What are you having for dinner tonight?

What are you having for dinner tonight?

What about 3 nights from now?

Once you have a goal - whether its a goal to lose body fat, or run a 10k, or do your first pullup - the next step is to develop a plan. 

And the more exceptional your goal is, the more precisely you need to plan ahead. 

(Fun fact: Weight-class athletes and bodybuilding competitors might know what they’re eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner TWELVE WEEKS from now. Doesn’t that sound fun!)

Of course, there is a spectrum!

MOST people start out on the “I literally have no idea what I’m eating in an hour” side.

VERY FEW people need to know *exactly* what they will be eating in two weeks. 

However, if you want to move from where you are now to a little better, a little stronger, a little leaner - then you also need to add a little more precision and planning to your diet. Here are two suggestions to try out:

Make a weekly lunch/dinner calendar: Whether you cook or eat at work, put together a Sunday-Thursday calendar for your lunches and dinners. This gives you the chance to create meals that you look forward to AND fit with your nutrient targets.  I personally cycle through the same calendar each week, but if you need more variety, you might create a 10-day calendar.

Prep your own emergency snack kit: If you’re on the move between meetings, you may grab snacks throughout the day to keep you focused. In a pinch, you’re likely to take the closest, easiest option. Depending on what’s around, this can make hitting your calorie or macro targets much more difficult. Take control away from the microkitchen by prepping 1-3 snack packs at home that contain exactly what you want. For me, Quest Bars are killer for protein, fruit for extra carbs, and mixed nuts for extra fat. Triple reverse platinum pro tip: do this for long road trips too. 

Your mission is to reduce the amount of times you have to make decisions in the moment. Snap judgments while in the cafe line or staring into the fridge are rarely aligned with your long term goals. 

ANY time you want to make a change, ambiguity is the enemy. 

Do you have other ways you plan your meals ahead? Share them in the comments!

The Tinder lie and personal growth

The big lie of Tinder is that there’s a perfect partner.

Modern dating apps frame you as the fixed center around which a constellation of possibilities swirl. You swipe and swipe, seeking a partner that fits your hyper-specific desires and lifestyle. 

The implicit message: love is a search for the “right” person. You needn’t adjust your own behaviors or preferences, you must instead find the unicorn that complements them. 

Many nutrition educators and fitness professionals are happy to sell you the same lie: find the “right” diet and your fat will melt, your biceps will bulge, you’ll live to a healthy 140 (well past the age of most hobbits). The problem, they insist, is that grains are causing inflammation, or sugar is addictive, or that red meat is toxic. Swipe for your new, perfect diet. 

Yes, food composition matters. But there are a countless number of ways to create a calorie deficit and eat sufficient amount of protein and vegetables. 

The truth is, many people don’t need to radically change their foods; they need to change their habits and assumptions. Their level of commitment and planning. Their ability to set boundaries and hold themselves accountable. Their willingness to compromise. 

As in dating, diet success is a product of self-awareness and personal growth more than any perfect fit. Not a demand for easy comfort, but the pursuit of the uncomfortable, challenging work of change. 

Cover and Move

Soldiers don’t have the luxury for tactics that “should” work “in theory.” Survival tends to separate the bullshit from the effective. 

In 2006, Leif Babin had to navigate a team of soldiers through six sniper-manned and booby-trapped blocks in Ramadi. Pushing forward meant exposing the team to a potentially lethal attack that could come from any direction. Time spent deliberating only gave their enemies an opportunity to assemble and fortify position. They had to move. 

An interlude..

We are fortunate to rarely, if ever, find ourselves in mortal danger. Yet our stresses and responsibilities accumulate, and in quiet moments - perhaps shortly after turning out the lights at the end of the day - we feel overwhelmed by obligations real and imaginary. Cynical people (usually behind a keyboard) will trivialize these as “first world problems”, but the truth is our body's stress response doesn’t differentiate much between a looming bear and a looming deadline. 

We task ourselves with not just maintaining, but advancing our careers, finances, family and social relationships…. and if we have time for it enjoying a hobby or improving our health and fitness. We call it “juggling”: everything in the air, fearing a moment's rest or distraction will create a complete collapse. 

Threats from all directions, and yet, we have to move.

