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The 10 Habits of Nutrition

Let’s begin again with a question – “what are your rules of good nutrition?” In other words, what types of things must you absolutely do to succeed – and what types of things must you avoid? Seriously, take a moment and think about it. What rules do you think you’ll need to follow if you want to eat in the absolute best way for your sport – a way that will improve the way your body looks, the way it feels, the way it moves, and the way it recovers?

Come up with that list in your mind right now.

Now that you’ve considered these rules, we want you to take a second and think about your list. Specifically, think about where you learned these rules. Certainly your rules have been influenced by how you were raised. They’ve been influenced by your experiences dining with friends and relatives. Of course, no set of nutrition rules is immune to media influences. And, no doubt, your nutrition rules have probably been influenced by your own past attempts at changing your body – whether you’ve been successful or unsuccessful. We could sit here all day and list potential nutritional influences, but we’ll stop here since there are probably hundreds of them and to talk about them all would bore your socks off.

In the end, it’s likely that very few of your own “Good Nutrition Rules” have been influenced by those who know anything about good nutrition for health, let alone about body composition and sports performance success. And worse yet, it’s likely that most of those rules have been hammered home without you even knowing it. So let’s get serious here and let’s change those rules. Do you really want Dr Phil influencing the way you eat for grappling performance? Or Oprah? Or Richard Simmons? Or your grade school lunch lady?

Now we’ll admit it. Changing the rules – just like changing your habits – is difficult to do. Not only does it take a desire to change – we call this the “want to” change – but it also takes a strategy for change – called the “how to” change. Sure, the “want to” is all your own and it’s probably why you’re reading this book.

The “how to” – that’s what we do best. With projects like and we’ve not only committed our careers to helping motivate people’s “want to,” but also to arming people with the best “how to” in the business. It’s amazing to see clients literally reshape their bodies by combining a strong “want to” with a strong “how to.” Clients improve the way they eat, the way they sleep, the way they look, the way they feel when they wake up in the morning, and the way they perform. So let’s talk “how to.”

In this section, we’re going to teach you the 10 nutrition rules that we’ve found to make the biggest difference in our own clients. We call these rules “The 10 Habits.” Consistent application of all 10 of these habits will guarantee big long-term results.

Habit #1 – Feed Every 2-3 Hours.

Most North Americans eat somewhere around 3 meals a day. Since you’re much more active, it only stands to reason that you’d need to eat a little differently than they’re eating. Further, I’d imagine their physiques are not the physiques you wish to emulate. So, perhaps you’ll need a different approach.

As research has demonstrated, feeding every 2-3 hours is important for many things. Regular feeding intervals stimulate the metabolism, balance blood sugar, and improve health, body composition, and performance. So, make sure that when it comes to eating, you jump on the every 2-3 hour train.

Now I know a couple of questions have probably come to mind:

First, how many meals per day should you be eating? That’s easy – just divide the time you’re awake (say, 15 hours) by 3.

Next, should you eat before bed, before exercise, etc? For that one just keep the rule in mind and eat every 2-3 hours. If it’s bed time and it’s time to eat, take that feeding opportunity!

Finally, how big should your meals be? Well, here’s a tip that’ll help you determine what you should be eating every 2-3 hours. Rather than thinking of your feedings as “snacks” or “meals,” think in terms of feeding opportunities. In other words, every time you feed you have the opportunity to make your body better or make it worse. Use the remaining 9 habits below to ensure that you make the most of your feeding opportunities, and make sure they come every few hours.

Habit #2 – Ingest Complete, Lean Protein With Each Feeding Opportunity.

Later in this chapter, the topic of protein intake will be discussed more comprehensively. However, for now, understand that with all the potential benefits we’ll discuss, it’s critical to ingest some complete, lean protein with every feeding opportunity. Again, we’ll list some sources of lean, complete protein in a minute. But get this idea straight first – make sure that every time you eat there’s a serving of protein involved. By doing this, you’ll be sure to maximally stimulate your metabolic rate, improve your muscle mass and recovery, and reduce your body fat. Keep in mind that protein is not limited to just breakfast, lunch, and dinner. EVERY feeding opportunity, every 2-3 hours, should contain complete, lean protein.

