Better nutrition is more about altering lifestyle habits and less about the food. Here’s why.
"I had learned what it means to ride the Tour de France. It's not about the bike. It's a metaphor for life...During our lives we're faced with so many different elements as well, we experience so many setbacks, and fight such a hand-to-hand battle with failure, head down in the rain, just trying to stay upright and to have a little hope...It is a test."
If you're a fan of Lance Armstrong, you've probably seen this before. If not, you might need a little introduction.
You see, Lance Armstrong was a good cyclist, competing in the Tour de France and placing reasonably well yet never emerging as a dominant force in the sport; certainly never developing as a threat for an overall victory in the world's biggest cycling event.
Then Lance got cancer.
And after battling back from almost certain death, Lance changed. Now, six Tour de France overall victories later, Lance has cemented his place among the greatest cyclists in history. And the sport of cycling has changed.
Ask Lance why he went from an above average professional cyclist to perhaps the greatest the sport has ever seen and he doesn't hesitate to offer a response:
"If you ever get a second chance in life for something, you've got to go all the way."
By self admission, Lance realized that his sport is about something more than the carbohydrate drinks, the hours spent on the bike, and the tights. It's about perseverance in the midst of unknowns. The Tour "poses every conceivable element to the rider, and more: cold, heat, mountains, plains, ruts, flat tires, high winds, unspeakably bad luck, unthinkable beauty, yawning senselessness, and above all a great, deep self-questioning."
And, in my humble opinion, amid the many unknowns faced and the many lessons learned, this one lesson emerges as one of the most important – Lance wins tours because he, better than anyone else, has learned how to display adaptability.
Lance now knows how to practice for adverse conditions and how adapt to these varied conditions rather than letting them become setbacks. It's raining – no problem, he's ridden this course before in the rain. Heck, he's probably even ridden it in the snow. The other riders see the rain as a huge disadvantage; not Lance. Lance owns both the sunshine and the rain.
Perhaps cancer taught him how important this combination of preparation and adaptability is to success. Who knows? But, if we're smart, we'll stand on Lance's shoulders so that we can reach even loftier heights. Whether we're trying to win the Tour de France, whether we're trying to advance in our careers, or whether we're just trying to improve our health through better nutritional habits, preparation and adaptability are the keys.
In this two part article series, I'll show you how to apply the lessons of preparation and adaptability in order to win your own nutritional Tour de France. From the lessons contained herein, you'll learn that sometimes, good nutrition has very little to do with "the food." It has more to do with how you go about preparing for the nutritional struggles you'll face and adapting in the face of them.
It's Not About The Food
Ok, so let's assume myself and the mad scientists down at the Science Link laboratory have come up with the ultimate DNA test to determine exactly how many calories, what food choices, and what supplements you'll need to prevent disease, improve health, gain muscle, lose fat and become a better athlete. In other words, what if we could easily give every man, woman and child in the world the "perfect nutritional plan"?
They wouldn't follow it.
Don't believe me? Think about this – how often have you seen people diagnosed with heart disease and/or cancer yet fail to take the necessary steps to improve their lifestyles. They say they want to "eat better". They see doctors and nutritionists who tell them how to "eat better" (which foods to eat). Yet they end up feeling guilty for not "eating better".
Why is it so hard for them to make the change?
Well, unless they really don't want to change, the two biggest impediments to their success are:
- Their habits – or their ingrained set of day to day food and activity related actions – remain poor because they don't have a conscious, logical plan for changing them.
- They aren't ready for the tough times. Things might be getting better; then the tough times hit. They "get busy". Eating well becomes inconvenient. No one else supports their decision to make a change. When these inevitable circumstances come up, they bail.
Habits are more powerful than momentary desire. Habits are more powerful than information. Habits are more powerful than guilt. And only a concerted, conscious effort to override habits will lead to success
So, in some respects, better nutrition is more about altering lifestyle habits and less about the food. Sure, you've gotta know which foods are good to eat and plan to eat them. If you're not quite sure what those foods are, visit my Lean Eatin' article series as well as my 7 Habits article so we can clear that up. But, as GI Joe once said, knowing is half the battle. Even if you know what's good and expect to eat good foods, if the good foods aren't around when it's time to eat, you're doomed. In other words, preparation is the other half.
Food Preparation Strategies
The first step in making sure you're prepared for your nutritional Tour de France is having a good meal plan tailored to your own personal goals and your own unique physiology.
If you've already got a plan and you're confident it's a good one, the ideas in this article will help you adhere to that plan.
If you're looking for a bit more and would like to know either how I'd personally go about generating your plan or if you'd like to test your plan against the Science Link System, invest a few bucks and pick up a copy of my new book entitled Tailor Made Nutrition. This one-of-a-kind book will walk you through the process of starting with a "one size fits all" nutritional plan and cutting and shaping this initial plan to fit your own unique physiology, schedule and training/nutrition preferences. In doing so you'll take a lesson from the pages of master suit tailors who turn ordinary, off the rack suits into the finest "bespoke" suits in the world.
