The Protein-centric Period
When I first started working as a personal trainer in 2001, I followed a very traditional way of eating, which was common in the fitness industry at that very time. I was surrounded by guys whose goals were to gain muscle, in fact my first mentor was a professional body builder.
I very quickly adapted the idea of eating a very high protein diet; mainly using various sources of meat as well as eggs. Of course, the idea was to eat “clean” which meant only eating very lean cuts of meat, and egg whites. Some carbs were allowed, but obviously avoiding any junk was key as well.
This way of eating was effective for my goals of gaining muscle at the time, as I was able to go from 180 to around 230 lbs in a couple years. One negative thing that I didn’t realize at the time was the amount of caffeine I was consuming to compensate for my low energy.
At the time, I was consuming meat in three meals per day, twelve egg whites (6 in the morning and 6 at night), along with a whey protein shake. To add to this, I would drink three double espressos a day plus one or two cans of an energy drink.
Fifteen years ago my view on nutrition was very different from what it is today. At that point in time, I solely focused on the macro nutrients only (proteins, carbs, fats), and constantly tried to eliminate foods out of my diet.
Discovery Of The Endurance World
About half way through my career I started to get somewhat bored with just weight lifting, so I decided to dabble in endurance sports. I began running, and to my surprise, for someone who used to hate running, I found a lot of pleasure in it. One mile led to few, and before I knew it I was a marathon finisher.
Soon enough I found myself at the start line of my first sprint triathlon where a new passion for endurance sports was born.
Being somewhat impatient, I quickly progressed through all the distances from sprint to Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) and became obsessed with the longer distances. I loved racing and really enjoyed the training, but there was just one issue. I was always tired, especially after finishing a long bike ride, all I wanted to do is grab some food and go to sleep.
When my wife and I were planning to head to Europe for our honeymoon (which was schedules less than two months before Ironman Cozumel) my diet was about to take a massive shift. Going into the vacation, I was concerned about maintaining fitness during our time away, especially for the second week which was a cruise in the Mediterranean. If you have been on a cruise ship before then you know there is access to all types of foods pretty much 24/7.
I made one simple commitment to myself which was to start every single meal on the vacation with plants because I knew the fiber would fill me up and I would not over eat with other foods. During those two weeks I started breakfast with fresh fruit and every meal there after with a huge salad. I still ate some of the “less healthy” foods, but definitely not as much as I would have otherwise.
Birth Of True Energy
Although that wasn’t my goal I actually ended up losing a couple pounds during that trip. But the thing that surprised me the most was how much I was craving fruit and vegetables when we returned home. I decided to keep that same rule of starting every meal with plants, and I continued to crave them more every week.
There are many studies that suggest that eating more fresh plants over time will change the bacteria in your gut, which ultimately will alter the cravings to desiring more plants.
I went through this transformation organically as I simply fed my body what it was craving. I went from eating meat 3 to 4 times a day to just a few times a week, and reduced 12 eggs a day to maybe a dozen a week at the most. Instantly, my energy levels went up. I also reduced the caffeine intake to just one espresso a day, which was a fraction of what I used to drink at the start of my career. Not to even mention the chemicals I had eliminated by stopping to consume other energy drinks.
I set my personal best Ironman time in Cozumel that year and the following season I had so much more energy than in the past. I recovered faster and didn’t feel like I had to go and crash in bed after my workouts. I finally hit my big goals of breaking five hours in a (half) Ironman 70.3 as well as going well under 11 hours in a full Ironman.
The Internal Awareness
My focus in nutrition has shifted from eliminating foods that I thought were bad for me to seeking and adding foods that would be more nourishing. I stopped worrying about macros and calories so much, and instead focused on micro nutrients (foods rich in vitamins and minerals).
Seeking high quality live nutrients is what will actually make you a healthier person and a better athlete. Plus, mentally it is so much more encouraging to focus on all the things you can have rather than the restrictions.
I am not vegan because I do have meat once a month or so, I may have an occasional egg here and there. But I am a true believer in a plant-based diet because it really propelled my fitness and endurance to the next level. Plus, I am not a fan of labels, I really believe that identifying yourself as vegan, paleo, or whatever else, instantly puts restrictions on you as well a set of guidelines to obey.
The moment you slip outside whatever label you identify with you have a sense of failure. And that can be extremely discouraging, especially to someone who is experimenting and discovering what works for them.
I hope that your biggest takeaway from this article is that you experiment by adding more fresh plants into your diet, and really give it a little time to take effect. Focus on all the things you can add to your diet rather than eliminate. As you’re adding the good stuff eventually you won’t have as many cravings for the bad stuff. When preparing food or making a choice at a restaurant, ask yourself “will this meal make me a healthier person?” Or “will this meal help me become a better athlete?” And then make the decision based on the answer.
As a 9x Ironman finisher himself who still remembers struggling through his first 5k run, Peter strives to inspire his clients and athletes to unleash their potential and rediscover new possibilities.
Since 2001 Peter has worked with individuals from many backgrounds, some taking up exercise for the first time looking for weight loss and toning, and others seeking guidance with a more extreme goal of training for an Ironman triathlon.
Peter has published articles in the Chicago’s Competitor Magazine, some of his work was also featured in the Colorado Runner and Golf Fitness Magazine.