Nutrition Not Calories
The second tier of the OFM Pyramid is diet, however, OFM departs from focusing on the conventional metrics of macronutrient profiles or calories and instead focuses on Nutrition and Nutritional Balance. Observationally, once an athlete can obtain the proper nutrition calories take care of themselves.
So what is an OFM diet?
The OFM Diet & Fueling approach is conceptual in nature with the end goal being for the athlete to intuitively know what to eat and how much. This sounds vague unless you are already an OFM athlete.
Because this subject is very complex and interrelated trying to break it down consciously on a daily basis is impossible. To reach the goal, taking a relaxed, organic approach is necessary for success. Here are key points to adopt and bear in mind.
An OFM Diet is based around a Whole Foods Diet using readily available fresh food sources that are “Nutrient Dense” in bio-available macro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals, in particular the fat soluble vitamins only found in animal fats. For vegetarians and vegans we offer a special section on strategies and resources.
OFM uses the concept of “Whole Animal Dieting”. Whole Animal Dieting means not only eating muscle meat but organ meat (read: liver and/or liver based foods) and broth to obtain what is found in the skin and connective tissues (collagen, gelatin, etc.). Doing so balances the proteins/amino acids along with the proper levels of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals for optimal uptake and utilization.
This does not, by any means, suggest an animal based diet of hotdogs and SPAM but one using fresh sources whenever and wherever possible and utilizing other sources where conditions and practicality dictate their use over fresh sources.
Nor does the OFM diet force individuals to eat a lot of animal products. Because there is a wide swath of individual variation some athletes will do optimally well with only a small amount of animal fats and proteins while others will require considerably more. Because whole, minimally processed animal products are nutrient dense the amount necessary in the diet can be quite small for a person who thrives on a diet rich in vegetables and low glycemic fruits.
During transitioning to the Fat-Adapted Metabolic Foundation, recovery and base training periods an OFM Diet eliminates or minimizes concentrated carbohydrate sources from the daily diet because they are nutritional wastelands and raise blood sugar levels to where fats are not metabolized. In terms of nutrition high blood sugar inhibits the uptake of key nutritional components (cholesterols and fat-soluble vitamins) in fats eaten by OFM athletes. During these periods the OFM Diet is a High Fat, Moderate Protein, Low Carbohydrate diet generally sufficient to get the athlete back into a state of NK.
During periods of high volume and/or intensity of training including competition concentrated forms of carbohydrates are brought back into the diet and fueling “strategically” in conjunction with VESPA use to retain the benefits of high rates of beta-oxidation and ketosis while benefiting from the fast metabolizing glucose from the carbohydrates.
Nutritional Timing is also an important component of the “Nutrition NOT Calories” equation. Read more here.
Nutrition NOT Calories:
The core of performance and health is driven by Nutrition with Calories supplying the energy. So let’s forget about calories for the time being.
The OFM Diet is one focused on delivering nutrition to the body. Delivery is the key because so much of the mainstream dietary advice and marketing of supplements talks about nutrition and breaks nutrition down to the body needing this specific vitamin or those Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) or that key mineral without really looking at the bio-availability, or the need to balance components.
A key concept of OFM is “Nutritional Balancing”. This is a concept that is crucial for success in any dietary strategy and we cannot overemphasize this enough. Many nutrients can actually lead to a toxicity situation at certain levels without balancing them with other elements while the same levels can be synergistic and aid in performance, recovery or adaptation at much higher levels when “balanced” with other elements.
Well known examples of the importance of Nutritional Balancing are:
- Calcium uptake and deposition. Many people are getting more than sufficient dietary and supplementary Calcium but are low in Vitamin D thus have low rates of deposition of Calcium in their bones.
- Vitamin A toxicity and the complex interactions between Vitamin A, D,K,E
- Methionine from muscle meat. Without balancing it with B Vitamins, Glycine and Choline, Homocysteine levels become elevated, however, when balanced with these Vitamins and amino acids, methionine supports the growth and repair of tissues, our defense against oxidants, detoxification and proper cellular communication.
The above are a few examples and all critical to an athlete’s performance and health.
