[Note: This post was inspired by Lindsay over at Cotter Crunch. If you’re a gluten-free endurance athlete - I highly recommend checking out her post!]
*Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, etc. Just sharing what works for ME and my experience.*
I love food. And eating. And cooking. Not only is food just damn delicious, it’s also a pretty critical piece of my goals to get stronger and be better. While I definitely eat my fair share of ice cream, peanut butter cups, and fries - these things definitely don’t make up the majority of my diet all the time (I admit, they do get a bit more frequent as my training gets really hard and heavy). I still maintain that ice cream is magical recovery food, though ;) Speaking of ice cream, there are about as many articles/viewpoints on nutrition for strength athletes as there are Ben & Jerry’s flavors. There is no doubt that protein is centrally important - after all, you have to repair your muscles and give them some fuel to grow! There is also little debate about the importance of carbs for helping foster an anabolic, muscle building environment and fats are key for recovery, getting calories, and keeping hormones and other important factors in check. The debate comes when we examine what exactly those foods and meals look like. Some people swear by a strict paleo approach, others an IIFYM approach (if it fits your macros), and others basically pound protein shakes and protein bars for all their meals. So which way is the right way or the best way? Well, that’s complicated. And there really is no answer because there is no one thing that is going to work for everyone. Period. And it takes a lot of self-experimentation in order to figure out what works for you.
Personally, I fall somewhere between paleo and IIFYM - I simply just call it “paleo-ish”. Strict paleo certainly doesn’t work for me from a training/strength gaining perspective and eating a steady diet of ice cream, fries, and chips also doesn’t work for me from a recovery and health perspective so, I try to strike a balance. While I certainly could be more “strict” with my food, I simply can’t eat enough calories and carbs to make progress and not feel terrible.
With this “paleo-ish” approach, the majority of my diet is made up of pretty predictable combinations of foods and I tend to eat the same things every week. In general, my meals are based around protein + veggies + fats. And by protein, I mean meat. I tried that vegetarian thing too, and it quite literally metabolically screwed me - so I eat meat and lots of it. I also add in carbs around my training sessions. I eat a lot and love to cook, but I rarely have time, or want to, cook a ton of meals all the time. With that in mind, I’ve gathered up some of my favorite foods and meals ideas to help fuel a “paleo-ish”, gluten-free strength athlete.
BECOME BFFS WITH YOUR SLOW COOKER: What’s better than being able to cook a huge portion of meat while you sleep? Pretty much nothing. Meat from quality sources (free range, grass-fed, humanely raised) provide a great source of protein, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine which are critical for muscle repair, and they can also provide a good source of gelatin which helps joint health.
Slow cooked pork makes an easy meal with some roasted veggies and avocado. It also makes awesome chili.
You can also braise a big cut of meat in the oven and have it for every.single.meal for a few days. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.
Or make a chicken and use the leftover bones for some bone broth for extra gelatin!
CHOOSE GRASS-FED FED OVER CONVENTIONAL BEEF: Two of my favorite easy, make ahead protein sources are meatballs (I’m currently swooning over Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed 2 cookbook since there is an entire section devoted to burgers, meatballs, and sausages!!), and of course, burgers. Use grass-fed beef to get a hefty dose of protein, fat, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is 3-5 times higher in grass-fed vs grain-fed animals. CLA has been shown to have a number of health benefits including inflammation reduction, which if you've ever been sore, is something that is definitely necessary for strength athletes. Grass-fed beef also has a higher concentration of omega-3s than it's grain-fed counterpart. Pound for pound, grass-fed beef is more nutrient dense than grain-fed and is definitely worth the few extra bucks.
I eat burgers for all the meals. Well..not always, but I definitely could! If you save some leftover burgers from dinner, you can have breakfast burgers. TONS of protein and fat from the egg & bacon.
Beef curry is also a great way to get in some quality protein and fats for little effort.
EMBRACE CARBS: Carbs are an important dietary component for anyone who is looking to build muscle but traditional "paleo" diets can often leave people eating a little less carbs than they anticipated. Carbs are necessary to help replenish muscle glycogen stores (what your muscles use for fuel during particular workouts) and to create an anabolic or muscle building environment. Not enough carbs and your body doesn't fill it's glycogen stores and begins to create a catabolic environment where protein is broken down for fuel and there is much less protein synthesis (aka repairing and growing of muscle).
Personally, I get my carbs mostly in the form of white rice and regular roasted potatoes around my workouts. Yeah, these items aren't "paleo", and neither am I, but they don't bother me like other grains do and they provide the insulin spike I need post-workout to help build muscle. I keep it simple and just have plain white rice and roasted potatoes but I'm working on coming up with some recipes for these items since, you know, plain rice for breakfast can be a little boring. I also eat my fair share of sweet potatoes, especially before workouts. If you're wondering what the difference is between sweet and regular potatoes, you can read ALL about regular vs. sweet potatoes (and why there isn't really that big of a difference!) here.
These shredded sweet potato cakes (which you can also make with regular potatoes) are perfect grab and go post-workout carb sources. Add eggs or meat, and veggies and boom - easy meal!
You can even bake it all together to save yourself some dishes.
COCONUT MILK IS A RECOVERY STAR: Coconut milk often gets a bad rap because of it's high fat content BUT that is precisely why it can be a great recovery aide for strength athletes. Fats are essential for helping reduce inflammation, regulating hormone production, and helping repair tissues - all things that athletes need!Coconut milk is also an easy way to get in a good amount of calories and fats on busy days - simply make a smoothie with some coconut milk or pour it over some apples.
One of my favorite way to have coconut milk is to make a simple dessert with a touch of fruit like this wild blueberry fool.
Or if you want something more savory, this pumpkin coconut curry is one of my favorite recovery meals - lots of veggies, protein, fats, and some carbs.
EMBRACE EGGS: And of course, EGGS. Eggs are probably one of THE best foods to eat as a strength athlete (if you can tolerate them, of course). They're cheap, they're nutritional powerhouses, and they can be portable after a good hard boil. Eggs are not only full of protein, they also contain important antioxidants like lutein, and contain choline. Choline helps repair your cells and also helps translate nerve impulses into muscle contractions - basically choline is going to help you pick up that barbell. The cholesterol in eggs is also great for your body since your body needs cholesterol to help hormone production (yes, cholesterol is pretty important- in fact, you make it on your own without ingesting ANY cholesterol containing foods). So eat your eggs - WITH the yolks, please :)
You can bake up a frittata for an easy, veggie and protein packed breakfast.
And these bacon and egg breakfast cups are a favorite grab-and-go option.
Anyone else all of a sudden really hungry?