Quality of Food is much MORE important than the Quantity of Food

When I woke up this morning I realized there was a major point that I did NOT mention in yesterday’s post that is super important. What happens if you just can NOT afford Organic or high quality food? What happens if there is no high quality grocery near your place. 

You make whatever sacrifice you need to eat only high quality food. This may mean that you need to drive/walk significantly further and may need to drastically decrease the amount of food you eat. I first became fascinated by nutrition after I started my college track career because I was looking for that extra edge to put me over the top. When I was searching for books in the library my brother pulled out Clean because the cover looked cool. That was the beginning of my fascination with nutrition and its impact on one’s life.

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However, as I began to eat better quality food, I noticed that the food I needed to eat was much more expensive. Therefore to deal with this I ended up eating much less food. This resulted in a marked weight drop (when I cam back to Boston for my sophomore year everyone made a comment on how much weight I lost). At first I was worried. However, despite my weight loss I was way stronger, recovered faster and had way more energy. This made no sense. Why did I see positive effects?

Eating high quality foods is what I like to call a “Force Multiplier” which drastically improves everything in your life. That is why it is so important to make whatever sacrifice you need to make to eat high quality food. If affording high quality food is an issue, you are most likely going to need to eat less food. This may seem counterintuitive but if you are not nourishing your body with high quality food you will never reach your full potential. 

Chase your Dreams without Killing Yourself,

Pavan Mehat

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PS Here are a few ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address. 

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

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How to change the world by what you eat

You may be thinking, there is no way what I eat can radically change the world. However, I vehemently disagree. I have explained before in great detail that we live in an interdependent world therefore every action we take has a multitude of untold consequences we are not even aware of. In addition, as a society as a whole we focus too much on changing external circumstances instead of changing ourselves first to try and make this world a better place.

Okay, so you may be intrigued and now may be open to the idea that possibly what you eat could change the world. However, you want a concrete example. So I am going to give it to you. I have previously stressed that including leafy green vegetables in your diet is essential. But I always get the question is it worth it to get Organic vegetables? Unequivocally YES! 

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Why is it that organic is far superior? Well lets look at it from a purely selfish perspective first. A very good overarching principle to base your dietary choices on is to include nutrient dense food and exclude foods with excessive amounts of toxins. Do you think foods sprayed with all kinds of pesticides (chemicals meant to kill other sentient beings) is something you want to be eating? These exogenous chemicals we introduce into our diets have had a glaring deleterious effect on the general health of the population. In Vancouver, I am kinda of shielded from the drastic decline of general health, but when I was visiting some family in Texas my eye’s were open to how bad it really is. So if you want to be the best you can be choosing organic is a must.

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However, I am aware that in the real world it is not always feasible or pragmatic to buy everything organic. But that is okay because all organic is NOT equal. Your first priority to be to ensure that you are able to purchase as high quality meat as possible, before even thinking about buying any organic veggies. Why is that? Animals higher up on the food chain have a much great bio-concentration of both nutrients AND toxins. That is why high quality meat of ruminant animals is the most nutrient dense food one can consume.

However, there is so much minutiae on the labels meant to distract the consumer that it is not always clear what one should look for. The priority of what you should look for is:

  1. Grass-Fed is the most important thing you should be on the look out for. If your cow or sheep that you are eating was eating corn, then it will be sick and inflamed. Do not think that you will be able to be magically healthy if your eating sick and inflamed animals?
  2. Organic – This is NOT as important as grass-fed but is definitely better than just conventional raised animals. It is great that no extra chemicals are used in the process. But feeding cows or sheep organic grains will still result in them being sick. Cows and sheep were not meant to eat corn and wheat BUT grass. 

Okay, but what happens if you have some resources left over after buying the best quality meat you can but you have to make choices for the veggies? Well this comes down to a simple physics problem. Typically you want to prioritize vegetables that have the most surface area and most susceptible to being the prey for insects to munch away at. Why? Because these are most likely the vegetables which will be sprayed with the largest amounts of pesticides if conventionally grown.

Okay so now you understand the importance of organic and the relative importance of different organic foods. But you may be wondering why I haven’t answered the question how the decision to eat organic and sustainably grown meat and veggies will change the world. Well now I am.

The incessant fear about global warming has considerably died down but it is still a serious problem that we all have to be worried about. However, we have approached the problem slightly wrong by obsessively worriing about our excessive driving habits (although that is still something we definitely need to curtail as it has a whole host of other negative effects). But we have ignored one of the major causes of excessive carbon dioxide emission: unsustainable and conventional farming practices.

