You are ramping up your training. You have been conscious of your diet, tracking the calories on an app and your training sessions on the bike, swim and run. You feel like you should be making strides, but your weight seems stuck. You are hungry more than you think you should be and hmmm, what gives?
Have you ever really looked at what your diet consists of? For many athletes, they have a lot of processed foods and not so many real food options. This is mainly from a convenience standpoint – already made bars or meal replacement shakes are so easy. No argument there. But are you getting what you need from the processed bar or shake even if it includes ‘real’ and natural ingredients? Here are a few things to consider and an experiment for you to try. Yes, we like to play lab with real life, rather than lab in a lab which has no basis on your actual life outside the bubble.
First off, humans were designed to chew, digest and assimilate real foods. When I say real food, I mean vegetables from the produce section, farm-to-table items, and food prepared at home rather than made from a box. We like to use the processed foods more often due to ease and availability. The challenge with processed foods is that the body doesn’t work with that food as it would real food. Yes, calories might be the same from 80 calories of broccoli vs a small potato vs 4 oz of Coke vs a mini Clif bar….but the calories act differently in each of these. It takes a certain amount of time to digest and break down certain foods.
Carbohydrates are the fastest (about 60-90 mins), proteins next (about 2-4 hours) and fats (about 3-4 hours) and they affect the blood sugar and hunger based on that timeline. Broccoli won’t spike the blood sugar while Coke will. Broccoli will balance blood sugar and you can eat 2 cups of it vs a Clif bar which has more calories, but you’ll be hungry an hour later.
Let’s take a meal replacement shake. It has ‘natural’ ingredients. It has protein powder in it so you are getting your 25g of protein… but because it is processed, it is pre-digested protein – the body is NOT breaking anything down to digest. It is basically just absorbing the liquids you are taking in. (good for recovery meal…) You tend to be hungry again within an hour. Some will add extra fat and fiber to extend that fuller feeling but generally – a shake is good for 2 hours before you get hungry again.
Now, the next option is something like an RXBAR – 5 ingredients. Nothing else. 3 egg whites, 6 almonds, 4 cashews, and 2 dates. It most likely will last you also 2 hours before you are hungry.
Here is my at home experiment suggestion:
On day 1, eat the RX bar.
On day 2, eat 3 egg whites (cooked), 6 almonds, 4 cashews and 2 dates as those real food components.
On day 3, try 1 whole egg instead of the egg whites – this would be my choice. Or replace the dates with a baked potato with butter.
The experiment here is to pay attention to how it is you feel while eating it, and a few hours after eating each option. You may feel fuller with the separate components of real food (although I cannot say the taste experience will be as good). But you decide which works better at satisfying your hunger, making you less hungry between meals for longer periods of time and whether you can eat as much in that meal when it is more real food vs processed.
Do the same thing with the shake. Make your own green smoothie.
On day 1, use your favorite protein powder.
On day 2, omit the protein powder, but eat half a chicken breast, leftover fish or beef from dinner last night, or 2 hard-boiled eggs whole. No, do not put that into the shake, but eat it as a side option. Initially it also seems weird, but you should notice, that even with the same 25 grams of protein, the real food option of protein last longer and keeps your hunger satisfied for longer.
You can choose however it is you want to eat, but when you start paying attention to the choices you make, it starts to make sense to start choosing more real food options over the processed ones. I remember when I was Ironman training, I had bars as snacks all the time. I was always hungry every 2 hours and just stayed at the same weight despite 20+ hours of training a week. Once I switched to more real food, fighting my weight was no longer an issue, and I am able to train just as much and eat what I want… just more real food options.
Joanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC, TPTH is a holistic sports nutrition coach and multidimensional healer helping you find balance and whole body health using real foods, Path To Heal energy work and essential oils.
Joanna provides her clients with realistic, real foods, movement therapy and stress management options that fit into their busy lives. Joanna helps clients find the way to self-love, self-acceptance and a life of joy honoring their needs, body, mind and soul. Nutrition for body, mind, spirit, and sport. For more information, please visit www.nutrition-in-motion.net.