Nutrition basics- Juan Cervantes: “Take some accountability for your actions and stop kidding yourself that its harder for you than anyone else”
Chances are if you’re reading this you’re either fighting competitively, thinking about fighting, or at least training hard and wanting to get fit and healthy as well as actually getting good at the sport. So you probably have already delved into the world of nutrition by now. Lets be honest, almost everybody who trains has a vague idea of what is healthy nutrition and what isn’t at a basic level. Those who are carrying a few extra kilos usually know what they’re doing wrong.
The internet is a double edged sword when it comes to information. The correct information is out there, but deciphering it from all the bullshit is an arduous task. Anyone can claim to be a nutrition expert by writing any old spiel, using filtered instagram photos to prove their diet (and potential substance abuse) is perfect for everyone. Information overload is responsible for most people’s stagnation. No one knows where to start, and they struggle to commit to any particular direction they’ll quickly read somewhere else that they are wrong.
The key is getting the basics right. I’m going to attempt to simplify basic nutrition for you in a relatively short blog post. This might not be easy on my behalf, but it is possible, as eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight really isn’t that difficult. If you’re a little overweight and training regularly getting down to healthy weight shouldn’t be that difficult. If you’re obese, I’ll admit its probably much harder, but with some will power and consistency over a long period of time, its possible.
Take some accountability for your actions and stop kidding yourself that its harder for you than anyone else, whether it’s because of your metabolism, hormones, job, stress, family life or whatever other reasons people use to make themselves a victim. No matter what you’re going through there are people with a much harder life who are in much better shape than you. Apologies in advance for talking to you life a child, but sometimes a bit of tough love or slap round the face is far more effective than empathizing with how hard it must be for them. God forbid, I might even offend some people.
Thinking of the 80/20 rule helps a lot. This is used by successful businesses and entrepreneurs around the globe, and it seems to work for pretty much anything.
“80% of the consequences come from 20% of the actions
80% of the results come from 20% of the effort”
This doesn’t mean make less effort, it just means prioritise your effort to the 20% of the area that will benefit you the most. When it comes to your nutrition, 80% of your results will come from roughly 20% of the facts. Stick to the basic fundamentals and don’t worry too much about nutrient-timing, paleo or ketogenic, detoxing, 5 and 2, calorie counting, how many meals you should have a day, macro distributing or any of the other trends that claim to turn you into Dwayne the Rock Johnson in just 3 months.
I also spin the 80/20 rule to try and ensure that at least 80% of what I consume is good healthy food, and allow up to 20% of my intake from foods that eat just because I want to. The easiest way to achieve this is by making sure all my meals are good, well-balanced clean meals and this allows me to snack on anything that takes my fancy in between. If you’re meals are decent then you’ll struggle to fit in a huge amount of shite, so you’ll probably end up skewing 80/20 to more like 90/10. Food prepping multiple meals is an excellent way to do this. If you can’t cook, learn. It will change your life for the better.
There’s a million and 1 different healthy nutrition plans you can write up that would all be effective if someone stuck to them, but most people don’t stick to nutrition plans. For me there are just a few simple rules, or guidelines, I stick to with regard to my meals.
1: Cut out the obvious crap. I don’t need to tell you what this is. Don’t kid yourselves you’re hitting a good macro balance on kebabs and Macdonalds. Cut out fast processed food. This where being able to cook helps. Drink water instead of juice and fizzy drinks because you’re not a seven year old.
2: Cut out the less obvious crap: This is a little harder. Health sells in the food industry, which is probably a good thing, but beware of the foods marketing themselves as healthy that are in fact the opposite.
The biggest culprit is usually the low-fat foods. It amazes me today that some people still think “low-fat = good.” Good quality fats are some the best sources of slow releasing energy, keeping you fuller for longer. Its not the amount of fat you should be worried about, rather the quality. What happens when you remove fat from most foods? The taste goes. How does the food industry replace taste? With the cheapest forms of processed sugar, probably one of the worst things that is legal to put in foods that you can put in your body. Sugar will be sold as gluten free, kids breakfast cereals will be sold as high-fibre, and even low-carb meals can be calorically-dense and filled with the worst kinds of dietary fat (because they’re cheap).
3: Up your protein intake. Most people’s diets are surprisingly low in protein. Current guidelines suggest 10-15% of your intake should come from protein, but that’s for the average sedentary person. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that if you train a lot you probably want to double this to around 20-30%, so fill about a third of your plate with good quality meat or fish, no processed shite.
Aside from the obvious benefits of building and maintaining muscle mass, high-protein diets are more satiating than low protein diets. In other words, they fill you up more, so you’re less likely to gauge on more food than you need. What’s more, protein has the highest thermic effect out of the 3 macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), meaning your body has to work harder to metabolise it, increasing your energy expenditure, so it’s a win-win.
4: Eat a shed load of veg: Split the rest of your plate with root vegetables and greens. Try a variety of vegetables as well. This is a great way to get a nutrient dense diet, keeping your immune system in check. Also root vegetables are a great source of carbohydrate, meaning you don’t have to rely on processed carbohydrates like the majority of people. It’s a controversial topic in the food industry right now, but most people will be leaner if they eliminate or greatly reduce things like wheat from their diet. Don’t worry, I’m not on a Paleo-bashing parade claiming that anything our cavemen ancestors didn’t eat is the cause for all illness in the modern world, but common sense would tell us that someone who eats toast for breakfast, pasta for lunch and rice for dinner is going to deficient in a number of essential nutrients compared to someone who eats a wide variety of vegetables.
If you don’t like vegetables, force yourself to eat until you learn to like them. That’s what adults do. They prioritize their long-term health over the short-term satisfaction.
Once you’ve got the above sorted, then you can start playing with supplements and nutrient timing etc. These things are the icing on the cake for get you as lean as possible whilst still maintaining performance weeks leading to a weigh-cut before a fight. If you haven’t got your basic meals right, everything else is worthless. Also, worrying about exactly when you eat, eating 6 small meals a day rather than 3 or 4 bigger ones, only having carbs immediately after strength training and other such techniques are not, in my experience, sustainable for living a normal life all year round. They might help you get below 10% body fat whilst still feeling strong for a short period of time, but who the hell has time to eat 6 meals a day all year round, and not eat potatoes or Yorkshire pudding when you’re having a Sunday roast.
So there you have it. Cook, meal-prep, and sort your main meals out. This, I find, is a sustainable habit that can be adhered to all year round. Do this, and enjoy ice cream, cookies and beer a few times week when you don’t have a fight coming up. You might even be able to stay lean and enjoy life. So go out and buy some cook books, and brace yourself for a potential shit-storm of nutrition experts in the comments section below.
Lastly, if you’re really not willing to sort your diet out, then maybe fighting isn’t for you, because let’s be realistic, it’s not a game.