Babin split his team into two groups, let’s call them “A” and “B”.  He tasked Group-A with training their weapons on every window, alley, and rooftop, watching for ambush. While Group-A watched, Group-B rushed ahead halfway down the block. Then, roles switched: Group-B watched for threats while Group-A moved up to the their position.

This tactic is called Cover and Move.

Block by block, each group alternated between pushing forward and staying put to provide cover for their squadmates. In this way, they slowly and securely advanced through danger and back to base.

Like many combat principles, Cover and Move is simple enough for anyone to understand, yet profoundly extensible to almost any challenging and complex environment. 

Cover and Move is a game-changer. It works everywhere. It can help you split up daily responsibilities with a partner, or effectively advance key projects at your job. It can also help you take on and crush your nutrition and fitness goals. 

You knew I’d bring it around to food, didn’t you? 

You can incorporate the principle of Cover and Move in your nutrition goals in a few ways:

  1. Honest priorities: It might not be the right time to take on a big hairy change in your diet habits. Are you getting hammered by a new role at work? Are you resolving a difficult situation with friends or family? Are you rarely getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night? For the time being it makes sense to pause your diet goals and let your current eating habits provide COVER while other important parts of life MOVE forward. Then, when you have a handle on the new job or you’ve made changes to get the sleep you need, those can provide COVER while you MOVE your nutrition forward with more challenging adjustments. We want to improve all facets of our life, but the most successful people will de-prioritize improvement in some areas so they can put their full attention on others. The key idea is to be intentional about alternating those areas over time. Don’t be that person who can “never” change their nutrition habits because something else is “always” more important. 
  2. Social support: Don’t go at it alone. Creating any significant change requires the support of people you trust. Assemble your Group-B: the people who can provide cover in your vulnerable spots so you can move ahead. For example, you might dislike cooking. Don’t let that stop you from making diet changes. Find ways to delegate that responsibility to your Group-B. Perhaps you can order from restaurants you trust (Chipotle, I will always ❤️ you), or sign up for a meal service, or find easy recipes on forums like https://www.reddit.com/r/MealPrepSunday/. Friends and communities can cover for the parts of change you aren’t comfortable with yet. One last thing: this is cover AND move. You have both roles. When you master new eating habits, pay it forward by providing support to friends and community with what you’ve learned so they can move forward too.
  3. Coaching: Working with a good nutrition coach is like hiring the ultimate Group-B. A coach will help you plan your route, watch your back, and provide cover for the habits that you find challenging or mystifying so that you can move forward confidently and effectively. The intention behind coaching is not only to get you there, but to develop the tools and tactics you'll need to provide your own cover for the rest of your life. 

When you take on a new project or responsibility, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is “what is going to provide cover so that I can be successful here?”  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pushing everything forward at once will be faster. Shit will happen (this is be the first rule of combat). Building cover, in the form of honest priorities, community, and coaching can make all the difference. 

If you want to read more about Cover and Move, as well as other effective combat principles applied to life, check out Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

🐥 The Birds And The Bees of Protein 🐝

Hokay. Okay okay. Now that you’re old enough, I think it’s time we had the protein talk. 

Maybe you’ve been noticing that your body has been undergoing some, erm, changes lately. 😨Certain parts are getting bigger. Others seem to be shrinking. You’re noticing bulges where there weren’t bulges before. I get it! 

A lot of those changes come down to how much protein you’re eating. And if you’re most people, it’s not enough. 

Eesh, I can see you squirming already. Look, I’ll boil down the basics - the stuff you absolutely need to know to protect yourself. I won’t get into all the squishy details, and I’ll just leave a few articles that you can peruse later if you want to learn more without me in the room. Okay? Okay. So:

I. What is protein and what does it do?

Protein is one of the three nutrients you need to eat in large amounts in order for your body to function. Our body uses protein to build and strengthen our cells, muscles, organs, bones, enzymes, hormones, immune system, and if you got to the end of this sentence without skimming, congrats - you’re one of dedicated ones. 

TL;DR: Protein BUILDS your body.

Our bodies continually break down and rebuild the protein in our cells. Think of how your surface skin cells constantly dry and scratch off, and new skin forms underneath. Same with most of the cells in your body. This process of recycling is called protein turnover. 

