We train and spend hours in the gym.
We break down our body to the point where we shuffle for days on end after blasting out leg day, gladly work to failure on those mega supersets, and spend exorbitant amounts of money on supplements to help power our performance.
And yet, when it comes to the kitchen our attitude is a whole lot less serious.
While we carefully plan our training, we fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to what we shovel into our mouths.
Instead of thinking about eating according to performance and our goals, we let cravings and convenience decide.
When you finally tighten things up in the kitchen some cool stuff happens.
Your energy levels go up, you save yourself some moola, and of course, you see the performance benefits in the gym and in the mirror that better reflect your hard work.
Maybe you have always wanted to drill down on your nutrition, but weren’t sure where to start.
Or maybe you saved all of your willpower for your workouts so that at the end of the day, when it came down to eating better or eating conveniently, you choose the latter.
Whichever the case, here are three immediately-actionable ways that you can sort yourself out in the kitchen this year.
1. Start keeping a food journal
If you are already keeping a log book for your workouts than you already know you can do this. Yes, it will take a few extra minutes after each of your meals and snacks to jot down in your little food diary what you just crammed into your mouth, but it’s an effective and proven way to help you curb nasty diet habits.
In a study of 1,700 performed by Kaiser Permanente in 20081 participants who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those that didn’t. Twice the results, just for doing a little bit of homework each day?
The benefits of using a food journal make sense when you think about it:
It makes you self-aware of what you are actually eating: It’s easy to hype up that one healthy meal we had yesterday to justify the handful of brutal meals you had today. It’s impressive how we can also downplay the streak of bad meal choices. A food journal brings it all out into the light, the good, the bad, and the greasy, for you to see.
Shows you the gaps in your nutrition: Every single time I ask an athlete I am working with if they are getting enough protein and water each day the response is always the same: “Uh, heck yeah!” And then I ask them to journal both for a week. Enter sheepish looks from stage right.
This goes back to the whole being self-aware thing—we are terrible at guesstimating what we are taking in over the course of the day. Filling out the pages of a food journal will highlight the gaping holes in your nutrition.
Gives you pause: Your food journal acts as a voice of reason when the completely irrational voices of your cravings begin to pipe up. Knowing that you will have to write out “I ate 7 hot dogs and three servings of poutine” for lunch won’t make the cravings for those yummies go away, but it will force you to rethink giving into them.
Connects diet and performance: Playing ignorant with the role food has on our energy and performance is to your detriment. Huuuugely. There are food choices that make you perform lousy—a food journal will show you this. Similarly, the foods that leave you feeling less thrashed after a tough workout—your food diary will show you these too.
We don’t always grasp the connection between what we eat and how we rock out in the gym, but seeing the causality in the pages of your food journal will be a flashing road-sign to eat better moving forward.
Tips to make the most of your food journal:
1. Write why you are eating beside each meal: It might come as a shock to you, but we don’t always eat because we are hungry. Often times we eat because we are bored, stressed out, or because there is a bowl of chips sitting right there, and hey, it would be rude not to! You’ll cut down unnecessary snacking and eating when you call yourself out on why you are eating.
2. Write down where you were: The why matters, and so does the where. It helps to know where we are when our nutrition takes a running leap off the high tower into the deep end. It might be when you are hanging out with friends. Or at lunch in the cafeteria.
The environment plays a role in the food choices we make, so it’s helpful to point out the places and situations that work towards our goals in the kitchen, and those that utterly do not.
3. Don’t go crazy with details: When filling out a food journal it will be tempting to start going into full-blown detail about what you are consuming. Stick with the basics—portions and your macros. If you are starting a food journal for the first time, it’s more important that you get a general overview of your eating.
2. Start doing regular meal prep
Meal prepping was such a game-changer in my own training that it’s hard to talk about it without coming off as sounding like overstatement. But I’m going to try anyway!
My energy levels went up. Started saving a TON of money from not eating out nearly as much. Taught me portion control. I recovered quicker after hard sessions in the gym and in the pool. Most importantly, it made healthy eating the convenient choice.
After all, how many times have you limped in the door of your house after a long day of work and border-line killing yourself at the gym and stood at the fridge, thinking about what it would take to make something healthy, and then passed on that idea and ordered up some crap?
If you’re like me, too often to count. It’s easy to justify, after all. “We deserve it,” we tell ourselves, our willpower is running on fumes. “It’s just one meal. We’ll eat better tomorrow.”
