I AM a paleo endurance athlete. It’s enabled me to recover faster, retain muscle better, reduce inflammation, drop body fat comp (<3%) and increase my energy levels. I have reestablished insulin sensitivity to the point that just looking at cotton candy will put me in a sugar coma. While all of these benefits have been monumental in my continued high performance as an athlete, I have noted one draw back to this diet; I’m rarely hungry!!! What, drawback?? Please read on…
When nutrition falls off (think roller coaster insulin levels), performance is negatively affected. Energy levels decline. My mood shifts from rainbows (yes, double rainbows and I don’t know what it means) and puppies to “the darkness” and/or “who added water to Mahoney because he just turned into a Gremlin” mood. Paying attention to mood is a great measurement of not just overall wellness but also nutrition.
When nutrition is dialed in, my energy levels (thus insulin levels) are humming. It’s like an engine firing on all 8 cylinders. The body is burning stored fat, recently ingested food and is not craving sugar nor calories. This can be problematic for the crossfit/endurance athlete who often enough is nearly in a constant state of “recovery.” For example, my morning usually consists of 1 cup of coffee with 4-5 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. That’s a good 2-300 calories of pure fat…mmm, perfect. The caffeine cranks my metabolism into overdrive while my system will work off those calories with no effect to insulin levels. Unfortunately, this causes a negative feeling of complacency with respect to caloric intake. If I drink my coffee at 5:30 and don’t eat something substantial until after my workout at 11:30-12, that’s nearly 15 hours before my last meal!! This is obviously very bad. Why is it bad? At this point the metabolism slows down. Because my body has recognized a state of “starvation”, cortisol levels (stress hormone) will rise and produce “belly fat” in anticipation of a future with no food. That’s right, the body will actually create fat when it doesn’t receive enough calories. Muscles, which are expensive for the body to maintain, get burned to keep the essential life processes (ie your kidneys) to continue functioning properly. I think it goes without saying that in such cases, going by the usual “eat when your hungry” mantra doesn’t work very well.
This is the part where focusing on a total caloric intake is very important. Keeping a free log at FitDay will ensure the athlete knows exactly how much he’s eating and in what ratio’s. Most think food logs are for people who only need to lose weight. Not true. They are every bit as important as the athletes daily programming schedules. AKA, get a f’ing log!
Eat Every Two Hours
If I’m working out at 8am, I know I won’t be able to throw down a 1000 calorie breakfast. My coffee w/ heavy cream and an additional light snack of hard boiled eggs/blueberries no later than 2 hours before is right on the money. Within 30min of my workout, I’m looking to get .5-.75g of total body weight of carbohydrates. Carb to protein ratio should be 4:1. Chocolate milk is usually right on the money and easy to grab a pint of at the local grocer.
Post recovery meal at 12pm usually looks like a smorgasbord. I’m combining the calories I missed from my breakfast meal with the calories from lunch. If done properly, that’s about 2000 calories. Whammy! A hungry athlete is a healthy athlete. This will keep me” full” until about 3:30-4pm. If my second workout of the day is around 5:00-30, that means I have to eat another 200-300 calories by 4-4:30 to perform well, even if I’m not hungry! Coaching at the gym can last until 8:30pm, which means dinner isn’t until 9:30pm. If I’m on a 5000 calorie diet, where/when do I fit in all this food???
Ala my thinkThin post, prepare your meals everyday! Not being complacent about nutritional and caloric needs is vital to athletic performance. Keeping a food log will help you gauge where you are during the day. While I may go to “paleo hell” for recommending this, I believe grabbing calories from a sandwich is 10x better than a settling for a few nuts/beef jerky to help tie you over. 5k in calories is a lot. Eating can become a full-time job when considering prep time in addition to everything else. This is where meals from places like Chef by Request are clutch. Already paleo packaged, fresh and constantly changing, they help take the guess-work and prep time out of eating well. (BTW, we have 3 lunches in the gym!)
Calculating Caloric Intake
Studies show that the Cunningham Equation is the best fit model in gauging day to day caloric needs of the endurance athlete. Here’s how to calculate your own caloric needs. Thanks goes out to the StrongLifts.com forums for making this easy!
The Cunningham Equation
Step #1 Determine Resting Metabolic Rate
Sample trainee is 200 lbs at 5% bodyfat, so 0.05 equals 5% bodyfat
Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to get your weight in
Kilograms (skip if you use metric). E.g. 200/2.2=90.91 kg
Next take your fat percentage and multiply by your mass in kilograms,
this will give you your fat mass (FM) E.g. 90.91×0.05=4.55 kg
Subtract your (FM) from your total weight in kilograms to get your fat
free mass (FFM) E.g. 90.91-4.55=86.36 kg
Now enter your (FFM) into this formula
RMR = 500 + [22 x (FFM)] E.g. RMR=500 + [22 x 86.36]
RMR=500 + 1,899.92
Step #2 Determine the Thermic Effect of Food
If you eat a moderate protein diet your factor will be 0.10
(roughly 1g/lb of body weight), for a high protein diet your factor
will be 0.15 (roughly 1.5 g/lb of body weight) .
TEF = RMR x factor (0.10 or 0.15) E.g. TEF=359.99
Do not add this to your RMR yet.
Step #3 Determine Activity Thermogenesis
The first part is to determine your Non Exercise Activity
You’ll need to use one of these NEAT factors (or one in between, like 1.45):
1.2- 1.3 for bed- or chair-ridden individuals
1.4- 1.5 for sedentary occupation without daily movement
1.5- 1.6 for sedentary occupation with daily movement
1.6- 1.7 for occupation with prolonged standing
1.9-2.1 for strenuous work
RMR + NEAT = RMR x NEAT factor E.g. RMR+NEAT=2,399.93 x 1.45
Now add in your TEF
RMR + NEAT + TEF = Non training day caloric needs E.g. RMR+NEAT+TEF=3839.86
Now determine your Exercise Related Activity Thermogenesis (ERAT)
For intense free weight lifting the Metabolic Effect of Training (MET)
is 6. Use your total weight, including fat. For the duration use a decimal
to represent the amount of time (45 min = 0.75, 90 min = 1.5).
ERAT = Body Mass x duration x MET E.g. ERAT=90.91 x 1.5 x 6
On training days you add in your ERAT number for your total calories
E.g.RMR+NEAT+TEF+ERAT = 4,659.05
Our sample trainee would eat 3,839.86 calories on a Non Training Day and 4,659.05 for a Training Day.
Round down to 3,800 and 4,600 and our sample trainee knows how much he needs to eat to maintain his weight.
Using this calculator, my non-intensive training days (ie recovery days) = 4566cal/day. Intensive training days = 5008cal/day.
Overall, finding this calculator has been huge in my performance. Everyday I have a number in my head to shoot for. Recording everything on FitDay helps dial it all in a little better. For the performance athlete, I believe overfilling the tank is much better than underfilling. Not getting enough calories will lead to burn out very quickly.
Look at the above equation and post your caloric needs to comments. I think you’ll be surprised.
Never let it rest…