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People sometimes always lament today’s society as a consumer driven market. It is always seen as a negative thing (and I agree that it definitely has its flaws) but people rarely remember to see the bright side of it. Every time you buy something you are casting a vote. That is how you can change the world. Every time you choose NOT to buy meat from sick animals by the four major meatpackers (who insidiously disguise their packaging to make it seem like there is a much greater variety of producers) and buy your meat from animals raised on an actual farm by actual farmers you are shaping the world. 

Just from my own experience, once I figured out the myriad of benefits of grass-fed meat (about 3 years ago) it was such a chore to find a quality source of grass fed meat. Now you can go into your local Whole Foods and you will definitely find some sort of sustainably raised grass fed meat.

I hope this post helped elucidate the importance of making a deliberate choice about what you put on your plate as it not only shapes your life but it shapes the world. I also hope it empowers you in all aspects of you life, as it is the seemingly inconsequential acts (in which there will be no fanfare for completing) completed on a consistent basis that result in unbelievable results.

Having stomach/digestive issues: The simple remedy of cutting out ice-cold water

Note this is going to be a short blog post with some actionable items that you can put into place right now to help improve your digestion and therefore improve your body composition. I also, just want to point out that a lot of my posts I have purposefully not included a vast amount of references in the majority of my articles because throughout my scientific career I have found that a significant proportion of the time when relatively inexperienced scientists reference a lot of articles they are trying to hide the fact that they do not really understand the issue at hand nor have they actually read the sources in their entirety and truly understood the implications of the studies.

Do not get me wrong, in a peer review journal when one is  trying to push our knowledge boundary to its limit it is absolutely essential to be rigorous during every stage of the research process to ensure that our results and conclusions describe the true state of reality as best as possible during this point in time. However, the purpose of this blog is NOT to create some general overarching unifying theory.It is to share suggestions of changes or behaviors which through my own experience (very important) have helped support me in becoming the strongest version of myself. Therefore I have decided to NOT include large amounts of unnecessary reference material because the obstacles preventing you from becoming the best you can be is NOT lack of knowledge but correct action. Remember common knowledge is NOT common action.

However, lets get back to the post. During my Track Career I had suffered some very serious hamstring strains and the recommendation I received from my athletic trainer afterwards was to take 3 Advil pills (600mg) 3-4 times a day. Not only did this delay my recovery (will be a future post about why this is the worst thing you could do after an injury) but it had some serious consequences on my gut health which I am still battling today. Therefore compared to a typical healthy 22 year old my stomach is a lot more sensitive then one would expect. This has motivated me to search for ways to ensure that my digestion process does not go awry.

One simple thing you can do right now to drastically improve you gut health is to cut out all ice-cold water from your diet. I know this may seem asinine, as a cup of ice-cold water is so refreshing after a hard workout. However, if you take your health seriously you will try this out for a week or two, and the amazing results you experience will keep you away from ice cold water for the rest of your life. I will got into the reasons behind this later, but ask yourself do you really need to know the reason why this helps improve your digestion or should you just take action that could have huge payoffs for you?

But you may ask what should I drink if I am not drinking ice cold water? Drink as much warm herbal teas (peppermint is my favorite as it tastes great and really helps bolster your digestion as well). However, if you are not into teas at the very least replace all ice-cold water with water at room temperature.

Summary 

1. Your body has infinite intelligence inside of it  (for example a baby can grow inside of a women without any conscious direction). Start listening to it and your experiences instead of blindly trusting so called “experts.” Experts are humans and are therefore wrong sometimes as well. 

2. Do NOT Drink ICE Water if you care about your digestive health and want to become the best you can be. 

3. Replace Ice Cold water with the very least water at room temperature. Drinking Herbal teas is the best option if it is possible (I love the taste of peppermint tea and it really helps my digestion). 

Cutting Edge Science: How processed foods effect your body.

Below is a very short (4 min)  and powerful TED talk regarding HOW the food processing process effects how foods are handled and digested in your gut. It is readily apparent how much artificial sweeteners and food processing can damage your digestive health and impede digestion of nutrients. Sam wrote a great article recently about food combining, and how important it is to be judicious with how you combine foods because if you are spending too much energy on digesting foods you will not have enough energy for things you want to do. The same things hold true for consuming too much highly processed foods. It can be clearly seen that processed foods take substantially more energy to digest and have plenty of unknown negative effects on your health. I know that the vast quantity of conflicting messages in the fitness and nutrition sphere can be overwhelming, but remember the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. Stick to eating whole foods that your grandma would recognize.