Because dissecting this topic would take volumes and the readers would need a university level biology/physiology background to understand we won’t go into it here, however, we will stress and point out this concept throughout the Dietary component of the OFM Program.
The OFM focus on Nutrition and Nutritional Balancing through consumption of whole food sources which are naturally nutritionally dense and highly bio-available, in conjunction with a healthy stomach and gut, make the need for supplementation to a minimum. This being said, most endurance athletes are placing a large load on their bodies so, even with a well-adapted OFM athlete, some supplementation is necessary.
Under the OFM program, because the athlete does not consume massive amounts of food for calories the nutrition component needs to be spot on. Read the Supplementation page for more detail, but, here are few pointers.
Salt: Like fat, salt (Sodiium Chloride/ NaCl) becomes your friend and many people who shift to Nutritional Ketosis tend not to get enough salt in their diet because we are told salt causes hypertension (high blood pressure) ….not when fat adapted….the body will actually excrete sodium and an athlete will be sweating out boatload so you need salt. Add to this the salt lost in sweat of any athlete who has a high volume of training this makes salt a critical component of your diet and electrolyte replacement. Because there is a wide variation between individuals and environmental variables there is no easy metric of how much salt is necessary for each athlete.
Magnesium: Magnesium is a crucial mineral but one that is not needed in massive amounts. The issue is that Magnesium can be rapidly depleted but it cannot be rapidly absorbed. So I recommend taking in a supplement of Magnesium Chloride (available from VESPA) which is a naturally occurring, easily assimilated, relatively inexpensive form of Magnesium after your meals in 100-200 mg doses. Trying to pack in Magnesium to make up for a loss can result in diarrhea (think Milk of Magnesia). I also think that Epsom Salt baths, especially in the winter and topical oils containing Magnesium can be useful for athletes with a high training load.
Zinc: Another mineral that is essential but often not optimized in athletes having a high training volume. Oysters are literally the best source.
Keep in mind Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc are key minerals which need replenishing for endurance athletes but each “competes” with the others for absorption. Most commonly athletes are getting plenty of Calcium in various forms which “out competes” with Magnesium and Zinc. This is an overly-simplistic explanation.
Other trace minerals are generally available via eating whole foods which are nutrient dense as they are needed in such minute amounts, however, this does not mean an athlete cannot run up against a deficiency.
Iodine: Iodine is essential for proper Thyroid function and is easily available in many seafoods, iodized salt and some other foods…..this being said iodine deficiency is fairly common even when an athlete is eating seafood etc…..one of the most common forms of iodine deficiency/ thyroid dysfunction is actually via consuming plant based foods that bind the iodine and other minerals. Cruciferous Vegetables, especially in raw (uncooked and/or unfermented form), consumed in large quantities are known goitrogens and should be cooked and consumed in moderate amounts…..many athletes unknowingly consume loads of raw cruciferous vegetables and end up with Thyroid issues. Here is a great article on the subject and one of many resources on the subject: http://www.westonaprice.org/basics/bearers-of-the-cross, http://huntgatherlove.com/content/just-kale-me-how-your-kale-habit-slowly-destroying-your-health-and-world
The take home is that most people are going to get enough iodine if they eat a varied diet that includes some seafood and iodized salt and as long as they are not eating a ton of raw vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Its suggested athletes who are fat adapted take in 1000-2000 mg of a high quality fish or krill oil supplement per day when in training / competition. Because Omega 3 fatty acids are Polyunsaturated oils they are inherently unstable so too much is not the best. Vegetarian/Vegan athletes need to understand the plant-based Omega 3 fatty acids heavily marketed to athletes are not composed of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA & DHA but ALA. While the body can convert ALA to EPA then EPA to DHA this conversion rate is currently thought to be limited and certainly not adequate for anyone with a high level of physical activity. Vegetarian/ Vegan athletes can utilize an algae based Omega 3 which does supply the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA & DHA.
Eating grass fed ruminants (beef, bison, venison, elk, moose, lamb, goats) and lots of fish will negate this supplementing need in the fat adapted athlete because of the availability of Omega 3’s in these sources and that they are in balance with the Omega 6’s and omega 9 fatty acids etc.
