Nutrition for Circus (and the rest of life)

What you eat makes a difference in how your body feels and how it performs. It makes a difference in terms of your energy levels for training and how well you recover from training and how your muscles get stronger in response to training.

If ever you find yourself recovering from an injury (or a surgery), the food you eat can influence how speedily and effectively you heal.

Nutrition. Is. A. Big Deal.

I think we’re probably all aware of that (though I enjoyed the dramatic presentation of my point).

Nutrition has become awfully complicated—or at least, the sheer amount of information/noise out there about nutrition makes it seem awfully complicated to many folks. I would like to suggest that it’s way more complicated than it needs to be. Both Theresa and I are Precision Nutrition Certified coaches and the following guidelines are intended to offer a degree of simplification.

Make sure you’re eating enough protein. Aim for every meal (and, ideally, every snack.

Protein is important. For a whole variety of basic life-sustaining processes in your body and for the things that many circus folk want: developing strength and recovering from your training.

…and, anecdotally, I’ve been surprised to note that most of the people with whom I’ve worked on nutrition were under-eating—both in terms of dietary protein content and overall food intake. (Now, of course, your mileage may vary, so don’t just assume this applies to you).

Ideally, choose whole-food sources of protein. There’s a beautiful synergy that happens with all of the other good stuff that’s in food that makes whole-food sources of protein a better way to go.

Suggested serving size: 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein per meal.

Factors that might affect your choice of serving size:

  • Your frame size and current amount of muscle mass,
  • Your activity level,
  • Your muscle-building goals.

Eat lots of veggies. And fruits.

I don’t actually have anything profound to say about vegetables or fruits other than they are really easy to under-eat and really difficult to over-eat. Eat more veggies than fruit, but feel free to eat lots of both.

Suggested serving size: 1-2 fist-sized portions of veggies and fruit per meal.

Carbs.

We could probably do an entire blog post about carbs. Are they good? Are they bad? What about sugar???

Here’s the thing: “carbs” are not inherently bad. (No food or food group is inherently bad or good). In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source.

“Carbs” may be too broad a term.

Technically, there are carbohydrates in veggies and fruits as well as grains. In the popular thinking, ‘carbs’ usually refers to bread, pasta, rice and the like. They’re not ‘bad’, either.

We could take a stab at talking about low-carb or even keto approaches to nutrition, but now isn’t the time to do that. And, even if we were to discuss them, our stance would remain: if it works for you, great!

Bear in mind, what “works” means will vary from person to person.

For the purposes of this post, let’s keep it simple: it’s ok to eat carbs of any type.

Suggested serving size: 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbohydrates per meal

However…

If your goals include fat loss:

  • minimize refined sugars (most desserts, processed foods, pop/soda, fruit juice, sports drinks…) and only eating them during or immediately after exercise is a good idea;
  • aim to eat mostly whole-food, minimally processed varieties of starchy carbs—and save them mainly for after exercise;
  • and, of course, eat veggies (and fruits…but more veggies) at every meal.

If your goals include muscle-building:

  • if you’re going to consume refined sugars, aim to keep it to immediately post-exercise;
  • also eat whole-food, minimally processed starchy carbs, mostly after exercising;
  • and eat lots of veggies. And fruit (but more veggies than fruit). At every meal.

If you’re really very active, it may makes sense for you to eat starchy carbs (from minimally processed, whole-food sources) at every meal.

Include a balance of healthy fats in your diet. Daily.

For a few reasons that are beyond the scope of this post and a bit beyond my full understanding, some geniuses out there, using bad science, began a process that resulted in years and years of the message being that fat is bad. That dietary fat is what makes people fat.

Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely true, nor is there any science to support the idea.

Dietary fat is absolutely essential for good health and, when consumed in a healthy balance, can actually help you to lose body fat.

Our serving guideline here is 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat per meal.

As you may already know, we have three kinds of fats: saturated fats and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

You probably needn’t worry about your dietary saturated fat content. If you eat food with protein in it, chances are it comes with some saturated fat. You can, of course, cook with some butter or coconut oil for good measure.

Monounsaturated fats come from nuts, olives and olive oil.

[NOTE: While nuts do have a little bit of protein, they have so much more fat than protein that they are better considered a ‘fat’ source rather than a substantial ‘protein’ source.]

You can get your polyunsaturated fats from flax seed oil, fish oil and mixed nuts.

The above represents a template; a jumping-off point, of sorts.

As a general rule, if you were to follow the above guidelines 90% of the time (where the other 10% of the time, you can eat anything you want), there’s a really good chance you would feel satisfied at every meal, have enough energy for doing the things you want to do (and recovering from them) and take care of any nutritional deficiencies.

[Please note: eating “anything you want” 10% of the time doesn’t mean “eat a whole pizza” or “eat a whole barrel of ice cream”.]

However, your mileage may vary. This is why we use outcome-based decision-making in the coaching process. We start with the baseline recommendation, adjust according to your individual needs and then continue to adjust based on how you’re feeling, how you’re performing and how your body is responding.

Figuring out what works best for you, your life and your body often takes some experimentation.

If you’d like some help dialing in your own nutrition, please feel free to reach out.

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