Before talking about nutrition strategies, I think it’s probably useful to ask where they’re supposed to take us. In years past, the implicit assumption has pointed toward body composition. Lean mass shredded down to its genetic potential. The kind of stuff you see in cheesy supplement ads. More recently, I feel like we have been moving toward a meaning-driven focus. It’s time.
So, when we talk about nutrition, I think it’s more useful to ask what will have you feeling your best. This includes supporting any performance that improves your quality of life—from hikes with your besties to athletic competition.
When it comes to feeling good, there is some correlation with body composition. I should get that out of the way. Strength, general performance, and metabolic flexibility (the ability to effectively use fat or carbs as a fuel source) all happen within a certain bandwidth. But that bandwidth is far, far broader than fitness marketers would have you believe. This is available to all kinds of bodies—at all kinds of ages. Genetic diversity is not a fluke and your DNA is still in play for some very good reasons.
Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s get to the how. To do this, I often think of our food sources as living in three circles:
Circle 1: your immediate environment
What is within arm’s reach? And—even there—what is the most convenient to consume? Tasty, prepared food has its thumb on the scale when compared to anything else. We could all be a little more accepting of that fact.
Circle 2: your standard spaces
What is accessible to you wherever you spend the remaining bulk of your time? This might include lunches or snacks that you bring to work. It might include vending machines or vending machines. Or farmers markets. Or the cornucopia that is Queen Street West.
This circle might also include anywhere you go out of your way to visit. Or break your piggy bank to pay for. Generally, we tolerate inconvenience—including expense—for things that are either very healthy or very enjoyable.
Circle 3: the food ecosystem you live in
This is a big one. It contains everything from the farms that food is grown on to shipping, processing, packaging, and marketing. Policy about what you can sell, how things get labelled, and even what is safe to consume all live here. This is the invisible hand. And it often holds garbage.
The hunter and the hunted
Within these circles, we also have things that are worth chasing—and things that chase us.
Things worth chasing: Unsaturated fats; fibre; lean protein; varied micronutrients.
Practically speaking, this looks like a whole whack of veggies and fruit; nuts; legumes; anything from soy and tempeh to chicken and fish—depending on how you roll.
Things that chases us: Ultra-processed foods; a lack of variety; an excessive bias toward saturated fats; greater quantities than you need; any allergies or intolerances; anything with an egregiously large environmental footprint.
Practically speaking, this looks like any food that might have been designed by committee. It could also be even healthy foods that you consume mindlessly.
Putting it all together
We need to ask what systems or rules make it easier for us to catch the good stuff. Maybe it’s simply having the ingredients at home. Maybe it’s having a tool—like a great chef’s knife. And maybe it’s using a hack like a good quality protein supplement. This is all about decreasing friction.
And the stuff that’s chasing you? Invert your skills. Add friction where you can and easy-to-follow rules where you can’t.