Big Woods Fitness Series: Nutrition - By BW Team Member Matt Breton PT,OCS,CSCS - (email@example.com)
The nutrition side of hunting, and training for hunting, is often overlooked. Smart diet choices allow us to lose weight, perform at our best and be properly fueled for our adventures. Much like the physical training side of the Big Woods hunter, the nutritional side varies throughout the year-long cycle. There is the weight management portion of the cycle, which includes the period of time where weight loss is appropriate, the maintenance phase and the performance phase. Proper diet contributes to about 80% of the weight loss equation. When you’re in the field, being undernourished by not enough food or improper food can allow your performance to suffer.
It seems as though eating has gotten complicated. There is debate over whether we should eat carbs or not, how much protein is appropriate, what types of fat are acceptable. Which diet- Paleo, Atkins, or Mediterranean? Is a home-grown organic tomato better for you than an industrial grown petro-chemical fertilized one? At some level these things are aesthetic choices, yet stretched over many decades of life the decisions we make regarding our food do matter. Ultimately we are after fuel to supply the engine that is our body. For many this becomes an individual decision, catering to personal needs related to such things as gluten sensitivity or food allergies.
Not knowing each hunter’s individual needs and preferences makes education and recommendation of eating choices exponentially more difficult. So what follows are generalizations that need to be modified based on specific situations. There are a couple principles that need to be emphasized. There is a lot that we don’t know, scientifically. There are a lot of opinions out there from very important sounding people, seeming like science. These opinions likely have merit, but they have not been subject to rigid scientific scrutiny and because of this I hesitate to endorse any of them specifically. I am also not a registered dietician, so evaluate what I say as an opinion and do some digging for yourself. If you try something and it works, go for it. You are your own experiment, so have at it.
You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. It would take a lot of walking to burn the calories in three Snickers bars. We can eat so much calorie dense food in such a short amount of time, that there is no way to burn that many calories. Snickers Bar= 250Cal. Walking time to burn 750Cal=2.7hours.
Calories matter, regardless of source. Whether you eat 5000 calories of crap or 5000 calories of quality food, your body will use the fuel it needs and store the fuel it doesn’t. Now, there are a lot of additional nutrients that you might get through eating high quality food that will make you healthier, like vitamins and minerals, but from a weight loss stand point, too much is simply too much. Arguing otherwise is just an excuse.
The human animal is geared to store energy. Our bodies are amazing at storing fuel in case of emergency. Fortunately we don’t encounter many emergency situations where food needs to be rationed. Yet the evolutionary biology that allowed our ancestors to survive lean times continues to drive our fat storage.
Diets don’t work. A change in eating style for the purpose of weight loss might work, but as soon as you return to old eating habits, whatever weight you’ve lost will likely come right back. Plus some. How you eat needs to be a lifestyle.
When we consider the role of eating we need to think about the impact it has on our lives. At the most basic level it is about survival. The next concern is general health, then performance. After that we often get into more emotional/psychological reasons to eat like socialization, depression, boredom and habit. Sometimes it can even become an addiction. The more serious-sounding of these issues needs professional help.
The three seasons of eating for the hunter- Off season weight loss:
If you are overweight, find your ideal weight through a BMI calculator or by talking with your doctor. Figure out the caloric needs for that weight and take in that amount rather than your current level of intake. Eating a balanced diet, 30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates, with overall reduced caloric intake will lead to weight loss. These numbers can vary, but completely eliminating one of the macronutrients is not a healthy choice. Estimates vary, but 80% of weight loss is driven by what and how we eat. It is important to balance nutritional needs with food choices. In general, exercise during this period should focus on calorie burn, maintenance of muscle through simple strength training and not maximal performance. While exercise is not a miracle for losing weight, it will enhance the effects of a proper diet and does make up part of healthy lifestyle. The key is not to use exercise as a reason to ingest more calories.
Training season weight management:
With a shift toward training, we need to fuel our bodies for exercise to make gains in this arena without packing on extra pounds. I generally recommend an increase in protein intake during this period to assist muscular recovery as well as continued carbohydrate levels to keep energy up. I recommend a similar total caloric intake based on current bodyweight with a mix of 20% fat, 40%protein and 40% carbohydrates. You need to figure out what choices are best for you. We may see slight weight loss in this period, but the more likely scenario is where we see a shift in body composition, so that we lose body fat but perhaps put on some muscle. This is best monitored with a scale that can calculate body fat percentage. Use of supplements in this period can be helpful, but those calories count!
