Last week I finished reading Matt Fitzgerald's book "The Endurance Diet". I found it very informative and chocked full of good advice. So I decided to publish my thoughts about it here.
There are five core habits that Matt lays out in his book. For me they were a breath of fresh air. In the past I have subscribed to the methodology of a slew of diets from Paleo to Weight Watchers and even Atkins for a while. I would lose weight but eventually the restrictiveness of the diet would get tiresome and I would fall back into old habits. The other issue was that as a non-completive exerciser my motivation was chiefly to look good. With my shift in motivation towards peak competitive fitness I became interested in The Endurance Diet and how it could affect my fitness goals.
In the last six months I have shed 23+ pounds (~10.5kg). The first 15 pounds were lost through only increasing my workouts frequency and intensity. After the initial weight loss though I plateaued for several months. I did not lose any further weight until I radically improved my diet. Radically may seem to be a slight exaggeration but as you will see in the DQS section below my diet was in dire need of a revamp.
At this point I think that my best race weight will probably be at least another five to ten pounds lighter. Realistically I believe this goal weight will take several months to achieve. Why? Because as I lose fat weight I am simultaneously gaining weight from an increase in lean mass a.k.a. muscle. Put another way I feel that my current weight decrease, through fat loss is only slightly greater than my lean mass weight gain. Consequently, the rapid gains I have seen in the last few months will taper off and be replaced by smaller gains. I am hoping to conduct a DEXA scan this month to confirm these suspicions. When I do I will share my results here.
Practicing The Endurance Diet is not sufficient in itself to maximize endurance fitness; however, during the initial phase of attaining my peak fitness I have found it to be very helpful in shedding excess weight. Case in point: A few weeks ago I went on a family vacation where I knew that finding time to work out was going to be difficult. Rather than feel guilty all week, I switched gears and made it a "Recovery Week". During that week I followed The Endurance Diet's methodology and despite not working out, I lost nearly three pounds.
The Endurance Diet methodology
Before I begin let me point out that rather than poorly paraphrase what Matt lays out in his book I chose to
[Square brackets] are my words added for clarity.
For me, the Endurance Diet's two most impactful aspects were the Diet Quality Score (DQS) system and the "Five Core Habits".
Diet Quality Score (DQS)
When I started my quest for peak fitness in April of 2018 I thought my diet was pretty healthy. For starters I ate pizza maybe once or twice a month. I drank a soda once or twice a quarter. My fried food intake was minimal and I hardly ever ate any sweets. How bad could my diet be right? Well when I plugged my food intake into the DQS matrix to say I was horrified would be an understatement. My best score was in the low teens, but more often it fell in the single digits. I thought I had been eating healthy but the DQS opened my eyes to how under fueled my body had been for so long.
My fruit intake was close to zero servings a week. Why? Because fruit has sugar in it and sugar is bad for you. My nut and seeds intake was close to zero servings a week as well. Why? Because nuts are high in fat and that is bad for you too. My vegetable intake was almost always only at dinner. However, the veggies were normally smothered in a highly processed sauce to improve the "flavor". Add in a couple glasses of adult beverages and my nutrient intake was a disaster.
The above mentioned problems were the low hanging fruit that following the DQS system identified as areas for change (here is a link to a DQS spreadsheet I created with a sample day on Monday). Another key area that required attention was my consumption of refined grains such as white rice, chips, & crackers. Within a week or two my score was in the mid to low 20's. I have even got a couple of 30s. All I had to do was adopt the Five Core Habits. Sound difficult? It was actually very easy and surprisingly fun.
The Endurance Diet's Five Core Habits
1. Eat everything
Perhaps the most formative thing about The Endurance Diet is that it is not really a diet in the strictest sense of the word. All diets restrict low quality foods, so in that regard the Endurance Diet could be called a "diet". However, all other diets restrict certain foods (or food groups) calling them unhealthy for one reason or another. Paleo eliminates many healthy carbs. So does Atkins. Weight Watchers uses an algorithm calculated by inputing calories, fat, and other nutrient numbers to assign a point value to the food in question. The Endurance Diet throws all that out the window and instead encourages one to eat everything. At the most extreme you should only limit intake of certain foods.
Fad diets tend to work for non-competitive exercisers whose primary goal is to look better naked. Those same diets are a disaster waiting to happen though for the athlete that wants to be at the top of his or her field. Don't believe me? Read the book and find out for yourself. Matt backs up his Endurance Diet with numerous studies and research, conducted around the world over many decades, to prove that the Endurance Diet is the only one to follow for peak fitness.
"Four particular types of processed foods became central to modern diets: refined grains, sweets, processed meats, and fried foods. Whole wheat bread was turned into Wonder Bread, milk into ice cream, pork into bologna, and potatoes into potato chips, as it were. Unlike the natural whole foods they come from, these four types of processed foods are linked to negative health consequences such as obesity and heart disease."
