According to MyFitnessPal my “optimal” level of carbohydrate intake is 294 g per day. I can tell you that number is ridiculously high and reflects many of things that are grossly wrong with diets today.
As I write this I am sitting on an airplane in first class surrounded by relatively successful people most of whom travel as much if not more than I do. Of the 15 other people sharing the cabin with me, all but one is severely overweight. This problem is seen time and time again in any airline lounges and aircraft around the world that I happen to be in. There is a significant correlation between number of miles flown (or traveled period) in a year and BMI. It’s just damn hard to eat well on the road and there are many pitfalls that we as frequent travelers should be aware of and avoid.
Urged by my wife, I read “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It” and took many of the lessons in this book to heart. First, eliminate sugar. Don’t get me wrong, this is incredibly hard. United might have a pretty poor success rate getting me to my destination on time but they can always be counted on to serve piping hot cookies. Want to grab a quick salad prior to a flight? That dressing almost assuredly has sugar (and soy…seriously there are so many unnecessary ingredients in airport food) in it, as does the dressing served with the salad on board. Fruit? Not any more. As you’ll learn when you read the book, fruit isn’t actually much better for you than raw sugar itself. Honey, sugar, fructose, whatever….It’s all basically treated by our bodies the same, it’s killing us, and it has no place in our lives.
The second lesson I’ve grasped ahold of in my daily life is not just limiting sugar but all carbohydrates. My goal is under 20 but realistically, especially on the road it’s closer to 30 net carbs per day. This has been incredibly eye opening. Seemingly healthy foods like hummus, green beans, quinoa, gluten free bread, etc are carb loaded and aren’t helping your expanding waistline. Serving sizes are also absurd making what you are typically served 4-5 actual servings per the nutrition information. Many foods marketed as healthy, natural, organic, etc are anything but good for you. It may be part of the reason why vegetarians in the United States aren’t typically healthier than their meat eating counterparts. They’re replacing meat with well marketed but ultimately crap food.
So what do I eat? First, I haven’t decreased the amount of exercise I do. That means I’m still burning ~4000 calories per day. It’s a lot of food when you’ve cut out calorie bomb, carbohydrate and sugar loaded foods like fruit, energy bars, and cookies.
The answer is fats and greens. Lots of them. The majority of my net carbs come from leafy greens, broccoli, etc. Breakfast starts with a “smoothie” made with spinach, almond milk, water, green superfood powder, tumeric, ginger, lysine, vitamin c powder, MCT oil and topped with low carb nuts like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pecans. My wife and I travel with our blender (you can actually carry this model in your carry on) and this meal to start the day is a godsend. Perhaps around midday I’ll cook some greens with a couple eggs in some duck fat (with a fat goal close to 200 grams per day, adding fat is vital). Lunch might consist of lettuce wraps, while dinner is usually a small portion of meat such as lamb or buffalo and more greens or veggies like brussels or cabbage and a side salad. At no point am I hungry. That’s part of the key to success. Being hungry encourages cheating which becomes habit which becomes the standard.
So how can I do this on the road? Step one: Save your meals out for client dinners and be that guy in a restaurant. Something on the menu not in line with your desires? Substitute it. You are paying for a meal. Get it the way you want. Order the steak, pass on the bread and substitute extra spinach or broccoli for the loaded potato. Want dessert? Have a cheese plate. Obviously there are limits to this and picking the right restaurant is critical. Steak and seafood houses are great. Perfect for client dinners and you won’t leave hungry. Step two: cook for yourself. Go to your local organic grocery store upon landing and pick up the essential items and cook for yourself, picking hotels like the Residence Inn by Marriott. Step three: have willpower. Served an airplane meal of a “Southwest” chicken salad with a side of fruit and a cookie? Don’t eat the fruit or the cookie, and take a minute to pick out the tomatoes, corn and black beans. Don’t even think about the dressing. The second ingredient is soybean oil, the third is sugar. Want dressing? Carry a small squeeze bottle of olive oil and apple cider vinegar. It’s low carb and tastes better than the syrupy crap served most places. There are tons of resources online and the real secret is just to take a moment and be conscious of the choices you make.
So what about results: in 2015 I was 18% body fat. I was basically eating what I wanted and using the “I worked out today so I deserve this” mentality toward crap eating. Lots of beer, the entire bread basket, and whatever else I could scavenge. By mid 2016, with careful calorie control and insane exercise programming I was able to lose around 20lbs and get down to just under 10% body fat, relatively healthy and fit by most standards, but I had flatlined and calorie control/binge eating was a problem and although I was lighter I also lost quite a bit of strength. I could run a mile faster but couldn’t lift as much. Changing to this ultra low carb/ketogenic diet had almost two immediate impacts. First, in the period of 4 weeks I dropped to just under 7% body fat and actually increased my overall strength (bench press, squat, and clean) by almost 10% getting back to my strength level prior to beginning to diet in 2015 without any reduction in endurance abilities.
Truthfully, when I started this diet protocol it was to be a good partner in my relationship with my wife. I was a bit skeptical as I had always adhered to the “calories in/calories out” mantra and strive to control portions, eating “healthy” foods and abiding by traditional nutrition guidelines that emphasize carbohydrates in our diet. Fact is, it would appear traditional nutrition guidelines are bullshit. I’m living proof, but I’m just one person. If you’re traveling as much as I am, look down. What do you have to lose besides a few pants sizes? Added bonus: You get to buy new suits. Check out Gary Taubes books and try it out for yourself.