Food Combining: How Gain More Energy and Recover Faster From Workouts by Wasting Less Energy on Digestion and Getting More Nutrients from Food- A Ukrainian/Chinese Perspective

T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)

Ella Fitzgerald had it right, at least when it comes to diet – while what you eat is important, it is of equal importance how you eat it.  Everyone knows that eating enough protein is good for you, but it two whole thanksgiving turkeys every day, and you will gain weight and have little to no energy.  While that’s an exaggerated example, it goes to show that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  Likewise, a “bad thing”‘s harmful effects can be minimized by eating it at the right time.

This post is largely based on Ukrainian and Chinese Medicine, two countries where they teach food combining in schools as part of nutrition classes.

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Why Food Combining Matters:

If you spend extra energy digesting food, it is less energy that you have mentally, physically and emotionally to deal with anything that comes your way.  Good digestion helps you feel more energetic and just plain better, for longer.  Bad digestion, caused by poorly combining foods, doesn’t just lead to gas, abdominal pain and swelling, it also leads to decreased nutrient assimilation.  This means your body doesn’t get the nutrients that you are eating.  How does this happen?  Your body uses different enzymes to process different types of foods.  Sugars, proteins, and carbs/starches are of particular importance, because they require vastly different types of enzymes.  If we eat different foods at the same time, the body cannot produce the exact enzymes required to break down the food.  If a food isn’t broken down well, it isn’t absorbed well by the body, and doesn’t help you recover, and may leave you feeling hungry, leading to overeating and weight gain (your body missing nutrients –> hunger signal).

Proteins – require a ton of stomach acid to break down, especially if it is from meat or eggs.  Carbs will have to wait.  Ways to reduce the amount of energy spent by the body in digesting meat is actually to marinate your food!!  Citrus, vinegar, and wine all actually predigest some of the proteins and make them more available to your body – they start the work of digestion for you.  Another way to reduce the strain on your system while eating meat is to eat green vegetables during or after meat consumption.  This is why Italian and French people always eat salad after a meal, not before.  It helps you to digest rich/large meals.

Carbs – require different enzymes than proteins for proper digestion.  Eating them separately is a good idea for those weak from illness, those trying to maintain energy levels immediately after the meal, or those trying to lose weight (better nutrient assimilation through better food combining –> less food you need to eat).  However, it is not common for people to eat them separately, and this is not a big deal.  If you would like to maximize nutrient absorption without separating proteins and carbs, just eat the protein before the carbs, or at least on top of them (I have seen plenty of rice and beans with the beans on top of the rice, but I have never seen the opposite!)  Also, by cooking proteins and carbs in a soup or stew for a long time (>1 hour), each item begins to take on the flavors (and qualities, leading to needing similar enzymes for digestion) of the others, negating the need for a food-eating order.  Many traditional dishes are cooked as stews/soups for a reason!!

Sugars – here’s where it gets tricky.  Sugars (includes sweeteners, natural or artificial, and fruit) digest extremely quickly.  To do this they monopolize digestion.  That means if you eat a ton of fruit with a meal, everything will sit in your stomach (or en route) fermenting and collecting bacteria.  Likewise, if you buy processed/refined food and sugars/sweeteners are one of the first few ingredients, the nutrients from this food will be absorbed neither quickly or effectively.  Always read the ingredients!!!  This is the reason a large dessert or a lot of fruit after a meal will often lead to a stomachache.  It is much better for digestion and nutrient assimilation to have sugary foods on their own.  This is why in many cultures, especially in Europe, the food cooked with the most sugar is consumed at breakfast, combined only with tea (British tea and cookies, for example).  This can be a whole meal (preferably breakfast, as discussed below) or as a snack in between meals (30 minutes before, 1 hour after).  Fruit is a better choice than refined sugars, as the fiber changes the way that your body utilizes the sugar that it provides.

Other Considerations:

Food Combining for Sleep Quality – Pav wrote a great article last week on insomnia.  What can food combining do for insomnia?  First, eating late at night (after 9, or within 2 hours of bedtime, whichever comes first) means that your body will still be digesting when it is supposed to be resting.  The consequence of this is that the quality of your sleep suffers – for a few people it will mean a more difficult time falling to sleep, but for most it will mean that you need more sleep to get the same rest, since your body will not be able to get to its deepest levels of sleep (the ones that leave you feeling recharged) while digesting.  Although you feel like you are passing out after a big meal and sleeping so well, it is actually similar to passing out while drunk – it isn’t real sleep.  Most traditional cultures and many modern ones as well (Spain, for example) customarily eat the biggest meal of the day at lunch.  Our health-ignoring American society has changed for the sake of productivity, but this has a negative impact on our health.