Once you've got your plan, it's important to understand that the plan itself will be about as life-changing as a blank sheet of paper – should you not follow it with honesty and consistency. It's of absolutely no use if it sits, unused, stuck to your fridge with one of those magnetic poetry sets or a Simpson's commemorative magnet collection. So, beyond program design, you've next gotta find ways to ensure that you can consistently eat all the meals on your plan.
Ever wake up late for work and have to rush off without even a shower, not to mention eating breakfast? Ever have to work through lunch and skip hitting the local restaurant at which you get your daily chicken salads? Ever get invited to lunch by your boss and consider it rude to skip the invitation in favor of microwaved lean ground beef and quinoa?
Each of these unexpected scenarios presents a unique nutritional challenge. How you respond to this challenge will determine how your body responds to your training. How you respond to the challenge will either support your quest for optimal health and body composition or throw up a big roadblock.
So my advice to you is this–plan for the unplanned. That's a mind bender, eh? But it need not be. One way of planning for the unplanned is to always have meals with you that conform to your tailor made meal plan – just in case. This way, although you might have planned on eating the Atkins Approved Fire Roasted Salmon dish at TGI Fridays for lunch, if your jackass boss calls an emergency meeting during your lunch hour, you can produce a 7 Habits conforming meal while your office mates go hungry.
Alright, I admit that this may take a bit more planning that you're accustomed to. But, as we've stated in our No Nonsense Nutrition DVD, most people overvalue the necessity for a plan and undervalue their adherence to the plan. So it's time to buckle down, honestly appraise where you're falling short (the plan or the adherence) and make the necessary improvements. Using the following 3 strategies, the adherence part will be easier than you think.
Strategy 1 – The Sunday Ritual
No, no, this ritual doesn't include lamb's blood or any special Kool Aid. The Science Link Sunday Ritual is performed by setting aside 3 hours or so every Sunday (any day of the week will do but Sunday is easiest for most) to write out your menu for the week, shop for the week, and prepare your meals for the week.
First, on your Ritual day, sit down and come up with your meal plan for the week. If you've heeded my advice above and used the resources laid out in my Tailor Made Nutrition book, it should only take a few minutes to lay out 7 different breakfast meals, 7 different lunch meals, 7 different dinner meals, and 2-3 additional snacks for each day.
Next, once the meal plan is laid out, add up exactly how much of each food you'll need over the 7 days and go pick those foods up at the grocery store. This need not be a huge project. If you're interested in the best way of doing this, check out my No Nonsense Nutrition DVD as professional fitness competitor (and former Science Link client) Stephanie Worsfold and I walk you through the grocery store in 30 minutes, gathering along the way all necessary groceries for that week and nothing more.
Finally, once you've got all those groceries home, it's time to start cooking for the week. Some people choose to prepare all their meals for the week on Sundays (excluding shakes). Others prefer to figure out which meals will be easy to cook just prior to meal time and save them for later, preparing only the meals that will need to be eaten during work hours or during busy times of the day when food prep becomes difficult.
For example, some people can easily prepare breakfast meals and dinner meals on demand by setting aside a few minutes each day for meal preparation. Others have a significant other who can prepare these meals for them. Either way, these meals can probably wait until they are needed. However the lunches, 2-3 daytime snacks, and workout shakes usually present a problem for the unprepared so they should be made in advance. Sunday is a good time for most to do this preparation.
So, if it suits your lifestyle, use the Sunday ritual to get these meals ready for the week. Cook all the meat, chop all the vegetables, measure out all the yogurt and/or cottage cheese, and distribute all the powders. Have them ready and set aside so that you can grab them in the morning and bring them with you regardless of what your day or your boss holds in store for you.
Strategy 2 – The Breakfast Ritual
Rather than preparing all their food for the week on a single day, some people prefer to do a little food preparation each day. That's what the Breakfast Ritual is for.
Using the Breakfast Ritual, simply perform all your cooking for the day each morning. Since you've gotta prepare breakfast anyway, make sure you've got a couple of meals going while breakfast is being prepared.
Again, this need not be a huge production. If you're interested in the best way of doing this, check out my No Nonsense Nutrition DVD as former client Andria Bulfon and I demonstrate how to prepare a 4000kcal diet in a flash (max prep time is 30 minutes).
Of course, as with the Sunday ritual, think about what your day will hold under both the best conditions (i.e. home from work early and a relaxing evening ahead) and the worst (i.e. unexpected deadline, all nighter at work, long day at work and soccer practice for the kids) and act like a boy scout – be prepared.