2. Eat quality
"To maximize the quality of your diet in the popular sense, you need to select your high-quality foods carefully, buying locally grown, sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables sprouted from native or heritage seeds (and/or growing your own); wild seafood bearing the Marine Stewardship Council’s Certified Sustainable Seafood Label; meat from free-range, grass-fed, and hormone- and antibiotic-free animals; organic dairy products and free-range eggs; and locally grown everything whenever possible."
Where you buy your food has a huge impact on this aspect of the Endurance Diet. After adopting this habit my shopping at Wal-Mart dropped off significantly and increased at health food stores like Sprouts and online markets such as Thrive. I like what Matt said though that "some apples may be better than other apples, but there are no bad apples." In other words eat as much high quality food as possible but do not sweat the small details. That will just take the fun out of it and simultaneously make it more likely that you will not continue with The Endurance Diet.
3. Eat carb centered
The average American does not consume enough carbs to properly fuel a body engaged in any sort of rigorous endurance exercise. This can lead to all manner of health issues, difficulty losing weight, and even in some cases weight gain. Many of the current fad diets today limit carbs or remove them all together. While they do have a proven track record of weight loss it isn't because carbs are bad but rather many of the unhealthy foods the western diet includes just happen to be carb heavy. Your body needs carbs to create glycogen, the main fuel for muscles. Without it you will not be performing at your peak.
"Scientists have been unable to identify precise quantitative daily carbohydrate requirements for individual athletes based on training volume or overall energy expenditure. What they have found is that, in general, athletes with moderate training loads (up to two hours of exercise per day, depending on the type and intensity of training) who consume 5 to 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day perform worse when they eat less carbohydrate but no better when they eat more, and that athletes with heavy training loads (over two hours per day, give or take) who consume 7 to 10 g/kg daily perform worse when they eat less but no better when they eat more."
4. Eat enough
Serving size is critical as is paying attention to your bodies cues of satiety. The best way to key into your bodies natural ability to alert you to being full is to slow down while eating. Too often I scarfed my food down as fast as possible only to feel over stuffed a few minutes later.
"The true solution to weight gain and other consequences of low-calorie targets is to abandon calorie targets altogether and replace them with the feel-based approach to regulating food intake that elite athletes use... Vigorous daily cardio exercise itself offers powerful protection against obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and aging. Calorie restriction offers no additional protection to people with a high level of endurance fitness. Instead it creates other problems by failing to supply the body with the raw materials it needs to absorb and adapt to the stress of training."
5. Eat individually
Different cultures around the world eat different types foods. However, their overall makeup and ratio within the genres of high quality foods are surprisingly similar. As I outlined in my Low-FODMAP blog post last week, I have to eat a little more individually than most. A while back my neighbors threw a house warming party. I did not stick to my Low-FODMAP diet and I ended up in the Emergency Room after 30 hours of excruciating pain and vomiting. Matt's book talks about athletes with moral and allergy related dietary restrictions that I found encouraging.
"To eat individually is to identify and accommodate your (1) needs and no-no’s, (2) allergies and intolerances, (3) likes and dislikes, (4) cravings and crutches, (5) schedule and lifestyle, and (6) morals and values..."
For me following the Five Core Habits has been quite easy. With my newfound motivation I removed bad habits from my diet and implemented Matt's Five Core Habits. Within a few short weeks the bad habits had been replaced with better ones. When I was hungry instead of going for a bag of chips I opted for fruit or a hard boiled egg. My fruit, veggie, and nut/seed intake also increased significantly. Conversely my meat consumption decreased. A ten ounce prime rib meal at our local restaurant became two meals instead of one. Interestingly, many of our family dinners have shifted into the vegan/vegetarian realm as I often eat meat for lunch.
Some days you just want to have pizza, ice-cream, or a cookie. The Endurance Diet addresses these "crutch foods" too. Rather than forbid yourself from ever indulging Matt encourages it - but only in moderation and occasionally. While on the previously mentioned family vacation my brother took me to the world famous Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. Rather than refuse I enjoyed a doughnut. It was delicious and I did not have to feel guilty about it. I knew that in a few days when I got home with my new Elite Direto (purchased in Portland - the land of no sales tax) that I would most certainly burn it off plus a whole lot more. Life is too short to sweat food too much :D
.".. including all types of foods in the diet, eating mostly high-quality foods, placing carbohydrate-rich foods at the center of most meals and snacks, and relying on mindful attention to internal signals of hunger and satiety to control the amount of food you eat."
Overall since starting The Endurance Diet I have felt much more healthy and energetic. Despite eating a lot of food (it takes a lot of food to fuel five to six workouts a week) the weight keeps coming off, the muscle tone increases as does my endurance. If you are interested in improving your overall fitness through nutrition than I highly recommend that you read The Endurance Diet by Matt Fitzgerald. I am certain that you will find it as informative, transformative, and helpful as I have.