An anecdotal note on this subject is that if I have a dessert after dinner I have insomnia.  Although for years I could not sleep well, since transforming my diet my sleep quality has been vastly improved.  I have had insomnia less than a dozen times in the past year – all triggered by a heavy dinner with sugary dessert.

Never eating after 9 is advised by both Ukrainian athletic coaches and Traditional Chinese doctors because of its effects on the liver and other internal organs involved in digestion – the liver is what detoxes our body, it works all day when we digest, exercise, do anything – it needs rest!  The entire digestive process requires many of your organs be active, you need to let them rest.  The liver is especially active between 1-3 a.m. according to Chinese Medicine, cleaning itself – if it is being called upon to work while it should be recharging, it will not recover well.

Last thing:  Digestion starts in the mouth.  Chew your food!!  If you are a “gulper,” you are much more likely to suffer from indigestion and nutritional deficiencies than someone who mindfully gets all the food into small pieces, easier on the internal digestive system.

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Thank you to Alex Ponomarenko and Paul Pitchford for much of the information provided in this article!

How to use supplements to maximize your performance. Cutting through all the noise and b.s in the supplement industry

One of the first questions I get asked when I begin helping a friend or teammate help optimize their diet is: “What supplements do you take?” This question indicates to me that they do not truly understand the function of supplements and what they can do. Supplements will not compensate for poor nutrition, lack of sleep or hard work in your training. As the name implies they can only supplement or help bolster the results you will gain from a well designed training program accompanied with sufficient recovery.

However, do not get me wrong supplements can make a significant difference and help give you a competitive edge if used correctly. So how do you use supplements appropriately? Firstly, do not use supplements to try and mask a deficiency in other areas such as lack of sleep. Secondly I like to follow the principles of the KISS method (Keep it simple stupid). Lastly, a safety message realize that in biology the greater the benefit with a supplement or drug is going to be accompanied with increased side-effects. You get nothing for free in biology. An example is some of the smart drugs currently out on the market. They can dramatically improve your cognition and memory, but it comes at an dramatic costs to your brain and overall health. If some supplements seem to good to be true, it probably is and will result in long-term damage to your body.

So if your working your butt of training, and taking care of recovery which select few supplements would I highly recommend and posit are essentially necessary for elite athletes. (Note: Please see your physician before taking any supplements. Please don’t do anything that would result in you killing yourself as that would make both of us very sad.)

So here are the three must have supplements for any aspiring athlete.

1. Whey Protein – This is a must have for any athlete that wants that extra edge in supporting the building and maintenance of lean body mass. It has been well substantiated in the literature that you want the building blocks of muscles (protein) in the blood stream after a workout as your body is in a highly anabolic state than. However, many people do not see results when they take their protein shake after a workout. They should not. The reason is because it takes about ~ 30 minutes for ingested liquids to get into the blood steam (from experimentation with blood glucose monitor and orange juice). Therefore, to take advantage you need to take the protein shake before or during your workout so it is in the blood during this anabolic window. The protein shake company I recommend is Biox Whey Protein Powder as it not only taste greats but they use the highest quality sources of protein while most manufactures cheap out on the protein source they use. You pay for what you get. However, please feel free to use whatever company you prefer as long as you can ascertain the quality of whey protein isolate used.

2. Krill or Salmon Oil (Krill is preferred because more bioavailable) – It seems every other day we hear an add touting the benefits of Omega 3’s Fatty acids. Geek Alert: Omega 3 Fatty acids are just a type of unsaturated fatty acid. Omega in greek means the end. So Omega 3 means that there is a double bond 3 carbons away from the terminal end of the fatty acid. Why is it an essential fatty acid? Because only plants have the enzymes to place a double bond at the 3 carbon sugar. Geek Alert over. So is Omega 3 the panacea for inflammation and cognitive decline? NO. However, in the vast majority of people who follow the SAD (Standard American Diet, which makes you SAD) diet there ratios of Omega 3 to 6 are completely out of whack. The average ratio of Omega3:Omega6 in today’s population is ~ 1:20 and it should be closer to 1:4. Therefore, supplementing with Omega 3 is vital to get this ratio in balance and decrease excessive inflammation in your body which will be impeding your ability to recover and become the best athlete you can be.