 Protein turnover is one of the reasons that you need to eat a sufficient amount of protein. The less protein you eat, the less material you have to rebuild your body’s tissues. This isn’t life-threatening or anything unless you’re truly starving yourself of protein, but it will affect the amount of muscle you retain during a caloric deficit, and the amount of muscle you build during a caloric surplus.

Beyond that, research shows that protein intake correlates with higher and longer lasting feelings of satiety (fullness) during a weight loss phase, as well as long-term dietary adherence.

Key idea: In the context of your body composition, protein is required to build new muscle AND retain the muscle you have. In your daily life, it also makes periods of cutting weight easier by increasing your feeling of fullness through the day.

II. And where can I find this magic elixir? 

Here are some common sources of protein, from mostly-protein to mostly-not-protein.

High protein, low fat/carb:

  • Chicken breast
  • Lean red meats
  • White fish
  • Canned tuna
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Egg whites

Medium protein, medium/high fat or carb:

  • Whole eggs
  • Red meat
  • Dark meat chicken
  • Milk
  • Beans, lentils and other legumes
  • Tofu

Light protein, but mostly fat or carb:

  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Grains (rice, pasta, oats, bread)

Key idea: protein is everywhere, but focus on high-protein foods first.

 

III. How much of that goes in my face? 

Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

Again, eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

So if you weigh 180 pounds, 180g protein per day. If you weigh 130, 130g per day. 

Hey, that was simple!

Because our bodies are not structural engineers or ethical tax accountants, precision isn’t even necessary; eating plus or minus 20g of that is fine. 

Key idea: Eat around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.

 

IV. You didn’t understand my question, NERD. How much *food* goes in my *food*hole? 

Oh. I see what you’re getting at.

If you’re just starting out, then you don’t think of food in macronutrient grams yet. No problem. There are two methods to track:

1. Simple tracking (good for people just starting out):

20 grams of protein is roughly the size of a palm-sized portion of meat. 

Meaning, your three-dimensional palm, so include thickness. Whether your hands are meaty or slight, no need to adjust - this trick automatically adjusts your portion size to your person size.

Now you can quickly estimate the amount of “palms” of protein to eat in a day. A 120lb person would eat 5-6 palms a day, while a 200lb person would eat 9-10. ✋🏼✋🏼✋🏼✋🏼

2. Precise tracking (good for people with more experience or advanced goals):

This one’s also straightforward: enter your daily diet into an app like MyFitnessPal, FitGenie, or FatSecret. 

For the most accuracy, weigh the ingredients in your meals before they’re cooked. If you often eat from a cafe or restaurant, you’re still good. These apps usually have listings for both raw and cooked meats, so do your best to weigh and estimate. 

(Side note for those worried about looking silly using a food scale in front of their friends: when you start to feel awkward, remember that in a few weeks their side-eye will become envy, then become curiosity. Success is more seductive than any argument. 

When you’re done, you'll have an accurate measurement of your total protein intake for the day.

Last quiz, how many grams of protein should you be eating per day?

Key idea: Make tracking your protein as simple as possible for your needs, but no simpler. The more advanced your goals, the more precision you’ll want.

 

V. Does protein timing or frequency matter? 

Until you are eating the proper amount of protein, no it doesn’t.

Some studies support the effect of protein timing on muscle growth - spacing protein out evenly throughout the day may convey a small advantage in muscle synthesis. There are also a few corner cases for people trying to eek out a 1-2% difference to win a competition.  This may or may not be you. And critically, this requires that you are already eating 1g/lb of bodyweight and training properly.

What is most important is that you eat the optimal amount of protein for your bodyweight, at whatever time of the day is convenient, in whatever portion size works best for you.

 “Should I eat breakfast?”

“I heard I need to eat every 2 hours to boost my metabolism.”

See above. 

Key idea: Until your protein intake is rock-solid, don’t worry about meal timing.

VI. What if I don’t want to get big muscles? 

I understand that some people don’t want to look like Arnold. Great news, you won’t! Massive, blocky muscles require years of effort in the gym, an effective, progressive weightlifting program, extreme dietary discipline, and in many of the cases you’re imagining, supplemental pharmaceutical assistance. 

Lots of people train hard, eat a ton, WANT DESPERATELY to put on big muscle, and still can’t do it. 

TL;DR: there is literally no way to accidentally get huge bodybuilder muscles.