Hunting season performance:
Eat what you need to for performance. Drink a lot of water. Through the training phase you should have learned what worked best for you- focus on eating at those levels of macronutrients. Calorie intake may be up through this phase to allow for recovery increased tissue damage and burn during each day. Timing of meals may be off schedule, often lunch gets skipped or the evening meal and breakfast are stretched to the ends of the day. Keep enough energy on board to stay sharp mentally and physically.
When it comes down to it, eating has not really gotten more complicated. Our thinking about it has. In a world with too many choices, we become paralyzed to the point of indecision and then fall back on our primitive physiology to feed ourselves. This leads to disaster. There can be underlying issues that need to be addressed medically, psychological issues that should be addressed as well, but at a pretty basic level it is about having the will and discipline to limit our intake appropriately. Make conscious and mindful choices about what you put in your mouth, focus on your goals and prepare to be at your best!
What to eat.
There are many food selection options out there. A lot of what we eat is driven by the cost. Eat the highest quality food you can afford. In general, a lot of fruits and vegetable are great. They can be higher in calories than you expect, especially fruit, so continue to measure that, but they usually also have a lot of fiber and are filling so that you eat less overall. Bread and pastas are out right now, but I think they are an acceptable source of fuel for the body. Try to keep servings down to an appropriate level and take in whole grains as much as possible; also, the complex carbs are better than simple. Meats should be as lean as possible, like wild game and fish. If you don’t have that available, lean chicken, pork and fish are great next-level choices, with red meat, beef, in third place, but still on the menu. Each type of meat has its benefits, so consider the fatty acids from fish and the iron in red meat when making week to week food choices.
Once you’ve selected your meal items, portion size is the next consideration. A serving of a particular item may not seem like much, but for some things, like vegetables, we are after eight or nine servings per day, definitely more than one serving per meal. One of the best ways to set portion size is to divide your plate into pieces and have certain items occupy certain space. Vegetables, for example, should make up about half your plate. I would encourage you to look up more information; one great source is the Harvard School of Public Health: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/
It is ok to be hungry- We all think that we need food when there is the slightest glimmer of hunger. Not true. Drink some water and keep going. Just don’t overeat later.
Don’t drink any calories- Avoid soda, alcohol, juices. Drink water, tea, black coffee Eat largely unprocessed foods- If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it Don’t sabotage yourself- Be aware of your habits and cravings and do your best to limit them Have a ‘cheat’ day- Give yourself permission to break the rules, a little, so that you don’t binge later Eat small, premeasured snacks between meals- Fruits and vegetables, nuts, yogurt, etc; plan for it rather than scrounging around and making bad choices.
Control your portion size- Divide things up on the plate into appropriately sized percentages of your needs. Use a smaller plate as well.
*Please consult with your doctor or a registered dietician for specific assistance or before starting an exercise program* As an example, I’ll do the math and lay out one day of my eating (see below). This is a weekday when I lift and run in the morning. It happened to be a good day of eating for me; they are not all like that. I am not a saint. I eat potato chips, sweets and have a drink now and then. But if you can spend 90% of your time eating well, you’ll feel better and be healthier. You’ll also hunt better!
Example of Eating Journal:
37 year old 165lb 5’7” active male, trying to get down to 155lb during weight loss cycle: Target calorie intake for the day, with weight loss goal: 2531cals
Glass of water and a cup of coffee (black) 0 calories
¾ cup oatmeal with 1TBS peanut butter 125 +95
Recovery drink 200
-Snacks for the day (typically 9:30am and 3pm):
Almonds, 2 oz 340
Lean protein (elk), fist sized portion (6oz) 266
½ avocado 145
Tomato x 1 16
Lean protein (Salmon) 280
Spinach (2 cups) 14
Long grain and wild rice (1 serving) 190
Tomato, Avocado, salad x 1 225
Red Wine (1 glass) 150
Incidentals (olive oil, other extras) 200