We have already discussed some simple nutrition rules here on Gunslinger Research (which you can read here) However, while that article will provide you with a firm foundation to get you started, nutrition is a very complex topic. With this article, we are going to explore some of the more complex points including diet construction, meal timing, and meal preparation. More importantly, we are going to address the nutrition goals of the uniform occupations.
I’m going to preface this article by saying: I am not a nutritionist. What I am however is a fitness enthusiast and military and law enforcement, consultant. I have had the pleasure of working with a diverse range of uniform professionals from special forces, to patrol officers in city police forces. As I have said before nothing is going to dictate your operational performance like your overall personal fitness level. Yet, for many of us working in the uniform occupations makes eating and training difficult and if you do not dedicate yourself to a higher fitness ideal you will quickly succumb to bad habits.
There are a lot of diets out there. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are downright ugly. What is important to note here is that the word “diet” has developed some very negative connotations. A diet shouldn’t be something you do because you indulged a little too heavily on scotch and Christmas cookies (not that I am speaking from experience.) A diet is a lifestyle choice. Therefore, when we construct a diet it needs to be sustainable. In short, you have to enjoy the foods you are eating, and you have to be able to stick with it.
When selecting a diet, you need to choose a plan that suits your personal tastes and lifestyle. Try to avoid so-called “power” or “crash” diets. Personally, I’m a big advocate of Paleo Eating. There are several reasons for this. First, in recent years I have developed some fairly serious intolerances to wheat, soy, and dairy and am not a fan of blowing up toilets when I’m working. Second, paleo eating has significantly improved my performance at work and in the gym. Since paleo eating normalizes blood sugar throughout the waking period I do not experience crashes. Finally, my personal blood markers are the best they have ever been since switching to paleo.
So, what’s the big deal about blood markers? Well, it’s the only way to really know what’s going on inside your body. There are resources abound on what to have tested and how, but the short version is: get your blood tested on a semi-regular basis so you know how your body is responding to your diet and training.
Vegans and vegetarians, stop reading now. There I said it. Research has shown that particularly for men, animal fats and dietary cholesterol are essential for producing testosterone which is the guiding hormone for muscle tissue development. In addition, meat and animal fat generally promote a healthy endocrine and immune system. If you don’t believe me, there is a myriad of research on this topic, go ahead I will wait (you wouldn’t read a bibliography if included it anyway.) If you want some anecdotal evidence, think about the vegans you know, and how often they are down and out with a cold.
So how do you avoid eating White Castle and Dunkin Donuts when on shift? The answer is very simple: meal planning and meal preparation.
To this end, we are going to discuss meal planning from a typical “4 on and 4 off” police lifestyle, however, the same principles can be applied to other schedules such as a typical Monday to Friday, continental etc.
We are going to plan for 4 meals a day. Some say you need to eat more meals others say you can get away with less. The research shows it doesn’t really matter, ultimately your meal frequency is a function of your personal satiety. For example: if you are on a ketogenic diet you may be able to get away with as few as 2 large meals (with a snack or two in between) this is largely due to the fact that hunger is suppressed when it ketosis. That being said, plan for at least one meal post training for recovery purposes but more on that later.
The first step to meal planning is protein selection. I select two proteins per 4-day block. You will need to prep your 2 proteins of choice (say chicken and beef) ahead. Freezing if required. There is some research that shows that protein sources oxidize far faster than originally thought, so invest in some quality airtight containers or if you can afford it a vacuum sealing system. Next prep 2-3 vegetable options and 1 starchy option. The starchy option is key, as we are going to use this in our post workout meal (again I am writing this from a paleo perspective so my starch of choice is sweet potato) however white rice or potatoes are particularly good. Notice how I suggest white rice? Not brown? Again research has shown that many of the supposedly beneficial compounds in brown rice are not biologically available to humans, another piece of homework from this article.
While discussing meal prep it would be helpful to discuss post workout nutrition. When you are finished training you need to generate a fairly significant insulin spike (one of the key players in muscle growth.) However, this is difficult for many when following a paleo eating plan. Now, I am one of those zealots who does not supplement heavily at all (see my supplement section at the end of this article) so that option for me personally is out. What we need is a food item that will cause an insulin spike and if we are lucky a good dose of citrulline. Citrulline, specifically citrulline malate is a common ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. Citrulline boosts the body’s arginine and nitric oxide levels, widening blood vessels and allowing even more nutrients to rush into the muscles. It is naturally found in fruits such as watermelon and cantaloupe, nuts such as walnuts as well as cacao and salmon. So, the way forward is pretty simple eat fruit (hopefully a citrulline rich fruit) to cause that insulin spike and allowing you to avoid those processed foods you are trying to avoid.
Let’s say you are working a 12-hour night shift. You get home around 0800 and crash out shortly after. Awaking at 14:00, have a 1-2 cups of black coffee (yes black remember those simple nutrition rules?) The coffee is going to do a couple of things. First, it’s going to wake you up (yay caffeine) and second coffee is a fairly powerful appetite suppressant, the goal is that we want to train fasted. The reason why I’m going to advocate training fasted here is simple: it will help mitigate any potential fat gain during your night rotation. Your metabolism will not be running optimally so anything we can do to stave off the fat gain is ideal.
