Why is it that some of the top athletes seem to get by (even require) inhaling whatever it is they want (i.e. Calories! Be it through burgers, milkshakes and French fries, or a pint of ice cream every night before bed?) While others swear by a clean diet, filled with plenty of lean proteins, sweet potatoes, veggies and coconut oil?
And, if you want to be good, like really good, in fitness, in lifting heavier loads, in barbell cycling, in your metabolic conditioning, what is the “right way” to put gas in the tank?
Three high-performing athletes and competitors shared their insights on what they’ve learned about fueling their own performance (and making gains) in the gym and on the competition floor over the past several years.
The bottom line?
Just like training, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to your nutrition.
It’s a game of trial and error; with lessons learned along the way. In addition, depending on the time of your training season, the volume and goal of your training, your food preferences and schedule outside the gym, your nutrition will certainly vary. And lastly, it’s vital to mention how important digestion is to people and their performance (inflammation, recovery, absorption, etc.). Even some high-end athletes may have not yet narrowed down what is best for them so it’s a work in progress, a journey or learning about YOU.
Play around with it and find what works for you. Even consider consulting with a nutrition expert to get you going in a right direction (aligned with your goals), especially if your coach is not too abreast on guiding and coaching clients around nutrition.
Take your nutrition seriously though. You’ve heard it before: 80% of your results are attributed to what you put in your mouth. As an athlete, you need to eat (a lot) to perform optimally—it’s the fuel that fans the flame.
Tennil Reed, 27, 2014 & 2015 Individual CrossFit Regional Competitor
Marcus Filly, 30, 2010-2013 Games Competitor (Team & Individual)
Hank Carl, 25, Exclusive Coaching Client
Q. Sun up to sun down…describe what goes in your mouth, times of day, and any supplements you take as well.
In the mornings I like to have a breakfast that is high in protein and fat, I usually will train an hour after that meal. Then I’ll come home and have another meal with more of a balance of carbs, protein, and fat. Then three hours later another similar meal, (Ex. green veggie/chicken/quinoa) Ill train an hour after that one. After ill have a protein shake. Then 1.5 hours after that ill eat dinner, which is usually chicken/fish/ or bison with veggies and avocado.
6:30am – Greens First/Max Fiber/Probiotics/Vit D/B-complex/Fish Oil + Coffee and Heavy Cream
7:30am – AM Training – 5-8gram BCAA and Waters
8:30am – 3/4 C Gluten Free Oats, 5 Whole Eggs, 2 Cups Greens cooked in 2-3 Tbsp Bacon Fat
10:30am – Second Cup of Coffee w/ Cream or black
12:00pm – PM Training – 5g Creatine, 3-5g Beta Alanine + 15-30g simple sugars during
2:30pm – PWO – Revive Recovery 2:1 (25-30g Whey/50-60g Carbs) 5-7g L-glutamine
3:30pm – PWO Meal 1 – 1C Basmati Rice + 5-6oz Ground Beef + 1C roasted brocolli + 1/4C fermented Raw Sauerkraut
6:00pm – PWO Meal 2 – 200g White or Sweet Potatoes + 5-6oz Chicken Thighs + Mixed Green Salad w/ Toasted Almonds and Honey Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette.
8:00pm – Bedtime Snack – 3 TBSP Almond Butter, 30g Protein powder, 1/2C greek yogurt, 1/2C White rice – mixed like a rice pudding + ZMA
Depends on the day! One day may look like this:
1 tsp himalayan sea salt
6oz chicken breast
1/2 cup raw almonds
2 cup coffee / 1tbsp cream
5 cups arugula salad/ 6oz Turkey/ 2 cooked beets/ 2 tbsp fetta cheese/ 1 tbsp balsamic / 1 tbsp olive oil
12oz breve latte
1200 ml water
800 ml water + 3 servings Revive
4oz beef jerky
1 liter water
5.5 cups cooked white rice
1.5 lb chicken thighs
3 tbsp braggs amino
3 tbsp butter
4 small peaches
The next day, on a weekend, may look like this…
1 teaspoon sea salt
6oz fresh carrot juice
omelette – 5 eggs, 1/2 avocado, 3 oz bacon,
3 cups potato
1 tbsp catchup
1 cup coffee/ 1 tbsp cream
2 oz pepperjack cheese
2 cups steamed veggie (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot)
3 med apples
2.5 liter water
3 servings revive recovery
artichoke/ 1 tbsp mayo
chicken soup – 7 cups – 8 oz chicken, 1 cup rice, 1 avocado, 1 cup potato, 1/4 cup celery, 1/4 cup corn
1 pint twins mint ice cream
Q. Do you meal prep or cook? If so what are your tips and tricks for meal prepping/cooking and what are your ‘specialty’ items?
