I was inspired to write this post after someone on Twitter asked me if it was true that the largest amount of protein that could be absorbed in a single sitting was 41 grams. (Hmm. That seems an arbitrary number, I wonder where that came from?) Well, it’s what she was told by “a few dietitians.”
Now, I am not an RD, but I do understand that there’s something wrong with the absoluteness of that statement. Lumping a 6’0″ 200 lb 25-year-old man in with a 5’2″ 110 lb 65-year-old woman and saying they will both absorb 41 and only 41 grams of protein doesn’t seem like sound science. Regardless, it was a useful reminder to me that nutrition is tricky, and that many nutrition “rules” might just need to be broken (or at the very least cleared up). Some are bad advice, others incorporate black-and-white thinking (which in the nutrition world is always shortsighted) and still others are just poor common sense.
Jade and I often say that nutrition is just like politics or religion. We all have our personal viewpoints, and when challenged, we are not easily swayed. And why would we be? Years and years of personal experience, researching, reading and listening to what works for other people has boxed us into a corner when it comes to diets. Consciously or unconsciously, we cling to a list of rules that we must follow or else we are “doing it wrong” and might end up fatter, sicker or miss out on that one elusive opportunity to build muscle/burn fat/perform better, etc.
But have you ever taken time to actually question your rules? To see if they really do work?
Metabolic Effect’s tenet that everyone is different and requires a unique approach to fat loss (their “Fat Loss Formula”) is spot on. Sure, certain behaviors move us closer to our goals while others farther away in general. But the bottom line is that there are no absolutes.
Here are some common nutrition rules that can be broken. Go ahead, rebel a little! :)
Rule #1: You MUST eat whey protein post-workout.
How to break it: I once worked with a client who HAD TO, felt COMPELLED TO drink a whey protein shake immediately after her workout or else. Or else what? We miss the one, tiny opportunity to build muscle? Not true. Your body is smarter than that. It will build muscle at other times too. For some, doing post-workout whey will not help them build. For others it can do more damage than good if they have a sensitivity to dairy. Ask yourself 1) what kind of metabolism do you have? 2) What potential sensitivities you have? 3) What is your goals? If your goal is fat loss and not necessarily muscle gain, you might want to do a hypoallergenic and/or “real food” protein post-workout like chicken, egg whites or fish. Whey is not necessarily the best option for everyone.
Rule #2: Only wait until you are hungry to eat.
How to break it: Many fitness pros and nutrition experts recommend using hunger as your gauge for when you should eat. The problem with this is that many people are hungry all the time, for example, people will leptin resistance. For people with healthy, responsive metabolisms, waiting until they are hungry may work. However, the second you find yourself ravenous or with out-of-control cravings, it might be time to employ preemptive eating–eating the right stuff BEFORE you are hungry. Ask yourself, do I tend to get ravenously hungry and then eat everything in sight? If the answer is yes, then you need to break this rule and eat BEFORE you get hungry.
Rule #3: Never skip a meal.
How to break it: On the flip side, we are not going to die of hunger if we skip dinner or breakfast on occasion. Nor are we going to perish from lethargy if we aren’t carbing up our workouts. It’s actually ok to workout on an empty stomach, you are not losing pounds of muscle mass every second. This is part of figuring out how meals work in your schedule and with your personal preferences. For example, I do a 14 hour fast every night. It works great for me. But for someone else, they will need to eat immediately upon waking. It’s an individual thing. However, if you find you simply don’t like the “eat every 3 hours” model, then find something that works with your unique preferences, but then continue to measure fat loss results to see if it works. If not, continue honing until you get there.
Rule #4: The best fiber foods are whole grains.
How to break it: Whole grains contain the highest amount of fiber from an absolute perspective, which is why when you go to the doctor and you have high cholesterol, he or she tells you to eat oatmeal in the morning, because the fiber in it lowers cholesterol. And that may work if you are currently eating Fruit Loops for breakfast. But, one unique caveat is that high carbohydrate intake (especially high GI carbs) increases cholesterol. So, the question becomes how do you get the fiber without the huge amount of total carbs that come with whole grains? Choose fibrous vegetables and low sweet fruits instead instead. They are lower in absolute fiber, yes, but the ratio of total carb to fiber is lower. Less total carb, with a higher percentage of it coming from fiber. Examples include leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts, celery, mushrooms, etc, plus apples, pears, berries and grapefruits.
Rule #5: The only way to get results is by cooking all your own food at home.
How to break it: If you have been reading this blog, you know that I personally hate to cook and prepare meals. I am somewhat disgusted by left-overs and I go through phases of just being grossed out by food in general. I think it’s all the years of prepping dry chicken breasts and eating soggy asparagus out of plastic bags and tupperware. Anywho, if you have a hectic lifestyle, the expectation that you are going to make and pack all of you meals each day (when not training for a competition) is insane. Things come up, we get lazy, we want to spend our time doing other things, etc. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “winging it” every now and then. Be a rebel, don’t go food shopping this week. What will you do?
Here are some examples of free styling your approach (and still maintain your results): use protein shakes and bars (Vega Optimizer is very close to eating real food, e.g.), get take-out (you can order lean protein and veggies anywhere), make quick meals in real time, like oatmeal and omelets and finally, use grab-and-go convenience options like nuts, fruit, jerky, canned tuna and Greek yogurt cups.
Rule #6: Cheat only at designated “cheat times.”
How to break it: The second you establish the expectation that you are never going to cheat except for at your allotted Saturday night cheat meal, you are already setting yourself up for failure and the accompanying guilt when it inevitably it does happen. Don’t expect perfection. In fact, expect IMperfection. When you expect that challenges will come up and you ready yourself for them mentally, it makes it easier for you to get back on the wagon more quickly. In fact, studies show people who don’t use guilt and shame in an attempt to keep themselves in line when it comes to food, are actually are MORE motivated to stick with the program. People who EXPECT perfection and use an extreme approach are easily sidetracked and are ultimately unsuccessful when it comes to sticking it out and being consistent.
Now this doesn’t mean you eat whatever you want whenever you want–it simply gives you permission to use moderation. Moderation isn’t sexy or necessarily deserving of admiration, but it is what works long term. I broke the all-or-nothing rule about 2 years ago, and my new rule is this: Don’t ever feel super-deprived but don’t eat everything you want either. <—-That’s it! Simple, fairly vague and yet it works :)
What are your nutrition rules that you just can’t seem to break? What do “the experts” say that simply doesn’t jibe with you? Remember, nutrition is all about finding what works for you. Every diet out there will work for someone, but don’t assume since it worked for your friend, it’s automatically the answer for you too. Take the time to understand yourself, your responses to food, the way in which you stress, your personal preferences, etc and use those insights to create your very own unique plan.