Post-training (you did read our training guide) you are going to want to have your first meal. Personally, my post-training meal is usually 4-6 whole eggs, half an avocado, baked sweet potato, and serving or two of breakfast meat (bacon, ham, etc.) I have found that eggs post training is the best thing to whey protein. If you are eating dairy feel free to make a “mass gainer” shake (whey protein, almond butter, almond milk, and a banana for example) and drink that instead.
By now you should be ready for work, uniform on and ready to go on shift what I will usually do is blend up a green smoothie of some sort as my second meal, and a handful of nuts. This will get me through to meal 3.
Meal 3 is usually a large serving of green vegetables and some sort of protein. I try to use proteins and veggies that taste good cold. For example, asparagus and grilled chicken thighs with Dijon mustard tend to go down easily when cold. I will usually try to eat meal 3 4-5 hours into my shift.
Meal 4 is an exact repeat of Meal 3. I usually try to alternate the protein. Alternatively, this meal may be the Diner with my shift mates (in which case it’s the same as meal 1 only made by someone with dubious personal hygiene.)
With food taken care of we need to talk about water. Water is key. Water is often the missing piece for so many of us. I recommend drinking a gallon to a gallon and a half per day and seeing how you feel. Drink a large glass immediately upon waking, and as needed when training. Keep a water bottle filled and stay hydrated throughout your shift. While talking about hydration, try to limit your consumption of coffee if you can. While there are a lot of benefits to coffee, it is a potent diuretic and will dehydrate you faster if you are unable to get enough water into your system.
We couldn’t talk about nutrition without discussing supplements. I personally take three: fish oil, vitamin d, and a quality multivitamin. I do not supplement with whey protein or take pre or post workout supplements, I am not saying you shouldn’t take these products you need to tailor your supplement stack to your goals and lifestyle, but what I will say is that many of these supplements are poor quality, and the industry is largely unregulated take this into consideration when purchasing supplements. It is also important to mention that many supplements will make you “pop” on the standard drug test.
Remember, your body is built in the gym AND the kitchen. Fuel your body properly and it will perform when you need it to. Until next time eat well, train hard, and stay safe.
The Paleo Diet
The core concept of the paleo diet is that you consume foods that our ancestors ate, which are by extension whole and nutrient dense. To summarize the Paleo Diet, you do not eat grains, sugar, dairy, processed foods or legumes. In terms of macros, I find that my protein is generally very high, low carbs and moderate fat.
There is a wealth of information around the web on the paleo diet. That being said, I’d recommend anyone looking to try paleo read the excellent book, The Paleo Solution by Dr. Rob Wolf.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet was developed for epilepsy patients. It features high fat, ultra-low carb, and moderate protein. The protein intake has to be lower than other diets as the body can convert protein to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. The Keto diet allows you to indulge in rich, fatty foods like cheese, sausages, whipping cream and so on, however you cannot have sugar. Literally no sugar. The ketogenic diet works by hijacking your body. Essentially a lack of dietary carbohydrate, and glycogen results in the body switching from running on glucose to running on ketone bodies (a process called ketosis.)
The ketogenic diet is fairly involved and warrants its own article, there is a lot to learn and understand from reading ketone test strips to planning recipes. However, I have used the keto diet to great effect and would recommend it to anyone seeking to achieve fat loss while continuing to have cream in their coffee however it arguably requires the most diligence. The “hijacking” process takes time and education and cheating on the ketogenic diet results in having to re-enter ketosis and possibly go through the “keto -flu” (a state of lethargy caused by the body being depleted of accessible carbs and working to enter ketosis) all over again.
Set your personal macros, eat what you want as long as it fits within those macros. Lose weight or gain mass. Simple right? IIFYM has an almost cult following on the internet. The near endless variety from candy to lasagna and beyond is very appealing to many people, especially if they lack the necessary willpower to follow stricter diets.
Countless people have used IIFYM to achieve their goals, however, this approach is not without consequence. You burn through all your carbs/fats on Reese’s peanut butter cups, you are going to be hungry and your workout will suffer. Then there is the hassle of tracking all the foods you love, which is easy at home but can be challenging when out in the real world.
If you decide to follow IIFYM avoid processed foods if possible, avoid things like sodas, candy and so on. Just because it fits within your diet doesn’t mean it’s food for your body or your performance. Above all be diligent. IIFYM only works if you are extremely meticulous at tracking your foods and watching your macro intake.
Perhaps the exact opposite of the Ketogenic diet the bodybuilding diet utilizes high carbs, low fat, and high protein. I have used this diet to great effect both for fat loss and muscle gain, however, I find the foods boring. The age-old standard of chicken, broccoli, and rice becomes old and becomes old fast.
You are probably asking yourself, why I separated the Body Building Diet from IIFYM/Flexible dieting as the core macros sound similar. The answer is relatively simple: the athletic diet implements consistency. For example, a traditional bodybuilding meal plan might look like:
Breakfast: Egg whites and cream of rice.
Post Workout: Protein Shake.
Lunch: 2 Chicken breasts, 2 cups of green vegetables, 1 cup rice.
Afternoon: Protein Shake.
Dinner: 8oz lean steak, 2 cups green vegetables, 1 cup rice.
As you can see not much variety here, but these sorts of diets were not meant for enjoyment. They were meant to fuel someone as they pursue their athletic goals. For some people, the ease of cooking, lack of variety, and consistency (you know exactly what you are going to eat down to the gram of protein.) are extremely helpful in staying on plan.
The athletic diet can be used for those of us in the uniform occupations (many do) you may find the easy to eat and digest meals are not only easy to prepare but easy to take with you.