3. Vitamin D (Please see a physician before taking) – The effects of Vitamin D deficiency are well documented and quite severe. It is called a Vitamin because our body can not produce it, but it acts a hormone. It has wide ranging effects which are vital for any athlete hoping to optimize their performance. Many people tend to vastly overestimate their vitamin D production due to the sun. Recent research by Dr. Holick (Dr and professor at BU who found the active form of Vitamin D), that for any northern countries, such as the great white north (Canada) you can not receive vitamin D from the sun for half the year because the angle of the Sun relative to the horizon prevents UVB rays from getting in the atmosphere. UVB rays are the only UV rays which can cause photoreceptors on your skin to convert Cholesterol into Vitamin D. (Another reason to NOT avoid healthy animal fats!). This can be especially problematic for athletes who train indoors and have a darker complexion (such as myself) because having darker skins means that you will have more melanin which will prevent some of UVB rays from being involved in the production of vitamin D. So how can you combat these many problems? I definitely recommend getting a Vitamin D test sometime to establish a baseline. However, you should be fine to start taking ~ 400 IU of vitamin D (it takes much more vitamin D than we used to think to result in toxicity). Although I am NOT a listened physician yet so please do not take my recommendation without consulting a physician at some point.  The next most important thing is too make sure you know when your body can and can not produce vitamin D from the Sun’s rays. To figure this out Dr. Holick created a great iphone app called the Dminder (which has a free version). I highly recommend it.

So there you have it, three very important supplements that can give you that extra edge to push you over the top. I would recommend that you get rid of any non-medically related supplements (not prescribed by a physician) and stick to the basics unless you get further blood testing that substantiates further supplementation. Lastly, remember that whole foods, enough good quality sleep and appropriate recovery time can not be replaced by supplementation. 

As always please always feel free to reach out to me on facebook or linkedIn (Pavan Mehat) or shoot me an email at pavanmehat12@gmail.com with any questions for future topics you would like for me to discuss. Blogs such as these are much more fun and helpful if there is interaction.

How to make the time to cook healthy and delicious meals.

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In this day and age athletes can not feign ignorance to excuse their poor dietary habits. While it may not be entirely obvious what exactly you should eat, you may be aware of a general trend. Eat more whole foods from local sources, such as vegetables, fruits and high quality grain supplemented with sustainably and humanely raised animal meats. However, a common complaint I received from teammates all the time while competing is that they just don’t have time time to cook. I am going to give you a couple pragmatic tips you can use right now to have the time to cook both healthy and delicious meals.

1. Do all of your cooking on ONE day per week- I mentioned the concept of batching before in a previous post. It is a very powerful concept that can be used in all aspects of your life to drastically improve your efficiency. No matter what activity you do, there is always an associated start up fee. So for example for cooking, the activity in it of itself is not that tedious. I actually love cooking! I hate cleaning though! So if you can complete all your cooking on one day per week then you are only setting up and cleaning up your cooking apparatus once per week. Let’s say you were previously cooking breakfast and dinner every day individually, and it takes ~ 5 minutes to set up and then clean up afterwards. You would be spending ~ 10 min/day and 70 min/week just cleaning and setting up for cooking!!! However, if you are only cooking once per week you reduce your total cleaning/setting up time substantially (for this example 65 min!). This does take a little bit more organization and planning, but for the amount of time you save it is well worth it!

2. Make Baby Steps – If you have almost zero experience cooking, do not try to become a gourmet chef overnight. That is a recipe for disaster. Follow the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid). When I first started cooking for myself during my sophomore year of college, I exclusively used frozen vegetables and fruits (much easier to prepare). Also, initially I maintained a very routine diet because it is much easier to plan and prepare if you are eating the same thing the vast majorities of the time. As you get into a routine and become more experienced then of course experiment but do not overwhelm yourself at the beginning.

Bonus – This is not really a tip to make more time for cooking, but another common complaint I get is that if your eating the same meals over and over again then you start to get sick of the 1-3 meals you are keeping in rotation. A great way to add variety is to experiment with using different spices and herbs while cooking. It is amazing how quickly your taste receptors become attuned to the subtle differences between different combinations of spices and herbs and how much pleasure this brings. Another great benefit of using herbs and spices is that this is a great and relatively cheap method (compared to buying fancy and expensive supplements) to boost the nutritional profile of your meals!

I hope this article gave you some actionable items that you can use to make time to cook and to take control of your health and your body. If you have any questions please make a comment below, and if there is any specific topic you would like me to discuss let me know.Lastly, always feel free to reach out to me on facebook or linkedIn (Pavan Mehat) or shoot me an email at pavanmehat12@gmail.com.