For those that don’t know you, can you give us some background info (personal life, training history, business FDN, etc.).
For the past 20 years, I’ve worked as a firefighter/paramedic, 14 with Lethbridge, a small city just south of Calgary, Alberta. I’m 39, married for 10 years, have a 1.5 year old and another on the way in Nov, which makes shiftwork, training, & running a business very challenging! For as long as I can remember I’ve been researching nutrition in relation to health/disease/performance. I started Dynamic Nutrition in 2010, and shortly thereafter in 2011 started working with James FitzGerald of OPT rx’ing nutrition for his EC clients and teaching the OPT CCP Nutrition Level-1. My practice now focuses mainly on athletic performance and diagnostic lab values like cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, estrogens, etc.
Take us through a day of eating on a typical training day.
Morning, 7AM: First thing, organic Greens+ & Max Fiber. I drink this while getting breakfast ready for myself, my wife, and my daughter. For me, this consists of 4 organic free range eggs cooked in either coconut oil or pastured butter, on top of 2 cups leafy greens. I’ll cook a pound of bacon on the BBQ, (which my daughter & wife steal from!!), and have some berries or grapefruit on the side. I’ll also have 1-2 coffees, organic, fresh ground, pressed. It’s one of my few vices I’m not willing to give up!
PreWO, 10AM: 15g BCAAs in about 500mL water.
Immediate PWO: 30g whey isolate & 60g carbs (this is from either dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy-maize starch, powdered Gatorade, Hammer Recoverite, OPT ReFuel, etc…I’m always trialing different items, so I switch up the brands, but the grams/carbs is always at a min, 60g). I’ll back this up when I get home with another 30g whey and 500mL of organic, whole goat milk and a banana, depending on my training cycle. Right now my go-to carb source is Hammer Recoverite + whey; I tend to burn through ReFuel really quickly, and always run out!
Lunch: Usually leftovers from last night’s supper…meat on veggies, with either potatoes or white rice. If I’m at the firehall, it’s either pork chops/salad, taco salad, chicken salad, etc. The guys are pretty health conscious, but they still like to sneak some garlic toast past me every now and then.
Dinner: If at home, then meat + veggies again; typical combo is bunless burgers, spinach salad, and white rice or sweet potato, or something like grass fed ground beef/spaghetti squash. If I’m on nights at the firehall, I grab something around 5ish from home, basically lunch #2, and then we eat at the station at 8PM or later…typically similar to lunch. I do lose out occasionally, and pasta or some other wheat based dish is made. If I’m caught without backup food, I have no choice but to take part…I’m human like anyone else, and I know I need the kcals for recovery. I definitely feel the effects of gluten (sleep quality, joints, GI), so I try to minimize this as much as possible.
Biggest Nutritional & Lifestyle Mistakes you see in athletes competing in the Sport of fitness
#1 Nutritional: Time and time again, not enough carbohydrate intake! This one continues to surprise me, even with high-level, experienced athletes. The whole “low carb” dealio has been so misinterpreted and applied incorrectly over the past few years. Some folks have really done a lot of hormonal damage.
#1 Lifestyle: Not enough sleep. I see some athletes do this really well—getting 9, 10 hours. What does this require? Sacrifice of your social life. If you are in bed at 8, up at 6, that doesn’t leave much time to party or catch late night TV. If you are training more than 6 hours a week, you CANNOT short change yourself here if you want the podium
What are your views on carbohydrate intake for crossfit athletes (quality/ quantity) ?
150g Female/200g+ male for top tier CF athletes is, on average, the basic requirement. Obviously, this changes up based on age, BW, training load. The top-top athletes I see are at 300g/day for guys, 200g/day for women. Now, does this mean if you are an entry level athlete training 3x/week, you need 300g/day? No way in hell. Carb intake is dose-dependent to the individual.
As far as quality goes, the fuel has to be clean…whole food sources, optimally would be either white rice or some form of potato flesh (red, white, sweet, yam, yellow, etc, etc). Huge misconception on the value of sweet potato vs the rest—all have differing micronutrient makeups. Sweet potatoes have a lower GI, hence their perceived popularity. This is a totally moot point considering a whole food meal. The next sources would be oatmeal or quinoa; they have their potential downsides (avenin and saponins), but the vast majority of athletes with good gut health tolerate these well.
Biggest contributing factor to adrenal dysfunction and how can an athlete protect themselves?
As I alluded to above, the combo of HIIT + low carb will absolutely CRUSH adrenal function. If the idea of low carb has done damage to health and performance over the past few years, the concept of IF (intermittent fasting) and HIIT is twice as bad. The confusion around this is very understandable—anecdotally, everyone knows someone that got “ripped” doing IF + CF, and the internet is, well, a massive source of info, both good and bad. The thing is, low carb/IF is a huge stressor to our system; early on, we over-secrete cortisol, and this is fantastic from a lipolysis/fatty acid use point of view. Folks with low stress, good diet, lots of sleep, great genetics—they do well. The rest of us? Say hi to adrenal dysfunction, poor performance, and stalled weight loss.
