It is overwhelming how many questions we get on the CrossFit Football boards pertaining to nutrition. How much should I eat? What should I eat? Does this supplement work? I am getting fat. Why? But with so much bullshit out there, things can get confusing.
Even a few years back the questions seem never ending. So a few years ago, I started this blog called Talk To Me Johnnie where I would answer questions and I felt like I beat nutrition to death…for years. Since the search function and Google hasn’t worked recently, this will serve as a review from the Talk To Me Johnnie post called, “Just Tell Me What To Eat”.
Eat with abandon: 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*.
*Dairy is a gray area, while it is a powerful tool in the strength and weight gain category you have to be smart. Individuals with autoimmune disease should avoid dairy products of any kind. For those without autoimmune diseases, dairy from grass-fed animals is permissible. Dairy from grain-fed animals will not have an ideal omega 3 profile. Heavy cream, butter, and ghee should not be problematic. Occasional consumption of fermented dairy options such as cheese and yogurt is acceptable. Experiment with milk but eliminate it if it is found to be problematic.
**Pasteurized whole milk from grain-fed cows treated with rBGH could offer an increased anabolic environment for the consumer.
Limit: nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Better choices in the nut category include macadamias, cashews, and hazelnuts. Almonds aren’t terrible. Seeds are generally rich sources of linoleic acid because they can be eaten in large quantities (the serving sizes are typically in the tablespoon to 1/4 cup range and can be misleading). Sunflower and sesame seeds are a terrible choices in the seed category. Soaking nuts prior to consumption is recommended but not necessary.
Reduce the serving size if you are going to pick a fruit that has a high metabolic fructose content.
Avoid: Cereal grains including: all varieties of wheat (spelt, einkorn, emmer, durum), barley, rye, oats, triticale, corn (maize), rice (including wild rice), sorghum, millet, fonio, and teff and legumes.
Grain-like substances or pseudocereals including: Amaranth, Breadnut, Buckwheat, Cattail, Chia, Cockscomb, Kañiwa, Pitseed Goosefoot, Quinoa, and Wattleseed (aka aacacia seed). Pseudocereals are the seeds of broad leaf plants whereas grains are the seeds of grasses.
Supplements: Supplements are a tricky bag as there are few to no regulations on them, so you better go for a more quality product. If you can buy a 5 lbs bag of whey protein from Chinese cows fed soy and garbage then don’t bitch at me when you start watching the WOW channel with an iced vanilla soy latte crying your eyes out.
I like whey protein that comes from GF cows. Why? Because it is sustainable and ensures there will be green pastures for my dinner to eat. Feed lots cows are commercially raised on grains are not sustainable and contribute to the destruction of the environment.
I like Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs for short. Brands like MusclePharm and Xtend make a quality BCAA. I drink BCAAs over the course of the day, pre workout, during the workout and post workout.
Multi-vitamin: I get the performance packs from Human Performance Specialists. They have everything I need in a pre-packaged pack and it is all high quality.
Keep it simple, nothing replaces quality food and simple water.
With the “what to eat” taken care of, I can delve into the “when to eat”. I have been teaching the nutrition portion of the CrossFit Football seminar for years and read more research than I care to remember. What I know for sure is that nothing exists in a vacuum and no one thing works for every person. Whether you follow 22 hours of ketogenic IF, carb front loading, side loading or rear loading, there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach. Each person is training for something different and each individual has their own metabolic make up to contend with. How could a one size fits all approach work for everyone?
Therefore, the nutrition recommendations I make on macro-nutrient partitioning are unique to power athletes doing a form of training that requires you to lift heavy weights, sprint and condition. I am not trying to help you run 100 miles, look good in a pair of yoga pants or get abs for spring break. I really don’t care. I want you to perform at your best regardless of what your aesthetic wishes are. Just for reference, I played with a guy who made about 8 million dollars a year and he told me everyday that he got paid a lot of money to look the way he did.
In 2003 while at the Eagles, the S&C staff procured a BodPod to test the player’s body fat. After everyone got tested we found out who was the fattest and made him an award. The desire to not receive the trophy turned into a competition and things got serious. That off-season, I put together some of my best training days to date. I hit some of the best lifts and sprinted faster than I thought was possible. I didn’t miss a meal and ate very close to what is listed earlier in this blog, with the exception of white sushi rice. I arrived at training camp at 306 lbs, measuring 8.2% body fat via the BodPod. I was told by the technician I was the first guy he has seen over 300 lbs under 10%. Maybe he was new, but coincidentally I was voted one of Philadelphia’s 50 Best Looking People that year. Not sure if they are related but I just wanted to throw it out there.
