No More Protein Shakes: How to  Eat Like a Human and Still Be Strong

My Brilliant Friends,

Last March I hit a squat of 370 lb. and a deadlift of 391 lb. without protein shakes. That’s a squat of 2.2x my body weight of 168 lb. That may seem like a lot, but I’m a normal guy and I just learned to do a few things right.

My strength results came after a year of effective eating paired with progression strength training. I was able to take the 5×5 powerlifting system much further than most people, because I adopted an unusual nutritional philosophy. If your primary focus is getting strong and lean, you don’t have to go the route of whey protein and chicken breast. Also, the prescription of six meals a day is overkill.

In fact, I ate less food and skipped the protein shakes for a 65 lb. increase in my squat. I did two things with food that changed everything: I started the day with healthy fats, and ate carbs at night. These simple adjustments took my strength to a new level. It wasn’t easy to change my habits, but the results came fast.

Effective Eating

By changing when I ate certain foods, I effected greater focus and strength output during training sessions and physical activities. My energy level multiplied, and my strength surpassed my expectations.

Carbohydrates at Night

This sounds crazy to some of you, because most people say that carbs at night make you fat. That’s conventional wisdom. Here’s my secret: I usually only eat carbs at night, and never in the morning. Why?

Think of your energy on a scale of zero to five, five being razor-focused and kicking ass, zero being non-functional and getting your ass kicked. Then think of your hunger on a scale of zero to five, zero being starved and five being completely satiated. My perceived energy and hunger levels after eating carbs for breakfast:

Energy Vs Hunger Graph

With the effects shown above, it didn’t make sense for me to eat carbs first thing in the morning. I may have felt lively as I was eating, but by the time I was ready to get work done my focus was crashing. Soon after that my stomach would grumble, and then I would get moody and just want people out of my way so I could hurry up and eat again. It didn’t work for me.

The same was true for strength training. I would get an energy crash just as I got to the gym, and it sucked. Suddenly the motivation I was feeling an hour before disappeared, and I would have a sober time getting warmed up and lifting. I would be tired during my training session and unfocused, and this often led to small injuries from bad form and overworking myself.

So if I didn’t eat carbs in the morning, what did I eat?

Fat in the Morning

Two years ago, my gym buddy introduced me to BULLETPROOF® Coffee. It’s a strange recipe consisting of grass fed butter, MCT oil, and coffee, from the Silicon Valley biohacker named Dave Asprey, at The Bulletproof Executive. From the first time I drank this butter coffee concoction in the mornings, I met incredible results: my energy level shot through the roof, it was sustained throughout the day without any other food, and I was rock-steady focused.

Using the same scale of zero to five from our carb-heavy breakfast graph, here are my perceived energy and hunger levels on nothing but good fats in the morning:

Energy Vs Hunger Fat Graph

I found that I could go eight to twelve hour days without lunch. And I was not crawling, either. I managed staff of a busy call center, I was reading, writing, and meditating, and I took pride in doing these things with focus and attention.

So I flipped my eating. I had carbs only toward the end of the day, and only good fats in the morning. This gave me access to unparalleled energy from morning to night, and allowed me to restore my need for energy without interfering with activities during the day. For dinner, I went all out. I ate multiple servings of rice if I felt the hunger, and I had fruits and desserts. Then, I would relax and go to bed feeling good. The best part was, in the morning, I was not fat.

Sure, this is my own perception of energy and hunger. There are obviously a lot of complex things going on with hormones, catabolism and anabolism, and I’m not going to say that I have measured or understand all of those mechanisms. I do know that fat works better for me than carbs by orders of magnitude in the morning.

That’s it. These are my two most effective principles of food timing, around which all other eating falls into place. Carbs at night, fats in the morning.

Starting with Fat for Strength Training

The most amazing thing was that starting with fat was optimal for strength training too. I was scared at first that I would faint during my training because I wasn’t eating any carbohydrates. When you have 200 lb. on your back you don’t want to lose consciousness. But guess what? Not only did I stay conscious, I was more focused and had more power output than if I had eaten carbs. A quick list of benefits of training with fat as fuel:

  • No heavy “digestion” slump that is typical after eating carbs, so I’m able to start my first exercise as quickly as 15 to 30 minutes after having butter coffee.
  • Absolutely razor focused during sessions. Able to control every minutiae of form at the bottom of the heaviest squats.
  • More presence and control during exercises means less fear with peak weights on my back.
  • Far less of crazy “beast mode” and just blindly tearing through exercises.
  • No injuries from squatting 3x per week for 30+ weeks on the 5×5 progression strength training program.