Tennil: I dont do a lot of food prepping. I cook all my food usually right before I eat it. Usually I have time to do that these days.
Marcus: Absolutely I meal prep and cook. I started cooking my own meals and prepping my food when I was as young as 13 years old. It is the only way I can really know what is going in to my food. I use all the standard tricks that are out there. Pick 2 days a week to prep food. Buy in bulk and cook in bulk. Come up with a few simple marinades that have about 3-4 ingredients and always have protein in the fridge ready to cook that is marinated. If you have a well stocked kitchen and cupboard you will be in a good place for success. Things I always have on hand:
– Starches – organic potatoes (sweet, white, red), gluten free oats, white rice, one or two boxes of gluten free pasta
– Oils and Vinegar – Avocado oil, EVOO, Balsamic, apple cider vinegar, toasted sesame oil (little goes a long way)
– Fats – almond butter, macadamia nuts, sliced almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
– Spices – SO MANY – curry, cajun, chipotle, ancho, cumin, onion, sage, thyme, oregano, tumeric
– Protein – eggs, grass fed ground beef, grass fed tri-tip or flank, chicken sausages, bacon, chicken thighs, pork tenderloin
– Fats – heavy cream, grass fed butter, bacon fat (keep the drippings from your bacon)
– Greens – Kale, Chard, Spinach, Brocolli, cabbage, carrots
– Other – honey mustard, dijon mustard, hot sauces, chicken stock
Hank: I usually heat up some of the last nights dinner for breakfast or lunch. My specialties at the moment are: Toas energy bar (coconut, almond), Revive Recovery, and mint chip ice cream. Otherwise, I typically eat fresh ingredients cooked at home.
Q. Who or what taught you about nutrition…what have you learned since then?
Tennil: I went to school to be a physical therapist and I learned about the body/diet/nutrition from school mostly. I have picked up a lot of other things from my coaches over the years as well.
Marcus: My nutrition education began when I was about 13 years old. I started to read testosterone.net (now t-nation.com). Authors like John Berardi were very influential to me early on. I began to understand how macronutrients impacted our performance, but mostly at the time it was about body composition. I then had 4 years of undergraduate education in nutrition and physiology to go along with my extra curricular reading I was doing on all the relevant journals in the early 2000’s. Countless food plans and diet records were kept between 2003 and 2006. More weighing and measuring along with spreadsheets to track results than I can remember.
Years later, in my early 20’s, after going deep down the rabbit hole of body composition dieting I stumbled across some of Paul Chek’s. From years of calorie restriction in the hopes of keeping my body composition very low for extended periods I was feeling a bit deprived and unhealthy. Chek’s work along with Wolcott’s metabolic typing diet helped me find a bit more balance.
This one may sound funny but from 2006-2009 I watched the Food Network almost every day. Bobby Flay, Ming Tsai, Mario Batali and even Rachel Ray were in my living room daily. They taught me how to cook. I learned knife skills, how to marinade, make sauces, dressing, time my courses, and create flavor where it otherwise might have been lost. I became a devout Anthony Bourdain fan during this time too and read his books and watched his shows. I also travel the world in his footsteps and ate food from some of the most incredible places in Asia. From that I learned how to appreciate simplicity and be open to new flavors and ways of eating. I increased my appetite for adventure.
During this food television revolution I also began my CrossFit journey and Robb Wolf became extremely influential in shaping my choices. I learned about the Zone Diet through the CrossFit Journal and experimented with a combination of both. Ultimately I got caught up in the low carb trend that swept through the CrossFit community and Paleo dieting soon turned into a protein and fat only diet. (Fun fact, in preparation for the 2011 CrossFit Affiliate Cup I ate zero carbs for about 2 months. CRAZY! Wonder why I was hurt?)
It was just after the 2011 CrossFit Games that I began working with James Fitzgerald individually. An evaluation of my food profile early on identified a few things. First it identified that I was doing a great job getting in quality nutrients in my diet, but that my carbohydrates were super low. I think I was still less than 100g/day at the time. That marked the last time my food took another big turn. The lessons learned then have shaped the last 4 years of my food.
