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When people read Eat To Perform, I surely hope that the first thing they think to themselves isn’t “But I don’t want to count calories!” I’ve been writing a lot about the subject as the site develops, so please allow me to be crystal clear on this point: not only do I not count calories, but I believe it’s virtually useless as a long term strategy. The value in diligently weighing and tracking your food applies mostly for chronic under eaters (you know who you are) who’re just beginning to get a handle on their nutrition. By obtaining a real measurement of how much food you’re eating and drawing correlations with your average weight, performance and look, you open the door to getting your diet back on track. Eventually, you will “know” how much and what to eat. You’ll move away from counting. I am not sure this is “an article” so much as it’s a description of how I approach my carb refeeds, but it’s a strategy I recommend for a lot of folks, primarily because it resembles real-life circumstances we all deal with.
Although I know I shouldn’t, I find myself under eating on occasion too. I get busy, can’t find the time to eat properly, and sometimes I try to make up for it by having bigger meals towards the end of the night. That isn’t great for digestion, sleep or hormone balance. Mostly though, I try to be prepared and eat at regular intervals. Everything runs more smoothly that way. I also tend to keep fats relatively high during the day. This allows for a sort of “fat adaptation” where I rely upon fat for energy at rest, which is obviously favorable as far as staying lean is concerned. That’s actually one of the things that sucks about the way some folks view back-loading, especially people who hear “carbs” or “sugars” and run for the hills. CBL is mostly about eating fats. That’s right; your boys Gary Taubes and Robb Wolf? They’re buds with Kiefer. So let’s be adults about this whole “carbs” and “sugar” thing. We aren’t talking about slamming Slurpees after our 7 a.m. WOD’s and eating like children; we are talking about eating based upon a greater understanding of how our body actually works, rather than adhering to myth and superstition. Yes, you are you are doing it mostly right by eating natural foods, but I believe you’re missing the “eat for joy occasionally” part. This is how I approach dining out.
What “Eating for Joy” Looks Like
I’m not ashamed to say that most Fridays, I have pizza. We go to a place called “Black Sheep Coal” in St. Paul, MN. They have coal-fired ovens, but that isn’t why we love it. Don’t get me wrong; the pizza is great, but many of the beautiful salads you see me post are from the same restaurant. They usually have some sort of beet salad, or an Indian-themed cauliflower salad. Occasionally, they have a delicious salad with potatoes that I used to avoid. You know what? I was really missing out! That’s probably the best salad they offer. Along with the pizza, this gives me plenty of carbs to get things going after being cautious all week. I understand that grains aren’t for everyone; some people have very real food allergies that don’t allow them to eat certain foods, and then there are food allergies like mine.
When I was a child I, was plagued by a milk protein allergy. It was so bad that my parents (Bless their souls, but they were lost.) fed me what basically amounted to sugar water. It rotted my teeth, but the good news is you guys get to see this cute picture of me as a kid. (Wow did I have a huge head!)
Any who, I never completely grew out of the milk protein allergy, but it did improve to the point where I can eat some cheese if I want to. Certain things are fine, while others cause me more discomfort, but for the most part I avoid dairy. The only real symptom I experience is that it seems to affect my cardio a bit, but I suck at cardio anyway so it’s hard to tell the difference. Next door to Black Sheep Coal is “Key’s Café”; their House Cake and Coconut Cake are to die for. I used to eat the whole piece, but I didn’t always feel so good afterwards. Now I have learned to eat about half of their House Cake (it’s quite rich) and all is well. I don’t drink, but my wife often has a glass or two of wine. We don’t do the cake every single time, and sometimes my wife and I split the small pizza (depending upon how we ate for the day).
The point of all of this is that I give absolutely zero thought to “guilt”, “sugars”, or any of the other bull that seems to cloud most people’s thoughts related to their food intake. I will admit that it took me a while to get here; I realize why some of you are a little fearful and you’re starting off by kind of dipping your toes in the water. That’s cool. What you are going to figure out is that it was never the occasional pizza, cake or wine that was the problem; it was consistently eating extremely energy dense processed foods that made you fat and unhealthy. For our lean brothers and sisters that control their weight by under eating, let me just say that my wife and I typically crush the following day’s WOD’s. If it scares you to eat closer to your actual energy requirements, try it out; one day of pizza isn’t going to kill you. In fact, the opposite may end up being true.