One great strategy for being prepared is to bring both the meals you expect to eat as well as some "back-up" options, just in case. So, as discussed earlier, even if you expect to grab lunch at TGI Fridays and have dinner at home, bring with you both a lunch alternative and a dinner alternative, just in case something else comes up. If you don't need the meals, that's fine – just eat them another day. But if you do need them, you can chow down without skipping a meal or choosing a poor alternative.
Here's another idea for you. If you don't want to bring several full meals that you're unlikely to eat, another great option is to bring some homemade snacks with you. My good friend Dr. John Williams came up with these great recipes and they are a fantastic alternative to the mostly crappy, store bought, sugar laden, artificial ingredient containin', protein bars.
- 2 cups raw oat bran
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup egg whites
- 1 cup nonfat milk
- 2 cups chocolate Metabolic Drive® Protein
- 1/2 cup granulated Splenda
- 5-6 scoops maltodextrin (180 grams)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons oil (canola or olive)
Mix it all together in a big bowl, then spread it out on a large nonstick cooking tray. Add some cooking spray, or wipe a little olive oil on the pan with a paper towel. Bake for 25-30 minutes @ 350 degrees. Cut into 10 pieces. (If you use Metabolic Drive® Protein, your bars will have a more natural flavor but keep in mind that you'll need to use a little more liquid as Grow! tends to thicken up the recipe.)
Macronutrient Profile (each bar):
- K/cal: 344
- Fat: 5 g (1s, 2.5m, 1.5p)
- Carbs: 54 g (Fiber: 7 g)
- Protein: 28 g
Blueberry Bran Muffins
- 1 cup oat bran
- 1/2 cup flax meal
- 4 scoops Metabolic Drive® Protein, flavor of your choice (I like chocolate with this recipe).
- 2/3 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 cup granulated Splenda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 jumbo egg whites
- 1 teaspoon maple extract
- 2/3 cup water
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then add the egg whites, extract and water. Stir until mixed well. Scoop into a muffin pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Makes 6 large muffins.
Macronutrient Profile (each muffin):
- K/cal: 176
- Fat: 4 g (1s, 1m, 2p)
- Carbs: 20g (fiber: 4g)
- Protein: 21 g
Peanut Butter Fudge Bars
- 2 scoops chocolate Metabolic Drive® Protein
- 2 scoops flax meal (ground flax seeds)
- 4 tablespoons chunky natural peanut butter
Mix these together in a bowl, adding _ cup water (or less if you can manage) and Splenda, to taste. At first, it will seem like it's not enough water, but keep stirring, and it will eventually become a moldable blob of dough that looks like what you would imagine it will look like on the way out of your body. Divide the mixture in half, and put it into separate pieces of plastic wrap, shaping into a bar within the wrap. It's easier to shape them by laying plastic wrap in one side of a small casserole dish, pressing the dough into the natural shape of the dish. Put the bars into the fridge, or store them in the freezer. You can eat them chilled, or even frozen, or you can eat it right out of the bowl with a spoon if you're feeling impatient.
Macronutrient Profile (each bar):
- K/cal: 380
- Fat: 23 g (5s, 11m, 7p)
- Carbs: 15 g (fiber: 6g)
- Protein: 33 g
- 1/2 cup flax seed meal
- 5 tablespoons lowfat cream cheese
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds (blanched and raw)
- 5 scoops chocolate Metabolic Drive® Protein
- 1/2 cup granulated Splenda
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
Nuke the cream cheese just until it's soft enough to mix. Combine all dry ingredients in bowl, and then mix in the rest, until it becomes a big glob. Resist the temptation to add more water; just keep stirring and it will mix. Press into 8x8 brownie pan, sprayed with Pam. Chill and cut into 5 pieces. Put each piece in plastic wrap and store in fridge or freezer. Like the other bars, these melt very easily; so don't keep them in your back pocket. Makes 5 bars.
Macronutrient Profile (each bar):
- K/cal: 270
- Fat: 14 g (4 s, 5m, 5p)
- Carbs: 12 g (fiber: 3g)
- Protein: 27 g
Banana Flax Loaf
- 4 scoops vanilla or chocolate Metabolic Drive® Protein
- 1/2 cup flax meal
- 1/2 cup granulated Splenda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 oz chopped walnuts
- 1 jumbo whole egg + 1 egg white, beaten 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 _ teaspoons banana extract
- 1/2 cup water
Set the oven to 350 degrees. Stir all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then add the oil, water, eggs and banana extract and mix well. Coat a 4X8-inch casserole dish with cooking spray, and pour-in the mixture. Sprinkle some whole flax seeds over the top and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. (Don't over bake or it will become dry.) Makes 4 servings.
Macronutrient Profile (each serving):
- K/cal: 350
- Fat: 21 g (3s, 8.5m, 8.5p)
- Carbs: 13 g (fiber: 4g)
- Protein: 30g
(If you like these recipes and are "hungry" for more, rumor has it that Dr. Williams is teaming up with a certain Dr. JB to release a butt kicking recipe book around January-time 2005. Be patient, though. If my sources are accurate, they're taking their time to make sure it's the best bodybuilding and health recipe book currently available on the market.)
