A few months ago, I decided it was time to make a change to my diet. At the time, I actually felt pretty good. My health wasn’t concerning me, and I thought that my performance in the gym was above average. However, I wanted to continue to progress, and I knew my diet would need to change to achieve my goals. First, I wanted to lower my body fat without losing strength (muscle). I was always able to lose weight, but I would lose muscle mass at the same time. Second, I thought that my level of soreness after workouts was too high. Finally, I wanted my diet change to cater towards improved performance (both in strength and metcons). I felt like I was working hard in the gym, but I just wasn’t getting the results I expected.
My actual weight was not a concern to me, so wherever the scale ended up would be okay with me. Most nutritionists focus primarily on weight loss. However, that’s not the help I was looking for, and I wanted to work with a nutritionist that aligned with my goals. After a lot of research, I found someone that wasn’t too restrictive and knew about improving athletic performance. I know what you’re thinking, “this guy wants to lower body fat, get stronger and faster, and improve recovery”… I just want it all right?! Yes, I do want it all 🙂
My diet for the last few years was, in my opinion, healthy. I ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, good sources of protein, and only ate the good fats. I was the ‘healthy eater’ around the work lunch table. I rarely drank alcohol, and never soda or sugar filled juices. I did enjoy my sweets, but I wasn’t eating boxes of Girl Scout cookies every night. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but you could generalize my diet as high fat, low carb. This is a great diet for general health, but not the best choice for someone looking to improve strength and CrossFit conditioning. And while I was slim, my body fat was creeping up.
My nutritionist uses flexible dieting, and she recommended a low fat, high carb diet to meet my goals. Basically the exact opposite of what I had been doing. The biggest shock to me: I needed to weigh, measure, and record EVERYTHING that I ate. The reason for the diligent tracking is that this new program would only account for my intake of macro nutrients (protein, fat and carbs).
Flexible dieting does not restrict what you eat. The flexible part is that you’re free to choose anything you want to eat, but every day you must meet your given protein/fat/carb numbers. I have weekly check-ins with my nutritionist to assess progress, and if needed, she makes changes to my numbers for the week. Because of the freedom, it’s my responsibility to determine what foods worked best for my goals (ie, should I eat sugar, gluten, dairy, etc.). Thankfully, I had good eating habits prior to starting this program, so I had a knowledge base of what foods worked well for me. Since my body does well with most foods and the occasional treat, I could work these into my diet with proper planning. I am able to account for the carrot cake slice (my favorite) that I have for breakfast occasionally, my weekly frozen yogurt trip, and even pizza! However, these are not my main sources of nutrition. I still eat a lot of veggies and meat, but I have adjusted my cooking techniques and amounts to fit my macros. Compared to my previous diet, my carb intake has gone up considerably. My main carb sources are: fruit, rice, oats and potatoes.
Any change in your diet is going to have an adjustment time to allow your body to adapt. I was fully prepared to wait a few months to start seeing the progress I was hoping for. To my surprise, it was like a light switch. The added carbs in my diet started to improve my gym performance within the first couple weeks. Body composition was noticeably different within the first month. I was hitting strength PR’s (deadlift, power snatch, power clean, strict press, overhead squat, thruster and my first strict muscle up), and my metcon times blew me away. I felt lighter, faster and stronger. My weight was dropping, and I could tell my body fat was melting away. Soreness was significantly reduced, and recovery was quicker. I now had the proper fuel in my body, and that allowed me to work harder in the gym.
Prior to my diet change, I had a blood test and DXA scan. I thought those would be good health markers to determine how my diet change affected my body. I’m only four months into the program, and all my blood markers were either unchanged or improved, no areas of concern. I lost 12.8 pounds (170.8 to 158.0), dropped 8% body fat (from 22% to 14%!), and I gained lean muscle mass (127.2 lbs to 133.7 lbs). I did the seemingly impossible task of losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time. Plus, I did all this while navigating the tricky eating situations during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I never thought that I ate low carb, or high fat. Too often we see those terms, but we don’t know what they mean. What is low or high carb? How many carbs am I eating? How much does my macronutrient intake change from day to day? I didn’t weigh or track my food intake prior to starting flexible dieting, but I would guess that I was eating somewhere around 150g of fat, 160g of protein and 100g of carbs per day. Also, I was very inconsistent. Some days I’d eat a lot of carbs, some days I’d eat a lot of fats, and some days I would flat out eat anything in sight. This led to weight fluctuations that I thought were ‘normal’. Currently I’m eating 60g of fat, 195g of protein and 250g-380g of carbs per day (carbs change depending on daily activity), but more importantly I hit my numbers almost every day. That consistency allowed me to see how my eating affected my body, and my morning weigh-in has been remarkably consistent.
Is this something everyone can do? Absolutely! Flexible dieting is the crossfit of the nutrition world. You tailor your macros around your goals, regularly assess how you’re doing, and make adjustments when needed. Infinitely scaleable! I highly recommend working with a nutritionist who is familiar with flexible dieting, it will shorten the learning curve. Weighing everything is probably the biggest hurdle at first. It takes a bit more time to prepare, and you have to plan ahead, but it really isn’t as daunting as it sounds. There are plenty of food tracking apps that make this process much easier. Like anything, once you get into a routine, it’s easy.
|Measurement||Starting numbers||17 weeks into flexible dieting||Difference|
|Body fat (%)||22.9||14.7||-8.2|
|Lean muscle mass (lbs)||127.2||133.7||+6.5|
Where do I go from here? The problem with a ‘diet’, is that they usually center around an end weight. Once you hit that weight, your diet is over, you go back to your old habits, and we all know where that ends up. Flexible dieting allows you to make changes as your goals change. A diet has an end, but your diet goes with you forever. Now, I’m at a point where I’m going to start increasing my daily macro numbers, and the plan is to build muscle. My overall goals remain the same (get stronger, stay lean, recover quickly and be healthy), and I am confident that I will continue to meet my goals and crush it in the gym!