Here’s what a training day looks like for me:

  • Normally I have two cups of butter coffee first thing in the morning.
  • Before training sessions, I add a tablespoon of collagen powder to my coffee along with the butter and MCT oil. This gives my body the building blocks for joint and connective tissue repair.
  • When I don’t train, I omit the collagen, since it makes me hungry within about four hours. On training days, since I was going to eat after my session anyway, hunger was okay.
  • I usually read, write, meditate, stool, and then hit the gym about an hour or two after finishing my coffee.
  • After training, I usually eat white rice mixed with grass fed butter, meat, and dark green veggies like kale, broccoli, or spinach. This is usually leftovers from the night before. If I don’t have any leftovers I make eggs and bacon.

Observe your energy and focus levels in the morning. Do you eat breakfast, and if so, what does that look like? Note how long it takes for you to start to feel hungry. Pay attention to these two factors at lunch time. Did you train or exercise one or two days before? Take note of these baseline factors and your levels of energy and hunger. Then try adding good fats to your morning, and take note of any differences.

Brilliantly Effective Foods

Now for the actual foods that worked the greatest wonders for me: meat and fats from grass fed or wild animals, leafy veggies, rice, and more. Let’s start with the healthy fats.

Butter Coffee

I discovered the power of fat in my diet soon after that fateful day that my training buddy suggested I try Bulletproof Coffee. This drink serves as an amazing energy source from fats, and is unparalleled as fuel for a strength training session. See my butter coffee recipe for amazing taste and texture tips. From the Bulletproof Executive website I started my journey of learning that fats give me more energy for longer periods of time than carbs. I started by having a small cup of butter coffee with my breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and avocado, and eventually found that the beverage alone gave me  enough energy for my training sessions.

Quick breakdown of butter coffee as the ultimate natural fuel:

  • The grass fed butter provides vitamins, saturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It is very filling too.
  • Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil consists of C-8 and C-10 fatty acids that pass easily from the gut to the brain and rest of the body for quickly usable energy in the form of ketones.
  • The coffee, of course, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance focus and drive during training and intense mental activities.

This drink is clean-burning rocket fuel that gives me maximal focus, endurance, and strength output. For my recipe and links to get ingredients for yourself, see my post on how to Hack Your Butter Coffee.

Save Money on Ineffective Lunches

Having my coffee blended with grass fed butter every morning makes sense micro-economically.  I eat no breakfast other than butter coffee. This saves me time on food prep and cleaning (blender, table knife, and measuring spoons). Because it’s so filling, I don’t eat lunch, unless I trained the day before.

Looking at a very low end of $10 per restaurant lunch in Los Angeles, that is saving me more than $40 per week. This alone makes up for the weekly cost of my butter coffee, which for me includes 1.5 cups of grass fed butter per week (less than $5), 10 tbps. of Brain Octane oil ($5.49), and 30 g of coffee ($0.54) as a baseline. I do add other elements to enhance flavor and performance, so I’m spending about $11 a week. Not taking dinner into account, and excluding the cost of breakfast that I no longer eat, I am 3-4 times more food-cost-efficient from morning to evening than I used to be. Take my previous cost of breakfast, which usually consisted of two to three eggs, bacon, and toast, I am at least 5x more food cost-efficient than I was three years ago.

This isn’t to say you’ll be able to go a whole day with just butter coffee from day one, two, three, or even day seven. It took a few weeks for me to get to a state of metabolism where I could effectively use fat alone for energy. You may need to try it a few times and see how it works for you, in addition to your regular meals. I eventually got more accustomed to the calorie profile of fats and need less food for the same amount of energy. I suggest adding it to what you already do, and adjust as you go.

The usual exception to no lunches is after strength training sessions or some physical activity the day before. For the next day, and sometimes two days later, I feel hungry midday. If I want to make time for lunch on these days I might have a salad with some wild salmon and sweet potatoes, with dressing made from MCT oil and vinegar. If I don’t eat lunch, it takes about a day longer for me to recover from training. However, my focus isn’t affected during the day.

