Years of fighting and working with other combat sport athletes has taught me a lot about nutrition. Mostly, what I thought I knew, I didn’t know, and what I know now will one day evolve. Over the years I have learned several lessons that I apply to all of my athletes and in my own life. Some lessons I learned through personal trial and error while others I learned while working with my various clientele. If you're not learning, you're not improving. Check out some of the top lessons I've learned through my experience.
1. Eating "Gluten Free " is not healthy.
When I was 18 I went “strict Paleo" for several months. My body was craving more carbohydrates and I filled the void with gluten free anything. Pastas, breads, you name it. My inflammation and body weight went up as my performance went down. It wasn’t long before I realized the term “gluten free” is not equivalent to “quality”. Eating from a box that says “gluten free” is not the way to go. Eat meat, fowl, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, roots, tubers, bulbs, herbs and spices as well as animal fats, olives & olive oil, avocados, and coconut (meat, oil, flour) and dairy for optimal health.
2. Fat Loss = Calories Out > Calories in.
Always. Period. If your goal is weight loss you have two options: Eat less or move more. I have played around with calorie cycling for more than 10 years. One thing I learned early on is no matter what kind or quantity of food I’m eating, I only lose weight if the end total of calories is less than what I burned. Likewise, no matter how hard I try to gain weight, it will only be achieved by a continuous effort to eat more calories than I am burning.
3. Quality counts.
Junk food is junk food, even IIFYM. Yes, I just said no matter what I eat I can still lose weight if it’s less than I burn but that doesn’t mean it’s worth it. No matter how much I am eating, I only feel great when the calories are quality. Artificial sweeteners, fillers, and preservatives should be taken into consideration just as much as macronutrient ratios if you’re looking to improve your health and performance.
4. Eat to get lean.
It was a long time before I could just look at a plate of food and guess with stunning accuracy it’s macronutrient content. If I ate what I thought looked like enough good quality food, I was always eating far less than I imagined. It took a long time of weighing and measuring everything before I could accurately tell how much food I needed (or didn’t need) by sight alone.
5. Drink coffee.
Nothing can replace coffee. I’ve never tried cocaine but I have subbed an energy drink in a pinch and am always disappointed. The benefits of coffee are immense and there’s something inexplicably soothing about a nice cup of black coffee. I will judge a country by it’s coffee. In Italy, coffee is something you take the time to enjoy, like the city. In Afghanistan on military bases they have the Mother of all Coffees, or MOAC. This bad boy is 4 oz. of espresso in a 24 oz. cup of the blackest coffee you can imagine. It’s as rough as you’d think.
As a poor college kid who couldn’t afford whey protein, I emptied a can of tuna in the blender and filled it up with orange juice. I recommend everyone try this once, preferably before a first (last) date. I didn’t have much money but I did whatever I could to eat healthy. Other than my citrus lake shake, my diet pretty much consisted of chicken, eggs, and rice. My grocery bill wasn’t high because these weren’t healthy things I added on top of my junk food. This food was all I had and all I ate.
7. Creatine Monohydrate is all it’s cracked up to be.
I have never noticed the effectiveness of a supplement as much as I have creatine monohydrate. I take it for months at a time followed by a few weeks off and recommend it to everyone I work with.
8. Multivitamins are not all they're cracked up to be.
Just as much as I notice the impact of creatine supplementation I have never noticed not one benefit from taking a regular multivitamin. Let me know if you have. Go on, I’ll wait…
9. Eat variety.
The same foods contain the same micronutrients. If you want the benefit of different vitamins and minerals, you can’t always eat the same foods. Mix it up.
10. Taste the rainbow.
I hate to admit when my parents were right, but I’d be lying if I told them I don’t feel better when I’m eating my veggies. Good look’n out mom.
11. Cutting weight, losing weight, and leaning out are all different.
In fighting, cutting weight is described as the process of losing water to weigh less. This weight will increase immediately upon drinking water.
Losing weight can be achieved when calories burned exceed calories consumed. Drink all the water you want, eat less, run more.
Leaning out can be achieved without cutting weight or losing weight. Usually, the body you see when you blow out the candles and make a wish doesn’t weigh what you think it ways. If you’re not lean it doesn’t absolutely mean you need to lose weight. It may just mean you need to evolve from A&F to PAHQ.
12. Advocate performance.
Supplements can be beneficial but any diet that requires supplementation is selling you product, not health and performance.
13. Earn your carbs.
I’ve never stuck to the same eating plan year round. I’ve always tailored my diet to match my training intensity and daily activity in order to maintain leanness and performance. If I tried to follow my fight camp diet during a time I wasn’t hitting 10 sessions a week, I’d end up gaining unwanted fat. My daily carb intake will go anywhere from 150 grams a day to 400 grams a day depending on my activity!
14. Don’t be weird.
I used to be the guy who brought his own Tupperware of food to any social event and could tell you exactly how many almonds I needed to add to my boiled chicken to hit my Zone blocks. I went one year without even the smallest cheat meal before I realized I had a problem. There are two ways to be weird with your food.
- Eating like your life depends on it when it doesn’t.
- Eating like it doesn’t matter when it does.
If cutting weight for a competition you better believe it’s time to be strict and stick to your guns no matter what tries to stand in the way. Many a fighter has missed weight because they gave in to social settings too many times during camp. Likewise, if you’re not competing and primarily stick to a solid eating plan, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally breaking your rigidity to enjoy food and drink you may not otherwise regularly enjoy.
“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” - Denis Waitley
If you've been in the nutrition game for any amount of time, you've made mistakes and evolved your way of thinking. If it's you're job to help athletes it's important that you stay on top of personal, scientific, and market research to make sure you are ready to incorporate or combat the latest thing. Have you learned any lessons in your own nutrition journey? Let me know!