Also it is important to avoid commercial vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, etc.) as they are made via high heat and chemicals and are altered chemically and are pro-inflammatory. The vegetables oils found in most commercial restaurant fryers and in practically all store bought condiments, mayonnaise, and salad dressings utilize these oils because, relative to natural, traditionally extracted oils, they are dirt cheap.
During the fall, winter and early spring months most health care professionals now suggest supplementation with Vitamin D3 if you cannot obtain natural UVB light. This can also apply if you work indoors most of the time even in the summer. Suggested initial doses for 2-4 weeks of 6000-10000 IU of Vitamin D3 then backing off to 2000-4000 daily. For athletes who find their Vitamin D levels are low “mega-dosing” of Vitamin D of 30-50,000 IU for 3-5 days in conjunction with consumption of foods rich in vitamin K2 (liver/liver products) can jump start Vitamin D levels and is generally regarded as safe as long as they are supplementing with liver, liver products like pate, liverwurst, etc. or dessicated liver tablets.
Vitamin D: Nutrition is key to Vitamin D synthesis in humans. The precursors to Vitamin D are cholesterols found in many nutrient dense animal fats and egg yolks. Vitamin D is key to balancing Vitamin A & K so these work for proper uptake of Calcium and depositing it in the bones. It also helps to prevent depression (winter blues) and boosts immunity. During the summer get out and sun without sunblock to really soak up the Vitamin D. Naturally, if you have fair skin you need some exposure but not overexposure so getting 15-20 minutes while exercising daily or 2-3 X per day while exercising will prevent problems. Also note that the data is strongly suggesting cell membrane composition is more robust in fat adapted athletes so you are better equipped to not only protect your skin from the sun but get all the benefits…I recommend getting sun while exercising because also the sweat aids in keeping the skin cool and moist to help mitigate the deleterious effects of the sun while soaking up the benefits of Vitamin D production.
Eating whole nutrient dense foods generally provides plenty of all the other minerals and vitamins and in highly bio-available forms.
An OFM diet is a high FAT diet in terms of calories. Keeping daily fat calories high accomplishes several key goals:
- Maintains the athlete in the “Fat-Adapted” Metabolic State
- Optimizes uptake and assimilation of proteins, peptides and amino acids
- Fats & Cholesterols are key components of hormones, enzymes and cell membranes
- Contain essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, K, E).
- Keeps carb (read:SUGAR!) calories low for stable glucose levels
The daily percentage of fat calories can range from 50-70% in most athletes on most days. The exceptions are:
- 1. Day(s) leading up to an event/competition
- 2. During an event / competition
- 3. Recovery
- 1. On days of ultra-endurance competition the OFM athlete may very well consume most of his/her calories as carbohydrates .
- 2. In recovery and training where an athlete really wants to “train” their body to push the fat burning envelope and carbohydrate content may be below 15% of total calories.
An OFM diet is NOT a high protein diet. Proteins should compromise 15-30% of calories with the “Sweet Spot” of protein intake for an athlete being in the range of 17-25%. The protein sources should be whole, naturally-occurring, minimally processed for the most part (eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy) with some supplementation as necessary or as a situation requires. Again, we stress that proteins are best assimilated with plenty of fat and low in carbs/sugars. Most naturally-occurring whole animal derived food sources provide ample fats while being low in carbohydrates and sugars.
High Protein diets, especially those low in fat, are inefficient and hard on the body, the kidneys in particular, because protein is best absorbed in a high fat environment. Additionally excess protein can be converted to glucose and there is some level of glycogen stored in muscle meat. So an OFM diet should range in calories as a diet with 40-70% of calories from fats & oils, 15-30% of calories from protein sources and the remaining in carbohydrates from non-concentrated sources like vegetables and fruits one eats like vegetables.
Concentrated forms of carbohydrates are utilized “strategically” in the diet and fueling for extra performance.
