Five Nutritional Tips – September 2012

This month, I talk about the importance of nutrition for pro athletes, what body fat percentage really means, a great protein pancake recipe, and more.

1. Gary Roberts is the most well-known trainer in hockey. He isn’t doing anything revolutionary, but his focus on holistic health and nutrition has been a game changer. Diet and nutrition is 80 or 90 percent of the equation for anyone looking to lose weight, gain muscle, burn fat, and so on. And that is even more important for pro athletes, who train with a ridiculous amount of volume. They need to fuel their bodies not only to improve, but to avoid breaking down.

What does Roberts do differently with nutrition?

He keeps it in house. He makes it easy. Players simply pick up meals and eat them. That is the biggest hurdle for many people – the time it takes to prepare healthy meals is often seen as a hurdle that can’t be overcome. It is much easier to grab a subway sandwich than it is to grab the ingredients at the store and to prepare a healthy alternative.

A pro athlete doesn’t necessarily eat differently than you. A diet of healthy carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats is recommended. They may eat a lot more of them, as their energy expenditures on a day to day basis are significantly higher.

The Roberts grocery list:

  • Avoid anything with “non-fat” on the label (usually is chemically modified)
  • Have a cheat meal you eat once per week (and make sure you enjoy it)
  • Full-fat yogurt, pressed cottage cheese, goat’s milk (3.5% MF), organic cream cheese, raw or cured parmigiano
  • Organic steak, natural sausage, organic chicken, wild-caught canned tuna, wild salmon
  • Kale, baby greens (Asian mix, root mix, mache), sprouts (sunflower, pea, arugula), avocado, chickpeas, mung beans, lentils
  • Quinoa, brown rice, brown-rice pasta, salba, chia, hemp, sunflower seeds
  • Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, coconut
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (and coconut oil)
  • Variety of other fresh fruits (including goji berries) and vegetables
  • Stay away from processed and unhealthy packaged foods

Roberts on nutrition:

Roberts is the ultimate motivator.

Two weeks into the program Werek went out for ice cream and, a glutton for punishment, made the mistake of telling Roberts.

“He looked at me like I had three heads and he was going to knock me out,” says Werek. “After I saw that look, I didn’t cheat at all.”

I profiled Roberts and his training style and background here.

2. Here is a delicious protein pancake recipe.

The ingredients:

  • 2 eggs Protein (and for binding).
  • 1 scoop (35g) whey protein powder (choc preferred)          I use what ever’s around. Chocolate or banana are my faves.
  • 1 cup oats      Oats rock and are also packed with fibre.
  • 1/4 tsp salt       For taste. Trust me, your pancakes will need it.
  • 1 tbsp stevia    Or sweetener equivalent. Stevia can be found everywhere. It’s natural and derived from a plant.
  • 1 tbsp flour      For density (not 100% necessary and can be sub’d with any form of flour (rice, quinoa etc).
  • 150ml milk      For density and protein (almond/low fat – any will work).
  • 1 tsp cinnamon           For depth of flavour (also helps stabilize blood-sugar levels).
  • 2 tbsp cacao   For taste (cocoa can also be used).
  • 1 tbsp olive oil To stop your ‘protein’ pancakes from being dry and awful (mandatory).
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract  For taste.
  • Maple Syrup, natural yoghurt (to serve)         These will ‘jazz’ it up somewhat (I find the natural yogurt cuts nicely through the sweetness).

3. If you are trying to eat healthier and get more protein in your body at breakfast, but you don’t like eggs, what are you to do? Fear not – here are 20 egg-free breakfast ideas.

“If you are new to this paleo thing, my recommendation is don’t worry about breakfast at first. Going paleo cold-turkey can be hard on the brain – re-engineering three meals a day in one fell swoop is challenging and eventually those poor old synapses and neurotransmitters may blow up and collapse. Instead, prioritize eating paleo at dinner, then lunch. You may find breakfast sorts itself out on its own.

My second piece of advice is usually to reassess what you’re willing to consider breakfast foods. In the beginning, we have all these preconceived ideas about what we should be eating for breakfast. We eliminate those because they’re usually white carbs and definitely not paleo and we’re left with…? A big hole with the exception of eggs. Oh, and bacon. And even bacon gets a bit old when that’s all you have for breakfast day after day.”

4. Here is a terrific nutritional resource from T-Nation. Some of the random facts that I think you will find interesting:

Pre-workout nutrition is probably more important than post workout nutrition, especially if your workouts are less than an hour. You have to remember that it takes time for the nutrients to get into your system, and increasing blood amino acids during training increases protein synthesis.

An interesting tip. My favorite pre-workout meal – protein shake and a square or two of dark chocolate.

The health benefits of grass fed beef and its improved omega-3 and CLA content are blown wildly out of proportion. The vast majority of research – 99.9% of it – showing the health benefits of beef is performed with “conventional” beef. So if you want to eat grass fed beef that’s fine – just don’t try to make me feel like I’m making a bad health decision when I’m enjoying my corn fed ribeye.

This is great news, as grass-fed beef is both expensive and hard to find compared to regular beef.

If you’re not making the gains you want, you need to invest more time in quantifying exactly what you’re putting in your mouth. You’ll be surprised it isn’t what (or as much) as you think.

5. Most people who want to lose weight focus on body fat percentage. Body fat percentage is, simply put, the percentage of your body mass that is comprised of fat (math lesson 101).

The American Council on Exercise recommends the following:

But what do the numbers really mean? Women maintain more body fat than men to support child bearing. Some people naturally hold on to fat more and find it harder to lose than others.

This all comes back to nutrition. When you are trying to “lose the last 10 pounds” (most common phrase in the fitness industry, hands down), don’t worry about the scale. Worry about your body fat percentage. You could lose only five pounds, but your overall weight loss could be offset by a muscle gain.

And don’t get scared of the word fat. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Healthy fats found in almond butter, avocados, and meats are good for you (in the right quantities). What makes you fat – carbohydrates and sugars, primarily (alcohol doesn’t help, either).

The scales that measure body fat are not terribly accurate, either. They use an electrical impedance to calculate tissue density (muscle and bone are denser than fat). But there are a lot of variables that can change how accurate they are – your leg length, and amount of water in your body, for two. Calipers are much more accurate, as long as the person using them knows what he or she is doing.

The best way to track body fat percentage losses? Take pictures. Same time of day for consistencies sake. The mirror doesn’t lie.