Kill 1 p.m. Meetings and End the Day on Fire

Not only am I more efficient, I am more effective. Having butter coffee in the morning without carbs gives me razor focus that is sustained for hours and hours. I can focus on tasks and interact effectively with people as late as 10 or 11 p.m. I’m definitely not 100% at the end of the day, but I’m rarely “hangry”, moody, or in any sort of an energy crisis.

I feel great from the start of my morning through lunch hour, when most people need to go get something to eat. It saves me time, energy, and attention when I can continue on with a task and not have to stand in line for a $15 sandwich and soda. I also don’t have a post-lunch crash, because I just don’t have lunch. While others are nodding off during one o’clock meetings, I’m driven and focused.

Yes, I do have some crazy days when I am up early in the morning, skip lunch even though I trained the day before, and don’t eat dinner until 11 or 12 p.m. It doesn’t make me the happiest human on earth, but I can operate just fine. I can do this effectively because of the good fats that I eat to start my day, and butter coffee is the perfect vehicle for this nutrition.

Grass Fed Butter

I use Kerrygold grass fed butter in just about everything I eat. It makes up the bulk of my morning energy source in butter coffee. Butter is also great when melted into almost anything, especially rice. I like to do the classic slab of butter on top of steak, and it’s also great when melted onto steamed or sauteed veggies. Broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, spinach, collard greens, you name it, I’ve tried grass fed butter with all of them and they pass my “Damn, that’s good” taste test.

Cooking with grass fed butter:

I use butter for cooking everything from eggs to beef stew to fish to chicken curry. It’s a little more delicate than regular grain fed butter, and smokes at a lower temperature.

  1. Melt it at a very low temperature, not enough to fizzle into a brown mess.
  2. If you need to cook at slightly higher temperatures for larger meat chunks or to get that grilled effect, first heat coconut oil, pork, or beef fat, then add the butter on top. This blends the smoking points of the two fats and you get a higher smoking point from the butter than you normally would by itself.
  3. When possible, it’s better to steam food like rice or veggies first, then add butter later to melt.
  4. Add spices like garlic, shallots, or jalapeno to the butter and let brown a bit before adding meat or veggies. Gives depth to your dish.

Grass Fed Ground Beef

Some of the long term benefits I am seeing from eating grass fed beef:

  • Fuller recovery after training
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood
  • More flexible joints and muscles
  • Better skin, hair and nails
  • No smelly burps or room-filling gas that come with normal grain fed beef

Ground beef is the most practical form for cooking:

  • Break it up in butter in a large saucepan and add broccoli, kale, or other veggie
  • Form into meatballs with cumin, chipotle, minced onion.
  • Make into a sauce for rice pasta dishes

My trusted source of grass fed beef is Alderspring Ranch in Idaho.

Wild Caught Fish

Best alternative to grass fed beef, full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. My favorite fish:

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Red Snapper
  • Pike mackerel
  • Sardines (most are wild caught!)

Easy and fast to cook:

  • In a pan, low heat, with grass fed butter
  • In a spicy soup base
  • Baked, seasoned with plenty of sea salt, maybe some dill

I get Alaskan Wild By Nature Copper River sockeye salmon, who are partnered with Alderspring Ranch.

Dark Green Leafy Veggies

These are super healthy and make me feel great the next morning. My favorites:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chinese Broccoli
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Bok Choi

I have found these to be simple to cook and the easiest to find at farmer markets. It’s hard to go wrong with them if you use a few simple rules:

  • Minimal cooking
  • Proper flavoring
  • Variation

Minimal Cooking

Most green leafy veggies don’t need much heat to be edible. You can sauté kale slightly in butter over low heat for just a couple of minutes, and cover to steam for another minute or two, and it’s done. You want it to still be green and fresh looking when you eat it. The trick with veggies that have thick stems and delicate leaves is to start cooking the stems and add the leafy parts later.

