I’m a firm believer that most people - namely females - who train hard multiple days a week are probably lacking calories. This becomes even more an issue for those who are “paleo” or eat relatively clean. Shoving plate after plate of broccoli and green leafy veggies in your face is good for you (yay vitamins & minerals & all that good stuff) but it doesn’t exactly add a significant amount of calories to your day - hence why filling up on veggies is a great tool for weight loss. It’s been my experience that many women vastly overestimate the amount of calories they consume - I know it is definitely true for me!
When I start to feel my performance suffer, my food is the first thing I look at - often, I’m eating WAY under what I need to be eating. I also make sure to examine other areas that my food choices and amount of food I’m taking in can impact like my performance, recovery, digestive health, and sleep. (Journaling can be helpful with this - you can see some examples of that here) I will track my food for a week or so to get an intuitive feel for what it’s like to eat enough each day and then periodically track a day or two every few months. I’m not really an advocate of calorie counting/macro tracking etc. but it is a useful tool to help assess where you’re at versus where you should or want to be. There are several “calculators” online that can give you a rough estimate but you can also get metabolic tests (usually administered at sports medicine clinics) or other calorie expenditure tests (like estimates from the BodPod) to get more exact, reliable numbers. It still takes some detective work but having a rough idea of where you want to be is useful.
1. Add good, clean fats: Fats are calorically dense so they can add up quickly. Fats are also key for recovery and managing inflammation. Now you could get lots of calories and fats by eating some crappy junk food however that probably won't do your digestive system or inflammation situation any favors. Instead try adding things like avocado, coconut milk, coconut oil and high quality grass-fed fats like butter and animal fat to your meals. Here are a few ideas:
- add avocado or coconut milk to smoothies
- add coconut oil to your coffee, fruit, basically anything
- eat a huge grass-fed steak with all the fat (now I want steak)
- bulletproof coffee
2. Invest in a good protein powder: Obviously, it is best to get all your nutrients from "real food" but sometimes it gets tough. I personally have a hard time eating enough food so protein powder helps me get some protein and calories in. (Check out the ad in the sidebar for 5% of my current favorite - True Nutrition. You can make a CUSTOM blend from their huge selection of vegan, paleo, and other sorts of ingredients). You can add it to coffee, make this delicious avocado chocolate pudding, or try some of these suggestions from Lift Big Eat Big.
3. Make your meals dense: Veggies are great and definitely a necessary part of a healthy diet but eating a salad with 3 ounces of chicken ain't gonna cut it people. Double that chicken and if you're looking for more fats add avocado, some bacon, and oil/vinegar dressing. If you're looking for more carbs add roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, or rice. Go big or go home.
A few ways to do it:
- cook items in high quality bacon fat or grass-fed butter
- if you can do dairy, add grass-fed high quality cheese, cream, and milk to your diet
- make crockpot items (like this!) that you can serve over rice for extra carbs (bonus points for their easy, make-ahead status!)
4. Blend it up: Sometimes it can be difficult to stomach a ton of food, especially when it's hot out - if that's the case for you, your blender is your new BFF. Add calorically dense items, like avocados, to smoothies to up the calories and staying power (bonus: avocados = super creamy smoothies!). To add some carbs to your smoothies, try puréed sweet potato or pumpkin - I've even heard of people add Rice Krispies to smoothies to get a big carb pay off. There are also several carb powders out there geared towards quick absorbing carbs for post-workout - I haven't tried any personally but I know that there are quite a few people who swear by them.
5. Eat more food: Seriously, if you are hungry - EAT. If you are physically hungry (not out of boredom, loneliness, emotional eating, etc.), eat some good clean food and lots of it. If you're an athlete or your performance is suffering, your body needs food to recover and perform - so feed it! Also, if you feel your body needs something (and you have a good grasp on actual need vs wants vs habits) like more carbs, eat it! I see this most often with the "paleo" crowd in relation to carbs - if you need more carbs and your body does fine with it, add in things like rice. Don't deprive yourself for the sake of sticking to guidelines that aren't working for you. And if you think it's too much work to cook ALL that food - I promise, you can do it.
That's it! Time to eat :)