When I reported to training camp, I was ready. Three days into training camp when the pads came out, I started to bruise. Hits that normally wouldn’t have left a mark where causing some bruising, and for the first time in my career I was cramping. The team doctor made a comment that I needed more insulation, with my body fat as low as it was I couldn’t take the punishment. I am not sure if I believed him or not, but I walked into the lunch area and got 12 small glasses of whole milk and starting drink. Every meal was supplemented with 12 small glasses of milk.
Why small glasses? The Dinning Common at Lehigh University only had tiny glasses for some reason.
As I started to lose sight of my lower abs, the bruising went away and I wasn’t getting tired during practice. I can’t tell you for sure if the added body fat helped, but I can tell you I didn’t care. I was paid to play football; it was not a modeling contest.
Around this time, the phrase “What are you training for?” first entered my thought process. When comparing athletes or programs, I always thought in my head, “What are they training for?” and does the training represent the intended goal. I remember we had a free agent TE in Philadelphia one off-season and the guy was shredded. I don’t remember seeing a white guy in this good of shape…ever. I asked him about his training and he told me lived on a spin bike, that spinning and a low carb diet helped him get this shredded. I remember thinking how was riding a spin bike going to get him ready to play in the NFL. He got cut after mini-camp. The program, nutrition and training has to lead to a final goal. Any coach or training partner who lost sight of this goal didn’t last long. My training, sleep and workouts were singularly focused on improving my performance so I could excel on the biggest athletic stage in the world.
I should go back a bit further to 1999 when my agent introduced me to Dr. Mauro Dipasquale. Mauro set me up with my first supplement deal and those talks were my introduction into the world of macro-nutrient partitioning. After some reading and explanation, I followed the Anabolic Diet religiously during my rookie year and my first off-season. During that off-season, I tipped the scales at a thick 336 lbs and was the strongest I have been in life. Unfortunately, I grew too big and slow to be effective. I called Mauro telling him I needed to tweaked the diet to shed some mass. He made some tweaks and I showed up at training camp at fast 305 lbs. I had found my perfect blend of speed and strength and started at left guard for the next 4 years.
I have not deviated much from the tweaks I made in 2000. It was a high protein, high fat model with carb volume adjusted depending on training volume. With the majority of the carbs coming in the 2 PWO meals following training. The first one immediately after training and the second roughly 90 minutes later.
And this is where the phrase “Earn Your Carbs” originated. If I had a rest day or light training day then my carbs were low, if I trained 3 times a day then I earned more. Always keeping the volume of calories and protein relatively constant and adjusting fat depending on the carb intake.
I have found this method to be the most advantageous over the years. However, it doesn’t have a sexy name or a cool catch phrase. And I never fooled myself into thinking it was OK to have my cake and eat it to.
What bothers me about most diets floating around the training world is their unrealistic approach and pie in the sky mentality. They trick the individual into believing he can eat whatever he wants as long as he balances said foods in a magic macro nutrient ratio. Or the other approach of adhering to special timing so you can consume cookies, cake, ice cream and pizza with steroid-like results. I am not saying to never have a cheat day, but earn that cheat day and realize you can’t get max performance out of shit fuel. Any diet that that leads you to believe that eating foods we know lead to systemic inflation or poor gut health is just blowing smoke and trying to sell you a $40 e-book.
Podcast: 5 Juicy Reasons You Need a Nutrition Coach
Podcast: Nutrition Do’s, Don’ts, and Do-nuts
Blog: Gaining Through Weight Loss
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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Thanks for this post! Now i know when to eat my high carbs foods (after the wod) and less of them on resting days. At the beginning you say not to eat much nuts, but they give most fats in my diet. A bit later you say that high fat is good, just like i have been reading at 70sbig and marksdailyapple.com , so just to be clear where should i get fats from? Currently i drink 1 liter milk a day, grassfed butter at meals, would that suffice?
As far as whey protein, i havent found grassfed protien in Holland yet, as was let to belief that as long as there is no casein in the protein, thats something you should look for.
You need to go back and re-read what I wrote. The fats should come from primarily from saturated fats and mono-unsaturated fats. Saturated fats would be from animal sources and coconut w/ mono-unsat coming from avocado, olives and olive oil.
