Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The Great American Nutrient Heist
The final prep before my race has me attempting to shed the last vestiges of extra weight from my body while eating enough to recover from both training and the injuries sustained in a couple of crashes. The key to making that happen is nutrient efficiency, which means that I want to get as many nutrients as possible from each calorie I consume.
This strategy is the opposite of how Americans are taught to eat by the food industry. In an attempt to sell calories as cheaply as possible, Big Food peddles calorie dense, but nutrient deficient, processed vittles whenever they can. Pretty much anything you find in the center of a supermarket (i.e. most of it) fits the bill. From cereals to juices to bread, whenever you see words on a label like enriched or fortified you’re likely evaluating junk food in one form or another.
Most things in boxes or bags are so far from a natural state that there’s hardly any nutrients left in them. Everything we eat has macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) so Big Food makes sure that this features prominently on the label. But macronutrients only give you a big picture of a food’s energy, not its nutritional content, which comes in the form of micro and phytonutrients. These, in most processed foods, are practically non-existent. So in order for you not to notice these foods get “fortified” or “enriched” with whatever the makers can source on the cheap. Marketers then turn these into “essential vitamins minerals” or something else that sounds catchy, even though they’re almost never added with any forethought about what your body might need to function well. The result is that much of America now must consume more and more calories in order to sustain their body’s nutrient requirements. And you know where this leads; to eating more calories than required to maintain a healthy weight.
“We’re fat because we’re gluttons,” was a comment on one of my recent posts. This is hard to argue. But we’re also being made to eat more than we need by a food industry that won’t feed us nutrient dense calories. Sure, they are also guilty off using additives that make us hungry, as well as crave more of the slop they’re shucking, but they’re doing something even more insidious; filing us up with calories they won’t allow our bodies to function properly. This puts us in a Catch-22, where we feel the need to eat more because we’re lacking nutrients, yet the more we eat the worse we feel.
And this entire scenario was set-up by Big Food. It’s impossible to eat this way naturally. Humans are omnivores, meaning that plants and animals, for the most part, are loaded with everything we need to exist. Natural foods don’t just contain “8 essential” vitamins but often hundreds of different things that our bodies can use—-check out this melon article to see what’s in these fruits often called “mainly sugar” by the uninformed. Granted, poor animal raising and farming practices are chipping away at this, too, but it’s still a lot tougher to make a living organism devoid of nutrition than it is to add nutrients to something that’s been so processed that it begins at zero.
So when I find myself in a situation where I need to lose weight and add nutrition at the same time, I start by eliminating stuff in bags and boxes and making veggies and fruits the cornerstone of my diet. Vegetables are the most nutrient dense food on the planet. And due to their calorie to fiber ratio you can’t over eat them. Fruits, too, are almost perfect and can really only be overindulged when dried or juiced. I then add legumes, nuts, and seeds for their energy and fatty acids and, voila, any extra weight melts away. Five days of this and I’m down to fighting weight, provided I’m in the ballpark when I begin.
My one exception is Shakeology, but it’s formulated in exactly the opposite way of convenience food; to maximize nutrient density. In fact, in a way it’s the foundation of my diet because I’m very busy and it’s the quickest and easiest way to make sure I’ve got all the nutritional bases covered in one fell swoop.
Sadly, my omission includes cans and bottles. As healthy as studies show drinkers are there’s no way to justify it as part of this strategy. As much as it may help your lifestyle it’s simply not a nutritionally dense food. Last night I set a personal record; making it through two episodes of Mad Men with nary a cocktail, or even a beer. And this, of course, is mental training. It’s another important aspect of race prep, but a topic for another time.