Friday, October 30, 2009

Good Eats

My P90X Nutrition Plan book's been sitting in my work bag for weeks. Since early in Phase 1, I've ignored the Nutrition Plan, preferring instead to go by my own (somewhat haphazardly collected) rules of eating. So it surprises me that a number of you have asked what I've been ingesting during my first round of P90X -- are you not yet aware that I have no idea what I'm doing?

If you're really interested in what I've been shoveling down my throat, click below for the utterly non-fascinating details.


For years, M has been great about feeding our family largely-unprocessed whole foods. We shop at local farmer's markets (M regularly visits more than one each week), and much of our produce comes from our weekly straight-from-the-farm C.S.A. box. We're not vegetarians, but we don't often eat red meat. And we try to avoid fast food or anything else crammed with shitloads of laboratory-concocted ingredients.

But that doesn't mean that I didn't eat a lot of calorie-packed, fatty foods, or that I didn't mindlessly ingest entire bags of chips while watching TV. Our pantry may have been stocked with less processed alternatives to Doritos and Oreos, but that just gave me another excuse to help myself to another heaping handful of M's homemade organic granola (which remains the best I've ever had).

Plus, we're big fans of eating out, which automatically tells you that we weren't serious health nuts. M, in particular, is obsessed with good food. When we travel, for example, we don't schedule any sightseeing excursions; instead, M maps out a dining itinerary. Sometimes, we go out of town just to eat. We fly to Chicago because Alinea is there. We visit Phoenix because we love the "Rosa" pizza at Pizzeria Bianco. And I'm already looking forward to devouring another plate of Momofuku Ssam Bar pork buns the next time I'm in New York.

My caloric intake wasn’t a big deal when I was exercising like a madman. But when my visits to the gym slowed to a trickle and I started spending more quality time with my TV remote (and a bag of chips), I started getting a little squishier and softer.

The P90X Nutrition Plan

Like many P90X beginners, I charged into the program with total fucking commitment and off-the-charts enthusiasm. I was ready to take on everything that Tony threw at me, including his bad jokes, horrifically intense exercises, and the P90X Nutrition Plan.

The P90X Nutrition Plan is organized into three phases:

Phase 1: Fat Shredder. This is a "high-protein-based diet designed to help you strengthen muscle while rapidly shedding fat from your body." In effect, this is the low-carb phase of the diet.

Phase 2: Energy Booster. In Phase 2, you get a more "balanced mix of carbohydrates and protein with a lower amount of fat to supply additional energy for performance."

Phase 3: Endurance Maximizer. This is "an athletic diet and you'll only need it if you are pushing your body to the limit." It consists of "complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and lower fat with an emphasis on more carbohydrates."

The Nutrition Plan also offers three different approaches to eating while on P90X. One is the "Portion Approach," which allows you to eat a certain number of portions of various foods each day (e.g., you could have 5 portions of protein, 2 portions of vegetables, 2 portions of dairy, etc.). A more rigid alternative is the "Meal Plan Approach," which requires you to make and eat the recipes printed in the Nutrition Plan book. Lastly, there's the "Quick Option Approach" for lazy people who want to eat out of the supermarket frozen food aisle or order a veggie burger at Burger King.

I read the Plan with painstaking care, calculating my "nutrition level" to figure out how much food I needed to eat during my three months of P90X. I chose the Portion Approach, and was determined to stick to the Plan.

Phase 1

Within days, I'd abandoned the Plan.

I couldn't follow the Portion Approach; the thought of constantly weighing my food and counting portions was driving me crazy. So after poking around online, I created a list of four rules that seemed to be consistent with the aims of the "Fat Shredder" phase:
  • Eat small, frequent meals each day -- slowly.
  • Eat more protein and vegetables.
  • Earn your carbs: Eat them only after working out (except for non-starchy vegetables, which you can have any time of day).
  • Be mindful of portion sizes.
Using these rules, here's what I ate during a typical Phase 1 day:
Non-fat Greek yogurt (mixed with a couple tablespoons of ground flax seed)
A whey protein drink
An egg white omelet with tomato, spinach and goat cheese
A banana
A slice of whole wheat toast
A tablespoon of peanut butter
Some almonds
Grilled chicken breast with salad greens, half an avocado, tomatoes, carrots -- and no dressing
An apple
A stick of lowfat string cheese
Hard boiled egg
And at night, I'd eat whatever M made for dinner. She'd often have some sort of healthy carb option on the table (e.g., whole wheat pasta or rolls, brown rice, soba, etc.), but I did my best to skip it during Phase 1.

My rules and food choices did the trick (for me, anyway) during Phase 1. The P90X workouts were intense, but I’m convinced that it was my change in eating habits that led to a dramatic reduction in body fat during my first 30 days of the program.

Still, there were times when I was seriously bonking from lack of carbs. I remember attempting the 360-degree spins during Plyo, and dizzily crashing to the ground because my legs had turned to jelly. I couldn't wait to complete Phase 1.

Phases 2 & 3

At the start of Phase 2, I gradually started re-introducing more carbs into my diet, so I modified my "eat carbs only after working out" rule to:
  • Eat carbs sparingly.
I kept eating the stuff I was eating in Phase 1, but I began incorporating into my diet whole wheat pastas and breads, brown rice, and an occasional pizza. Plus, I started blending up a Chocolate Banana Split Shake each morning after my workout. (I love this shake, but M thinks it's gross.)

And while it was almost impossible to eat out (and enjoy it) during Phase 1, we started indulging in a few more restaurant visits. In the past month alone, we've cleared heaping plates of meat at a Brazilian churrascaria, scarfed down a ten-course chef's tasting menu, and ordered (and ate) every single appetizer off a restaurant's menu. In my mind, the key to a diet is sustainability; there's no way we're going to go cold-turkey when it comes to dining out, so I had to find ways to make this fit within my overall nutrition plan. So I came up with one more rule:
  • If you're going to make an exception to your diet, make sure it's worth it.
In other words, I'm not going to break my diet for a bucket of greasy fried chicken or a plate of okay-but-not-great cookies. If I'm going to indulge, the food better be tasty as hell to justify my intake calories and fat. Note, however, that bad-for-you food is rarely THAT FUCKING GOOD (oh, please -- shut up already about how great Twinkies taste, because you're wrong), so detours from my nutrition plan have been rare. And even when I do decide to go off the reservation, I try to remind myself that I'm doing so because I want to taste the food, not gorge on it until my belly extends over my belt.

My list of five eating rules seem to be working (so far) for me, but take them with a grain of salt. Remember: I have zero expertise in nutrition, and I'm mostly just talking out of my ass.

[UPDATED APRIL 2010: My approach to eating has continued to evolve. In short, I've decided to go paleo, which means I'm trying to eat like a caveman -- click here to read more about it.]

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 2011: Scratch these rules. Here are my new ones.]