Throughout college athletics, I crafted my personal nutrition philosophy from years of experience running, gathering a wide array of opinions from different viewpoints, and ultimately finding what I found most practical. I learned to navigate personal stomach issues from the stress that is caused from running high mileage. In my first year of running, I’d get lucky if I could go out for a 6 mile run in the afternoon without any stomach pain, bathroom stops, or stopping to walk back home. In fact, it was these experiences that made me pursue nutrition and health on a deeper level. I went on to try different things such as cutting out gluten, dairy, and processed foods. That certainly helped but I still had occasional issues with what was considered healthy foods (whole grains, gluten-free, and low fat foods). Despite this effort, I continued to struggle with stomach issues and further a poor relationship with food. This led me down many paths to discover ways I could continue to minimize this. Today, four primary factors stand today as essential parts of my nutrition philosophy that have helped me perform well, train sustainably, and enjoy

1.Nutrient Density – Nutrient density refers to the concentration of essential nutrients in a given amount of food. It measures the ratio of nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants) to calories within a food or meal. In simpler terms, nutrient-dense foods pack a powerful nutritional punch while keeping calories in check I’ve found the most nutrient-dense foods I include in my diet, the more satiated I feel and less of an attachment to food I need to have throughout the day. Every food has a different nutrient profile. Nutrient-dense foods that I include in my diet are salmon, oranges, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, carrots, sweet potatoes, red meat, and other fruits. Foods that are low in nutrient density are also commonly referred to as “empty calories”. These include foods like donuts, processed snacks, and candy. Foods high in nutrient density are: salmon, greek yogurt, sweet potatoes, eggs, blueberries, oranges, and many more whole foods.

2. Digestibility – The saying “You are what you eat” is often thrown around the nutrition circle. I’d go a step further, “You are what you digest”. Whenever you eat food, it is not until it is digested, that the nutrients and energy is harnessed in your body. I’ve personally found foods that I can rarely digest and often give me stomach issues whenever I am out on my next run. For myself, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, spicy foods, and nuts & seeds. On the other hand, I’ve found foods such as white rice, sweet potatoes, cooked low-fodmap vegetables, meat, fish, and chicken are much less irritating to my stomach. This could be contributed to the fact that some of these irritating foods have anti nutrients. Anti nutrients are found in a plethora of plant foods and a few animal foods. Phytic acid is just one common anti nutrient in most people’s diets. A study found that including black beans and tortillas with oysters decreased the absorption of zinc by quite a bit! Antinutrients can prevent the absorption of other minerals. Before I continue ranting on antinutrients, I will share a short video on an expert breaking down antinutrients.

3. Bioavailability –Bioavailability in nutrition refers to how well our bodies can absorb and use the nutrients we get from the food we eat. When we eat food, our bodies break it down into different nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and proteins, which are important for our growth, energy, and overall health. While research is continually refining the bioavailability of food, a foundational scale for protein has been established called the “protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS)” This study shows the bioavailability of different proteins ranging from plant to animal. For example, it revealed beef, eggs, and whey all have a higher bioavailability than soy or wheat protein (gluten). On paper, some foods appear to have a much higher nutrient value but if the nutrients cannot be absorbed, what worth is it? Consider these two forms of vitamin A: Retinol & Beta Carotene. Beta Carotene is the form found in plant foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes. The conversion rate of beta carotene to vitamin A (retinol) can vary among individuals and is influenced by various factors such as overall health, genetic variations, and dietary factors. On average, it is estimated that approximately 3.6 units of beta carotene are converted to 1 unit of retinol. This conversion rate corresponds to about 3.6% of beta carotene being converted to vitamin A. Retinol is the form found in animal foods such as eggs, cheese, and liver. Retinol is already in the active form of vitamin A, so it does not require further conversion in the body. Therefore, when retinol is consumed, it is readily available as vitamin A for the body to use. The bioavailability of retinol as vitamin A is considered to be nearly 100%.

4. Adherence – World Champion Body Builder Stan Efferding coaches his clients with the philosophy that, “Compliance is the Science” In other words, good consistency outperforms inconsistent perfection. Too often people create extremely rigid nutrition plans and if derailed decide to eat whatever they want. This yo-yo method often creates inconsistent results that never help an athlete identify lasting results. Willpower is often the main focus when it comes to this but what is incredibly important is identifying enjoyable components that help reinforce great results. Sure you will always have to sacrifice and strive to improve, but don’t force yourself into a dietary protocol that makes you miserable when you could be achieving results with a looser protocol that focuses on consistency over perfection. Practically speaking this simply means to find fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins that you find most enjoyable and filling your diet with these. You don’t need to eat 57 different foods to have a successful diet, find the 5-6 nutrient dense bioavailable foods that you find most enjoyable and consistently fit those into your everyday nutrition protocol.

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