Picture three “archetypes” of the 40+ guy:
A. Put on 10++ pounds over the years; needs to lose some bodyfat; sometimes also needs to solidify muscle
B. Getting skinny (especially legs, butt, chest, arms); not that strong and possibly on the way to “frail” down the road
C. In pretty good shape with reasonable body fat and good muscle tone; determined to maintain this, despite the headwinds of aging
I’ve been all three of these at different points in time. Friendly direct question: which one are you currently?
No matter where you may be today, a guy entering or moving through the second half of life needs to think about nutrition more and better than he did in his 20s and 30s. You’ve got decades in front of you, brother, and no matter what else may happen in the outside world, you hold your own key to both physical wellness and its real contributions to mental/spiritual well-being.
Nutrition is a huge part of this, of course. That’s why there are hundreds of “diets” out there, some linked to food/supplement sales programs that would be logistically complex and very expensive to follow for years or decades. Some certainly have good science behind them and work well. But are you going to be “on a diet” or “following a program” every day for the rest of your life? Or yo-yo between that and phases of sub-optimal nutrition?
Neither of those outcomes work for me, so I’ve charted and followed my own nutrition path for 10+ years. Since I’m no hero (that’s understood), I know you are perfectly capable of doing this too. To be clear, there is no specific OlderBeast “diet” or “plan.” Rather, I only suggest guiding principles that you’ll evaluate, prioritize and tailor for yourself, as the Architect of your own wellness….as the maker and keeper of your own game plan to have what you eat and drink help you feel great, look (at least) pretty good for your age, keep getting happier, and live long.
And, wherever you may be starting from, the key is just to actually START, dude. You can follow these principles a little, make a little progress, and then follow them some more. Let a little success create motivation for further success, and figure out what works for you.
This is by far the longest thing I’ve written for OlderBeast – and the longest thing you’ve read. There are whole books—libraries—on this topic, and it’s too important to reduce to some sound bites. So will you invest five minutes to read on? Thanks.
PRINCIPLES ON “WHAT AND WHAT-NOT”
⇒ Don’t treat carbs or fats as the enemy! Lifelong nutrition success is about balancing these things with protein intake, and making sure to eat the good kinds of all of them. With your thriving in mind, I respectfully discourage you from following a “low carb” or “low fat” approach unless there’s some medical reason to do so.
⇒ Reduce refined flours and sugars. Over time, I hope you reduce them drastically, but at least get started…don’t let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good” here! This means “whole grain” or “whole wheat” when you eat bread, tortillas, pasta, etc. And cutting way down on desserts (and virtually no candy, though a square of quality chocolate once in a while won’t kill a guy…).
⇒ In general, whole-grain or otherwise, reduce bread and bread-like products (muffins, pasta, pretzels and crackers). This is because bread is highly-caloric (take a look at the nutrition info placards at Starbucks if you doubt me), and you want to also get calories from other things without going into calorie-surplus mode. Regarding carbs, a lot of your carbs should come from fruits and vegetables anyway.
How to reduce bread? Eat fewer sandwiches and more salads (with protein on them)…or use only one of the (often huge) pieces of bread you get with a sandwich when eating out…or take some of the interior bread out of those 1+-inch high rolls they serve and leave mostly crust to hold the meat together…eat oatmeal instead of breakfast breads…go lighter on pasta portions (and fill up more on protein that can go with them).
Just find a way to do this, man – you’re the one putting stuff in your mouth, so put a bit less bread in and more of something else that serves your goals!
⇒ Be wary of fried things, of course. First off, many of them come cloaked in low-quality breading…and may be full of bad-for-you types of oils. Potato chips, if you really like them, should be a once-in-a-while thing. Same for French fries (it hurts me to say this—I love them—but it’s true).
⇒ Don’t let beverages be a major source of calories. Even with juices, their calories are not nearly as good for you as the source fruits, and calories coming from soft drinks have NO value and major harm. Weight-wise, here’s some simple math to think about. What if you had a perfectly-balanced level of burning calories during the day, and calories you took in from food? Then what if just once per day, you added a 140-calorie drink on top of that (that’s a can of Coke)? Each month, you’d put on a surplus 1+ pounds just because of that drink…12-15 pounds a year…where does it end?
Artificially-sweetened diet drinks do all kinds of bad things, including creating urges to eat sugars…so mostly avoid them. For most meals, that leaves you with water as the king of drinks, friend. Sparkling water with a lemon or lime, if you’re getting fancy.
What about coffee? Just don’t drink a dessert masquerading as coffee. You know what I mean.
⇒ Cheese is something to reduce. This is tough for many, because we love it (for me, pizza’s the weakness…and yes, you busted me, often not on whole wheat crust). But I believe there are easy opportunities to cut down on cheese without being religious about it if you don’t want to. Have just a burger, not a cheeseburger. Let mustard moisten and add flavor to a sandwich, instead of a slice of cheese.
Or maybe just get rid of half the cheese before you start eating…you get half the benefit at almost no “cost” to your enjoyment.
Beyond the calories/fat issue posed by cheese, many guys experience cheese interfering with digestive regularity, too. Think about it: cheese is a liquid that solidifies at room temperature, and that solidification is happening inside you, too.
OK, so that was a lot of things that started with “reduce” or “don’t.” I know. Let’s talk positively about good things to eat more of.
