31 January 2013

A Short Summary of My Nutritional History

Posted by Brad Hefta-Gaub under: Fitness.

I was discussing the “Paleo” diet with a friend on Facebook. He asked me about my nutritional journey. Below is my reply to his questions.

>> Before your (life) transformation began, what did your diet consist of primarily?

From birth till about 18, I ate the “typical american diet”. Lots of canned food (my family was middle class), lots of processed food, lots of carbs from sources like bread, pasta, potatoes, lots of cheap meat, cheese, etc. I was overweight/obese, everyone in my family was/is. I remember my parents going on diets all the time. Low fat, high fiber, all the standard stuff you hear in the diet world. My Dad actually did Atkins back in the day, and it was his most successful diet, but he went back to the American diet, and gained back all the weight. Pretty standard stuff for the average American.

Once I left home, I started eating with more diversity, more fresh vegetables, the quality of the food improved, but the basic nutritional content was the same. Carbohydrate rich, high fat (but unhealthy fats), still mostly highly processed foods.

Around 26 I became a vegetarian, well technically I had a “no lungs policy”. I still ate seafood. But my wife was a full vegetarian, so I only ate fish rarely. By this time in my life I was fully obese. 7 years of being a vegetarian and I just gained more weight and got more unhealthy. I wasn’t a vegetarian for health reasons… and I never really paid attention to my eating habits. I stopped being a vegetarian and started eating meat again. And didn’t see any changes in my body composition… by age 34 I was over 200lbs with a BMI of 38 and a body fat well over 30%.

Then I got healthy. I lost 50lbs in 3 months by eating a “Very low calorie” diet. Mostly vegetables, lean meats, no cheese (because I decided to go cold turkey since it was one of my vices), low fat (because I thought that’s what nutritionists would say), minimal grains (because they have too many calories). Basically, my diet was also a “low carbohydrate” diet, but not intentionally. It was low calorie. That was the driving force. The easiest way to eat low calorie is to avoid “dense” carbohydrates (grains, potatoes, beans, etc) and fat. I also started exercising 45-90 minutes PER DAY, EVERY DAY!

>> Once you began carving out your place in ironman/marathon history, how did that diet change?

After losing 50lbs, I hovered around 150 for about 5-6 years. I never gained back the weight. 155 was my “mendoza line” If I went over that I would check myself and make sure to get back down. I pretty much ate the same “American Diet”… but I was exercising enough that from a calories in vs. calories out perspective I stayed a healthy weight. However, since being independent (20yo), I’ve always loved cooking and eating with fresh whole ingredients. So if anything, my “healthy body weight” self, continued to eat whole foods, and over time, I’ve shifted away from processed foods, but still had a basic “carb heavy” diet that most Americans eat.

About 4 years ago, in an effort to relieve myself of congestion, I cut gluten and dairy out of my diet. I first tried gluten alone, it didn’t help. I then tried dairy, it didn’t help. But when I cut them both out, my congestion disappeared. So for the last several years, I’ve been GF/DF. But I still was eating plenty of GF “grains”… and plenty of potatoes. I would say this was my “American Diet with GF/DF modification”… plenty of people are doing this now, as evidenced by how many fast food chains and major consumer food brands are offering “Gluten Free” options.

>> In recent weeks, what have you done differently to further zero in on your dietary/training needs?

Ok, so this answer requires stepping back… Actually about a year ago, I decided that “nutrition” was the key element to my endurance training that I wasn’t doing right. So late 2011 I bought a bunch of books on Amazon about “Nutrition for Endurance Athletes”. Those books said “eat lots and lots of carbs”. I started tracking my food, and I realized, that actually I was not getting a ton of carbohydrates in my diet. My diet was about 40% CHO, because most of my CHO intake comes from GREEN VEGETABLES, and then the residual CHO that exists in meats.

But in order to follow these “experts” I was trying to consume 60% of my calories from CHO… this was really hard for me. I did my best to eat GF grains… but I was feeling bloated, sluggish, my performance was diving, and my weight was climbing. Eventually I mentioned this to my coach, and he turned me on to “Metabolic Efficiency” (Google Bob Seebohar)

Basically Metabolic Efficiency (MET) encourages you to cut down on CHO and to use dense sources of CHO much less frequently. Something along the lines of 50% fat, 25% protein, and 25% CHO (mostly from low density sources like green vegetables).

This was actually pretty close to how I’d accidentally been eating since becoming GF/DF… and so shifting to this “officially” was easy. I’ve been officially eating this way since mid-March ‘12.

Eating “MET” allowed me to enter race season at 135lbs. With a much leaner body comp.

Over the holidays, I got sloppy and went back to not paying attention, I ate dairy and gluten, and over a couple weeks ballooned back up to 145lbs and was feeling sluggish again.

On January 1st, I took on “Whole 30″ which is sort of paleo (it’s actually more strict than paleo). It’s rules are: no grains, no sugar, no dairy, no legumes, no seed oils, no corn, no “white” potatoes, no alcohol. The logic behind each of those “no’s” boils down to two categories of metabolic issues: controlling insuline/blood sugar to become more fat-adapted; reducing inflammation.

I’ve incorporated this style of eating into the MET style I was already following, and the last 30 days have been great. I’ve lost 12.1 lbs, and am back to my fighting weight! This is my new nutrition plan. And I plan to follow it till I get down another 5lbs or so to 58kg.

>> Can you recall physical and emotional changes in the way you feel as a result of each step in your path? Curious…

I detailed it above… emotional changes, not so much. Many people struggle with cutting out sugar, and they complain about severe withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, irritability, etc. But in retrospect, my progress was very slow… really since going GF/DF four years ago… so I didn’t seem to have any of these strong negative reactions during whole 30.

Hope this helps you.

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About Brad

Me in 2002 - 200lbsThis is my fitness blog. Some people who knew me a long time ago may wonder, what the heck I'm doing writing a blog about fitness. Many of them wouldn't imagine that I'd have anything to do with fitness. You see, up until age 34, I treated my body very poorly. I sat around at home, at work, at play. I ate junk food and lots of it. And the result was what you'd expect 5'4" and 200 lbs with 36% body fat. (more...)