“The Carb Sneak”: The Carb Sneak is a strategy developed by VESPA and incorporated into its OFM program as part of the “Strategic Carbohydrates”. Occasionally “sneaking” concentrated carbohydrate foods into your diet under a “blanket” of fat blunts the glycemic load / sharp blood sugar rise without eliciting a large insulin response. Because an OFM athlete is “fat-adapted” their basal insulin levels are low and, generally, insulin sensitivity high so very little insulin is necessary to maintain normal blood sugar.
So, why “Carb Sneak” instead of “Carb Load”? . . . the conventional wisdom is to “Carb Load” before competition or training and this has become a “must-do or bonk” ritual. For most people, the physiology of Carb Loading forces the body to become almost entirely dependent upon glycogen stores and exogenous intake of carbohydrates making “bonking” inevitable.
How does this work? When an athlete consumes large amounts of “naked” carbohydrates without sufficient fat and protein to slow the sharp blood sugar rise the pancreas has to saturate the bloodstream with insulin to drive down blood sugar via a number of physiological pathways. One indirect way insulin signals the cells to drive blood sugar down is by sharply inhibiting fat metabolism via beta-oxidation and ketosis….effectively shutting down the body’s ability to burn fat thus making the body almost entirely dependent upon glycogen stores and exogenous intake of carbohydrates for glucose. As every marathoner knows glycogen stores can be depleted in 2-3 hours with the ensuing bonk (hitting the wall).
Couple this “tradition” with a daily high carb, low fat diet and marathon training insulin levels tend to be elevated to levels where the belief that the athletes needs carbohydrates for exercise is a self-fulfilling prophecy because, physiologically speaking, the athlete is almost entirely dependent upon glycogen and exogenous intake of carbohydrates for their energy. While endurance training does develop fat burning metabolic pathways they are not optimized and, on race day, sharply down-regulated by the insulin saturation of the carb load. This is an obvious disconnect in the marathon community and other endurance sports.
In an OFM world most everything defies the conventional science, however, if you look closer this approach makes a lot of sense.
OFM daily nutrition:
Bear in mind that the daily diet is really a High FAT, Moderate Protein (15-25% of calories) and Low Carbohydrate (10-20% of calories in athletes). These macronutrients should be foods which are nutritionally dense and nutritionally bio-available. On Carb Sneak days the carb calories will rise up to 35-45% of calories for athletes. By being fat-adapted the athlete actually has a wider window for carbohydrate use than a sedentary or recreational person for a number of reasons….sedentary people who have developed carbohydrate intolerance have to be super strict about their carb intake. So, if you think this is restrictive, it is not, you can actually use a fairly liberal amount of carbs on occasions when you need them. We recommend the use of Pareto’s Law of 80-20%. In OFM terms this means restricting concentrated carbohydrates in the diet and fueling 80% of the time and bringing them back in 20% of the time as a general rule.
Now this does not mean you pig out on fat or carbs….this should mean that normally your appetite is suppressed so you while it is a high fat diet in terms of calorie profile, it is not a lot of fat because of the energy density. Naturally, the amount of calories you ingest will fluctuate with training/competition load .
What I have observed is the total amount of weight stable calories necessary are less….observationally, there is an efficiency gain of about 200-600 calories per day in a weight stable state…..how can that be one would ask?
Well there are several reasons I can speculate on for this net efficiency gain in OFM athletes:
- Reduced inflammation
- Optimal metabolic conditions, pathways and hormonal balance
- Little to no “de-novo lipogenesis” from highly concentrated carbs which the liver turns to fat and, due to the insulin load, the body cannot easily access these calories.
- Properly adapted to Nutritional Ketosis, the caloric requirements to feed bacteria in the colon are dramatically reduced. When on a conventional high carb, high fiber, low fat diet (raw diets in particular) a lot of carb calories end up in the colon to be consumed by bacteria residing there which are subsequently reduces the chyme to feces. These are calories you are feeding the bacteria with and, while a small portion is utilized for your body, most is not so it is easy to understand how this can represent an efficiency gain.
Because OFM is an integrated program to achieve optimal “Nutrition NOT Calories” it is vitally critical to have a robust and healthy stomach & gut which is the next tier of OFM.