Habit #3 – Ingest vegetables with each feeding opportunity.

This is something your mom and grandma have been harping on for years so it’s about time scientists have finally caught up. Science has demonstrated that in addition to the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) packed into veggies, important plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that are essential for optimal physiological functioning also are present.

Even more interesting, vegetables (and fruits) provide an alkaline load to the blood. Since both proteins and grains present acid loads to the blood, it’s important to balance these acids with alkaline rich vegetables and fruits. Too much acid and not enough alkalinity means the loss of bone strength and muscle mass. So make sure you’re keeping balanced! A simple way to ensure you’re getting enough vegetables is to be sure that you’re getting 1-2 servings of veggies with every feeding opportunity – every 2-3 hours.

Habit #4 – Eat veggies and fruits at any feeding; “other” carbs mostly after exercise.

Another way of saying this is: eat non-fruit and vegetable carbohydrates (including simple sugars, sports drinks as well as starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, etc) during and within the few hours after exercise only. Want to eat bread, pasta, rice, sugar, etc? If so, you can. Any nutrition plan for athletes that excludes these foods is too hard to follow and, in some cases, can decrease performance. Just be sure you save them until after exercise.

But can’t these carbs make you fat? Not as long as you’re sure to save them for the workout and post-workout periods. Your body’s carbohydrate tolerance is best during exercise and the few hours after exercise, thus the majority of your daily carbohydrate energy should come during these times. During the rest of the day, stick with carbohydrate sources like vegetables and fruits. These foods are alkaline, contain more fiber, have a higher micronutrient/macronutrient ratio, produce a smaller insulin response, and better manage blood sugar.

Habit #5 – Eat healthy fats daily.

About 30% of an athlete’s diet should come from fat. However, special care should be made to ensure that this intake is balanced between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat. A goal of 1/3 saturated, 1/3 monounsaturated, and 1/3 polyunsaturated fat is recommended. By balancing out your fat intake, health, body composition, and performance can be optimized.

Eating this way is fairly easy. By focusing on adding the healthy monounsaturated and omega 3 fats into your diet, you’ll easily balance out the saturated and omega 6 fats so prevalent in the North American diet.

One important recommendation is to include fish oil supplements in your nutrition plan. This is something we recommend to nearly every man, woman, and child as fish oil supplements improve body composition and protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more.

Dietary Fat Types, Common Names, and Food Sources. Try to get 1/3 of your fat from saturated fats, 1/3 from monounsaturated fats, and 1/3 from polyunsaturated fats. Also, try to avoid trans fats.

Habit #6 – Most calorie-containing drinks (aside from workout nutrition) should be eliminated.

Fruit juice, soda, and other sugary beverages should be eliminated from the diet. Even fruit juice? That’s right. While many people believe that fruit juice is a healthy alternative to soda, fruit juices offer very little in the way of good nutrition and are certainly no substitute for fruits and vegetables. As the micronutrient/macronutrient ratios of sodas and fruit juices are abysmal, athletes should be eating their calories and drinking water as their habitual beverage – especially athletes who lose a lot of water, through sweat, during their training and competition. The few exceptions, as you’ll read about below, are supershakes and workout drinks.

Habit #7 – Eat whole foods instead of supplements whenever possible.

Most of an athlete’s food intake should come from high quality whole food sources that conform to the other 9 habits listed here. While there are certain times where liquid nutrition or bars are useful (during and immediately after exercise, as well as when traveling), an athlete’s daily dietary intake should be composed of whole, largely unprocessed foods. And when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, no pills can even come close to what good old fruits and veggies contain. So skip the multi-vitamin and, instead, eat an extra few servings of fruits and veggies each day.