Eating Mostly Fats, Most of the Time
On the nights I have pizza, I eat mostly fats and proteins throughout the day. This means I’m typically as close to 0 carbs as possible, excluding fibrous veggies. (I know I say that all the time and I apologize, but some people are new here.) This helps avoid the spillover effect; if you have ever felt bloated after eating pasta (or any carb), I might argue that the reason you did was because you didn’t have a conscious approach to carbohydrates. I don’t really care if you back-load or not. It’s just a strategy, but if you are overly reliant on carbohydrates for energy and then you have another big carb meal, it might take you a while to get all that water/sugar/carbs out of your system. Even so, it will probably happen more quickly than you’d think. Consider this: if you have your equivalent of pizza night out on Friday, you’ll be ready for a “killer WOD” on Saturday and you will shuttle a lot of those carbs where they need to go (namely your muscles). Sunday is a rest day. That’s another part of back-loading that you don’t really get by simply saying, “Well now I eat carbs.” I mean, that’s great and all, but you aren’t back-loading. While I agree that it’s probably favorable vs. not eating carbs, it’s not really a strategy as much as it is you just being “normal”. You want to ask yourself, “Why am I eating this pizza? How will it help or hinder me in the near future?”
Moving ahead, on Saturday night I eat a relatively small amount of carbs, relying on mostly fats and proteins for my energy. I have some dark chocolate and a coconut milk smoothie before bed. I don’t typically WOD on Sunday, but I do lift on occasion if I’m feeling frisky. Sunday night has me eating carbs in an anticipation of Monday’s workouts. No counting, just a generalized plan with (mostly) consistent meal times.
Advanced Strategies to keep fat mobilizing
When I make the recommendation to eat close to 0 grams of carbs during the day, I inevitably hear, “For lunch I have a banana.” In CBL, Kiefer says to try and stay under 30g throughout the day, and certainly a banana is under 30g, so who is right? Obviously, I am right, since this is my blog (hehe). Here is my line of thinking though; as long as you eat enough on “fat days” where your calories aren’t severely restricted, your performance shouldn’t suffer all that much. This is especially true when you consider that many of you are new to adding carbohydrates anyway.
Here is an example of a weekly schedule I might suggest for someone trying to boost fat mobilization a bit:
- 1 high carb day, sort of like the pizza and cake example from above
- WOD the following day
- 2 or even 3 high fat days (probably 50-75g of carbs coming mostly from sweet potatoes and coconut milk smoothies, just less of them)
The high carb day is a rest day, and the following day is a WOD where the focus is carb depletion (lot’s of reps, maybe even mod down to really crush it from a cardio perspective). One thing I need to caution you guys about is that for many of you (especially if you’ve been low carbing), once you add them back in your muscles will start to fill up. This will look good in the mirror, but not on the scale (you also may feel sluggish as you begin to adapt, this is normal). In the end, however, full muscles translate to lower body fat percentage and better body composition overall so don’t be fooled by the numbers; you didn’t gain 5 lbs. of fat overnight. If you add carbs the third day and you feel great, then go for it, but I find that modifying down on this day is very helpful a lot of the time as well.
Oftentimes this is a good strategy when the first two days of the week are workout days followed by a rest day on Wednesday. Now, this is the part that will get ignored and it’s very important: if you have been low carbing for the last three years straight, this won’t work as effectively and could end up being kind of confusing initially. You have to give it time. Carbs fuel metabolism, so allow a month or so where you aren’t cycling fats so aggressively and I think you will be happy with the results.
The Best Part of This Plan
I haven’t mentioned counting calories at all, because you don’t need to. As long as you have a basic understanding of what your protein needs are and what 75g of non-fibrous carbs look like, you should be good. Also, you really need to be aggressive on your “reefed” day. By playing it safe and going to bed hungry, you aren’t quite sending the right signal to your metabolism. While it may sound like we are pulling metabolic strings, we are in fact going a long way towards healing the metabolism and letting it do what it needs to do. Don’t try to rely solely on the standards for this day; it’s a good time for pizza, pasta and breadsticks. If that’s a little too much or you have a gluten allergy, white rice and cauliflower work great too. If you don’t get hung up on being 100% Paleo (this plan is certainly within the 80/20 range), taking a day to “live a little” can really jumpstart your metabolism and kick your performance into high gear.