⇒ Oatmeal or quality whole-grain cereal in the morning. Or yogurt (Greek is best; high-protein).
⇒ Relatively lean proteins. Of course chicken and fish, but also pork and lean beef are good as part of a diverse meat rotation…and ground buffalo is really good instead of hamburger – lower-fat and higher-protein. Take it easy on processes/packaged meats.
⇒ Almost all nuts are good for you, but especially almonds, pistachios and walnuts. A purist will say peanuts are actually a legume…but putting that to the side, peanuts (and peanut butter as an always-accessible form of it) are great, and a staple.
⇒ Avocado, which I’ve heard described as—along with bacon—the food that makes anything it’s added to taste better. Super-tasty and with heart-healthy fats.
⇒ Whole grain when you do eat flour-based things (and related to this, go brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice)
⇒ Darker/leafier veggies are best (e.g. spinach or kale in a salad, not just lettuce and certainly not iceberg lettuce)…and sweet potatoes are awesome as a “starch.”
⇒ Cold-weather fruits like apples and berries, and citrus, as opposed to tropical ones like melons, peaches or mangos. Why? This latter category has a higher “glycemic” index which negatively impacts your blood sugar level and creates ripple-on undesirable effects from that. Bananas are kind of in-between good and less-good on this glycemic scale. I eat them…I figure, only partly kidding, if gorillas eat ‘em, they must be good for you.
PRINCIPLES ON HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN.
One simple goal is to not eat too much, quantity-wise. If you’re trying to lose weight, there’s a lot of impact from just eating 10% less quantity at every meal. For me, the easiest way to not eat too much is actually to eat often.
There are different views on this topic, but I’ve come down in favor of eating on 5-6 separate occasions in a typical day, comprised of light snacks and the normal three daily meals (each of which can be lighter-portioned because I didn’t eat all that long ago, and will eat again before too many hours). Note, I work out 5-6 times a week and am generally active every day…so I burn a lot of calories. Depending on your activity level, move to this “eat often” mode slowly and be sure (I still am) that your “snacks” are both healthy and not very big.
Here’s why I think it’s good to eat “often but a bit more lightly on each occasion”:
⇒ Psychological effect. If you’re going to eat X calories in a day, there’s no functional difference between having three meals average 1/3X calories, or having five eating occasions average 1/5X…but eating more often feels like you’re eating more. If you like eating, and look forward to it—I do—then you have more times per day to eat, and more to look forward to, by eating more often.
⇒ Train your stomach. Eating less on a greater number of occasions conditions your stomach to shrink some, and not expect to be stuffed. This helps reinforce sensibility on portions you eat, without that “pang” sensation.
⇒ Helps with workout performance. It also works better for being ready to workout (having some carbs and protein in your body to get the most from exercise). Example: let’s say I had a semi-big “traditional” lunch as part of a 3-meal day. By the time of a 6pm workout, I haven’t eaten for about five hours, and I either need to take in some pre-workout supplementation or settle for a sub-optimal, less-well-fueled workout.
Conversely, if I had a smaller lunch, and then essentially (from a calorie perspective) ate “the second half of lunch” at about 3:30 or 4pm…I don’t need any special extra fuel intake to be ready for my workout.
Taking in carbs and protein for post-workout recovery is also really important, especially for guys our age…but I’ll write about that in a separate post soon.
⇒ Diversify your diet. Eating more often helps you achieve the benefits of a diverse diet, because you can eat more types of things in a typical day. By analogy, think of this like diversifying a stock portfolio into five or six investments, rather than having more of your money invested in each of just three stocks.
Eating more often but lightly can be challenging from a time/logistics perspective, especially if you’re traveling. But if you get in the habit of having a quality energy bar, and maybe an apple, in your briefcase or backpack…you can usually spread out your eating successfully.
Like everything else here, man, this ain’t all-or-nothing. Try doing this when you can, and if you need to be in “three squares a day” mode sometimes, then do.
CALORIES IN VS. CALORIES BURNED.
Eating well is about so much more than just “not getting fat.” Our ability to maintain strength and endurance, get sick less often, ward off certain diseases, keep our minds sharp…all are boosted substantially by a smart nutrition regimen followed with some consistency over time. And that’s what you’re going to architect for yourself, I hope.
But let’s face it. In the short term, our body fat level is the most visible by-product of all this…and to get some positive reinforcement of good habits, and then thrive long-term, we need to control fat. This means that, unless you’re actively in a muscle-building phase, average calories in need to be the same as average calories burned.
I don’t—ever—“count” calories during a day. My friendly suggestions here are intended to help you not have to think about this much, either. You should be able to experiment for a while and then just simply know more-or-less how much, and what, to eat so that your weight holds pretty steady (see this about weighing yourself every day).
If you notice yourself gaining weight, then follow these principals a little bit more, both on do’s & don’ts and quantity control. Also, have a pig day or at least a pig meal once a week. This small “planned deviation” is a pressure-relief valve that helps you stay on course most of the time.
If you’re losing weight…well, I hope you’ll just eat more of the good stuff…but it’s up to you what to eat more of, of course.
As a final word, I want to reemphasize that this isn’t a strict or religious formula. Just start incorporating some of these principles into your life (and then maybe some more). From me, and also on behalf of your future self….THANKS.
“No sugar tonight in my coffee…no sugar tonight in my tea.” (The Guess Who, The New Mother Nature)