Flavoring Veggies

Super easy with combinations of herbs, spices, and acids. For European and American-style dishes try:

  • Lemon or apple cider vinegar
  • Black pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chipotle
  • Jalapeno

For Asian-style dishes try:

  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sake
  • Green onion
  • White pepper
  • Sesame oil
  • Shiitake

Most of these veggies go supremely well with ground beef. I usually start with the beef, adding the veggies while the beef is still a bit pink to avoid overcooking it. Salt it to taste, don’t be afraid of salt. Spinach can be blanched, rinsed, and mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions for an amazing dish that is popular with Koreans. Try it with rice and fish.

Vary what you eat day to day

Of course, you will eventually find the few things that make the most sense to you and taste the best. This makes it easy to rotate recipes so you don’t get sick of any one food.

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Boiled eggs, what a lost art. Having a stock of soft-boiled eggs is great for quick meals. The secret is to use a steamer. If you do it in this order exactly, I promise you the eggs will be delicious.

  1. Set up a steamer in a large pot. Add water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
  2. Get the water boiling.
  3. Set a timer for 7 minutes for liquid yolk, 8 minutes for firm but golden yolk.
  4. Add as many eggs as reasonably fits without stacking (try stacking them, why not).
  5. Start timer.
  6. When timer goes off, turn off heat.
  7. Fill pot with cold water, drain. Don’t worry, the eggs won’t crack. The miracle of natural architecture.
  8. Repeat. The second time, leave the eggs for a few minutes to cool down.

Rice

White rice mixed with some brown and black rice cooked in a steamer is my main source of carbohydrates at night. I love melting in grass fed butter after cooking the rice and mixing it together. It’s a great way to get more healthy fat and it tastes amazing. Rice is clean-burning fuel for me, doesn’t have any gluten and other harmful proteins found in wheat, and is always my go to.

I usually cook a bunch, store what I don’t eat in tupperware, and reheat over the stove with a little water in the pot when I need it. Simple, delicious, and effective.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Second to rice, I’ve found that Japanese sweet potatoes are an awesome source of easily digestible carbs. I don’t get food coma after eating these, even if it’s midday. Steam a few for 20-30 minutes, until super soft, and eat them when they’re cooled to room temperature. I eat the peel and all. Store leftovers in the fridge after cooling.

Supplements

My supplementation is based on the BULLETPROOF DIET™ created by Dave Asprey and this supplements page. These are the things I take daily.

Vitamin D

1000 IU per 25 lb. body weight, which means 7000 IU for me in the morning. If I know I’m going to be outdoors I take less. Genetic function, calcium distribution, hormone formation.

Vitamin C

6000 mg daily. Antioxidant, supports immune function. I take more if I feel an infection coming on.

Vitamin K2

2,000 mcg daily for calcium distribution to bones and away from arteries.

Methyl B12

5000 mcg daily for brain cell and nerve tissue repair and support in conjunction with methyl folate.

Methyl Folate

800 mcg daily for cardiovascular function and neurological health in conjunction with B12.

Magnesium

600 mg nightly for relaxation, enzyme function, muscle function, and calcium balance.

Iodine (Kelp)

1000 mg nightly for thyroid function, immune function, brain protection.

Avoid Non-Effective Foods

Yes, we all have splurges every once in a while. But for a routine diet, when the aim is to focus, maintain good mood, create a healthy body, and gain strength, some foods are not effective for me. Here are the foods I avoid and why:

Wheat, bread and pasta

Joint pain, brain fog and headache, energy crash, lowered immune system function.

Sugar

Energy crash, cavities, feeds “bad” gut bacteria, organs don’t feel good.

Dairy

Acne, gas, brain fog.

Vegetable Oils

Oxidation, inflammation, and fat gain. Canola, seed oils, even olive oil can be harmful if cooked.

Damaged fats

From overcooking or reuse for deep-frying: Similar to vegetable oils.

A lot of these are my kryptonite. They are tempting and addictive, especially when I’m stressed and tired and don’t have good food prepared. I have “relapses”, when I splurge on bread or sweets or fried foods. The results are always the same, and I eat knowing the consequences.

The best way for me to avoid non-effective foods is to stock up on good foods, have a solid routine for meal prep, and embrace the benefits of effective eating. This only starts with one good food or eating habit at a time, so start with small, effective steps. Observe your results, and keep using the stuff that works.

To powerful living,

Steve

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