Food is Fuel


And other random thoughts on nutrition, exercise, and a three-point prescription for a balanced life.

I recently changed my diet, again. 

During this latest lockdown, the 4th time in a year that “non-essential” businesses have been forced to close, I’ve had to take all my training outdoors and focus almost exclusively on the running part of my triathlon journey.  But this time around I am also focusing more on nutrition and proper fueling for my workouts. 

Previously I had toyed with a paleo approach, but that never really stuck.  I found the lack of grains, especially at breakfast nearly impossible to maintain and in preparing meals for the rest of my family I was often forced to compromise as they insisted on potatoes and pasta.  After a few days of watching them enjoy these staples while preparing extra salads and veggies for myself, I would inevitably give in and end up eating what they ate. 

This time around I am taking a more wholistic approach, eating a broader range of foods and focusing less on what I can’t eat and more on eating what I can.  If you can attach my approach to anything I’ve been following what is known as The Endurance Diet by Matt Fitzgerald. 

Mr. Fitzgerald is a journalist and exercise physiologist who has covered some of the world’s most successful Olympic and professional athletes across a broad range of endurance sports, marathoners, cross-country skiers and of course my favorite, triathletes.  Over his career hanging out with these elite endurance athletes Fitzgerald has noticed, and subsequently written about what he calls the 5 key habits of endurance nutrition. 

  1. Eat Everything
  2. Eat Quality
  3. Eat Carb Centred
  4. Eat Enough
  5. Eat Individually

Fitzgerald argues, and the evidence both anecdotal and scientific agrees, that the key to dieting isn’t in eliminating any one food or type of foods but in balancing a broad range of high-quality foods to meet your daily requirements of vitamins nutrients and calories. 

All this got me thinking not just about how best to balance my diet as an amateur triathlete but also how to balance my life as a human across the broad spectrum of demands placed on me both personally and professionally. 

Every first-year psychology student knows about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In 1943, Dr. Abraham Maslow published a landmark paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the journal Psychological Review.  In it he proposed that every human being on earth is constantly working to fulfill 5 sets of needs, Physiological (survival) Needs, Safety (security) Needs, Love (belonging) Needs, Esteem (ego/respect) Needs and Self-actualization (purpose/achievement) Needs. 

Maslow felt that each of these needs built on each other like a ladder, or pyramid as they are often illustrated, and it isn’t until each successive need is met that we can move on to the next.  The reality is that each of these needs are so inter-related that beyond survival and a minimal amount of security it is impossible to think of them separately.

So what?

How did a book about exercise nutrition lead to an 80-year-old psychological theory and what does it have to do with business?  I am so glad you asked!

Just like we need to build a balanced diet we also need to build a balanced life.  Through my triathlon journey, professional and spiritual life I have come up with a prescription for balance that works for me.  It may not work for you, but I believe that if you pay attention to your basic needs and follow a framework like what I have built more often than not you will find balance and peace enough to pursue your goals and achieve self-actualization, or as Oprah calls it, to live your best life. 

1 – Move your Body

The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are indisputable.  As little as 15 minutes per day of purposeful movement has been proven to increase both.  For me that means an average of an hour a day of swim, bike, run but you don’t have be a triathlete to reap the rewards of daily exercise, just get out of your chair and move. 

2 – Engage your Mind

Another one that is not really in dispute, although there is less science to prove it, reading helps to both calm and stimulate in different ways.  Not to mention the increase in knowledge you can gain.  I read an average of 30 minutes per day at a pace of 24 pages an hour.  That’s 4380 pages a year, or about 15, 300-page books.   Since I started doing this, about 13 years ago I have read over 400 books on everything from business theory, philosophy, economics, history and even a few love stories. 

3 – Calm your Spirit

I’ll be honest, I’ve had mixed results with meditation.  Some people swear by it and claim it’s what gives them an edge in their daily lives.  People who meditate for 20 to 30 minutes per day report lower blood pressure, less anxiety and better clarity of purpose.  Personally, I find I get much the same benefits from exercise or reading.  Instead, I use meditation is more of a reset button throughout my day.  Whenever I feel tensions rise or I’m being pulled in multiple directions, a few deep breaths, and a repeated mantra of “I’m okay,” or something similar is usually all it takes to calm my nerves and help me to regain focus.  If you are one of the millions of people who prefer longer, more focused meditation, I’m glad it works for you, I’ve never experienced that and find the shorter “mindful breathing” that I do to be just as effective. 

So, there you have it, my rambling decertation on nutrition, exercise, and basic psychology.  I hope I didn’t bore or confuse you too much.  Everything is interconnected and my brain just does this sometimes.  Let me know what you think about any of the topics discussed, and how they inter-relate in the comments below. 

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