Are you unhappy with how you look? Do you look in the mirror wishing you had a muscular physique instead of a portly disposition? Are you unhappy with your performance? Do you want to still train into old age? These are legitimate concerns that you are okay to have. Surprisingly the “online strength training communities” seem to have a disdain for “healthy eating”, yet have a respect for strong guys who are also jacked. It’s quite possible to achieve, but it takes effort.
Everyone knows that in order to grow, you need to eat. There’s an understanding that calories are required to get larger muscles, but that concept has been taken to the extreme. The problem arises from very skinny guys shouting, “I cannot grow, my metabolism is too fast!” That garners the response of larger men to say, “You can grow if you would just eat. I bet you’d grow if you drank a gallon of milk a day.” If the skinny guy actually drank a gallon milk, he, of course, would grow. In truth, the skinny guy is not accustomed to an eating regimen that puts enough food into his body; mechanically he cannot handle the volume due to an adaptation of not eating a lot (he wouldn’t be skinny if he ate a lot). The short term answer is to acquire liquid calories since it’s mechanically easy to consume. Milk is full of calories balanced across the macronutrients and is nature’s growth food.
This mindset of acquiring calories flourishes to include any calorie-dense food. However, calorie-dense foods are often not the healthiest choices. They are full of carbohydrates, sodium, and artificial chemicals that have a ravaging effect on hormones and encourage inflammation. A diet with high calories and low quality will eventually result in being out of shape. This doesn’t mean that “dirty meals” (like fast food, pancakes, ice cream, etc.) don’t have a place. I’ve written how dirty meals can be used in preparation of very heavy training sessions and these meals can even be used to help aid recovery. However, they shouldn’t be a staple in the diet.
This “eat to succeed” mindset permeates to the point where of pride. Anyone eating healthy or caring about how they look is mocked. But why should they be? Is it wrong to want to look powerful in healthy in addition to being strong? Don’t we all respect jacked lifters like Klokov, Konstantinovs, and John Kuc (steroids notwithstanding)? When a reader of this site forgoes their body image in the pursuit of strength, I know that they have succumbed to the “internet peer pressure” to not give a shit. And that’s unfortunate. Johnny Pain actively puts out a message that it’s okay to be concerned with how you look. I agree, especially because this website started as a result of the admiration for jacked lifters in the ’70s. No other person should have a bearing on what makes you happy or what your goals are. They may think it’s weird, but they should still clap you on the back and say, “Yeah man, whatever you wanna do.”
The easiest way to improve aesthetics and body fat levels are to simply eat better quality food. Are you eating sandwiches, cereal, waffles, granola bars, fast food, and processed food items on a daily basis? It’s possible to get similar macronutrient quantities with better quality food. “Quality food” includes any type of meat and eggs, potatoes, butter, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and fruit. Note that meat is plentiful, frequent, and necessary. While a Paleo focus would alter the quantity of some of those side items (to improve on Omega 3 and 6 ratios and limit fructose), eating these higher quality foods will be better than bad quality foods. This shouldn’t be surprising since whole, natural foods will obviously have more nutrients and less chemicals than the processed alternative.
Bad quality foods typically don’t digest well, cause irritation in the gut, and will typically contribute to systemic inflammation. Gut irritation essentially means that the intestinal lining is destroyed resulting in an “inflamed gut”. Some foods can even create perforations in the intestinal wall resulting in a “leaky gut”. Either way it inflames the area — which automatically increases the systemic inflammation — and doesn’t absorb nutrients efficiently. Since the body is trying to heal the inflamed gut, it doesn’t heal other non-gut things very well either. Overall, this contributes to further inflammation since other stresses don’t have the full “recovery capability” of the system. This means that recovery is slower for stress, whether the stress is from training or illness.
Said in another way, eating crappy food develops systemic inflammation. This depresses the system to a point where it is at a deficit and can’t handle other stresses as well. Therefore, if you eat higher quality foods, then you can avoid this mishap and ensure that you are optimally recovering from training. Optimally recovering from training is important for getting stronger, but also for developing muscles.
Strength and Muscles
As you grasp your training partners meaty grips in your man crusher, you will say, “Strength and muscles, brother.” It’s what it’s all about. But can you get strong and jacked on a a diet that accounts for aesthetics and inflammation?
The answer is “Yeah buddy.” I pretty much eat a paleo diet, but occasionally eat a double bacon cheese burger. I can do an “updated food log” soon, but the diet should revolve around the Grandma Principles and “meat and potatoes”. Eat real food: tons of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and some fruit. Eat fattier cuts of meat to get necessary fat calories and ensure that protein levels are conducive to strength training or body fat loss (note that more protein is necessary when losing body fat). Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and fat. Eat some vegetables for nutrients on top of a multi-vitamin, and have some fruit. The bulk of the carbs should come from the potatoes. The vegetables are primarily for ruffage/fiber and fruit is nice because it’s tasty. Your goals will vary some details of this eating style like quantity of macronutrients and timing of carbohydrates.
I prefer beef or pork since they carry fat calories. I make ground beef, burger patties (also ground), steak occasionally, pork loin, and ribs. We also make chili regularly. Currently I don’t eat “grass fed” because of the lack of availability, but grass fed meat products would improve the Omega 3 ratio to result in decreasing inflammation. Fish oil is important in that it can give you Omega 3’s to change the ratio with respect to Omega 6’s, and that’s why we suggest ingesting it.
I prefer sweet potatoes because I think that they taste better than white potatoes; the sweet variation is also preferable to fat guys as the glycemic index is lower (the only nutrient difference between sweet and white potatoes is that sweet potatoes have carotene and vitamin A, otherwise they are pretty similar).
I use butter to garner more calories on my potatoes, and will sometimes eat peanut butter, almond butter, or olive oil for extra calories if I’m not hungry or don’t have time (the peanut/almond stuff has higher Omega 6s, so I’ve actually been limiting them). The nut butters are usually eaten with dark chocolate (90% cocoa). I also supplement whey protein daily because it’s easy, effective, and cost efficient.
As a result of reducing overall inflammation, the body operates more efficiently. Practically speaking, this means that you will recovery better. But it also means you are healthier. Controlling inflammation from within will make for an optimally acting body that doesn’t have hormones out of whack. It’s also possible to support strength training with a high quality diet, but care will have to be given into how that occurs. For serious trainees — like nationally or internationally competitive lifters and athletes — how they conduct their eating will matter more. They may even require additional calories in the form of “non quality meals” (consider Michael Phelps), but the majority of readers on this site are not at such a level. If you have a normal job instead of training as a job, then you probably don’t apply.
It’s okay to care about your health and how you look. Personally, I’ve never wanted to be flabby or out of shape and intend to lift and have an active life deep into old age. Instead of eating “just to take in calories”, aim to eat in a way that establishes those calories with higher quality foods so that you can a) meet the macro requirements but also b) improve your body composition, c) reduce systemic inflammation, and subsequently d) recovery better and be healthier. It’s possible to apply a Paleo concept to a lifter’s goals and lifestlye. Do so by eating lots of meat, potatoes, and other high quality foods. When you splurge, limit how and when for optimal results.
This post can help you get started on a road to higher quality food, but I aim to talk about this in the future. You’ll notice that some of the concepts in this post contradict some older posts (i.e. 2+ years ago) of 70’s Big. If I stayed ingrained in an single belief and didn’t try to make you as strong, jacked, and healthy as possible then I’m just a negligent asshole. Dietary guidelines have shifted and improved over time, otherwise most of the content still applies.