Looking for 100% whey w/o casein is the best option.
Damn well said
The “Just tell me what to eat” TTMJ article has been like the bible in my house. Everyone from my wife to my 2-year old son, to any guest that comes over, pretty much knows that they are getting dead animal flesh, sweet potato (or some other ‘good’ carb) and if we even have desert if will be something like berries in greek yogurt.
Very honest article and I think one of the most important points for me is the “How could a one size fit all approach work for everyone?” So true. Awesome write-up John! Thanks!
I am curious, how much fruit is to much? Are there certain fruits one should stay away from due to higher sugar levels?
I consume quite a bit of fruit, usually at least 1 Banana, apple and orange in a day. Is this to much?
I’m right there with you Steve. My wife and I take pride in the fact that we’ve developed good eating habits with our kids (oldest and youngest). Our diet is basically the CFFB diet just tweaked for each of us accordingly.
Great read John.
Oh yeah, my favorite TTMJ article has to be Big Ted!
Thanks for beating a dead horse… The boards seem to be growing in questions regarding nutrition & diet and I don’t think I caught the original “Just tell me what to eat.” That is now on my to-do list for the weekend.
Your insight and programming is much appreciated.
please tell me that Guinness is from The Temple Bar!?
Unfortunately, it was not at Temple bar. I did however, have drinks at Temple Bar before heading north to Belfast to teach CFFB.
Tom Burgin’s in LA is the site of the picture. An old time Irish bar in LA that opens at 6 AM on St. Pats day.
I appreciate your tireless promotion of keeping your goal in mind. The story about how your performance suffered despite superior aesthetics is very important. While there are some genetically gifted folk out there who can look like a motivational poster while performing at their peak, those people are far, far more rare than the internet makes it seem. Most people are gonna perform best with some fat on them.
I take it you’re not a fan of carbnite/backloading…
I really dont care if you front load, side load or back load your carbs. Find what works best for you. But I can’t sign off on any idea prescription that promotes eating shit carbs. Refined sugar and gluten cause systemic inflation and poor gut health regardless of when you consume them. The CBL book, (and yes I read it) recommends training from 5-6 pm and then crushing mass amounts of carbs in the PWO meal. I think that makes sense as you are consuming carbs when your cells are most depleted.
I think the allure of most of what I have read is fooling you into thinking you can have your cake and eat it to. I can be in ready shape and have incredible performance by crushing poor food quality by merely selecting when to consume by macro-nutrients.
I think the Paleo diet is a great place to start but even has it own limitations and charlatans. I believe the food selection with the paleo crowd is skewed. Nothing is perfect and each individual needs to find what works best for them. All of these books and diet prescriptions are a starting place that need tweaking.
Pragmatic! As nutrition should be. “, I played with a guy who made about 8 million dollars a year and he told me he everyday, he got paid a lot of money to look the way he did.”…T.G.?
Nope. Jon Runyan.
Thanks, John, for the continued invaluable info. I have been paleo for almost a year and have noticed that I turn to fruit and nuts too much. Will follow your guidance above. Was curious what folks favorite snack would be under the “limit fruits and nuts” approach? My go too morning/afternoon snack was turkey, piece of fruit, and handful of nuts. Looking for a convenient replacement. Many thanks!
“I think the Paleo diet is a great place to start but even has it own limitations and charlatans. I believe the food selection with the paleo crowd is skewed. Nothing is perfect and each individual needs to find what works best for them.” I am so glad to finally see someone express this opinion! Exactly what I have thought for ages, but you can’t seem to convince the Paleo groupies. It’s a great method for helping you choose the right foods and I am happy for anyone who chooses to eat like this, just don’t push your diet onto me when I have my own methods!
Please tell me that’s not a cigarette hanging out of your mouth?!
It is a broken cigarette.
Great post. I understand all of the concepts and agree with you, but am still fairly new to the diet.
Could you give an example of your breakfast-lunch-dinner?
Roast from Crock Pot.
Roast from Crock Pot
Awesome post! I need to come back and read this once a week from now on. Everytime my lizard-brain starts concocting a secret-squirrel program that will reduce body-fat, improve strength, while increasing stamina at the same time as enhancing beard growth I just need to come back, read this and focus on what I am training for.
Great post. Disturbing pictures. I hate tennis.
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