In March of 2014 I hit a squat of 370 lb. and a deadlift of 391 lb. That was a squat of 2.2x my body weight of 168 lb. It’s not enough to classify me in the Russian charts, but that’s a level of strength I did not expect to reach. I’m a normal-sized guy and I just learned to do a few things right. As I trained, I saw my strength continue to increase beyond my previous potential. I realized I had hit upon some key elements of wellness that were carrying me much further than I had gone.
My strength results, along with greater mental clarity and overall effectiveness as a human, 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 breasts. The prescription of six meals a day is overkill. You don’t need to scarf bread and pasta, and you certainly don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to chug an extra shake.
In fact, to reach my peak strength I ate less food than I used to. I skipped the protein shakes. And I ate almost no bread, and no pasta 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.
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.
Now 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 through the day, after eating carbs for breakfast:
I may have felt lively as I was eating eggs, bacon, and toast, 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. With these effects, it didn’t make sense for me to eat carbs first thing in the morning. It didn’t work for me.
The same was true for strength training. With a banana, toast, granola or protein bar beforehand, I would get an energy crash just as I got to the gym. Motivation from just an hour before evaporated, and I would have a sober time warming up and starting my lifts. I would be tired during the 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:
I found that I could go eight to twelve hour days without lunch. And I was not crawling, either. I managed staff in a busy call center, I was reading, writing, and meditating, and I took pride in charging through the day with focus and attention.
So I flipped my eating paradigm. 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 on hard training days I had fruits or dessert. 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.
You may or may not have the exact results that I did by eating in this manner. What I do know is that for me, and for others I have talked to who live along this pattern of eating fats in the morning and carbs later in the day or at night, energy, attention, and focus are unparalleled.
So 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.
It’s not so important that you get rid of all carbs in the morning, and have a lot of fat instead. What matters is that there is a possibility of long lasting energy by changing things up a bit. Every person must figure out what works best for him or her. No one diet or eating pattern will work for everyone. So it is up to you to try, observe, and edit as you go. The potential is great and you may find your life changing like I did. Give it a try for three days straight. If you like what you feel, go for a full week. If still good, two weeks. The rest is history.
And if you don’t like what you find, readjust. You are obviously looking for a solution, and the answer may just be two degrees to the left or to the right. Try just a bit of protein with the fat. Bone broth, for example. Eggs and bacon, but no toast or any carbs. Or, a bit of carbs. The options are endless. Test, observe, adjust.
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. Having just butter coffee in the morning and training a couple of hours later not only worked for 200 lb. on my back. I had energy for 225, 275, 315, and eventually, 370 lb. on my shoulders.
A list of benefits of strength 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 easier time dealing with fear. With never-before-tried weight on my back, it was very important for me to be clear minded enough to face monstrous fear.
- Far less of crazy “beast mode”. No more 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 looked like for me:
- Normally I had two cups of butter coffee first thing in the morning.
- Before training sessions, I added a tablespoon of collagen powder to my coffee along with the butter and MCT oil. This gave my body the building blocks for joint and connective tissue repair.
- When I didn’t train, I omitted 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, wrote, meditated, stooled, and then hit the gym about an hour or two after finishing my coffee.
- After training, I usually ate white rice mixed with grass fed butter, meat, and dark green veggies like kale, broccoli, or spinach. This was usually leftovers from the night before. If I didn’t have any leftovers I made eggs and bacon.
Eating mostly fats in the morning, I used the powerlifting progression strength training program to increase my squat by sixty five pounds, and my deadlift by one hundred sixty five pounds.
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.
I discovered the power of fat in my diet soon after that fateful day 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. Explore the Bulletproof Executive website to start your learning of how fats can give 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 the 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. Try it and observe how you respond to it. See my recipe with links to get ingredients in my post on how to make 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.
- Melt it at a very low temperature, not enough to fizzle into a brown mess.
- 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.
- When possible, it’s better to steam food like rice or veggies first, then add butter later to melt.
- 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
Wild Caught Fish
Best alternative to grass fed beef, full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. My favorite fish:
- 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
Dark Green Leafy Veggies
These are super healthy and make me feel great the next morning.
- Chinese Broccoli
- Brussel Sprouts
- Bok Choi
I have found these to be simple to cook and the easiest to find at farmer markets.
A few simple rules:
- Minimal cooking
- Proper flavoring
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.
Super easy with combinations of herbs, spices, and acids. For European and American-style dishes try:
- Lemon or apple cider vinegar
- Black pepper
For Asian-style dishes try:
- Soy sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Green onion
- White pepper
- Sesame oil
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.
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.
- Set up a steamer in a large pot. Add water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
- Get the water boiling.
- Set a timer for 7 minutes for liquid yolk, 8 minutes for firm but golden yolk.
- Add as many eggs as reasonably fits without stacking (try stacking them, why not).
- Start timer.
- When timer goes off, turn off heat.
- Fill pot with cold water, drain. Don’t worry, the eggs won’t crack. The miracle of natural architecture.
- Repeat. The second time, leave the eggs for a few minutes to cool down.
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.
My supplementation is based on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Exec supplements page. These are the things I take daily.
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.
6000 mg daily. Antioxidant, supports immune function. I take more if I feel an infection coming on.
2,000 mcg daily for calcium distribution to bones and away from arteries.
5000 mcg daily for brain cell and nerve tissue repair and support in conjunction with methyl folate.
800 mcg daily for cardiovascular function and neurological health in conjunction with B12.
600 mg nightly for relaxation, enzyme function, muscle function, and calcium balance.
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.
Energy crash, cavities, feeds “bad” gut bacteria, organs don’t feel good.
Acne, gas, brain fog.
Oxidation, inflammation, and fat gain. Canola, seed oils, even olive oil can be harmful if cooked.
From overcooking or reuse for deep-frying: Similar to vegetable oils.
A lot of “foods” with damaged fats are my Kryptonite. They are tempting and addictive, especially when I’m stressed and tired or don’t have good food prepared. I have had “relapses”, when I splurged on bread or sweets or fried foods. Sometimes I will enjoy a treat for a special occasion, like birthday cake for a very very special friend. The results of eating these things 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.
Jim Collins says in Great by Choice that discipline is “consistency of action” toward a purpose. It is not just a bunch of routine habits, but an overall direction of actions for the sake of a goal. It’s more important that you try to eat as much leafy green veggies at dinner, for example, than to always eat spinach for dinner. See the difference? You are thinking in broad-sweeping terms rather than trying to plan single steps forward. The first mindset allows you the freedom to act positively. You will be more inclined to incorporate good food, and less inclined to feel defeated when you occasionally eat a kryptonite dessert.
These small increments build up into your discipline. You become more in tune to the good stuff, and more purposeful in your decisions moment by moment. You’ll develop good core practices that establish strong nutrition and eating throughout your life, in the easy times and the hard. Discipline creates freedom. When you have the right foods that you need to fuel your mind and body, you worry less about what to not eat. You also benefit from the good nutrition, and it all coils in to become a cycle of positive action and result.
Focus on the good. See yourself in good health. See yourself as a person who eats good foods that benefit you. See yourself doing good toward yourself. The easiest way to leave behind negativity and failure is to follow and embrace positivity and success.
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