You have seen it many times, a person in a position of prominence or authority telling the public how to live or act, and then being caught doing exactly what he/she says is WRONG. So often, it is the most adamant and vocal people “preaching” one way and living another. This is hurtful to the message, the public trust, and wastes resources that could have been used productively to promote benefit.
The best messenger for any message is a believer. There was an old saying, “Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.” This meant don’t tell people how to do anything if you do not follow your own advice. Of course, the worst examples involve politicians and religious leaders; realizing that they dictate the most consequential behaviors and reprimands. I really want to put some examples down, but that would be negative and divert from this piece.
In our personal lives, we receive guidance (often unsolicited advice or opinions) as to how we should live. Most guidelines offered by “experts” are so generalized that they really don’t offer any clarity. Advice from individuals is usually hyper-specific and often condemning. Most parents are guilty of the latter, as they try to steer their children (regardless of age) away from trouble. I do it nearly every time I talk to my daughter.
I am now creeping up to 50, but I still hold myself to a high standard. I am past my surgeries (L4-L5 spinal fusion and left rotator cuff repair) – by the way, thank you to all the well wishers out there, your support is appreciated – and pretty close to the shape I was in about a year ago. Then, I was 198 and had a body fat (non-corrected for age by three point caliper) of 5%. Now, I am 199 and have not had my body fat done, but my obliques are apparent, and my cuts are good. I continue to have periodic swelling above my incision line, but in the mornings I have striations showing in my quads and tris. Mind you, I was just cleared to return to unrestricted training three months ago.
I have a pretty regimented lifestyle, and my wife shares it with me. For the sake of brevity, I am just going to talk about diet in this article. My training style requires a bit of explanation, and people like to know what exercises are done on specific body part days. The majority of supplements I take are for health promotion rather than “sports supplements.” I do have a pretty stable core of “sports supplements” that I will discuss later as well.
A lot of discussion has been going on, well for many years, about meal timing and frequency. I have read a great deal of research, attended lectures and conferences, and tried a variety of methods. My personal opinions, based upon how I respond mentally and physically, is that two or three large meals enables me to overeat, retain water, and I am lethargic after eating later in the day. Yes, I admit I have the appetite and table manners of a goat, but that is something I have to take into account in regards to what pattern of eating works for me. You need to consider that for yourself as well, not everyone can eat large meals or be satisfied by a smaller meal. Perhaps your work environment or social networks doesn’t allow for six small meals. Many families expect everyone to show up to supper and be prepared to chow down, and failing to do so is disrespectful to the mother/wife/cook. If that is the case, and you feel it is impairing your weight maintenance, you need to communicate with your family. Do take into consideration what you family says as well. Some people develop unhealthy eating disorders, or you may unknowingly be neglecting to get enough calories, fat, or micronutrients that results in concerning changes. Your support group may notice dry hair, sunken cheeks, mood changes, or an unhealthy paleness that suggests you are actually harming your health by following an improper or deficient diet.
So, without further ado, here is how I eat. By the way, I try to look at eating as nutrition, but sometimes I just want something tasty. To avoid this being a conflict, I keep a few healthy snacks available – and keep the unhealthy ones out of the house.
My Personal Meal Plan
Monday through Friday, our days are very predictable, other than when we are travelling for work or vacation. My wife runs her family-business in construction and is in the office at 6:30 a.m. This means she is up at 5:30, and I get up about the same time (courtesy of our dog who gets to nap all day). By the time the dog is back inside, had her treat, and I have walked into the doorframe because my body refuses to believe I am getting up at 5:40 a.m. to tend to the bladder of a miniature Dachshund and rebels by remaining in zombie mode until it feels it should be awake, coffee is ready. I spend about 45 minutes going through emails and news, which allows me to enjoy two cups of coffee. I used to extend this fasting by another hour, but it did not result in any greater fat loss, crowded my later meals more closely together, and I was less productive.
(6:30 am) Breakfast
I am very fortunate in that my wife makes both breakfast and a “bento box” for a later meal. Breakfast is one of two meals. Yes, despite having about four feet of shelf space filled with cookbooks, and getting asked for a seven-day meal plan by people way too regularly, that is it – 2 different meals.
