From high protein low carbohydrate to the Zone diet. From the South Beach diet and Atkins, to eating Paleo. Counting calories, working out macronutrients and micronutrients, then supplementing with specific vitamins and minerals. Since when have we started intellectualizing what we eat, breaking up our nutrition into its component parts?
Having experienced several dietary approaches, then relying on many supplement protocols, it’s amazing to finally find something that works. It might not sound as sexy as the labels above but it provides a simple, viable solution to optimal health, sustainable fat loss and enhanced physical performance.
So what is this panacea?
1. Consuming an alkaline forming diet
Living in the 21st century, when we think about the word "stress", we associate it with deadlines, traffic jams, unanswered emails, working with a difficult boss, and maybe estranged relationships with friends or family. Most of which, we have little or no control over. Along with our mental or emotional state, we also experience physical stress from our environment (pollution in the air, noise, toxins, etc.) and the food that we eat.
Your diet can greatly influence the levels of stress in your body and this is something you have full control over. The balance of acid and alkaline within the body, pH (Potential of Hydrogen) is measured on a scale ranging from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). A good pH for our body is neutral (slightly alkaline) at 7.35 and maintaining this number is vital when it comes to athletic performance and overall wellness. People with an acidic system are more fatigued, prone to disease and weight gain as their cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are always elevated. High cortisol impairs sleep, impedes digestive function and slows down metabolism.
The consumption of acid forming foods is one of the causes of an overly acidic system. Certain foods such as - meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, tea/coffee and artificial sweeteners - are more acid forming than others.
What can we do to mitigate an overly acidic system?
The answer is to consume more alkaline-forming foods. One factor that significantly raises the pH of food, and in turn the body, is chlorophyll content. Responsible for giving plants their pigmentation, chlorophyll is often referred to as the 'blood' of plants. Chlorophyll is prized for its ability to cleanse our blood by helping remove toxins deposited by dietary and environmental sources. It is also known to help with ensuring our body's cell regeneration, which improves oxygen transport, optimizing energy levels and ultimately leads to peak athletic performance.
As a general rule of thumb, most whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, minimally processed nuts and seeds) are alkaline forming. This means that the most simple way to maintain an ideal pH in your body is by following a whole food plant based diet, or as close to it as possible.
2. Maintaining a healthy digestive system
Described as the 'second brain', the digestive tract is where nutrient absorption and assimilation starts. When the digestive system is impaired, the body works over-time to process foods that we eat leading to increased cortisol levels. High cortisol results in fatigue, weight gain, poor recovery from day to day activity (training or work) and even causing illness.
Eating a whole foods plant based diet is definitely a great way to optimise your digestive system. Whole plant-based foods are a lot easier to digest than animal based ones. They also contain a whole host of prebiotics (the principal source of nourishment for probiotics) and probiotics (gut flora or ‘good’ bacteria in our gut). Maintaining good gut flora will help the body extract and utilize complex carbohydrates and proteins consumed.
Regular consumption of prebiotics and probiotics increases the bioavailability of foods that we eat.
If you feel like your digestion is subpar, try incorporating these foods into your diet.
Foods rich in prebiotics
- Skin of apples
- Beans or legumes
Foods rich in probiotics
- Kefir (non-dairy) and Kombucha
- Raw fermented Sauerkraut and Kimchi
- Yoghurt (non-dairy)
When you do feel like you need an extra boost with your digestion and overall well being, you could include a probiotic supplement about 2-3 times a week. Look for a supplement that offers at least two different strains of bacteria and minimum one billion organisms per capsule. To maximize the chances of the bacteria to make it to the gut, the supplement should be taken at the same time as a probiotic rich food.
The benefits you get from including probiotics into your diet:
- Less cravings and overeating as you are absorbing and assimilating more nutrients.
- Better production of key nutrients like vitamins B and K.
- Increased hormonal balance.
- Better skin.
- A strengthened immune system.
3. Focus on nutrient timing
What and when you eat can definitely help or hinder your athletic performance. Eat too much of the wrong food before an activity and you will feel heavy and/or lethargic. Exercise without enough fuel in your body and you can quickly deplete energy stores.
For any activity, no matter the length or intensity, a bigger meal should be consumed no less than 2-3 hours prior to the activity.
For an activity of high intensity and shorter duration (crossfit workout, group fitness class, or a 5-10km run), a small snack about 30 minutes before the activity will top up your glycogen stores and give you readily available energy. Simple carbohydrates like 4 or 5 medjool dates, a banana or a handful of dried fruits would be a great option. During the activity, drinking a mix of water and electrolytes (we use Nunn) is important, especially in a hot and humid country like Singapore.
If your workout or race is longer than one hour, the pre activity snack should be comprised of a mix of complex carbs, healthy fats and some protein. The lower the intensity the higher the fat to carbohydrate ratio. Examples of snacks that we’ve used before a workout/race of medium intensity and duration (1-3 hours):
- Banana chia seed pudding
- Raw bar made of dried fruits and nuts/seeds
- Wholegrain toast with avocado or almond butter
- Bowl of porridge with almond butter
During the activity, a quality sport drink like Tailwind (containing a mix of fast and slow release carbohydrates along with electrolytes) is perfect for the hot climate. You can also make your own sports drink by mixing 3 parts of your favourite fruit juice with one part of water and a pinch of sea salt.
For racing, energy gels like Clif shots or Gu are easy to take and carry with you. Try aiming for about 200-350 calories per hour depending on your height and weight. (Related article on fuelling for a race)
4. Having goals beyond fat loss or aesthetics
Magazines, social media, we see images of fit individuals with a six-pack or toned tummy. Just like fashion magazines, fitness magazines project what ‘perfection’ in physiology is, what ‘aesthetic’ means. Some may be motivated and driven by these images, while others are on a constant quest to drop body fat, increase muscle tone whilst feeling insecure/unhappy with what they see in the mirror.
Aesthetics are not the be all and end all of any fitness journey. Change your mindset towards your goals and focus on deeper intrinsic motivations or values. Examples:
- Focussing on plant-fuelled nourishment instead of dieting, and counting your ‘macros’.
- Focussing on improving your aerobic fitness for a run, instead of viewing cardio as the ‘enemy’ and a means for fat loss.
- Focussing on increased strength, energy and endurance rather than what numbers you have on the scale.
- Focussing on better mobility, flexibility and agility instead of how much body fat you hold.
- Focussing on a long-term solution for health, rather than quick fixes in the form of pills, lotions, fitness gadgets or short term ‘transformation programs’.
When you start looking at your own path to health and fitness from this perspective, aesthetic/fat loss simply become a by-product of this journey. Best of all?
You will go further than you ever thought possible, then shoot for goals that you never thought you could achieve.
5. Find variety
The gym is not for everyone, neither is swimming 50 laps in the pool, running 42km in the blistering heat, or even completing a Crossfit 'WOD'. The key to it all is trying it all.
Rather than judge something that you have not tried or know enough about, why not give it a fair go? There is no best or right way to achieve peak health and fitness, but simply finding what you love doing then sticking to it. From time to time, challenge yourself. Whatever sport or activity you have chosen, try signing up for a competition, or committing to a specific goal that is time bound.
- Signing up for a fun run, half or full marathon
- Registering for a local swim meet
- Taking part in a competition of some sort with proceeds going to charity
- Signing up for an amateur lifting competition
- Taking part in a Crossfit competition at your local box
- Mastering a skill (Gymnastics, Olympic lifting, a specific yoga pose or calisthenic move)
Sustainable fat loss, long term health and enhanced athletic performance, while making a difference?
Two words...Go green.
Peace and strength,
Luke and Emilie