Habit #8 – Plan to break the rules 10% of the time.

An important thing to remember is this – your diet doesn’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. In fact, it’s even important to have foods or feeding opportunities that don’t necessarily follow the rules above. In all our years of working with athletes we’ve learned that 100% nutritional discipline is never required for optimal progress. The difference, in results, between 90% adherence and 100% adherence is negligible. You just have to be sure you’re clear on what 10% really means. For example, if you’re eating 6 times per day for 7 days of the week – that’s 42 feeding opportunities. Since 10% of 42 is about 4, you get to eat 4 “imperfect” feeding opportunities per week; these imperfect feeding opportunities include both “junk food” and even skipped feedings. Therefore, if you break 1 of the 10 rules, that counts as one of your 10%. So don’t waste your skips by missing a feeding. Schedule your 10% feeding opportunities and enjoy them. Then, with your next feeding opportunity, get back to the rest of the habits.

Habit #9 – Plan ahead and prepare feedings in advance.

The hardest part about eating well isn’t necessarily understanding which foods are good and bad. Nor is it understanding proteins, carbs, and fats. Nor is it understanding when to eat certain foods. Rather, the hardest part is making sure the 8 rules above are followed consistently. Sometimes good nutrition is not about the food as much as it is about making sure the food is available when it’s time to eat.

Athletes should come up with food preparation strategies in order to ensure that they can consistently get the nutrition they need, when they need it. Whether that means cooking a bunch of feedings on Sunday for the upcoming week, getting up 30 minutes earlier and preparing feedings for the rest of the day; or hiring a food preparation service to prepare feedings for you, it’s critical to have a plan. As the old cliché very accurately states, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Habit #10 – Eat as wide a variety of good foods as possible.

Most of us eat in a very habitual manner, ingesting similar breakfasts, lunches, and dinners day in and day out. Boring, but easy.

By establishing the habits above as the norm, it will eventually be easy to follow them. However, it’s also important to balance out this daily habit with seasonal foods and healthy variety. Find healthy alternatives to the foods you habitually eat. Use your 10% feedings as great chances to eat a variety of non-habitual foods. Also, be sure to use a variety of protein sources, fruit and vegetable sources, etc. and rotate through them periodically.

One great strategy for doing this is to pick up a copy of Gourmet Nutrition ( This book provides a summary of the good eating habits we share with you here and provides over 100 recipes demonstrating how to put these habits into action.

While the 10 Habits above are simple, in order to help our athletes better stay on track with them every day, we’ve created a “cheat sheet” (below) that we have them carry in their wallets (or in their purses). When it’s time to plan, prepare, or order food, they consult the cheat sheet to make sure they’re sticking to the habits. And each time they use this cheat sheet, they reinforce this new and better way of thinking about food. Eventually these athletes don’t need the sheets any longer; their habits have been changed – for life.

  1. When did you last eat? If it’s been longer than 2-3 hours, feed immediately.
  2. Where is the complete protein? Are you about to eat at least 1 serving of complete protein? If not, find some protein.
  3. Where are the veggies? Are you about to eat at least 1-2 servings of veggies? Prepare them anyway you like, but eat them with every feeding opportunity.
  4. Where are the carbs? If you haven’t just worked out, put down the pasta, bread, rice, etc in favor of fruits and veggies. If you have just worked out, a mix of carb sources is fine.
  5. Where are your fats coming from? Today you need some fat from animal foods, from olive oil, from mixed nuts, and from flaxseed oil. Spread them throughout the day.
  6. Did you take your fish oil yet? Make sure you don’t miss taking a capsule or two with each feeding opportunity.
  7. Are you drinking water or green tea? Avoid the calorie containing drinks; send back the soda or other sugary drinks.
  8. Are you breaking the 10% rule? Are you breaking any of the rules above? If so, count this feeding opportunity as part of your 10% & think about how you’ll get back on track.

-Excerpt from “The Grapplers Guide” by John Berardi & Michael Fry