Cutting to the chase, we either have:
1) steel-cut oats with 25-30 grams of protein, walnuts, and berries; or
2) three hard-boiled eggs with a fruit and veggie selection.
It is not as rigid as it sounds, as the berries change or can be replaced with apples and cinammon; also, I add a tablespoon of Greek yogurt. Sometimes we add roasted sunflower seeds as well which adds to the texture and flavor. Obviously, there is a lot that can be done with fruits and veggies in the second option; sweet peppers, edamame, carrots, snap peas, etc. Another variation is replacing the eggs with chicken breast strips. It is interesting that the egg breakfast is smaller and less filling, but both my wife and I noticed that it keeps us from feeling hungry longer than the oatmeal. This is in agreement with research that shows egg-based breakfasts maintain satiety longer.
(9:30 am) Protein Shake Meal
I have a protein drink at 9:30, three hours after my breakfast. It is a blend, and frankly I am not worried about fast absorption at that time. The amount of protein is about 30 grams, and I typically have a teaspoon of fish oil with it. We eat fish, but not daily, so I try to have fish oil (3 grams EPA and DHA) every day. I need to take in more olive oil. Having written that, I guess I will try to substitute for olive oil on alternate days. It is funny, even when you are sure you are doing the right thing, putting it in writing reveals so many little flaws and errors.
We work out over lunch, it takes 45 minutes plus a relatively short drive to and from the gym. There are some who are unable to incorporate a workout over the lunch hour, but if your situation is flexible enough, give it a try. It really wakes me up for the afternoon hours, and I am more productive than on days when we have to work out later due to a schedule conflict. My post-workout “meal” is another shake, but with more carbs and a higher protein load. I know, having “been there,” that people look for the best option they can afford. I also know from protein manufacturers (the people who sell to the companies that put the finished product in packages) that the “low-cost” products are often combined with cheaper products that make it look like (or are pass food-testing analysis) that they are selling a great protein at a great price. Here is what I look for on the ingredient panel – whey protein should be the primary protein.
A Note On Whey Protein
Whey comes in many forms, and for non-postworkout times, it can be any type really. I am not pushing nutrients into a working muscle or in recovery at that time. It is for the whole body to benefit from. There have only recently been studies showing that average sized men incorporate 20 – 30 grams of protein in a post-workout meal before “maxing out” the muscle’s ability to increase its protein synthesis. I have a bit of a problem with the papers, as they continued to show increased muscle protein synthesis at the next (and highest) “dose” of 40 grams, but due to the small number of subjects in the study, the difference was not significant. I don’t know about you, but an additional 14% muscle protein synthesis sounds good to me, especially when I like the flavor of the shake.
Now, to their credit, some of these studies also determined that somewhere beyond 20 – 25 grams of protein intake results in some of the protein being diverted to being burned as calories. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, can be disposed of in the body in an oxidative or non-oxidative manner. In plain English, this means they can be burned for calories (oxidative) or incorporated into proteins being created by the body (non-oxidative). The body does not have that high a need for creating new protein, even in muscle, except for when damage has been done or growth signals are present. Exercise does both – it damages the muscle and generates growth signals. This is why you want to make sure to have a high quality post-workout shake that is rapidly absorbed and assimilated. I know there are “gurus” arguing about nutrient timing, meal frequency, etc. If you read the papers, there are all sorts of conditions being discussed. You cannot compare exhaustive endurance exercise to high-intensity resistance exercise, or discount the benefit of a post-workout meal because a meal had been consumed immediately prior to exercise, or use a slowly digested meal and say that the findings apply to a whey-based shake. Seriously, some of these guys are just looking to make a name in the industry.
(12:30 pm) Post Workout Whey Shake
Post-workout – a whey shake, that is what you want. I had many opportunities to play around with various degrees of hydrolyzed whey, and the studies report best results with whey hydrolysates. However, it is very expensive to extensively hydrolyze whey, and there is no data that I have seen that shows the best bang for your buck. Also, it would be nice to know what percent of the meal you want to be immediate- versus fast- versus sustained-delivery for the amino acids. I tend to tinker with my supplements, and my post workout shake is a whey protein isolate (40 – 45 grams) with creatine (about 5 grams) and L-leucine (about 3 – 4 grams). I’ll talk about the creatine and leucine in my supplement article. Keep in mind, I weigh about 90 kilos (198 pounds). My wife who graces this fine land at 118 pounds only takes in about 20 – 25 grams of protein post-workout, with the same amount of creatine and half the leucine added as I take. I throw a little almond milk in there to thicken the shake and give it a little more calcium.
