Dietary Changes for Health and Performance by Duncan Callahan

Dietary Changes for Health and Performance by Duncan Callahan

There comes a time when you look in the mirror and realize that what you’ve been doing continually is not working. I took that inward gaze over 2 years ago and decided that I needed to make a drastic shift in my approach to nutrition. I ate a standard diet of ‘healthy’ whole grains and a ton of fruit, but there was no denying that I was tragically addicted to baked-goods and significant amounts of refined carbohydrates. I was unhappy, increasingly tired, moody, irritable, suffering while I ran, and increasingly ‘soft’ around the mid-section. How could this be? I’m the dude that runs over 4000-miles a year, every year. I’m the guy in the weight room several times per week, every week. Well, ‘Mr. Health-and-Energy’ was running out of both and it was starting to show. As a highly competitive ultra-runner, I knew something had to change due to the severe stomach problems and GI tract issues I was encountering at every race. My body composition was not the best and I knew I could make vast improvements in strength, muscle definition, and my overall performance. My mid-day energy was sagging significantly as well, and those ‘quad-Americano-s’ were not having the same ‘pick-me-up’ impact that they used to. By mid-summer 2011, all signs were pointing to a HUGE need for a SIGNIFICANT shift in my dietary approach. Here’s one thing that I’ve done throughout my time eating a ‘Paleo’ Diet.

It all started with a book given to me by a local friend. (‘The Primal Blueprint’ by Mark Sisson.) This book simply states in an efficient manner that the conventional wisdom guiding dietary recommendations in the US is likely wrong, and perhaps these government-backed guidelines (and subsequent policies) are in fact partly responsible for today’s health crisis of metabolic disease such as diabetes and obesity, and even some forms of cancer. Conventional dietary guidelines tell us to structure our nutritional intake largely on the foundation of grains, legumes, breads, pastas, cereals, and fruits. Meat has been shunned, and a low fat diet has become the ‘healthy’ way to eat. ‘The Primal Blueprint’ (Many other books as well) (See list of resources below) effectively lays out the need for us to turn the other way and focus on eating higher amounts of fat and protein and DRASTICALLY LESS carbohydrate. The basic premise being that if we can control our blood sugar levels, then we can completely heal our insulin response to that blood sugar and unlock our body’s ability to burn our fat stores as fuel.

I started in September of 2011 by completely changing my breakfast routine, which had been almost entirely carbohydrate-based. A standard morning meal for me consisted of oatmeal, raisins, yogurt, berries, nuts, toast, peanut butter, jelly or honey, and way too much coffee. This meal boasts about 75% of its calories coming from carbohydrate. (Perfect, if you are following conventional wisdom). Without fail, I would be incredibly hungry by 10:00am every morning, and this normally led me to seek out even more carbohydrate in the form of a massive cookie, a cinnamon roll, or piece of sweet bread. I would try to eat only half of it in the morning, but that almost never worked. Instead, I would eat the whole thing, which depending on the item, consisted of over 500 calories. (Again, primarily carbohydrate) You get the idea. I would ride this wild roller coaster of blood sugar swings all day. Invariably, I’d eat a bunch of what I craved (sugar/carbohydrate) and then feel horrible as I came off the high.

But I was looking for a change, and change I did! We (my wife Annie and I) literally gave away our toaster and have not missed it at all! I stopped eating the 2 to 6 pieces of toast per day and have not bought a loaf of bread in over 2 years. Instead of oatmeal and fruit, I have gone exclusively to eggs, meat, vegetables, unsweetened coconut milk, and small portions of fruit. I still drink WAY TOO MUCH coffee, but that is a topic for another day! My typical breakfast now is: 3 eggs scrambled, a 4oz portion of some type of meat, a mix of vegetables usually consisting of spinach and peppers, ½ of an avocado, a small portion of fruit, and coffee.

This routine in the morning sets me up for an entire day of eating. I’ve found that I now eat slower and I’m also not ravenously hungry anymore throughout the day. My mood, for the most part has evened-out and I know this reflects the truth that my blood sugar levels have also leveled. I’ve gone through a rigorous ultra-running race schedule in 2012 without any significant stomach issues or GI tract distress. My body composition has also become more optimal, dropping from 8 – 9% body fat to 6 – 7%. In short, I have seen many positive changes physically, mentally, and emotionally. Does this mean I am perfect now? Nope, far from it, but I do feel significantly better on a daily basis.

Bottom line you ask? In short: ‘Eat nutrient-dense food and reduce/eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugar from your diet.’ I highly encourage everyone to take a serious look at making similar dietary changes to improve health and wellness. Make sure to check out the resource list for a few good places to start. Here’s to positive change! Thanks for reading. Keep on living and eating well. DC

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