Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nutrition Redux

It’s been quite a while since I last went into nutrition on this blog and there have been more than a few questions on the subject lately. As always, my initial disclaimer: I merely intend to relate my own experience and what I’ve learned from it. Any conflicting ideas, methods, or arguments are welcomed warmly.

First off, we must acknowledge that different aims require different approaches. If one person wants to lose 30 pounds and the other wants to gain 30 pounds, their methods will be necessarily distinct. What most can agree on, however, is that this distinction typically hinges on quantity not quality. Regardless of your goals, whether you’re an athlete or a housewife, high quality fuel is what you’re after. Food that your body can easily digest, absorb, and turn into energy.

Determining what exactly this fuel should be is a process of experimentation and elimination. For me personally, this has distilled itself into a predominantly Paleo menu with a few exceptions. I pound eggs, chicken, and turkey like it’s my job. All day long I’m shoving deli meat in my face. Equally impressive is the amount of nuts I consume. Trail mixes from Costco are the obvious favorite here simply because they come in impressively large quantities. Cashew Clusters? Game over. Kirkland cranberry medley? Own it.

I eat a lot of fruit (mostly apples, berries, and bananas) and go through at least a head of broccoli and a bag of spinach per week. Other vegetables commonly consumed include onions, mushrooms, and olives. I think it is important to mention here that the predominant benefit one gets from fruits and vegetables go unnoticed. Micronutrients are all the rave these days in anti-cancer circles and I am on the bandwagon. Give me all the green I can get.

To this point this has been a pretty model CrossFit diet, and if you think that’s where it’s going to stay I have you fooled. For one, I eat a ton of potatoes. Mostly sweet potatoes and yams because they have a milder effect on blood sugar, but plenty of the regular brand as well. I do this for 2 reasons. First, I can’t get over the inherent Paleo hypocracy regarding this food. It is a root. It was gathered by prehistoric peoples for millennia. Our bodies do not reject it. It’s like all these purists decided to abandon their "evolution of digestion" paradigm because this particular food is high on the glycemic index. An index that, incidentally, I’m pretty sure Joe Caveman didn’t give a shit about. As far as I’m concerned, potatoes are still high quality food.

The second reason I eat them is because if I don’t have some starch I won’t get full. 30 minutes after a 2 chicken breast, broccoli, and squash stir fry I am starving. Add a small spud potato and I’m stuffed. This is something that has grown into a staple of my diet in large part out of personal necessity. They don’t make me tired, they don’t make me fat. They make me full.

Another example of my personal divergence is dairy. I feel no adverse effects from it. I eat cheese and drink whole milk regularly and find that I don’t feel any less energetic or strong than when I went 2 months without any of it. If anything, I feel more energized. And, before you say it, I’m not one of those cases where anything will work. Flour knocks me out cold. If I eat pizza, pasta, or garlic bread I’ll be horizontal on the couch before my grandparents finish their desert wine. Dairy just happens to work. For me it’s a great way to get decent calories and extra macronutrients to counter the amount I use up in training.

When it comes to quantity, I’ll admit that I ain’t so scientific. My friend Jim Bathurst once wrote that every time he walks past the refrigerator he ingests 2 eggs accidentally. That’s about where I’m at right now. Most of my time spent thinking about food is not about whether I will eat too much, it’s about how much good food can I put down in a given day. That may be a benefit of my genetic disposition, my high caloric output, or a combination of the two, but it doesn’t mean that such a laissez-faire attitude is the right approach for all. I know plenty of people who thrive on the Zone because it gives them the structure they need to manage their meals. I had more than a few clients who did Weight Watchers and saw incredible results for the same reason. At this point in the experiment for me, though, the only issue with quantity is whether I will eat enough.

Last thing I want to touch on is supplementation. This is another one of those tense moments for the nutrition nerd. “How can I reconcile my logical desire to eat like a caveman with the scientific discoveries of today?” Easy pal, don't strain something. Do your research, get out of your own way, and take advantage of the discoveries worth taking advantage of. I guarantee you that if I went back 5000 years and offered Neolithic Blair a gun to hunt with he’d take it in a heart beat. More than that, he’d snatch up my matches, hoard the toilet paper, and guzzle protein shakes to his heart’s content. Point is, some developments are positive and not using them is plain stupid; those include post workout supplements like protein and creatine. I know this because of how I feel after a workout when I take them compared to when I don’t. (Not to mention the overwhelming majority of scientific research). It’s night and day. The only other supplement I take is fish oil, simply because I don’t eat enough fish and the human diet is wildly out of its Omega 3/Omega 6 balance. For more information check out PurePharma. Otherwise I do my best to stick to real food.

To wrap up, I try to keep things as simple as possible. I’m no creative genius in the kitchen (if you want to know people that are, go to Health-Bent), but I get by. The good news is that as taste buds become less and less accustomed to artificial sugars and corn syrup, regular food begins to taste pretty good all by itself. Funny how that works.

I included a video of me making my 6 am smoothie. This is something I make everyday with more or less the same ingredients. It’s like a pre-breakfast that I ingest to get my day going while reading the paper, internet, etc. It’s great because it’s chalk full of good things and it goes down fast/doesn’t make me so full I can’t train for 3 hours. Plus it still leaves room for real breakfast a little later in the morning. Nom Nom Nom.


  1. Great post and timing Blair, I was about to send you a question on food quantities and how you were eating these days. I presume you're eating pretty much at maintenance, or do you find you have to up your calories by much to gain weight/strength?

  2. Blair, have you ever checked out Started by some former and current Navy Seals, it looks like they have adopted a lot of the Crossfit types of workouts, but their WOD appears to be the equivalent of 2 or 3 Crossfit WODs. Crazy.
    Great post.

  3. can't thank you enough for the link. i'd say you're right on the types of foods we eat. not against dairy or starch-ier veg...especially being athletes. only thing i noticed was you saying you'd be starving after chicken breast/broccoli/squash stir fry........don't forget the fat! experimenting with dialing back carbs and upping the fat can lead you to more sustained energy without eating as constantly. we eat all fats if they're from clean sources (ie. coconut, pastured animals, grass fed butter) check this out, even men's health is starting to take notice of the mounting evidence that we need fat, even saturated.

  4. Colin, I think I am unconsciously at a maintenance level of consumption. I'm not trying to gain or lose and I'm really not doing either.
    jbowers, I've heard of Sealfit and it sounds insane. Don't know how the body can handle that much pain daily.
    Brandon, good comment on the fat. I will often follow up one of those unfulfilling stir fries with a bowl of nuts, and that will do the trick. Thanks for the advice!

  5. Solid post, Blair. I'm going to link this up and pull some quotes for a blog post of mine in the future, to highlight a common-sense approach to properly fueling an athlete.

  6. Blair good reads, i myself did the whole paleo gig, for a good bit, crappy results i got, went back to potatos oats and cottage cheese, strength performance came back.

  7. Hey Blair.. Great post. Just curious as to what your take is on sleep. How many hours to do you get a night and do you ever feel tired or drained when you wake up? Cheers!

  8. john, i try to sleep 8 hours a night. if i dont then ill take a nap during the day at some point. i definitely feel tired if either of those things dont happen in successive days.

  9. thanks for this post, very interesting and as always well written! (I am going to share it at my CrossFit box)

  10. That was beautiful, Blair. I love when people can be moderate in their approach to life.

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