That meal is consumed in about fifteen seconds around 12:30. Note, I keep my meals spread apart by about three hours. There is a reason for that – the cell responds to the “signal” of each meal, and then needs time to “stand down” before it can respond to another signal. If you take most of your calories and nutrition in a tight window of time, the cells can’t do much with all the “supply” coming in at once. So, you end up storing the calories. I’ve tried to read some of the “intermittent fasting” promotional material, and it doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, there is some benefits seen with alternate-day fasting, and cyclical feeding, etc. However, eating all your meals in a six hour window is not the optimal physiologic pattern and probably only works if you are young enough to have a metabolism that allows for behavioral mistakes. Also, are you really fasting if you are taking in branched chain amino acids during your “fasting” phase?
(2:00 pm) Protein Bar Meal
A waiver in my three hour between meal rule occurs here. I don’t stay full from shakes, and don’t like to drink such large ones that I feel bloated. So, after an hour or 90 minutes following my post-workout shake, I eat a protein bar. The only problem is the things taste like candy bars nowadays, so I have to exert some self-control and avoid reaching for two (or three). Is this sabotaging my diet? Nah, it is what I need to do to avoid going through the neighbor’s garbage looking for leftover pizza or chasing the ice cream truck. I am not kidding when I say I have the appetite of a goat. It would be socially awkward if people didn’t find it so entertaining. Thankfully, the bars are a fixed amount of calories, decent macronutrients, and taste so very, very delicious.
(4:00 pm) Bento Box Meal
Remember that “bento box” sitting in the fridge I mentioned earlier? I do, every day. I am starving by 3:30, and a couple of eggs, chicken breast, or “protein balls” with some crunchy veggies and almonds keeps me from digging seed out of the bird feeder. But… not… yet. We typically walk most days right when my wife leaves her office (though she still has a 2-way radio and phone in her hand until about 6:00 p.m.). A 2 mile trail walk takes about 30 minutes, so around 4:00 p.m. I have my bento box. I do drink green tea throughout the day, though it does nothing for my appetite control.
(7:00 pm) Dinner
Some evenings my wife teaches yoga or a fitness class, or we always have things to do around the house. Our last meal is around 7:00 p.m. and is a healthy serving of salmon, chicken, a yolk-free omelete (We eat whole eggs for breakfast), chili, lentils, whatever for the main course with a couple of sides. We love beets, and green beans – good old fashion food. If the weather permits, we’ll walk around the property or down the block.
Afterwards, it is either a good book, reading for work, or watching something on Netflix. Last night, I was reading Lee Child’s latest “Jack Reacher” novel and my wife was reading an article on inversion poses in yoga. The dog was intently watching three deer bed down in the cedars. It is important to relax before bedtime, and it was a relaxing evening.
I will note that while we are making supper (meaning my wife is cooking and I hand ingredients to her or stay out of the way), I enjoy a beer, sometimes two. My wife prefers red wine, and neither of us have a personal history of alcohol dependence. I actually stayed away from drinking altogether for a while, as I figured it was just empty calories, but there is a lot of support for the concept that moderate drinking has health benefits. I am not going to condemn it or condone it as I don’t want to make a general comment that may not apply to every individual. We have seen the effects of alcoholism and other addictions, so use good judgment in regards to a drink or two at home.
Again, in black & white, it sounds boring. On the other hand, we enjoy what we are doing during the day, so sitting down a meal or downing a shake is not an event we focus on. Plus, the meals are really good. Weekends, the routine breaks down and our workout times are different. The general guidelines apply except for Sunday supper with extended family. I allow my “inner goat” to dictate my appetite one meal a week, and it keeps me from feeling like I have deprived myself. This usually means three plates of food, which should explain why I need to control access to food to protect me from falling victim to gluttony – one of the seven deadly sins.
