As a description of someone, the term “nerd” may be viewed in a negative light. However, I see it differently, and if someone called me a nutritional nerd I would be delighted. I even call my wonderful webmaster “Supernerd”, which fortunately he takes as the compliment it is intended to be. So – what exactly is nutritional nerding? I think I just made it up actually, as a blanket term to cover all the amazing things that one can study when it comes to food, what’s good for us, and why.
I have to confess, in all of my study relating to food and its ability to prevent disease, I was, and still remain, fascinated by the micronutrients – ie all those lovely molecules present in food of every different colour that have such incredible benefits for our bodies. I always believed that by eating a whole foods (ideally raw and sprouted) plant-based diet, together with judicial supplementation, we didn’t really need to worry about the so-called macronutrients (abbreviated to macros) – that is, protein, carbohydrate and fat. Apparently, I am wrong; particularly, it seems, in relation to achieving specific goals in sport. As someone who has been involved in competitive sport for several decades, it seems odd to only just be finding this out. Prior to September 2020, when I entered the first specific fitness challenge of my life, I did my running, went to the gym, and ate my living foods diet. As long as it was raw vegan and didn’t have added raw sugars, I just ate it, paying no attention whatsoever to these macro things. In effect, from a health perspective, I genuinely believed I had my diet nailed. As someone who is always helping other people to upgrade, it’s surprising that all this time, I was missing a trick.
Back to the fitness challenge. Admittedly I joined the challenge for the exercise, since my ultramarathon had been cancelled and I needed something else to focus my attention, but it came together with a vegan diet plan. I was all set to ignore this – after all, why would I want to downgrade my diet and start eating cooked vegan food? But evidently, the best results would not be obtained via the exercise alone. No, no, no… it was those pesky macros that were important on this plan, not the calories, the exercise or anything else. Who knew that you could turn your metabolism into a raging furnace of fat-blasting just by focusing on a macro split? Not that I had any fat to lose, or so I thought, but hey, if I was going to win first prize in this competition, it was time to delve into this new area of study.
Depending on who you listen to, one of the three macros is going to be your enemy (and this isn’t entirely accurate). I guess you have all heard that high fat diets are harmful (they can be), high protein diets are harmful (they certainly are if you’re eating animal protein) and high carb diets make you fat (indeed they can). So – what on earth are we supposed to do? By definition, if you severely restrict one macro (which I don’t recommend), your diet will be made up of the other two. Ultimately, all food is made up of the 3 macros, it’s just the ratios that are different, and depending on what your individual goals are, the macros can be tweaked to get you there faster.
Having eaten a raw food diet for so long, this came as somewhat of a revelation – the closest thing thus far to “raw food macros” that I had read about was David Wolfe’s “sunfood triangle” in his book The Sunfood Diet Success System. The macro planner in the fitness challenge I had entered depended on one’s current weight, and that was all. For every pound of bodyweight, apparently I would need one gram of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and between 1 gram and 0.6 grams of carbs, depending on which stage of the challenge I was at (first 2 weeks 1g of carbs, next 2 weeks 0.8g, next 2 weeks 0.7g etc). Now, if you’re eating prepackaged processed food, it’s pretty easy to work out how many grams of each macro is in your meal – after all, it’s listed per 100 grams of product, so you just plug your numbers in. Heck, there are even apps that will do it for you. What about my Sunday breakfast of chia seed porridge with home-made chocolate hazelnut milk though? What kind of a macro split does that have, and is it genuinely the best thing for refuelling my body after a long run? Time to work it out, and see if I can upgrade.
Chia seeds per 100 grams have: 486 calories, 42g carbs, 17g protein, 31g fat. I use 2 tablespoons, which gives me –
138 calories, 14g carbs, 5.6g protein, 10.3g fat. To this I add a scoop of Sunwarrior raw protein powder (chocolate flavour) which is 100 calories, 4g carbs, 17g protein and 1.2g fat. Nice high protein content for muscle recovery and keeping me feeling full for longer. Then, some liquid is needed, and I don’t like it with just water, so it’s time for my home made chocolate hazelnut milk to go with it. 250ml of this contains 182.5 calories, 15.5g carbs, 3.8g protein and 12g fat. Yikes! That throws off my macros a bit, giving me a total, for the meal, of 420 calories, 33.5g carbs, 26.4g protein and 23.5g fat. It’s a very healthy breakfast for a long distance runner such as myself, but for someone wishing to lose weight, it’s not a good split (too many carbs). And why? It’s because this particular home made milk contains dates. Oops! Take the dates out, use stevia as a sweetener instead and what do you get? 313 calories, 23g carbs, 23g protein and 10.9g fat. That’s quite a difference, and an instant upgrade.
So, what happened when I did my fitness challenge and paid attention to macros? I shed fat like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t really have a lot of fat to lose, but the macro split that I followed revved up my metabolism faster than just the exercise alone, and ensured that I retained and built muscle as opposed to losing it whilst on a calorie deficit. I ended up leaner, with better muscle definition and approximately 12% body fat, lower than I had been in years of raw food eating. And the best part? Because I built muscle and the weight training made me stronger, my running improved, especially uphill running. This stuff works!
I’ll be back again soon with more nutritional nerding, focusing on my favourite micronutrients – see you then.