Side Note – Food Support Systems
In order to make the Sunday Ritual and the Breakfast Ritual work, it's important to pick up a few items – nutritional support systems, if you will. Here's what we recommend picking up before you start using either of the two Rituals:
- A good countertop grill. Since you'll most likely need to cook relatively large batches of lean protein, it's important to have a quick way of doing this. If you've got a great backyard grill that you can use year-round that's great. If not, pick up a Foreman or Hamilton Beach grill and you'll be all set.
- A good cooler in which to store and carry your meals for the day. Coleman makes a few good ones. Before buying one, however, make sure there's enough room to carry a few meals and a few shaker bottles (see below).
- 5 small Tupperware-type containers. These containers will be for storing and transporting your daily meals. Make sure they are small enough to fit into your cooler but large enough to accommodate a full meal. Your choice of glass or plastic is up to you.
- 5 large Tupperware-type containers. These containers are for storing larger quantities of food. For instance, if you chop your veggies for the week or cook all your chicken breasts for the week, store them in one of these. Again, your choice of glass or plastic is up to you.
- 3 Rubbermaid Chuggable drink containers – 1L size. These containers are for your liquid supplements. Be sure to choose the blue top variety as these are far and away the best drink containers out there. Most others leak.
When choosing to prep your own food and carry meals with you, it's important to find the right food support systems to facilitate your success. This list will give you a good start. As you experiment with your own personal meal planning strategies, you'll probably find others.
Strategy 3 – Have Others Cook For You
If you love the idea of having 5-6 ready made meals always available yet can't see yourself using the Sunday or the Breakfast Rituals above or buying all the Tupperware, there are a number of options at your disposal.
First, you can hire commercial food preparation services to do all the cooking for you. If you're anywhere near a metropolitan area, you'll be able to find dozens to choose from. The two biggies nowadays are Atkins At Home (Atkins Diet) and Zone Nation (The Zone Diet). The Atkins At Home company delivers 3 meals and 1 snack to your door by 6 AM each morning. The cost of this is between $35 and $40 per day. Alternatively, the Zone Nation company delivers 3 meals and 2 snacks to your door by 6 AM each morning for the cost of $35-40 per day, just like the Atkins company. I hear good things about both services.
Now, if you're not interested in supporting the Atkins or Zone programs, there are many smaller companies who can assist you with your meal preparation needs. For example, when I lived in Miami Beach I found a local woman who provided this very service for $5 per meal. Every day for lunch she brought me an 8oz chicken or turkey breast, a baked potato or serving of rice, and a large serving of steamed veggies. Other days, I'd have her bring me 2-3 meals just like this.
Here's another tip. Pick 4 restaurants in your immediate area (2 fast food places, 1 medium-priced restaurant, and 1 higher priced restaurant) that prepare meals in a way that conforms to your nutritional plan and have them prepare the food for you when necessary. Of course, you'll have to do a little research on your potential eateries by collecting hard copies of their menus or visiting their web sites (if they're online).
If you're looking for a few examples, here ya go. Dave Thomas' Wendy's makes a couple of tasty chicken salads and a chili that you can eat when on the go. Even McDonalds is offering healthier meal selections – I'm lovin' it.
Choose healthier fast food meals that conform to your meal plan when you don't have much time or much money for a meal and choose a medium-priced restaurant like TGI Fridays (US) or Kelsey's (Canada) for a better quality menu to provide you with a solid daily lunch. TGI Fridays, for example, has a great list of Atkins-friendly selections.
Finally, choose higher priced restaurants if it's time for a power lunch to impress colleagues. Since most people don't really know where they want to go eat anyway, if you get roped into a business lunch, you can be the one to make the definitive decision as to where the group is going to eat. Your decisiveness will win you big points with colleagues and you'll also be able to control your eating habits.
Finally, if you don't have the resources to entertain strategy #3 and pay others to cook for you, consider the fact that if you use the first two strategies to effectively build a lean, muscular body, you might just be able to convince attractive members of the opposite sex to take over for you. However, getting them to drop them off at your place by 6 AM every morning is a trick I'll teach you in a later article.
In the end, whether you choose to regularly prepare your own meals by using the Rituals described above or you regularly choose to have others prepare your meals for you, circumstances will arise in which you'll have to "cross over" and use a different strategy than you usually use. It never ceases to amaze me how much time those interested in health and fitness spend seeking out "the perfect plan" and how little time they spend figuring out what they'll do when life's circumstances prevent them from following it. Follow the guidelines in this article and you'll be able to display the adaptability necessary to move from nutritional novice to "seasoned" nutritional veteran.