Hank: My first nutrition teachers were my parents. The dinner table discussion usually made it’s way around to talking about how our freshly picked colorful veggies would keep us healthy and make us strong, and eating fresh organic ingredients was a big part of our lifestyle. As a teenager, I became very competitive in distance running and adopted the common “runners diet” which for me was a diet high in carbohydrate with some proteins and fats. When I was twenty-one, and beginning to get back into fitness, I started to learn a few things from Paul Chek and his book “How to eat move and be healthy”. Perhaps, the most important thing I learned from Paul Chek was how unique every body is, and that everybody works most optimally on a diet that is unique to there own specific requirements. Most recently I’ve learned a lot form the OPEX Course on Nutrition. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the course was becoming open to the idea that what’s optimal for health and longevity may not be what is most optimal for a competitive athletes performance. I resonated with this because, I myself had performed pretty well on some non clean foods, and having sought out nearly every available elite athletes bio i could find, this seemed to be a recurring theme. Becoming open to this new idea helped me let go of some of the negative emotions and anxieties I had attached to some of the ‘non clean’ foods i had been eating. In return, I ate a similar diet after the course as before, but was now feeling healthier and more energized without all of the negative attachments to some of the foods I was eating.
Q. How is nutrition a game changer for you as an athlete-and what happens when you are not on point with this?
Tennil: When I’m not on point with my nutrition, I have no energy, I require a lot more sleep, and I can get stressed out because I know I’m not doing what my body needs me to do.
Marcus: Proper nutrition is the foundation for so many aspects of my life. It keeps my energy levels up so I can focus on my coaching when it is time to coach, so I can bring my best effort to training, and so I can be present with my friends and family when there is time to connect. It keeps my gut healthy and makes how I feel very predictable every day. I don’t have to guess about how I might feel after eating this or that. For anyone who has struggled with digestive issues as I have in their life, this is so valuable.
The first thing to go when something gets off with my diet is my digestion.
Constipation or loose bowels… I SAID IT! Both are followed shortly after by drops in energy and/or performance. It is almost automatic. The more years that go by the more sensitive I seem to get.
Hank: If I’ve had a low point in training, I can almost always trace it back to either poor nutrition or sleep. I’ve witnessed a direct correlation with my nutrition and training too many times to ignore it.
Q. What is your favorite healthy food AND treat or indulgence?
Tennil Favorite healthy food: Bison, broccoli, sweet potatoes; Unhealthy food: any kind of breakfast food, like pancakes or french toast….or I love cookies!
Marcus: Sweet potatoes, and then Sour Patch Kids and popcorn
Hank: Avocado! And for my treat: Home made sizzling hot apple crisp with ice cold vanilla bean Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Q. Any advice for others on the power of nutrition/prioritizing nutrition or top 3 tips for sticking to good nutrition?
Tennil: Find something that motivates you more than that sweet treat/or craving because when that “need” sets in, it’s tough! Also I would say try not to have anything tempting in your home, don’t socially eat, and plan your meals for the next day the night before.
Marcus: Lots! Get to know how food makes you feel! All the knowledge in the world about good food and bad food cannot replace the power of getting to know yourself and how the foods you consume impact your body. Also:
- Have a systematic way for tracking what you put in your body
- Determine how those foods impact you (performance and feeling). Similarly have a systematic way to track this
- Care about your food. Purchase the best quality you can afford, take time and care in preparing it, take time to enjoy the food when you eat it, and create social opportunities around food whenever you can (dinner with friends, cook with your spouse). Some of my best memories in my life are from eating amazing food in some of the most amazing places on earth. Even when the food wasn’t the most perfect for my performance, it enriched my life in immeasurable ways.
Hank: I think as an athlete, nutrition is one of your most powerful tools you have. Create awareness around what effects different foods have on you, your energy, and your performance. Through your awareness, if you can create some links to the effects nutrition has on your athletic performance, nutrition may naturally become a high priority as long as athletic performance is important to you. I may have picked up the nickname “garbage disposal” over the years, but I don’t ignore solid nutrition principals like making sure I’m covering all the bases that lead to effective digestion, drinking the right amount of water, and insuring I’m balancing out my macros to some extent, while getting an adequate amount of calories in.
*This blog was featured originally on OPEX Fitness.