The awesomeness of meal prepping is that when done correctly, you have a stack of meals staring you in the face to destroy the excuse of convenience. If it only takes 45 seconds to nuke a balanced and awesome meal we are way more likely to make a healthy meal decision.
The research backs up the power of meal planning and prepping.
One study of obese participants found that having a meal plan and shopping list significantly increased weight loss2. Another found that those who spent more time preparing home-cooked meals were more likely to eat healthier food3. Probably not much of a surprise that planning and prepping can do big things, right? The power of meal prepping doesn’t stop there:
You’ll save some cash: Like spending lots of money on food of dubious quality? Yeah, me neither. Once you get into the swing of things you’ll only need to hit the bulk aisle once a week. Gone will be the late-night visits to the grocery or convenience store, or the real savings killer—going out for meals.
Meal prepping will save you a ton of cash—which makes the whole “eating well is too expensive” excuse dubious at best.
You’ll save time: Each Sunday over the span of about 90 minutes I am able to pound 21 meals. That is 21 times over the coming week that I don’t have to text back and forth with the girlfriend—“What are we eating?” It’s also prep time for 21 meals that I don’t have to engage in. Redirect your saved time to sleeping, Netflix, or more sleeping. Great success!
You make healthy eating easier: The resistance I experienced most was the annoyance of having to cook up a healthy meal numerous times a day. (Petty, I know—but no less true!) When there is a rack of meals chillin’ in the fridge, the excuses are gone. The right choice is the easy choice.
We are inherently lazy, and will always gravitate towards the easiest option, and meal prepping takes advantage of this flaw.
Tips for making the most of your meal prepping:
1. Target your worst meal: If the idea of cooking up a week’s worth of meals sounds too intimidating for you, start off by picking off your worst meal of the day. It’s likely late in the day, when you are tired—physically and mentally—and would rather not be troubled with having to cook something good up. Plan and prep for the meal you struggle with most.
2. Don’t fear the monotony: It’s understandable if you feel resistant to the idea of meal prepping out of a fear of boredom. The reality is that you are already basically eating the same foods over and over again, but are under the illusion that your diet is this varied palette of foods (Your food journal will show this to be the case).
There are a heap of ways to spice up your meals over the course of the week, so don’t fear the routine of meal prepping.
3. Clean up your environment
In 2002 researchers at the University of Illinois4 put together a little experiment to see how much of a role visibility and convenience played in our food choices.
The experiment was simple—a group of office workers were each provided with a bowl of candies. The candies were placed in turn at three different spots: on the desk, inside a desk drawer, or placed on a shelf which would require getting up and walking towards to snack from.
When candies were visible and within reach they were consumed most frequently. When visible, 2.9 extra candies were eaten per day compared to when the bowl was in a desk drawer and out of sight, and 5.6 more than those who had to get up and walk to the candies.
In other words, the more visible and convenient your food is, the more of it you are going to stuff in your face. By understanding this we can make eating better food easier by doing two simple things:
1. Throw out the stuff you want to eat less of: If you want to eat less of it, get rid of it. About as simple as it gets! If you can’t throw it out, at the very least make it inconvenient and annoying to go get. For example, you could leave the snacks and foods you are trying to eat less of in the basement.
2. Put the food you want to eat more of on display: If you want to eat more bananas, put them somewhere you have to walk past them. If you want to eat more blueberries, put them at the front of your fridge. Make what you want to eat visible, and you will end up eating more of it.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “We are what we eat.” A variation of this statement rings particularly true in this case, “We eat what we see.”
The Next Step
Okay, so now you know. But knowledge doesn’t mean squat (ha—lifting pun!) if you don’t put words to action.
Here is your assignment:
- Get some much-needed self-awareness. Take a loose leaf paper and write out your meals for the next couple days.
- Give meal prepping a trial run. High-step, jog, walk, drive or saunter to the grocery store and stock up on healthy foods for the next two days—try targeting only your “problem” meal to ease into meal prepping.
- Design your space for healthy eating. Go through the kitchen and cupboards and rid yourself of the problem snacks and food items. Proudly exhibit all the healthy foods you’re going to be eating more of.
With the ever-changing tide in what is good for us and what isn’t in the kitchen, there are some constants you can rely on and they start with these three nutrition strategies.
Give them a try for the next few weeks and finally get a grip on your diet.