As someone who travels frequently for work, it’s often very difficult to maintain a good diet, especially one that will support the nutritional demands of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is something I’ve been struggling with throughout my journey. I’ve tried calorie counting, Weight Watchers, various iOS apps, and reading a number of books. I think I’ve finally found something that works, provided that I maintain a certain amount of willpower. There’s a lot of discussion about nutrition for BJJ. I don’t claim to be an expert, but rather, I’m simply sharing my personal experience.
Calorie Counting and 10,000 Steps Per Day
At first, I had to make some lifestyle changes. For me, the best way to do this was to quantify my caloric intake. Even though my iOS app of choice, MyFitnessPal, wasn’t always 100% accurate, it forced me to stay accountable for the food I ate. And my Fitbit Charge 2 forced me to commit to leading a more active lifestyle. Fortunately, NYC is a walking city, so it was easy to maintain a regular schedule of long walks, whether to and from work or just while running errands.
The tricky part came when I began doing strength training more often and with increasing intensity. I found that in an effort to meet my calorie cutting goals (at least according to my iOS app), I would begin to see signs of overtraining or undereating. Something had to change.
Eat To Live
My personal trainer recommended that I read the book Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Furhman. This is when it all began to click for me. Dr. Furhman is a strong advocate for a strictly plant based diet, which is not something that interests me. However, the main takeaway from his book, at least for me, is his emphasis on being mindful of the quality of the nutrients that one puts in their body. In other words, it’s not just a matter of cutting calories, but rather ensuring that the calories one ingests are truly providing useful fuel for the body.
This approach made a lot of sense to me, and I found it quite liberating to finally be free of the calorie cutting model. According to Fuhrman, our bodies naturally know when to tell us to stop eating when what we’re eating is the fuel that nature intended for us. Not having the desire to micro-manage my diet, I broke my nutrition down into a set of several rules: 1) stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, 2) cut down on (and eliminate as much as possible) processed sugar, 3) eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible throughout the day, 4) eat at least one large salad per day with minimal dressing, 5) cut back on animal protein, and 6) keep alcohol to a minimum. And when choosing between two foods for a snack or a meal, I ask myself “which is a better source of fuel?”, and “which will provide better nutrition for my BJJ training?”
Of course there are times when schedule, availability, or emotions get in the way, but if I can stay on track most of the time, I figure that I’m doing okay. And there are times when it seems silly not to indulge a bit. After all, I still have a sweet tooth and a love for steak, so I just keep it to an absolute minimum and allow myself these pleasures when I know I’m in a situation in which I have access to a truly memorable culinary experience. Personally, I’d rather have a great steak or a great dessert only every once in a while, but when I do have them, they’d better be seriously off the charts amazing!
Managing Diet on the Road
Here’s where it gets tricky, although I’ve developed some strategies for staying on track when traveling.
Airports are the most difficult. There are temptations all around, and the healthy choices are usually quite unappealing. These days, it’s usually possible to find a decent salad in an airport, so that’s a big help. Also, the more I can fill up on fruit and nuts (provided that I control the portion size), the less likely I’ll be to make impulsive eating decisions. Continuing to stay hydrated helps stave off the hunger too. If I stop for a meal, I make every effort possible to eat “real” food. No hamburgers, pizza, etc. And if I must have sweets, I’ll pick up a small piece of gourmet chocolate to satisfy the craving. On the airplane, particularly on long haul flights, I allow myself to indulge, which makes the flight much more enjoyable and helps me to stay under control after I land.
Hotels don’t have to be a trap. Restaurant staff in hotel restaurants will usually gladly try to accommodate any reasonable substitution request. And those buffet breakfasts can actually be helpful. I always start with a healthy serving of fruit and a hard-boiled egg or two. Beyond that, I evaluate the quality of the individual items to decide the best choices. Yogurt, granola (in small portions), and potatoes can be options depending upon the freshness, quality, etc. I never drink juice and I always drink a lot of water, especially at breakfast. I’m also not ashamed to admit (well, maybe just a little) that I’ve been known to take an apple and banana or two from the breakfast buffet as a snack later in the day. It’s important to remember that many hotels will provide a refrigerator in your room if you ask. Even if you must pay a fee, this is incredibly helpful as it allows you to keep healthy food options constantly available to you. I find that if I have healthy food to snack on throughout the day, I’m much less likely to let my nutrition go off the rails when I’m eating out. I also recently discovered through the help of a dietician that I’ve not been eating enough carbs. My instinct from my past was to drastically reduce carbs, but it turns out that reducing them too much doesn’t provide adequate nutrition for BJJ and can result in low energy. Though I still avoid processed carbs, it’s nice to know that it’s actually beneficial to enjoy a potato or rice.
By now, I’ve been doing this for long enough that it’s become part of my lifestyle. I still go off the rails at times, but I’m able to get back on track fairly quickly. The biggest help is having a plan in advance. This eliminates any stress related to unknown situations. It’s still a struggle, but having a plan in place is key. The more I concern myself with my nutrition and not whether or not I’m adhering to a “diet”, the more successful I am.