So basically, that was a long winded answer, once again for the importance of carbohydrates to adrenal health in athletes. Does low carb, sporadic IF work for health/longevity in the non-HIIT crowd? You bet. Take a Mark Sisson-like approach, a little weight training, a little ultimate Frisbee, and you’re golden. A competitive performance-based athlete? Completely different animal.
Recommendations for a wannabe athlete vs. an athlete (macro %’s, general meal template etc.)?
I like folks starting at a 50F/25C/25P ratio. Why? This tells me, very generally, that they are basing their intake on whole foods: meat, veg, quality fats, and fruit/starch titrated to output. Keep in mind this isn’t a made up ratio; this is what I’ve seen over the years deconstructing hundreds and hundreds of food logs. When someone gravitates to a whole food intake, the ratios will naturally fall to those numbers.
For athletes with the singular goal of performance, I like to see a 40F/30C/30P; we cut a bit of the fat, and bump the carb & pro. The bigger carb intake is essential to both recovery and performance, as both intensity and volume will be higher than the rec athlete. The pro will generally be more, also, out of necessity for optimal recovery.
What are your views regarding calories vs macros (in terms of importance)?
Both are important in their own way; very early on in my consults I realized that food intake absolutely needs to be quantified if you wanted to find “holes” and optimize intake for each individual. Anyone who says calories are not important has zero concept of nutrition. I never expect an athlete to regularly count calories, but it’s essential for me to track this, and important for an athlete to see a number put to what they are eating. If you are eating the perfect 40/30/30, whole food diet with proper PWO nutrition, but you are 500kcal below your target kcal/day based on training, is this perfect? Not a chance.
Macros, out of the two, are probably less important; I use them to see the transition in quality, and how an athlete is progressing nutritionally. It’s like a secondary redundant system to the grams of fat/cho/pro. If I see an athlete at 60/15/25, I know without looking at anything else they are under carbing. Same deal if I see pro at 42%—I know they are displacing carbs.
How should males/ females differ in nutritional strategies?
This is a great question, and one that isn’t asked enough. And, I’ll also throw myself under the bus in saying right off the bat: “I’m not exactly sure”. Just when I think I have it figured out, I come across an outlier athlete doing something bizarre, but it works for them. Over the years though, this is what I’ve found:
- Women actually do LESS well on low carb. When I say “less”, I mean their hormones take a more serious hit than guys. I see WAY more metabolic and adrenal dysfunction in women than men.
- That said, women are more stress resilient, both physically and mentally. If we think of this from an evolutionary perspective, they have to be, as producing offspring and raising them is immensely taxing, physically and psychologically.
- Women do not, in general, get as lean as guys; this goes back to hormone preservation, and the ability to use fat as fuel. I see performance take a hit when guys get around 5-6% BF. Performance based female athletes will NEVER get this lean, rarely does a women get sub 10%.
- This viewpoint is absolutely skewed by the 1% of the 1%—the Lindsey Smiths, the Talayna Fortunatos
- Women need less carbs, relatively speaking. I know I’m kinda going in circles here, but stick with me: elite guys will need 250g, avg. Women can function at a HIGH level at 150g. If they dip below (and they do), they are already slightly adapted to this (circles back to better use of fat as fuel). Guys become very glycogen-dependant, and when they don’t fuel properly, the drop off rate is severe.
- Women do well on less than 1g/lb BW in pro; most guys need this, as a min.
In the end, an athlete absolutely has to trial-and-error; everyone’s machine runs on its own unique fuel mixture. A coach can help you find it, but it’s an athlete’s responsibility to understand and fine-tune it based on feel.
What are your plans for the next year (in regards to learning/ research applications for athletes)?
I actually just started a non-athlete client intake project with another partner; while my interest lies in athletic performance, I’m always eager to see data on specific populations. In regards to hormone testing, I think, right now, we just have barely scratched the surface of how HIIT affects hormones. I’ve seen some REALLY “sick” individuals with zero symptoms and good performance, and I’ve also seen some “healthy” folks that are very symptomatic and have poor performance. These clients are on the extreme ends of the norm, but we need to figure out why. I’d like to dig into that more, but it’s hard to pinpoint these folks until their results come across your desk.
I’ve also come to a point where my business is too busy for me to handle; I’ve had to say no to a lot of clients. I’ve hired someone to help me with the workload, but I only have so much free time. The next year is going to bring a LOT of changes into my life, and despite my recent blog post, I’m not planning on shutting anything down. In fact, perhaps the total opposite…but that remains to be seen!
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