In this article I’ll be talking about the top 3 sections of the pyramid of nutritional priorities, namely micronutrients, meal timing and frequency, and lastly supplements. Looking at the pyramid you can be forgiven for thinking that these 3 aren’t that important, but in my opinion this is a mistake. Micronutrients are HUGELY important for performance, health and quality of life. Micronutrients will help physical and mental health, and support digestion and assimilation of calories and macronutrients.
Without micronutrients which you will get from eating a diet comprised at least 80-90% of whole natural foods you will get nowhere, and for that reason I’d like you to consider micros just as important as macros.
Micronutrients are the nutrients contained in foods that we need in trace amounts, milligrams or even smaller. They are typically thought of as vitamins and minerals, but they also include phytonutrients and other health-promoting compounds found mostly in plants.
Without adequate micronutrients in your diet, your health will suffer greatly on a systemic level. You will feel lethargic, tired or unwell, your digestion will suffer, sex drive will take a dip, and body composition could take a knock – not to mention boot camp performance and recovery!
The RDA of most vitamins and minerals is set for sedentary people, but you (as boot camp enthusiasts) aren’t sedentary, you’re hard training athletes! As a result your needs for micronutrients are even higher. To ensure micronutrient intake is in line, I will re-stress the importance of consuming adequate carbohydrates, and forming the majority of this intake from whole and unprocessed foods.
Consuming 7-11 portions of fruits and vegetables per day, so 2-3 per meal, should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. Vary these often and experiment with different things. The colour of fruits/veg is a great way to determine what nutrients they contain, so look to make your meals vibrant and colourful as possible.
On top of this, consuming offal such as liver or kidney is a fantastic way to get an enormous hit of micro nutrition. Lamb’s liver, for example, has been referred to as nature’s multivitamin because of the massive range and dose of ‘good stuff’ it contains, even in a small serving.
Some micros you might want to take special attention to are:
Notice a pattern? I like to keep things as simple as possible, because I know that there is a lot of information to take in and assimilate. Bascially, 7-11 portions per day, as colourful as possible, with a big influence of kale, spinach, watercress and broccoli to make sure you get everything you need.
Meal timing is a small detail which can have a varying effect depending on the individual. It’s the frequency at which you eat, and the proximity to a training session i.e. boot camp. There are two different aspects to this that I’ll focus on here, namely protein timing and carb/fat timing.
According to the latest data (4,5), the ideal is to consume protein 4-5 times per day around 4-5 hours apart, including at most 2 hours before training and 2 hours after. For example:
As for carb and fat timing, you really need to experiment here. Some people function and feel better on a higher carb intake, whilst some people feel better with fats. Test your own performance with different pre-workout setups. Try both and see what happens to your energy levels. Check out the article about optimal nutrition for energy as well as what to eat before, after and during bootcamp for more detail on this.
Supplements, as the name suggests, exist to supplement your dietary intake to improve your overall diet. They don’t really DO much of anything on their own, and a lot of them are a waste of money and even potentially harmful, but there are a few gems which should be mentioned.
These gems are supplements which plug holes in your diet. They give you nutrients which aren’t found in the foods you consume, for whatever reason; for example, vitamin B12 is lacking in vegan diets, and fish oil is a good supplement for those who don’t like or can’t afford fish.
Supplements are discussed at great length in this article, but for now suffice it to say that most supplements are at the top of the hierarchy because they make the least difference to your results, wellbeing and performance, so should be at most an afterthought (with the exception of fish oil and vitamin D).
Stick to nailing the first few layers of the pyramid and the chances are the supplements you do take will be limited to just the essentials that people are commonly deficient in.
Nutrition isn’t just numbers and something to give you abs, it is the fundamental foundations of a healthy lifestyle which will make your entire body work more efficiently and optimally. Nutrition isn’t just about getting lean or running faster, it’s about your health, and because of that we really need to get it right.
Also, as mentioned above, nutrition needs to be viewed as foods first, and numbers second. This isn’t a bunch of protein, carbs, fats, fibre and micronutrients, it is a meal and it does things to our body that can’t be completely understood just yet. Sure, you can get all of your numerical needs by eating junk food, protein powder and a multivitamin, but nobody really thinks that’s a good idea, right?
Do I think the numbers matter? YES. But they aren’t the be all and end all.
I think Michael Pollan summed it up best in his brilliant book, ‘In defence of food’. When trying to get your nutrition on point, your first port of call should be this, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants".
References for the ‘What is Nutrition?’ series