tracking progress is a pain so simplify.
I have tried food tracking apps but nothing really works for me. I now just have a Google Docs spreadsheet where i type in all my daily data: workouts, stool, sleep, and food. In this way, I can see everything in one screen and not in several places where I don’t have an easy way to connect it when I need to analyze.
But then, do I track each food and also their exact amounts? I do write down the composition of my meals. But it was too hard to deal with every part of the meal. How do you estimate the weight of a pile of string beans? Or a filet of salmon? Tim Ferriss wrote in 4 Hour Body that he used to bring a small scale with him and ended up weighing everything before he ate it. I thought this was too unwieldy and I deemed it unnecessary. So I settled on getting good at tracking only meats, fish, and poultry and their associated protein content.
I memorized the typical protein content for beef (1oz=6g protein) and fish (3oz=17g protein) although many sources cite varying conversion factors. That’s too complicated, so I simplified by memorizing just those two. For chicken, I look it up since I don’t eat chicken very often. I also memorized the protein content of my protein powder and collagen supplements.
Then I familiarized myself with cuts of meat and fish and approximately how much they weigh, in case I went to a restaurant and didn’t know the exact weight of the meat on the meal. Most of the time, I would just asked the waiter and sometimes they would know and sometimes not.
Then I tracked mentally only the protein intake of meats and protein/collagen supplements. It was too difficult to figure out how much broccoli or other vegetables I ate alongside my meats so I passed on that. Once I crossed 1.5 times my body weight in grams of protein of only meats and supplements, I was OK.
4. What you eat is pretty important.
Eating the right things is also super important. So eating enough protein is my primary aim; the other goal is to not eat crap or undesirable things. For example, I am on a low/no carb diet with high protein and high fats, so eating in this fashion works for me to keep me from putting on pounds in an inappropriate manner. It is a shame that this also means that most restaurants don’t have much to offer when I am eating to this plan.
This also requires discipline, although for me it has become a standard part of my life now and is not hard to execute.
5. Timing of meals is important.
Experimentally, I found that eating the bulk of my protein as close to my workout, or generally by lunch time, creates better recovery results than if I complete the bulk of my protein intake by later in the day.
intake before/after workout
eat as soon as possible after. found out recovery is better by a bit, less tight in the mornings.
if morning workout, dinner is too long time but better than not eating it at all.
6. Create the ability to regulate eating from day to day.
Overeating is always on my mind. Do I really need to take in 1.5x my body weight in grams of protein every day? Probably not. Thankfully I do not have some innate attraction to food where I cannot get enough of it regardless of whether I’m full or not. Taking in 1.5x my body weight in grams is definitely taxing the limits of what I could eat in a given meal! So I had to build up the ability to eat that much protein per day AND down-regulate that back to about 1x body weight in grams protein on days I do not workout.
6. What is the goal with your body weight and composition?
At the moment, I am attempting to put on weight to be able to handle heavier kettlebells. So eating this much has put on 10+ lbs of weight, mostly muscle since I can still wear most of my regular pants. If I ever get back into a sport where lower weight is more desirable like Ironman racing, I will see what kind of adjustments to make on this kind of eating plan. Is it still 1.5x my bodyweight in grams protein or less?
9. Getting sick of eating beef is a challenge.
I was eating grass fed beef exclusively, about 1 lb at lunch time on workout days. Then I found it was harder and harder to eat that. Some of it was because I haven’t perfected quick cooking of beef yet using a pan. But I think the other difficulty was that I was simply eating so much of it that I was getting tired of eating it. So now I’m working in grass fed lamb, which seems to be a lot juicy (fatter?) than beef and by the way it’s half the price!
10. Monitor your body as much as possible.
As a new biohacker, I am working with a functional medicine doctor on making sure my blood numbers are all in range and that nothing bad is happening due to this diet and the heavy demands I’m placing on my body.
11. Old guys like me need more protein than younger guys, according to this article from T-Nation, Protein Pulsing for Muscle.
Fine tuning my eating and nutrition has definitely helped my training in ways I never imagined. Now I can’t help but look back at my early years of triathlon and wonder how I could have progressed, had I been eating properly.