What does this diet plan do for me? Well, I am progressing in my training, and keeping my physique near where I want it to be. I am not sluggish during the day, and staying productive most days. There are days I have something occupying my thoughts, or don’t sleep well due to some residual back pain, just like nearly everyone else. But do I find myself victim to my appetite, or walking around like the “living dead” (other than that early morning potty break for my dog)? Nope.
Also, bear in mind that when we travel, we try our best to eat “clean,” but don’t stress if we have to grab fast food or get by on coffee until later in the morning. We control what we can control and deal with the rest as it comes. When you have a steady plan that provides progress, little setbacks are soon forgotten.
Let me end by acknowledging that we like to indulge once in a while. I keep dark chocolate in the fridge, and we have almonds constantly at the ready. Air-popped popcorn, carrots with peanut butter, and occasionally actual cookies or scones baked by my wife’s mother or one of her employees’ wife. I cannot remember the last time I did a “man versus food” type of face-plunge into a never ending plate, but it has happened. About twenty years ago, I was “cutting up” for a show, and somehow ended up buying two apple pies that were in the bakery on the discount shelf. The next day, I was fuller and more vascular than I had been in some time (I always ended up depleting myself for shows and photo shoots, a very common error in the industry). I told one guy, feeling like I had lost an entire month of dieting progress in one binge. He said something that really held true, “It is not what you ate yesterday, it is what you eat every day.”
My diet plan works for me. It may or may not work for you, and you will need to adjust the calories to your individual needs. I tend to keep my protein the same always, and adjust carbs up or down depending upon my goals.
My total daily intake is around 2600 – 2800 calories, with about 200 – 220 grams of protein. The remainder is mostly whole food, and a bit of additional fat (fish, and olive when I remember). My work activities are fairly sedentary though I have a standing workstation rather than sitting at a desk. Our workouts are intense, and our walking is fairly brisk, but that is total around 75 minutes (45 weight training, 30 walking) five days a week. The other two days may have a yoga class or extended walk, with the grind of caring for a large lot around our home. If I was to have the goal of getting “photo ready,” I would cut my carbohydrate content a bit, up the “cardio” and stay away from even the healthy snacks.
What are some fair criticisms of my diet? I don’t have enough fiber maybe? My cholesterol is low, so I am not too concerned about that; and my bowel function is regular (wonderful thing to share with 100,000 readers). I am not getting enough fruits and veggies? I don’t know if anyone who is not a vegetarian actually gets 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, every day. We drink vegetable juice sometimes, the spicy stuff – it actually tastes good. Need more dark green veggies? We have spinach leaf salad a couple times a week, and my wife has been known to throw kale into our shakes on the weekend when we use the blender rather than a shaker. No, kale does not make a shake taste better. Variety? Well, considering I was raised on a meal plan of Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter cereal for breakfast, PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and hamburgers for supper, we are doing just fine, thank you.
As I said, this is what I do, and it works for me. Some may be fans of the ketogenic diet, the Ornish diet, Zone, Atkins, South Beach, whatever. If it works for you, and does not create a deficiency that may harm your health, then do it. However, when the time comes that you cannot have your liver and flank steak puree’, don’t freak out.
So, to sum it up:
5:45 a.m. 2 cups of coffee
6:30 a.m. oatmeal or 3-egg breakfast
9:30 a.m. protein shake (about 30 grams with 3 grams fish or olive oil)
9:45 a.m. almonds and dark chocolate, (hey, I am still hungry)
12:30 p.m. whey-protein shake (about 45 grams with 5 grams creatine and 3 grams L-leucine)
2:00 p.m. A protein bar
4:00 p.m. “bento box” with whole food protein, almonds, and veggies
7:00 p.m. supper containing whole food protein, veggies, and beans
after supper – air-popped popcorn if still a bit hungry
About the Author
Daniel Gwartney, M.D. took the path less traveled and combined his passion for health, fitness, and bodybuilding with the knowledge and experience learned during his medical training. A former world-ranked natural bodybuilder, appearing on the covers of Muscle Media 2000 and Ironman Magazine, and a regular contributor to several of the top bodybuilding and fitness magazines, he provides unique insight into the application of fitness into medicine and medicine into fitness.