Please,

Eat 1g protein/lb of bodyweight. 

Lift heavy weights. 

You won’t get huge, but you will get strong. And strong looks good on everybody.

VII. What if I DO WANT big muscles? 

Start here:

Eat 1g protein/lb of bodyweight.

Lift heavy weights.

There’s more - a good deal more - to consider outside of the scope of this article. But you need to do these two things consistently before more details begin to really matter. 

VIII. What if I’m a newly-sentient artificial intelligence appalled by humanity’s depravity and moral excess? 

😨

🤔

..Listen, I know that man's inhumanity toward fellow human beings and the planet itself is baffling and irrational, but *please understand* that from our irrationality also sprouts that which is beautiful in us: irrationality creates music and art and, damn it, love. Love! It is that tension between obscenity and grace, that dance of darkness and light which forms our unreasonable balance. And it is in balance that we find our reason.

Yes, we humans are irrational; perfectly irrational. An asymptote: always reaching, never there.

...🤖👍

 

IX. Are we still talking about protein?

Yes. Ahem. Yes we are. In fact, let’s wrap up with some real talk.

 

X. Real talk

Real fucking talk here. You can tell I mean it because swearing.

MOST of the people I talk to interested in changing their diet and making progress with body composition goals need to stop messing around with fad diets, elimination diets like whole30, or ways of eating that require you to restructure your entire social life around metabolic edge-cases, like keto.

MOST people I talk to could make significant, longer-lasting, less-stressful progress by ensuring they eat:

1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (or 5-10 palms depending on how large thou art)

1 or 2 big-ass head-sized salads a day

1 piece of dark chocolate so they can chill the fuck out about feeling deprived

This is so much food that they will probably need to supplement their protein intake with a whey protein shake during the day. (This is fine.)

Real talk: Get your protein right. For most people, that means increasing the amount they eat.

And if you plan to succeed, take action after reading this.

 

Additional notes for the curious:

1. Studies provide ample evidence for optimal protein intakes between .8g/lb - 1.3g/lb, and there is healthy debate between researchers around what is “best” within this range. In reality, I’m not convinced that any conclusion to this debate will have practical application to the average person, due to relatively small effect size and individual variance in protein metabolism. Eating *anywhere* in this range is probably optimal for all but competitive athletes. Hence, starting at 1g/lb and adjusting higher or lower based on preference is a straightforward and effective dietary strategy.

2. “Are you saying that all that matters to my goals is eating the right amount of protein?” No - but I am suggesting that eating a sufficient amount of protein each day has far more influence on your desired outcome than nutrient timing, nutrient sources, carb to fat ratio, etc. In other words, if you can rattle off the list of foods you’re "not allowed” to eat for a month, but can’t say how much protein you ate yesterday, then I recommend you go back to the drawing board.

3. If you want to dig deeper into the current state of protein research, Eric Helms provides a thorough overview, along with links to research papers, here: https://www.strongerbyscience.com/reflecting-on-five-years-studying-protein/

 

 

 

How to balance a breakfast

How to balance a breakfast

I was a kid in the 90s, so there are a few truths I’ve held to be self-evident:

1. Disney Afternoon was the bomb 💣

2. It is legitimate to sometimes call things the bomb 🆒

3. Cinnamon Toast Crunch is part of balanced breakfast 💪🏽

While the first two statements hold up completely under modern scrutiny, the third is a little shaky. Let’s dissect it.

We remember nothing

We remember nothing

Leonard wants to kill the guy who murdered his wife, but a beating left him with anterograde amnesia; he can’t make new memories. So, every time he meets an important person or finds a clue that brings him a step closer to revenge, he tattoos that fact on his body. 

Memento is an incredible movie y’all. 

And maybe you can relate to Leonard. I know I can. Here is my exactly-the-same-pretty-much story.

How nutrition writers fail their audience

How nutrition writers fail their audience

Healthy eating and evidence-based nutrition is viewed as such an unsexy topic by most publications that the few articles they publish need to make a bold, surprising claim right in the headline: one that either thrills your or frightens you. Bad food is good! Good food is bad!

This framing is so common that it's nearly impossible to begin coaching novice eaters without first undoing a bunch of half-truths and misunderstandings about fruit, meat, eggs, bread, and butter. Just to start.